Turbulent being(s): proliferating curses and shamanic practice in post-Soviet Kyzyl, Tuva
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This thesis is about curses. It shows how the mechanics of cursing are intrinsically linked to shamanic practice in the ethnographic context of social, economic and political shifts in post-Soviet Kyzyl, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Tuva. Moving beyond discourses that understand ‘economics’ as narrowly pertaining to wealth, power and the circulation of goods, the thesis explores curses as distinct social mechanisms within an ‘occult economy’ that constitutes a wider sociocosmic politics emergent from human and non-human interactions. Along these lines, while presenting Tuvan shamanism as central to cursing phenomena, the thesis explores the distinctiveness and efficacy of shamanic practice as a form of artistry embedded in instrument-derived (shamanic drum) and human (the shaman’s voice) sound production. Thus, it challenges the ‘classical’ readings of shamanism which emphasise trance and mediumship usually seen as involving significant changes in the ‘physical’ and ‘psychic’ states of the shamans. Contextualizing cursing in the practice of Tuvan shamanism, the thesis illuminates the significance of sound creation among Tuvans in order to introduce the notion of ‘turbulence’ as integral not only to shamanic sound production, but also to immediate experiences of cursing and the overall patterning of the cosmos. More than that, bringing sounds and turbulence together in the context of shamanic rituals, it shows how sounds are imbued with a potency of their own rather than simply constituting a sonorous aspect of shamanic words. Along these lines, it contributes to a better understanding of im/materiality and the logic of representation. Lastly, exploring the multiplication of curses in the post-Soviet context, the thesis also offers an interpretative framework which unveils how occult phenomena can become efficacious analytical tools, allowing us to grasp the mosaic-like characteristics of the sociocultural contexts in which they are embedded. In this way, the thesis attempts to emancipate ‘occultism’ from the rigid dichotomies of tradition and modernity, and challenge those anthropological approaches to post-colonial transformations which emphasise cultural revivalism and ethnic identity, remaining caught in the usual dynamics of ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ – dynamics we need to leave behind.