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Universitt Leipzig Orientalisches Institut Prof. Dr. J. Gertel & I.

Breuer: Mobilitt Alice Jahn (9630556) Panel 4 WS 2007/2008

Panel 4: Mental Representation: Myths, Discourse, Encounters


Symposium: Paradigms of a Nomadic Mode of Living November 30 to December 2, 2007 - Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany - SFB Differenz und Integration

Regarding the paradigms of a nomadic mode of living we should first of all take a look on mobility in its broader context. Thereafter a more specific distinction of mobility within mental representations such as myths, discourse and encounters is attempted. Mobility seems to become a more and more important reality within our everyday life. And since the beginning of the information age and within a more and more globalizing world mobility seems to provide new dimensions of space. Nowadays mobility is given by a lot of means of (public) transportation, such as car, bus, train, plane, but also ship and means of communication such as letters, (mobile) phones, and internet. Over the intervening years these modes, that enable mobility, have improved and found bigger acceptation and availability within many societies. These processes lead to new options for trade, interaction and exchange. But new possibilities usually also come along with new conflicts. Some authors, like Bronislaw Szerszynski and John Urry like to stress the positive effects of a mobile world and concentrate in first place on new opportunities that are given. Authors like Bauman observe mobility also in a very general and universal perspective but warn of negative globalisation implying insecurity, exclusion and fear. However, one can also look at mobility within local household units, such as Gertel and Breuer do and analyze mobility as a strategy to gain and maintain access to resources and thus to secure the survival of everyday life. Or, as Gnther Schlee does, to take a certain mode of living, like that of nomads and try to redefine generalisations within the context of changing mobilities. Thus talking about mobility opens many diverse perspectives of discussing the matter.

Universitt Leipzig Orientalisches Institut Prof. Dr. J. Gertel & I. Breuer: Mobilitt Alice Jahn (9630556) Panel 4 WS 2007/2008

Panel 4: Mental Representation: Myths, Discourse, Encounters If we talk about nomadic mode of living, we have to ask ourselves what nomads really are; who, why, and when this term was developed; what consequences might result for these people by applying the term nomadic to them. As we know from history and politics terms are often used to generalize and to stigmatize which leads in most cases to stereotypes and wrong perceptions of the other, described as distinct from us. Mental representations given by myths, discourse and encounters are important to get a feedback and to be able to verify how terms are perceived amongst others by the people concerned. In terms of mobility nomadism often appears to be interpreted as something threatening and negative by outstanding sedentary societies, such seems to be the case in the approach by Beate Eschment, regarding the sedentary Russians and the nomadic Kazakhs. Therefore she consulted a big range of literature in which she observed that popular literature gives a different, more objective and positive image about the Kazakhs than the negative governmental literature by Russians on Kazakhs does. One can also see that independent authors who engage in a specific nomad group seem to have more objective results in their perception than authors who try to describe nomads on more general terms. Moreover, to give a realistic representation literal as well as scientific perspectives and sources have to be taken into account. If we understand the mobility of the Kazakhs as a mode of living best fitting to have access to environmental resources one could argue, that the Russian government rather likes to rule over the resources from the centre and thus using literature to legitimate their superiority by stigmatizing the nomadic Kazakhs as underdeveloped and primitive and constructing a certain image of Russian Kazakhs, that eventually leads to cultural misunderstandings and conflicts. The mobility of Kazakhs which appears to be frowned upon becomes then hindering to actually have access to resources as implied by the government to expand their leadership and to legitimate their rights over resourceful land by literal means. 2

Universitt Leipzig Orientalisches Institut Prof. Dr. J. Gertel & I. Breuer: Mobilitt Alice Jahn (9630556) Panel 4 WS 2007/2008

