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Resumé af Marie Evaldsen Christensens speciale

Specialetitel: Beading the Third Place: The Inherent Multiplicities of Beadwork - An anthropological examination of contemporary beadwork in Nuuk, Greenland | Aarhus Universitet

The submitted thesis, Beading the Third Place, was written on the foundation of four months of anthropological fieldwork in Nuuk, Greenland from May to September 2021. In the thesis, I explore the multiplicities inherent in beads and beadwork as they relate to the beadworkers with whom I talked, worked, and spent time with. With the thesis, I have made the conscious choice to steer away from grand and often abstract notions of ‘colonization,’ ‘ideology,’ and ‘power.’ Heavily inspired by Pia Arke and her artistic efforts “to call attention to the concrete: the flesh and blood of human beings that exist as a result of the encounter [between Denmark and Greenland],” (Thisted 2012, 291) the thesis instead seeks to explore and investigate the everyday, intimate connections and intricacies that are formed between the material and the human subject - that is, between the beadwork and the beadworker. In doing so, I, in the thesis, argue that the multifaceted nature of beads and beadwork can be a potential expression of a kind of ‘Third Place.’ For Arke, the Third Place is found within the borderlands and of the hybrid, and is the place for those of “us who belong neither in the West, nor in the marginalized rest.” (2006, 16) With the intertwined nature and history of beads, the thesis then argues that the potential inherent in beads as well as their complex history thus can be regarded as a potential site of the Third Place. The thesis statement sounds as follows:

I seek to examine how beads and beadwork are used by contemporary beadworkers in Nuuk, Greenland. Based on four months of fieldwork, I will explore these usages through anthropological lenses of materiality, value, and temporality and I argue that beadwork becomes a potential manifestation of ‘The Third Place’ with its intricate intermingling within Greenland and its relations with Denmark and the South.

With regards to methodology, the thesis is built on the pillars of classical anthropological fieldwork methods, namely participant-observation and interviews. In using these, I was able to gain insight to the everyday practices of beadworkers and how they relate to their  materials. Alongside these methods, I also made extensive use of digital ethnography and the ‘apprenticeship method.’ As beadwork is not confined to Greenland, but is rather a global practice occurring cross-culturally, the digital aspect of my fieldwork was important to gain knowledge of how beadwork is used to express identity, cultural heritage, and the like on social media platforms as well as how a beading community can take place online. For the thesis, an account on Instagram was created in order to share my own work as well as take part in an online community. The ‘apprenticeship method’ used over the course of the fieldwork was moreover useful in my own acquisition of the skill of beading, alongside my interlocutors who were able to share their knowledge with me through this approach. By acquiring the skill of beading, moreover, I gained some phenomenological insight to the practice of beading as well as being able to mirror and reflect more deeply on what my interlocutors shared with me. I have further reflected on my own positionality as a ‘halfie’ anthropologist (Abu-Lughod 1994), seeing as I myself am from Greenland and am thus an anthropologist studying her own culture and heritage. These reflections regarding positionality, alongside the phenomenological understanding acquired through the apprenticeship method and extensive participant-observation, helped not only in understanding and empathizing with my interlocutors, but learning, and using this knowledge as empirical data, about myself and my own heritage.
The overall theoretical frame that engulfs the thesis lies within the material and ontological realm. In the thesis, I draw on Amira Henare et al.’s Thinking Through Things (2007) and Jane Bennet’s Vibrant Matter (2010), both of which center on the notion of materiality. This overall framework is especially suitable for the contents of the thesis, seeing as the central topic of the thesis itself is material – i.e., the beads and beadwork, and how these relate and enter into relations with humans, i.e., the beadworkers. Bennet’s Vibrant Matter seeks to counter a deeply-rooted insistence, a product of modernity, on human exceptionality, making the rather philosophical argument that all matter – things, animals, particles – have the capacity for agency. By forming together into groups, into assemblages, they acquire a distributed agency that has a stronger capacity to influence the world and their surroundings. Similarly, but with a more methodological approach, anthropologists Henare et al.’s Thinking Through Things is used to further illuminate the importance and potency of the material object at hand. By not letting themselves be dictated by preconceived theoretical notions of the field and instead taking seriously the material objects encountered in the field, they argue that anthropologists can build from the things of the field and thus they, in many ways, unsettle a Euro-American insistence on human exceptionality.

