home / congresses / SIEF2021
sief2021 logo

SIEF2021 15th Congress

Helsinki, Finland
19-24 June 2021

Breaking the rules? Power, participation, transgression

Breaking the rules? Power, Participation, and Transgression

“We always long for the forbidden things, and desire what is denied us.” – François Rabelais

Rules discipline our actions, minds, and bodies. They map out our communication with environments, objects, and agents into intensely affective domains of the accepted and the forbidden, laden with symbolism, triggering resistance or compliance.

SIEF2021 brings into focus discourses and practices of making, breaking, reinterpreting and transgressing rules. To break the rules is to be an agent of change, exposing faultlines, establishments, hegemonies, and vulnerabilities. We propose to examine the implications of “breaking the rules” in social, economic, political, cultural and academic contexts. In the tradition of folkloristic, ethnological, and anthropological inquiries around rule-making, bending and breaking, we invite you to examine cultural forms of participation to create an understanding of what happens and what is at stake when rules are transgressed or broken in everyday life. Finding loop-holes, taking short cuts are among the everyday tactics of bending or making your ‘own’ rules.

Breaking the rules can be a way of challenging, rejecting, or even taking power, be it in individual lives, or on a global scale, but the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented in living memory, has suddenly laid bare how choosing to transgress or comply can have profound effects on experience, or even life itself. In the social contract of contemporary democracies, an unusual amount of power has suddenly accrued towards the state, directing citizens into new, tightly controlled social realities that may be transitory, but could easily and imperceptibly become new norms. These changes are on the cultural as well as political level: Has physical contact forever lost its reassuring and welcoming message and instead morphed into a threat? Will kisses, hugs, and handshakes now be seen as irresponsible transgressions?

Breaking the rules can strip people of the protections provided by mutually agreed ethical principles. It can thus be dangerous or perhaps generate something new and better.

Power, participation and transgression are enacted in various ways and in multiple arenas, as explored in classic studies in our fields’ history. Rituals and magic, for instance, can be about both reproducing and contesting social order (carnival, rites of passage, etc.). Practices of transgression reveal and confront social and cultural orders, while cultural expressions such as oral tradition and artistic practice can be instruments of consensus, as well as of contestation. Storytelling, too, remains a key mechanism for complying to, transgressing, processing, and conveying rules, whether through trickster tales, stories about heroes reestablishing social order, contemporary legends about the manipulation of rules, personal experience stories, or other narratives.

SIEF2021 invites and encourages ethnologists, folklorists, anthropologists, and scholars in adjacent fields, to examine the dynamics, modes, arenas and implications of breaking, bending and transgressing the rules and to revisit concepts of power, participation and transgression.

Topics addressed and questions raised include: 

Bodies: Bodies are arenas of compliance, resistance, and transgression, that are harnessed, celebrated, brutalized, tamed, and shaped by international policies, legislation, military service, discrimination, immobility measurements, cultural traditions and preferences, food, medicine, and life experience. Queer bodies, as well as ‘unacceptable’ or unhealthy bodies, and moving bodies are defined by a pervasive ableist normativity. What “norms” and “rules” pertain and how are they challenged? By whom? How do bodies signal their own agency, defiance, resistance, compliance, defeat? What are the emerging, embodied, and advocated new norms and rules?

Space and place: Space is created by local, national and transnational strategies, urban planning, and architectonic interventions, but also by diverse modes of participation in social life, public events, and everyday practices of people who use it. How does power manifest itself in spatial politics and practices? What behaviours are understood as ‘breaking the rules’ in this sphere and what are the spatial implications of such transgression?

Performance and practice: Conventions impose rules and norms that guide our actions, expressions, and performative practices, as well as the evaluation of others’ performances. However, they also provide a norm from which to deviate to engender (self-)transformation and bring on cultural change and social justice. How can performances be tools of convergence or resistance, conduits of change, or means of participation? Narratives and knowledge production: How would a narrative go about breaking rules, or moral codes, bringing forth chaos? What about rules and conventions in narration? What can be told and what remains untellable? As tools for the production of knowledge, social media are a site of a battle over knowledge and facts. What do these new forms of civic engagement imply for the circulation of knowledge, for democratization and the everyday ancient craft of narration?

Environment and our relationships with the non-human: In the context of an increasing planetary thinking, how are relations between Earth, nature, and humans redefined? Can other living organisms (animals, microbes) and inanimate matter break human rules? Can humans come up with new moral codes as different generations of environmental activists take a stance? How can scholars ‘stay with the trouble’, maintain cultural criticism, and yet play a part in promoting new policies?

Digital lives: The ubiquity of the digital in our lives can imply both empowerment – offering a vehicle for activism, resistance, and alternative actions – and an expression of control and institutional power – for instance control over our data and personal information, or even what information we are allowed to access. How do digital media affect relations of power, authority, and social and cultural (in)equalities? How can we think broadly about digital diversity and hierarchies experienced by various societal groups? What practices of resistance and empowerment can be found online? What rules, etiquettes, and social logics emerge and take shape when new digital forms of communication become everyday practices?

Cultural encounters: How are tropes of global and local power enacted and performed through varied encounters among individual actors such as indigenous groups, community members, industry officials, scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and tourists?

Cultural heritage and cultural property: How can practices of participation, compliance, and transgression be agents of negotiation in defining and practicing cultural heritage? How does transgression shape alternative understandings of cultural heritage? What rules are set by cultural heritage politics and what happens if they are broken? How does acquiescence contribute to the perpetuation of cultural frameworks, for better or worse?

Policies, borders and securitization: The EU, the state, and municipalities all create laws, rules, and guidelines that are to be learned and followed. Yet what happens on the level of implementation? How do the roles of street-level bureaucrats – the tug-of-war between enforcing policies and negotiating them with each individual – affect the relationship between citizens and higher powers and the form that policies take in real life? What implications does rule-making have for increased securitization and bordering? Resistance and unrest: What is the dynamic between the moral failing of policies and conventions and the emergence of civic protest and sometimes unrest? Who is breaking the rules if states fail to respect and enforce human rights and society responds? What role do modern and social media play in fomenting or resolving these situations?

Disciplinary boundaries: Power asymmetries and epistemic conflicts still exist in academia. How do we negotiate who is entitled to create the rules? What are transgressive practices in academia? How can a particularly transdisciplinary research practice (as distinct from multi-, cross-, or inter-disciplinarity) lead to out-of-the-box solutions to contemporary societal challenges? How are data generation and management practices related to the creation and nature of knowledge itself? Does disciplinary experience demand, facilitate, or militate against activism? How can, or should activist cultural agendas shape research?