Shared views or values alone do not create solidarity. Nor is community simply a matter of emotions. Togetherness is underpinned by places and things that we are intimately invested in—so intimately that we often find it hard to convey the depth and meaning of that affinity to outsiders. Our connection with such sites of practice is anchored in our everyday lives. We inhabit them, and the ways in which we face the world, alone or jointly with others, are shaped by them. That is why we rarely articulate that connection: we are forced to do so mostly when they are questioned or threatened. What is special about sites of practice is that they can connect people who have a widely different but equally strong relationship with them—not unlike sites of memory, which can bring together people who associate different things with an historic place or figure.
What can become a site of practice? An office where people of different backgrounds work together. A laptop, the true home of a networked nomad. An urban park: one person’s picnic place, another’s playground, a third one’s jogging route. The nation. A tree. A character from a novel. A monument.
Populists have a nose for sites of practice, and a talent for monopolizing their meaning: by taking things that we have a deeply personal and emotional connection with and imposing a dominant interpretation on them, they parasitize our most intimate experiences. To some, the tree might be their children’s climbing frame; to others, a piece of greenery in their front yard. The populist declares it a symbol of the nation under siege, thus turning the nation’s supposed enemies into assassins of our life worlds.
Can we summon up new solidarities from sites of practice? Can we identify existing European sites of practice that might anchor community in diversity?
Mischa Gabowitsch is a researcher at the Einstein Forum. His most recent book publications are Protest in Putin’s Russia (2016), Kriegsgedenken als Event: Der 9. Mai 2015 im postsozialistischen Europa (2017, as co-editor), Pamiatnik i prazdnik: etnografiia 9 maia (as editor, forthcoming), and Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities (as editor, forthcoming). He is currently working on a history of Soviet war memorials. He is a member of the steering committee for a recently launched initiative called Praxis Europa that brings together academics and practitioners in search of a more democratic, just, and sustainable Europe.