Streets, scum and people: Discourses of (in)civility in postwar Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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11 Scopus citations


Building on more than ten years of ethnographic research in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, this article documents discourses and practices of civility as mutuality with limits. This mode of civility operates to regulate the field of socio-political inclusion in Bosnia-Herzegovina; it stretches to include self-described “urbanites” while, at the same time, it excludes “rural others” and “rural others within.” In order to illustrate the workings of civility as mutuality with limits, the focus is on interconnections and messy relationships between different aspects of civility: moral, political/civil, and socio-cultural. Furthermore, by using ethnography in the manner of theory, three assumptions present in theories of civility are challenged. First, there is an overwhelming association of civility with bourgeois urban space where civility is located in the city. However, the focus here is on how civility works in the context of Balkan and Bosnian semi-periphery, suspended between urbanity and rurality. Second, much literature on civility implies that people enter public spaces in ways that are unmarked. As is shown here, however, people’s bodies always carry traces of histories of inequality. Third, scholarship on civility mainly takes the materiality of urban space for granted. By paying careful attention to what crumbling urban space looks and feels like, it is demonstrated how civility is often entangled with, experienced through and articulated via material things, such as ruins. These converging, historically shaped logics, geographies and materialities of (in)civility illustrate how civility works as an “incomplete horizon” of political entanglement, recognition and mutuality, thus producing layers of distinction and hierarchies of value, which place a limit on the prospects of democratic politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-356
Number of pages31
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • civility
  • discourse
  • distinction
  • exclusion
  • infrastructure
  • mutuality
  • precarity
  • rural
  • urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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