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Losing One’s Reason(s): Political activism as moral conversion in contemporary Jordan

flyer image of speakers and bios
Date and Time: 
Monday, April 26, 2021 - 12:00 to 13:30

Department of Anthropology
VIA Zoom

Postcolonial scholars have started to note that contemporary uprisings and social movements
in the Global South are taking place under norms of self-determination quite
different from those dominant during the era of decolonization and Third-Worldism.
Changes in international law since the 1990s have shifted the debate around self-determination
away from the problem of empire (i.e. “external” self-determination) and toward
the question of the internal political form of regimes holding state power (i.e. “internal”
self-determination). Under the conditions of this liberal “end of history,” emancipatory
political movements today take as their primary target corrupt and authoritarian regimes
which they see as usurping popular sovereignty.
This talk tackles these historical shifts from the perspective of Jordan, where a grassroot
movement emerged in the wake of the Arab uprisings in 2011 focusing on widespread
corruption. Through an ethnographic account of the movement, as well as the biographies
of individual activists, the talk explores how, under current conditions, activism is first
and foremost a project of ethical self-transformation or conversion whereby the ‘the patriotic
self’ is the prime locus for political struggle against ‘the regime.’ Activists strive to
formulate new ways of being and acting patriotically when past forms of patriotism have
ceased make practical sense in the present. In doing so, they strive to live a life in which
they are the agents of political power rather than its instruments. Their ethico-political
project, I argue, demands a simultaneous disavowal of past patriotisms and the reaffirmation
of the ends of patriotism.
Theoretically, the talk brings into conversation linguistic anthropological literature on the
semiotics of self-presentation and social interaction with moral philosophical literature on
human action, intentionality, and virtue. It suggests that paying attention to changes in
moral-evaluative frames provides a more fruitful framework for studying contemporary
revolutionary moments than an instrumental focus on the formulation and attainment of
political demands.

Dr. Yazan Doughan

Yazan Doughan is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the LSE. His work straddles
the linguistic and socio-cultural branches of the discipline, with close engagements with
social and legal theory, conceptual and social history, and moral philosophy. His research
on protests and activism in Jordan grapples with the paradoxical status of ‘the rule law’
as both the mark of post-Cold War emancipatory projects for social justice, and the condition
of possibility for various kinds of injustices.