Non-Places of non-Augé

Here’s a post that might sound bit boring for some of you in contrast with all the crazy travel stories or weird fieldworks notes. I apologize. It was just that some months ago one of the world’s most recognized anthropologists Marc Augé visited Tallinn, Estonia. I was excited, as contrasts between modern cityscapes and village life sincerity has always intrigued me, as well as marginal places, contested places, and even those which Marc Augé would call non-places.

I was asked to cover the intensive seminar that took place in Tallinn University for an article in Estonian cultural newspaper Sirp. The English version got published in MaterialWorld blog.

But here’s the start for you:

Notes from an intensive seminar Places and Non-Places: Thinking Anthropologically with Marc Augé

Estonian Institute of Humanities and the Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts, Tallinn University, 12th-13th October 2012

When visiting Delhi in 2010, I remember a slight cultural shock from one of the city’s recently completed subway lines. Not that I found something bleakly intrinsic to India, but on the contrary – I was intrigued by the lack of it, or by strange intersections between this ‘lacking’ and various existing or imaginary layers of culture. The new transportation system seemed to be far from what I had remembered from my earlier visit to India. In this heavily conditioned and rather silently sliding subway you could perhaps imagine to be in Singapore or Seattle. There was a Hindu dressed in a bright purple sari scanning over the London-styled subway signs, until from the announcements articulated in high-end English she recognised her own. The doors opened automatically, she drove along the escalator down to the lower floor and stepped from the white floor onto the dirty streets. Among dozens of noisy taxi drivers she waved down a rickshaw-taxi, in which she probably had to sweat for the next half hour in a traffic jam.

According to the French anthropologist Marc Augé these and other similar visible manifestations of globalization can be called “non-places” – a concept he first coined in 1992 in his “Non-Lieux, Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité” (published in English in 1995).

Augé writes in his book about supermodernity as the opposite side of the coin of which post-modernity shows us only the backside: this is the affirmation of negation. He tells about major changes in our society, which are the excess of events in time and acceleration of history, overabundance of space and the individualisation of references. The direction expressed in these changes, that Augé calls supermodernity, has peaked in remarkable physical alterations, including the reproduction of such places which he calls “non-places”. He opposes this to the concept of a sociological “place”, which traditionally has been associated with space and time limited in a specific culture. If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then it is a “place” – the rest would be “non-places”, such as for example highways, airports and supermarkets.

…….Read the rest at MaterialWorld blog here! please continue to catch the stalkers and the kind.

Dubai, 2006

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One could think that if two blonde young women go backpacking to Africa, they’ve done their homework on safety and cautiousness. But when Berit and Terje stopped off at Dubai at 3 AM the only piece of information they had about what is going to happen was a rambling message from someone named Ja….Ja…Jav.
Hey! Am leaving the small white iron door outside villa 754a open. Its the first villa in a row of 3 identical ones. Lock the gate once you enter. Cross the small garden, enter the house, you would find staircase to your right. Go to 1st floor, u would find a door open with lights on. Thats your bedroom. If you need anything, sms me.
But we are blessed with luck from the very beginning of our journey. The young man couldn’t sleep so instead of worrying about a taxi we can sit in his fancy jeep that takes us to an even fancier villa. We spent our first night in India sleeping under a rug, but in Dubai, a private balcony and a bathroom are set for us. We share the servants and a pool with our host.

Javed
As it turns out, our new friend is called Javed. Javed has a simple beginning to his story. Born in the centre of India, lived in slums, studied medicine at a university. But as the story goes, the more resemblance it has to a fairy-tale:
After getting a blessing from the Dalai Lama, he moved to Dubai and started to treat people with natural medication. The royal family heard about him and became his patients one by one. In two and a half years, he has established his hospital and built a villa. He doesn’t even need to leave his dream world, except when the royal family, basking in some distant palace, let Javed be taken by a helicopter to the courtiers fallen ill.

Dubai as a business plan

At night, discussing the Dubai phenomenon and drinking wine with Javed, the doctor’s story doesn’t seem so unusual anymore. This is a mysterious country. Not a country – a business plan. The royal family controls most of the businesses, they have designed the face of Dubai. And they know their goal – an utopian supercountry.
The streets and newspapers are full of slogans like building history, world of priviledges, banking in the right direction, the better world. Insane amount of money is invested in the development of infrastructure. People say that every year, 200 billion dollars are spent on construction. At this moment, 160 five star hotels are built on an area of 4 kilometres, the highest tower of the world, a dinosaur park, health city and a festival city. But how to fit all these ideas onto so small a territory as Dubai? Very simple. One must build more land! Hence the three artificial archipelagos shaped like a palm tree in the sea, and The World, imitating the world map. 

