Crisis is normally conceived of as an isolated period of time in which our lives are shattered. It defines the loss of balance and the inability to control the exterior forces influencing our possibilities and choices. The phenomenon is seen as a temporary disorder, a momentary malformation in the flow of things. Yet, for a great many people around the world crisis is endemic rather than episodic and cannot be delineated as an aberrant moment of chaos or a period of decisive change. For the structurally violated, socially marginalised and poor, the world is not characterised by balance, peace or prosperity but by the ever-present possibility of conflict, poverty and disorder. In this introductory article I examine the social and experiential consequences of chronic crisis and investigate how it challenges and furthers our analytic apparatus. Instead of placing crisis in context I argue that we need to see crisis as context â€“ as a terrain of action and meaning â€“ thereby opening up the field to ethnographic investigation.
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