Healing Self and Society: Alternative Political Vision and Conspiracy in the Czech Republic
My PhD project is a study of the covid-skeptical movement in the Czech Republic. During the pandemic, a patchwork alliance of new-age enthusiasts, far right activists, and concerned parents appeared across Europe. They demanded an end to mask mandates and lockdown restrictions and opposed vaccination programs. This project maps political ambitions, dreams, and desires emerging within this loosely defined movement – especially those which congregated around alternative forms of spirituality and conspiratorial narratives. As the covid-skeptical activists try to resist what they perceive as the rise of biomedical totalitarianism, many of them have come to understand the pandemic as another indication of a deeply sick and unjust society. They hope that the world can be fixed, and that radical change is coming soon. I follow these (con)spiritual activists beyond the pandemic as they try to prefigure an alternative society and produce an alternative future by various means – political action, healing rituals, and personal lifestyle choices.
Fieldwork for this project will take place in the Czech Republic. The primary focus will be on activists who understand and frame their efforts as part of a larger struggle to radically transform society, and who demand (far) more than a return to “business as usual.” Disillusioned with the promises of modernity, and what they perceive as a lack of soul and sense in contemporary society, people mobilize different practices of alternative living (communal life, permaculture gardening, radical self-sustainability, alternative medicine) not just to secure a good life for themselves, but to potentially open up new ways of living for all. Describing themselves as awakened, they establish new networks within the (con)spirituality milieu and attempt to realize the future they desire, moving beyond outrage and protest. Despite the reluctance of (con)spiritual activists to engage with mainstream politics, their ambitions offer an alternative to the current political order, speaking to issues of climate change, more-than-human relationships, and democracy. However, these “politics in the minor” must not be romanticized, as they also became entangled with their own forms of exclusion.
As a result, this research focuses on larger questions of agency and hope. How can a different future be imagined and enacted when people have very limited means to do so? How do people attempt to create a utopia for themselves in the here and now? How do they maintain their commitment to future-building in an uncertain and unpredictable world? Drawing on anthropological research, I will track how activists attempt to make a potential future real and tangible, and how they formulate alternatives to the current political order, even while they remain part of it.