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Greece’s debt crisis compounded by the refugee crisis brings to the fore matters of identity, belonging, deservingness, as well as inclusion and exclusion, which implicate both internal and external others. This condition of apparent dis-order (most often cast as a state of exception) and the multiple official and unofficial responses and novel forms of mobilization that it engenders highlight difference as a key political factor, which plays out in the realm of everyday, embodied, experience-near life. Viewed through traditional, state-centered perspectives on politics, these issues and forms of engagement may seem rootless, spontaneous, and unexpected, or perhaps as local manifestations of global forces and trends. If we apply a broader lens to the domain of the political, however, as an arena of tension, contestation, and negotiation around various forms of difference, implicating both formal and informal processes and producing specific political subjectivities that shape experience, we can arrive at a significantly more nuanced, dynamic, historically contextualized, and empirically grounded approach to current Greek realities.
Evthymios Papataxiarchis’s edited volume offers just such a timely and valuable perspective. Seeking to re-envision the political, this volume approaches various dimensions of politicized and politicizing difference appearing at the margins of formal and mainstream discourses, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. While it focuses on pre-crisis subjects, the book offers an informative, indeed necessary, window into the complexity and transformation of Greek political realities and provides an important context to the here and now. As Papataxiarchis convincingly argues, the crisis catalyzed developments in an already fragmented political system, whose unifying rhetoric failed to account for and address a multitude of tensions, discontents, conflicts, and contradictions that shape and are shaped by lived experience. Difference has been [End Page 203] acting in the background as a force of contestation and change. The Greek state has been built on a narrative of ethnic unity and cultural and social homogeneity, consensus, and harmony, which, since the reinstitution of a democratic system in 1974, has been backed by a remarkably stable and resilient state apparatus run by entrenched political parties. In this official context, difference and its negotiation—be it with respect to territorial borders, complex national identifications, gender, or physical disability—were largely depoliticized and displaced onto the more easily managed and neutralized domain of the social. Emphasizing the crucial distinction between “politics” and “the political” (20), however, the contributions to this volume illuminate the everyday struggles of diverse groups of people, from border residents and immigrants to carriers of Mediterranean anemia or thalassemia, urban gentrifiers, and same-sex couples as inherently political, productive, and potentially disruptive to the dominant order, bringing an ethnographic sensibility to bear on the political as social practice. These forms of difference and the political dynamics that they engender may be the result of the actions of the state and official institutions or of more informal processes of differentiation appearing within the social body. They are nevertheless shaped, performed, and experienced in often invisible and officially overlooked daily forms of practice.
The volume is built on strong theoretical and methodological foundations, which lend it notable cohesion and coherence across an extensive range of topics. Its theoretical and analytical frame is located in the perspectives of practice, discourse, and deconstruction. From within this perspective, the analysis is inspired by the attention brought by feminist scholarship to the politics of difference and to the gendered, the embodied, and the personal as political domains, and by the attention that poststructuralist social theory has brought to bear on questions of power and its dynamics on the micro and macro scales. Ethnography thus acts as a thread that ties these diverse texts together. Most contributions are based on ethnographic data, while the two explicitly historical pieces (by Jane Cowan and Eleni Fournaraki) approach their topics with an ethnographic sensibility. Topics range from the transnational to the interpersonal, from the historical to the contemporary, illuminating the humble, lived dimensions and manifestations of political phenomena. Whether it is Cowan tackling the creation of the very category of “ethnic minorities” with the guidance of...