“This is (Not) Crisis”: Chronotope, Crisis Narration, and the Metapragmatics of Historical Time

In post-independence Timor-Leste, the spectre of crisis looms large. Since its troubled beginnings, the first new nation of the 21st century has been plagued with successive waves of ruinous violence. Declarations or denials of “crisis!” continue to be commonplace. How do such narrative invocations of crisis influence peoples’ understandings of the structure of historical time? What do declarations of crisis do socially and interactionally and how do they work in practice? Drawing on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Timor-Leste’s capital city from 2008-present, this talk examines Timorese mass-mediated political discourse surrounding the “2006 Crisis,” an episode of destructive communal violence in which Timor-Leste’s government institutions collapsed and one quarter of the population was once again displaced. Using the tools of a semiotically-informed linguistic anthropology, I examine the spatial and temporal organization (or “chronotopes”) of Timorese ‘crisis narratives’ and their social effects. I investigate how the narrativity of crisis operates on a micro-interactional scale to invoke and transform audiences’ understandings of large-scale phenomena such as “national history” and popular judgements of political legitimacy to rule. Drawing together insights from critical historiography and “conceptual history” (Koselleck) with literary theory (Bakhtin) and contemporary linguistic and semiotic anthropology, I propose that “crisis” can be viewed as a “cross-chronotopic operator”–– a metadiscursive device that invites comparative evaluation of disparate “events,” “episodes,” or “space-times” within the same experiential frame (the event of crisis narration) thereby consequentially transforming the present in its wake.

Gabriel Tusinski is Assistant Professor of socio-cultural and linguistic anthropology in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) interdiscipilinary cluster at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He has conducted over 16 months of ethnographic research in Dili, Timor-Leste between 2008-present. His book manuscript The Spectral City: Cultural Belonging, Urban Space, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Dili, Timor-Leste explores how post-conflict urban reconstruction projects and nation-building discourses in Dili at once revitalize indigenous Timorese cultural sensibilities about house-based kinship and simultaneously frame these practices as incompatible with democratic ideals. He is currently engaged in ongoing research projects on “Housing and the Good Life in Timor-Leste”, “Attitudes towards ASEAN in East Timor,” and “Food and Cosmopolitan Consciousness in Dili, Timor-Leste.”

Date & time

Tue 30 Jul 2019, 4.30–5.45pm


Theatrette (2.02), Sir Roland Wilson Building, Building #120, McCoy Circuit, ANU


Dr Gabriel Tusinski (Singapore University of Technology and Design)

Event series


Humanities Research Centre
+61 2 6125 4357


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