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Reviewed by
Evthymios Papataxiarchis (Ευθύμιος Παπαταξιάρχης), editor, Πολιτικές της καθη-μερινότητας. Σύνορο, σώμα και ιδιότητα του πολίτη στην Ελλάδα. Athens: Alexandria. 2014. Pp. 544. €23.

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 the League of Nations after World War I (81–112), or Eleni Papagaroufali taking up the European Union’s “twinned towns” program (261–288), for example, the authors return the focus to the often invisible ground of everyday life and to the people who enact and negotiate difference in daily practice. The volume organizes this broad material around the central themes of border, body, and citizenship as experiential loci. It bears noting that while this is not an explicit theoretical goal, an attention to intersectionality is evident in several of the chapters, as, for example, when Kostas Yannakopoulos considers the class dimensions in attitudes toward ethnic diversity and place-making in an Athenian neighborhood (373–391), or Penelope Topali addresses the intersection of gender and ethnic identity in stereotyped images of immigrants, such as the “passive Filipino woman” versus the “dangerous Albanian man” (345–372).

Papataxiarchis’s thorough and thoughtful introduction lays out the common problematic and perspectives of the volume, making a strong case for re-envisioning the political to incorporate negotiation and contestation around difference in everyday life, which, he argues, a) contributes to and signals a broader disturbance in [End Page 204] mainstream political discourse; b) is rooted in and may disrupt historical processes of homogenization; and c) is culturally significant and productive. The sixteen chapters of the collection are organized in three thematic units. The first seven chapters are grouped under the theme of negotiation of difference with respect to state borders and deal with the construction of the border conceptually and experientially. In her chapter, Cowan offers a fascinating look into the processes and vicissitudes of establishing the Greek-Bulgarian border and inventing the category of “ethnic minority” by the Greek state and the League of Nations, thereby constructing “pure” national individuals out of pre-national “persons” (84). Loring Danforth and Janet Hart address different aspects of Civil War displacement and reincorporation, leading to diverse and conflicted experiences of the imagined homeland, while Effie Voutira considers the discourse and logic of border securitization and the experience of asylum-seeking “separated children” (236) from Iran and Afghanistan. Ioannis Manos and Sarah Green examine how the border and the Other beyond it are approached in daily life by border residents in Northern Greece and the Aegean, and Papagaroufali takes up the EU’s “twinning cities” institution, with its gendered and aged dimensions exposing the underlying tension between official and unofficial perspectives on this ambiguously successful program.

The second unit deals with the politics of difference in everyday life. Aigli Hatzouli explores the activist mobilization of persons with thalassemia for social inclusion, which, in tandem with biotechnological innovations, opens avenues for radical biopolitical reconceptualizations. Pothiti Hantzaroula approaches the negotiation of identity and citizenship among Albanian immigrants, while Topali considers the case of Filipino women as an earlier immigrant group that has a higher if always subordinated status than more recent immigrant groups. Particularly contrasting them to Albanian men, Topali examines the symbolic associations that structure Flippino women’s domain of experience. Yannakopoulos considers the process of gentrification of the Gazi and Kerameikos/Metaxourgeio neighborhoods in Athens, where a young, privileged, neo-urban class both embraces and marginalizes difference of class, nationality, and sexuality. The last five chapters address gender, sexuality, and citizenship. Fournaraki explores the intersection of gender and citizenship through the debate over women’s suffrage in nineteenth-century Greece. The following pieces address motherhood, fertility, and (national) subjectivity. Nia Georges takes a fascinating look at differences between Greek and American pregnancy guides, showing how contemporary gender ideologies are reflected in these texts, promoting particular motherhood subjectivities. Athena Athanassiou and Alexandra Halkia approach Greece’s perceived “demographic problem” (453, 486) of low birth rates, from the perspectives of people who choose to remain child-free (Athanassiou) and women who choose to abort (Halkia), tracing the challenges of, and to, biopolitical hegemony. Lastly, Venetia Kantsa offers an LGBT perspective on marriage as a citizenship right, against the dominant and highly heteronormative Greek context.

This wealth of material interestingly also invites my main critique of the volume, namely that in a work seeking to tackle the everyday politics of difference in contemporary Greece, only certain kinds of difference are represented while others are conspicuously missing. Several chapters are dedicated to older negotiations of the national narrative such as identity along the border with the Balkans and Turkey, the aftereffects of the Civil War, and Albanian and Filipino immigration. With the [End Page 205] exception of Voutira’s work on Middle Eastern children and Yannakopoulos’ piece on the neighborhood of Gazi, where other kinds of immigrants make an honorary appearance, one is left wondering about the many other groups of immigrants, particularly people from sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, and the Middle East, who have been more recently contributing to the changing social landscape of Greece. Religious difference is also missing, while topics such as class, disability, and non-normative gender expression deserve much more ethnographic attention. Nevertheless, the book covers an impressive range, and its quality left me hoping that these other dimensions of difference will be covered in a future work. This rich, beautifully researched, and ethnographically grounded volume makes a significant contribution to the anthropology of Greece and offers an invaluable perspective on the experience of difference and its transformative political implications in a rapidly diversifying and dynamic world.

Faidra Papavasiliou
Georgia State University
Faidra Papavasiliou

Faidra Papavasiliou is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Georgia State University. Her research interests include economic anthropology and alternative economic and food systems in Greece and the US. Her latest publications are “Times of Crisis and Seeds of New Intimacies on a Northern Aegean Island: Activism, Alternative Exchange Networks and Re-Imagined Communities,” co-authored with Despina Margomenou and appearing in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (2013), and the entries on “Seed Exchange Networks” and “Barter and the Informal Economy” in The Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues, edited by Ken Albala (Sage, 2015).