Structure and content of the thesis

The thesis is divided into five overall chapters: an introductory chapter, three analytical body-chapters, and the conclusion. In the introduction, a detailed presentation of the field, the premise, the methodological, ethical, and theoretical considerations made for the thesis are provided which gives the reader the necessary sense of context and location of the thesis. The introduction further includes a brief overview of the history of beads and beadwork in Greenland, a literature review as well as some brief notes on the terminology used in the thesis.
In the three analytical body-chapters, the empirical material acquired from fieldwork is put into dialogue with anthropological and adjacent literature and analytical perspectives. The analytical chapters are divided into three themes, namely materiality, value, and temporality, respectively. All three analytical chapters explore themes of multiplicity and multifacetedness and each seeks to shed light on how a potential ‘Third Place’ can emerge from these multiplicities. 
The first chapter, “A Beaded Assemblage,” welcomes the reader into an exploration of the intricacies and manifold shapes and forms beads and beadwork can take. Drawing on Bennet’s notion of an assemblage, described above, the chapter builds an assemblage of the ‘beadwork’ by illustrating and paying attention to the different actants that surround and make up what beadwork is and how beadwork, as an assemblage, in turn, can affect and have agency. Some of the actants that are included in this assemblage are the different kinds of beads and materials – for example the name-brand ‘Greenlandic beads’ or the thread, needle, and the ‘right’ kind of storage options. Another important actant of the assemblage is that of the algorithms that make it possible for beadwork to travel across online spheres and transcend colonially imposed borders. In effect, the algorithms link disparate beadworkers with each other, through their mutual connection being ‘beadwork,’ just as the physical thread links the disparate beads together in beadwork. The different ways in which beadwork, as an assemblage, has agentic capacities is also explored, namely in the ways in which beadwork demand certain attributes from other actants: take for instance the patience, skill, and time spent required in order to be be able to link together beads in a ‘proper’ way. The other agentic capacities are implicitly explored in the following chapters, e.g., in the ways in which beadwork can make people attribute values to them and act accordingly (chapter two) and how beadwork can make questions of time and heritage arise (chapter three). Analytically, the first chapter draws on Bennet (2010) and Henare (2007), but links these Euro-American theorists with two Indigenous concepts, namely the Native American  Anishinaabe-Haudesaunee concept of Place-Thought as well as the Inuit concepts of inua and sila. Using Place-Thought (Watts 2013), inua and sila (Qitsualik 2013 and Bjørn 1992, among others), and the Southern ontological literature are not only useful tools to further a deeper examination of the actants and the agencies of beadwork seeing as all concepts de-center the human and level out the field of actants. By including Indigenous concepts, the thesis is further localized within an Indigenous context and this moreover is a, however small, step towards the devaluation of Southern, academic knowledge over Indigenous knowledges.
In the second chapter, “Sapangaaqqat Pingaartitat – Valued Beads,” the different kinds of values attributed to beads and beadwork are explored; here, the moral, cultural, and economic values of beadwork are in focus. Once again, the multifacetedness of beadwork is put to the forefront, insofar beadwork in Nuuk is valued in many, at times seemingly contradictory, manners. Empirical material from Nuuk is analyzed using anthropological literature from Michael Lambek (2013), James Clifford (2013), Anna Tsing (2013), and Igor Kopytoff (1986). The chapter begins by illustrating the various ways beads and beadwork appear in the cityscape of Nuuk: beadwork is put for sale by street vendors, beadwork materials are for sale in various stores, and beadwork is displayed in museums. Delving first into the moral values of beadwork, the chapter visits a boutique owner in Nuuk who, in selling beadwork, feels strong connections to her heritage and that she is taking part of a movement that keeps the Greenlandic culture alive because, as she says, ‘it can so easily disappear.’ Secondly, the surface of the cultural values of beadwork is scratched upon with the inclusion of the many ways in which beadwork can contain identity and signal one’s heritage to the world. Values such as ‘home’ and ‘Indigeneity’ were attributed to beadwork, especially the ways in which beadwork can help anchor one’s identity when confronted with a different way of life in Denmark as a Greenlandic student. Finally, the economic values of beadwork are explored and here, the apparently contradictory valuations become most apparent: beadwork is simultaneously an everyday, cultural object as much as an object that is commodifiable. As commodified objects, my interlocutors agree that the amount of hours of labor should be recognized in the pricing of beadwork which explains the steep price of beadwork sold by private beadworkers and in stores. However, setting a price on beadwork, they find, is a difficult ordeal both because of the cultural and moral values that are imbued into beadwork, but also because of the beadworkers’ own valuations of the beadwork. These difficulties are analyzed by utilizing Kopytoff’s notion of the singularization of objects and Tsing’s reflections on the ‘gift’ (Mauss 1997) that is difficult to separate from commodities.

