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Rediscovering our shared qualities in ever-changing situations : why postsocialist anthropologists should (and do) study rhetoric.

Hamilton, Gareth E. (2010) 'Rediscovering our shared qualities in ever-changing situations : why postsocialist anthropologists should (and do) study rhetoric.', Durham anthropology journal., 17 (1). pp. 35-64.


With the aid of ethnographic examples from Saxony-Anhalt (eastern Germany), this article argues for a rhetoric culture approach to studies of postsocialism within anthropology. Whereas studies of former state socialist societies within the wider academy have been prone to teleological narratives of Western triumphalism and high-level abstraction, anthropologists have provided ethnographic attention to individual experience as a vital counterpart in explaining how individual people react to the ensuing social and economic difficulties. Recognising that developments in the former state socialist countries and the effects on their populations have roots not only in that area and political period, anthropologists have further suggested that our analyses take on an similarly longitudinal and geographically expansive range. Through the examples of, first, employing the once-derided Trabant automobile as a rhetorical tool for selling eastern current German products and, second, using inventive linguistic tropes and visual imagery to persuade fellow citizens to buy and renovate to derelict buildings, rhetoric culture theory is posited as the optimum means of so doing due to its focus on how all humans, using cultural items from multiple domains and periods as a persuasive force, continuously and creatively alter and modify culture. In this light, and using a third example of a heated postsocialist-themed podium debate in Berlin on the moral appropriateness of the phrase ‘verlorene Generation’ (‘lost generation’), it is argued that the particularly close attention to our informants permitted by rhetoric culture matches well the common humanistic sense of concern for others’ wellbeing anthropologists share with their informants, especially in ‘changing’ postsocialist societies.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Postsocialism, Rhetoric culture theory, Ostalgie, Material culture, Social change.
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Publisher statement:Copyright © 2010 Gareth E. Hamilton.
Record Created:21 May 2010 10:20
Last Modified:02 Jun 2010 10:13

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