Dace Dzenovska, Senior Researcher and Marie Curie Fellow, COMPAS, University of Oxford

Diagnosing intolerance: knowledge practices after socialism

The talk draws on an ethnography of how around the time of accession to the European Union a network of government and non-government actors in Latvia worked to obtain public recognition of the problem of intolerance as a problem of negative attitudes towards racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. They looked to remake intolerant sensibilities into tolerant ones in order to bring Latvians into the European political and moral community. These tolerance workers, as I call them, did so under the auspices of a European Union funded National Programme for the Promotion of Tolerance, which consisted of a series of discussions, campaigns, seminars and similar events.

The talk tackles one the more crucial aspects of tolerance promotion, namely knowledge production. It proceeds from the conviction of tolerance workers that the Latvians’ “biggest problem is the inability to recognize the problem,” and that therefore tolerance work means inciting recognition of the problem of intolerance and demanding public reflection on it. I argue that knowledge production about the problem of intolerance in Latvia is characterized by a diagnostic modality. This diagnostic modality identifies ailments that are known, that is, intolerance, and subsequently devises treatment to arrive at a healthy state of affairs, that is, tolerance. I argue that the emergence of this diagnostic modality is linked to the broader conditions of knowledge production after socialism characterized by the prevailing view that the collapse of socialism meant “the end of history”, that is, the victory of liberal democracy and free-market economy as the most advanced and appropriate modes of organizing collective life. This has produced ignorance about the present and hinders understanding of how the same colonial and racial mode of power animates seemingly opposite political projects, such as Latvian nationalism and European liberalism.

Dace Dzenovska is currently a Marie Curie Fellow at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, University of Oxford. In October, she will take up the position of Departmental Lecturer at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. She holds a PhD and an MA in social cultural anthropology from the University of California in Berkeley, as well as an MA in humanities and social thought from New York University. She is interested in developing Eastern European perspective as an epistemological viewpoint for analysing the European political landscape. Her research projects focus on postsocialist democratization, colonial and racial modes of power, nationalism, and migration. She has published a Latvian-language manuscript on outmigration, as well as numerous articles in international journals. She is currently completing a book manuscript entitled “Complicit Becoming: Nation, Tolerance and Europeanization After Socialism.”

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