As Javed said, 8% of the population are locals who enjoy endless privileges from not having to pay for their piece of land to studying in universities abroad financed from public funds. The remaining 92% are expatriates and external investors, who have been put to work for the local community. Probably just money launderers as well, because no one cares where you got the 200 grand from you used to pay for you castle.
On day two, we browse the gold market. Buckets full of shiny metal. Lose yourself to shopping!

Men’s restaurant
When you’re looking for a place to eat cheap, a Golden Rule applies – go where the locals go. We open the door of a canteen slowly. A bunch of surprised men stare at us. A second later, recovered from the fact that  w o m e n  go to restaurants, they tell us to go upstairs. Two fatties sitting behind the only table in the room are told politely to finish their meal on the floor and the seats are vacated for us. We throw a glance at the room. Not a single woman! Not a single one. Instead, there are about twenty gentleman with whiskers in white gowns sitting around a plastic sheet, stuffing themselves bare-handed with chicken and rice. A pile of shoes is reeking next to us.

Once the meal is finished, the waiter takes the plastic sheet and throws away, so new customers could set themselves on the floor.
But there is something going on with the menus everywhere outside Europe. Likewise with ours.

So, what can I get you?
Erm, can I see the menu?
Yes,
(without bringing a menu) do you want fish or chicken?

We favor the chicken. Soup, salad, bread, rice, sauces and a huge bird are brought to us. There is food enough for the whole Masai village in Kenya.

Men not allowed
First of all, the feeling of doing something against the rules always accompanies us in Dubai.
We learn that wearing revealing clothes is the same as selling ourselves. Men abuse women with their eyes and thoughts in their heads. That’s why the local women navigate in the city like dark masks, seeing through small peep holes. That’s why there is a greeting area and a ladies greeting area at the airport. And that is why me and Terje are pulled away from the bus line. We are taken to another line, before all the men to share our grounds with the dark masks. We get in the bus, hide on the back seat and share a sigh of relief for there’s no way of showing bad manners anymore.
We hold a low profile and observe. Soon, the bus is full of people. But something is wrong again! Why are we surrounded only by men again? We saw women in the bus line, too! Terje glances at a stickman with a dress, a sign that can only indicate to the women seats area. Right behind the bus driver. We take our bags and get to the front of the bus, ashamed, followed by the stares of surprised men again.

A nocturnal adventure

A Polish girl joins us for drinks with Javed in the evening. A fancy jeep rolls us to the front of the glamorous Emirates Tower. Our lounge should be hovering on the 51^th floor. Glitz and glamour. A porter wearing a tuxedo opens the car door and gives his hand. Terje takes his hand gracefully and steps on a red velvet carpet in her completely worn-out sandals. But, as we exptected, they don’t let us in. Not because of the sandals, but because we don’t have our ID-s with us. The rules apply to everyone.
But that doesn’t stop the party! We decide to find a place more suitable for us and end up in a bizarre burleque-like bar. And again – only men! A bottle of Smirnoff is brought to the table. Indian prostitutes are brought on stage, where is something far more quaint going on than striptease. Instead of being barely clothed, they’re wearing long gowns. Instead of dancing, they’re walking awkwardly on the stage, tossing their hair from one side to the other. The crowd is throwing paper snow at them. Some dudes sweep the floor constantly. Those girls who get more paper snow than the others, start to move in a more dancing manner. In the end, only a few are left and they, too, find a customer amongst the crowd.
After two bottles of Smirnoff, right before leaving the doppleganger of Vanessa Mae steps on stage. Her dance is sexy even by the European standards. We decide to have one more drink. Javed marks our excitement and hands us some of that paper snow. So me and Terje totter to the stage and throw the Indian prostitute pieces of paper worth 40 dollars each. One after the other.

When I wake up in the morning and go to the kitchen, an Australian stranger greets me with a handshake. He is obviously confused. He says that he got an sms with instructions about where he should go and has been waiting in the house alone ever since. And who are these men hassling in the kitchen? Who owns this place? What is going on? I take time to explain that these people are servants, cooks and drivers, the host is the personal physician of the royal family and ask him to join me for a morning swim. He is so lucky to have all the fun ahead of him! Terje and I have a quick swim and catch the plain to Africa.