In the third and final analytical body-chapter, “Time, as embedded in beadwork,” the multiple temporalities that exist within, around, and between beads and beadwork are examined. In the chapter, questions of the past, present, and future are explored and how these temporalities can arise from the materialities of beads and beadwork. The chapter draws analytical points from Doreen Massey’s book For Space (2005), in which she makes the argument that temporality is embedded within spatiality as opposed to being distinct from it. For the purposes of the thesis, Massey’s spatiality is replaced with materiality. The third chapter is rich in its empirical examples, illustrating the many ways my interlocutors and myself reflect on time through beadwork. The chapter explores how the question of heritage is present during quiet beading sessions together; how beaded earrings can symbolize a blend of temporalities, through their modern or ‘traditional’ looks; how beadwork and beading can be a way of reconnecting to ancestors and relatives; and how beading and beadwork can become ways to re-interpret parts of one’s cultural identity, reclaiming and revitalizing material aspects that may have been avoided or shunned in the past. Not only are there layers of temporality embedded within beads and beadwork, but these temporalities are closely entwined – almost inseparable from – with relationality. The chapter further underlines and emphasizes the fluidity of temporality, asserting that ‘the past’ is not something static and absolute nor that the desire to reclaim and revitalize one’s identity is an example of wanting ‘to go back in time.’ Rather, the chapter seeks to illustrate that time is always in flux and that this passing and fluidity of time is recognized and at times even celebrated through the act of beading; through these small acts of recognition and celebrations of time, the chapter argues that ‘the Third Place [is], in a way, beaded into existence.’
In the conclusion, the etic concept of ‘beadwork’ is presented, a concept that is based on the empirical material presented in the three analytical body-chapters. The concept did not arise in the field, but arose later during the analytical and theoretical moves that were made for the thesis. As mentioned above, the thesis is inspired and influenced by Pia Arke and her work, especially with her writing on the Third Place. In beadwork as a concept, this notion of the Third Place is restated, arguing that beadwork can be one way for the Third Place to emerge. Instead of only pondering solely about overarching notions of colonialism, historical and contemporary relations between Greenland and Denmark, and reconciliation, the Third Place emerging from beadwork emphasizes the intimacies of beadwork and the relationalities inherent in beadwork. If the lens of the thesis had been focused on coloniality and/or decoloniality alone, many of these observations and intricacies might have been overlooked. On a significantly smaller scale than what Arke did with her book, Stories from Scoresbysund  (2003), the thesis has attempted to redirect attention from the abstract questions of coloniality and generalizing ‘us-them’ dichotomies and instead embraces the quotidian aspects of beadwork – the connections and relations that are formed from these paraphernalia. The concept of beadwork, it should be noted, does not pose as original or revolutionary in any way, as it leans so heavily on Arke and other thinkers and artists. Furthermore, the concept does not seek to minimize or trivialize the very real, and often horrific, societal and cultural consequences that are a result of colonization in Greenland, Denmark and beyond. Instead, the concept rather attempts to redirect the gaze away from abstraction and is grounded within the material, physical, and intimate, in a discourse that is otherwise often characterized by abstractions, ideologies, and ‘bigger questions.’

Specialet er indstillet til specialekonkurrencen 2022.

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Senest opdateret 23. juni 2024