Lives of Accident and Ruin


Displaced in Tirana: Ordinary Tragedy in a Now-Capitalist City
Matthew Rosen (Ohio University)

This presentation seeks to make sense of the 2015 eviction of two small business owners from a property they had lawfully leased in Tirana, Albania, since 2009. To the subjects of this account, the loss of their business fit a familiar pattern. They understood it as a sad but routine part of everyday life in a society they experienced as violent and unjust. But do the particulars of the social context really provide the best explanation? Or was my interlocutors’ critique of Albanian society really a critique of Albanian capitalism?

Michael Degani (Johns Hopkins University)
Michael Degani (Johns Hopkins University)

Drawing on the work of Sianne Ngai, and on ethnographic research with electricians in Dar es Salaam, this presentation stages a visual encounter with a Tanzanian comedy sketch to reflect on zaniness as an urban aesthetic. Accounts of urban precarity oscillate between thematizing freedom and constraint. The zany reveals how both are fused, unstably, in daily life. Working as a freelance electrician entails serial improvisations that blur sociological and embodied distinctions between autonomy and dependence, a blurring poetically captured in the expressive constrictions of minor shock.

Calligraphy and Ruin
Basit Kareem Iqbal (UC Berkeley)

This paper draws from my fieldwork with Muslim humanitarians and refugees in the wake of the ongoing Syrian war. It is focused on the work of a calligrapher displaced from Iraq and then from Syria until he arrived in northwest Canada a few years ago. My effort to understand his artistic practice tries to escape both the humanitarian fetish for the image as a form of testimony and enthusiasm for art as a kind of resistance. Instead his calligraphy shows how a tradition can endure simply as a capacity: how ruin itself is an mode of the ‘life’ of tradition.

Grief in Excess: The Death of King Bhumibol of Thailand
Bronwyn Isaacs (Harvard University)

The death of the Thai King Bhumibol in October 2016, created a critical public juncture. It set in motion a surge of public emotion and civic participation during a time of military rule and anti-democratic political displacement. Public mourning for the King, created optics which were, and continue to be, harnessed by military and monarchical actors. Yet public mourning also exceeds its political framework. Overflowing with emotion, bodies and desires that are not reducible to the manipulations of power. In a short film essay, I how distant audiences engage with the laughing, crying and weary bodies of public mourners.

Natural Disaster Relief in Joso, Japan: Observational Film Documentation of Volunteers in Post-Flood Clean-Up
Can Tamura (Japan Documentary)

Japan is a country prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, without even taking into account the effects of climate change. This presentation will focus primarily on a short film that I made while volunteering in the clean-up of Jōsō in 2015, one of many places in Japan that have experienced devastating floods in recent years. I traveled to Jōsō nearly three weeks after the flood as a volunteer, working with a loosely affiliated network of independent volunteer groups, many of which formed in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Wildfires, Climate Change, and Human Subjectivity
Adam Kersch (UC Davis)

In this presentation, I will explore the immediate implications of wildfires to issues of climate change, as well as what problems wildfires pose for narratives of modernization, development, and subjectivity formation. I will argue that wildfires themselves constitute a displaced/distributed human subjectivity within climate change, as traces of resource exploitation and extraction come back to us as wildfires, curbing excesses of human development while simultaneously intensifying them through the release of stored arboreal carbon. As such, wildfires tell us of the extent of human-caused climate change, presented in a violent and horrifying fashion.