The social lives of pointlessness – Københavns Universitet

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The social lives of pointlessness

- An Anthropological Study of Declared Nihilists in the Republic of Georgia

Lack of meaning in life is generally considered socially threatening or straightforwardly pathological. In a world where lack of democratic and political participation among youth is a widespread concern, youth-disengagement and acts officially perceived as meaningless pose a challenge to policy makers, development agencies and state institutions. Recent studies argue that experiences of meaninglessness and pointlessness have rendered disengagement and depression epidemic, even pandemic, in the modern world. But what is at stake in the lives of people who see the pointless not as a disease but an inherent factor of life? This project examines this question through a study of declared nihilists in the Republic of Georgia.

Nihilism centres on the idea that no conception of meaning and well-being can be trusted; therefore, all guidelines for behaviour which have recourse to such conceptions are suspect. But is meaninglessness more than an ideological position for declared nihilists? Do they experience something they themselves call meaninglessness? If so, how can we analyse this experience without turning it into a meaningful, and perhaps even useful, result in itself? These questions lead to the realization that if nihilism is not only a philosophy, but the lived experience and practice of pointlessness, it constitutes a challenge to a social scientific analysis habitually centred on conveying some form of coherence or meaningfulness. Aware of this challenge, this project seeks an answer through long-term ethnographic fieldwork among young, declared nihilists in Tbilisi, capital of the Republic of Georgia.

The project is funded by the Danish Research Council for Culture and Communication (FKK) from Dec. 1st 2013 to Nov. 30th 2016