Deborah A. Jones’ “Afterlives & Other Lives: Semiosis and History in 21st Century Ukraine”

Page 99 of my dissertation falls toward the beginning of a monster chapter exploring my rural interlocutors’ fight for land rights, encounters with the legal system, and conceptions of “rule of law” on the eve of the 2013–2014 Maidan Revolution. “Western ‘rule of law’ initiatives [via international development programs],” I wrote, “reinforced the impression that Ukraine was a place, and Ukrainians a people, that lacked order. Likewise, they suggested that there were other places, and peoples, that had already achieved good governance, and could be looked to as models or even drawn upon [politically] to enforce accountability in Ukraine.”

On the one hand, page 99 is entirely representative of my larger ethnography, which finds that many of the ideals of Ukraine’s revolution and reform movement—national sovereignty; government accountability; equality before the law; freedom of movement across borders; increased opportunity at home—did not merely reverberate in the countryside, but were often closely tied to agrarian experience. On the other hand, the chapter to which page 99 belongs (“Fields”) is somewhat of an outlier in the dissertation as a whole, which tracks how semiotic processes, particularly iconicity and interdiscursivity, were linking up certain rural things with particular political commitments or social types, and driving specific readings of the past, valuations of the present, and expectations for the future. (For example, the chapter prior, “Soil,” probes my interlocutors’ belief that their country’s reserves of fertile black earth should make it a wealthy export economy—and prove why a devastating famine decades earlier was engineered by Moscow; the chapter following, “Beetles,” untangles why, for a time, pro-Russian separatists were referred to by the name of a notorious agricultural pest, and what this had to do with fears of fascism, both historical and contemporary.)

On the other, other hand, page 99’s concern with “rule of law”—who can claim it, who is presumed not to have it, what/who is believed to be preventing it, what the concept itself presupposes about how language, especially legal language, works—is right in line with my dissertation’s biggest question: how do people develop strong senses of what, or who, is bringing their country forward, and what, or who, is holding it back? How do people come to imagine other, better lives for themselves, and how do they come to perceive fellow citizens, family members, once-friends as Others whose values and aspirations are incompatible with, even undermine, their own?

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