Panel 4: Mental Representation: Myths, Discourse, Encounters One could come to similar conclusions when looking at the researches of Ute Pietruschka and Sarga Moussa. The historical and geographical contexts differ but the matter that a mobile mode of living is perceived as something negative by mainly sedentary societies is quite connatural. One of the things that Pietruschka shows in her analysis of the nomadic incursions in the syriac literature is that in the case of identifying Gog and Magog with a nomadic group, different identifications depending on the respective historical background are made. Thus the matter does not seem to be so much of an ethnic affiliation but one of nomadic way of life. Here again nomadic peoples in general are deemed as inferior to the civilized world. Furthermore, Sarga Moussa depicts Bedouin myth by taking the works of Dom Rafael de Monachis, who has a bicultural experience of Egypt and France, as example. Here we can see a two-sided reflection on Bedouins: while on the one side the Bedouins are described as hospitable, generous and brave by Dom Raphael, they are evil, emotionless and unjust savages of the desert in the perception of people like Bonaparte. However, the Bedouin egalitarian system, in which equality is a central idea, seems to stand paradoxically in contradiction to the developed French society under monarchic rule. Thus social critique becomes a central aspect in the dialogue. It seems that Christian humanism is just as much a stereotype as Bedouin, or again in general terms nomadic barbarism, which both results from ethnocentrism and improper research. One can summarize here, that different discourses about the same matter are held, which are imaginary constructed and strongly depend on different perspectives regarding the cultural background. Thus orientalism becomes constructed as perceived by orient investigators and authors. In the sense of mobility the ability to cross spatial and cultural frontiers is a big progress for scientific research to gain more objective results. The consultation of literature is important but insufficient, practical experience therefore can open new dimensions of thinking. 3

Universitt Leipzig Orientalisches Institut Prof. Dr. J. Gertel & I. Breuer: Mobilitt Alice Jahn (9630556) Panel 4 WS 2007/2008

Panel 4: Mental Representation: Myths, Discourse, Encounters A different approach to understand mental representation is given by Alexander Wei and Stefan Leder who examine myths of nomads and their use. They analyze the national myth of the Numidians which were invented by king Hiemspal and the account of the rise and fall of the Arab nomads in the world history by Ibn Khaldoun. In both cases myths of nomads pursue political, social and intellectual goals. The national myth hereby serves to construct a common identity. Yet, Hiempsal used the myths to create a mythe-histoire with an elitist self-image that tried to preserve nomadic values and mentalities, while Ibn Khaldoun as a myth-maker pursued harmonization, where religion served as a vehicle of political organization that accompanied the process from minimalism of Bedouin life through linear continuity of the caliphate to the luxury of sedentary life. The historical myth making in both cases served to establish a certain nomadic identity that guaranteed mobility in certain domains and spheres, excluding other nomadic groups as well as hunter and gatherers. A perspective on how modern innovations could affect nomadic ways of life is given by Alexander Diener. The construction of a Millennium Highway planned to span Mongolia from east to west will catalyze a major redistribution of human populations. On the one hand radical diffusion of global culture into the steppe will take place while on the other hand periurbanization and new settlements along the route might arise. The implying processes of cultural hybridity, population growth, privatization of land and urbanization will certainly affect the nomadic lifestyle. Diener suggests that old livelihood-models are threatened and that nomadism will either vanish or that a new hybrid type of nomadism arise, which will imply a combination of different income options and a mobilization of household economies. Thus general mobilities of nomads need to be remodelled to meet the consequences of the new infrastructure imposed by the highway. Coming back to the difficulty of using terms, Thomas Barfield warns of generalizing nomadic societies. Even though they seem to be alike since 4

Universitt Leipzig Orientalisches Institut Prof. Dr. J. Gertel & I. Breuer: Mobilitt Alice Jahn (9630556) Panel 4 WS 2007/2008

Panel 4: Mental Representation: Myths, Discourse, Encounters rooted in tribal systems and organized through descent groups, their social organizations and ideologies can vary widely. For instance, whether the social construction is more likely to be of a centralized or of an egalitarian kind of type depends on the size of a group and their territory. We have to be aware that there are different concepts of the world in every society and that within societies the meaning and importance of certain values differ. Barfield gives an example on how these differences can look like by comparing the Turco-Mongolian system to that of the more egalitarian Bedouin system and also takes religious aspects into account. He then reflects about their capabilities and struggles to fusion with sedentary political systems. Then, if we talk about the mobility of nomadic groups we have to be aware of their social structures to be able to understand how the means of their mobility are limited not only by financial or material constraints but also by social and political ones. As we have seen mobility in the nomadic context is often described as something negative by sedentary societies when politically motivated, while seen from within the mobility of nomads is their way of gaining access to the resources they need (environmental, ). However, a constructed identity, not only from the outside but also from within can serve to mobilize people to preserve their very own traditions and mentalities. In addition modern innovations enabling new forms of mobility lead to the need of remodelling and threat of existing nomadic lifestyles. Nevertheless we should always be aware that the term nomad is just a conceptual term used to fit certain ideas and that we should verify in each case its backgrounds, applicability and potential consequences.