Symposium #159: Toward an Anthropological Understanding of Masculinities, Maleness, and Violence

This past March Wenner-Gren found itself in familiar surroundings at the Tivoli Pálacio de Seteais in Sintra for the 159th Symposium “Toward an Anthropological Understanding of Masculinities, Maleness, and Violence”, organized by Matthew Gutmann (Brown University), Robin Nelson (Santa Clara University), and Agustín Fuentes (University of Notre Dame). Be on the lookout for a future issue of Current Anthropology for this meeting’s papers, available to all 100% Open-Access.

From Left: Agustín Fuentes, Godfrey Maringira, Fátima Pinto, Robin Nelson, Hannah Marshall, Rick Bribiescas, Mark Ropelewski, Bob Pease, Sally Merry, Matt Gutmann, Maria Amelia Viteri, Ricky Smith, Tiffiny Tung, Sealing Cheng, Brian Ferguson, Danilyn Rutherford, Lise Eliot, Mark Padilla, Laurie Obbink

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Toward an Anthropological Understanding of Masculinities, Maleness, and Violence”

Matthew Gutmann (Brown University)

Robin Nelson (Santa Clara University)

Agustín Fuentes (University of Notre Dame)

No one is surprised that most murderers are men. What gets ignored too often is that most men are not murderers. However, the entanglement between maleness, masculinity, and violence is neither straightforward nor uniform. For several decades, cultural anthropologists have studied and analyzed masculinities and gender-based violence of all sorts. These range from intimate partner violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, racialized violence, and armed conflict. Simultaneously, biological anthropologists have examined the relationships of evolutionary processes, genomics, and endocrinology between maleness and violence.  Yet rarely if ever do these two currents in contemporary anthropological scholarship meet, except perhaps in effortless dismissal of the more intemperate claims of others.

In humans, imagination, perceptions, and ideology matter as much as bone, muscle, and Y chromosomes. Both perceptual and material feedback loops channel violence into physiological changes in bodies and reshape ideologies. Yet outside and inside the academy there is widespread confidence in biological explanations that draw a direct link between maleness and violence. What we seek here is a more nuanced approach that recognizes previous engagements but gives weight to imagination, perceptions, histories, and embodiment in masculinity and violence.  A central purpose of this symposium is for scholars from diverse branches of anthropology and allied fields to engage in dialogue, to not talk past each other, to sincerely seek better toolkits to address issues of violence, masculinity, maleness within our academic and public discussions, communications, and debates.

Donald Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, the counter-wave of women’s protests against male predatory entitlement and impunity, and the challenge to men to cease their complicity have become pivotal on every newscast featuring sexual harassment and assaults. Our own field of anthropology has become a central locale for uncovering, engaging and dealing with male privilege, bias and coercive violence.  The topic of violence is obviously expansive. For this symposium, we want to focus discussion on physical and psychological violence associated with maleness and masculinities from coercion to warfare. These topics should remain a focus of our attention for years to come, and anthropologists should have more authority to speak to the fundamental questions: Is this just the way men are if they think they can get away with it?  Is male violence “natural”?  In examining beliefs about men’s aggressive natures rooted in some imagined prehistory, an accurate understanding of biology in integration with a broader anthropology has never been more important.  We think that diverse anthropological theory must be brought to bear on this subject if we are to develop more complete, effective and usable (in policy, education, and public debate) analyses of maleness, masculinities, and violence.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the spate of learned reports on aggression might make one think that there is a causal link between maleness and violence.  Selfish genes, demonic males, the spread of agriculture, personal vengeance, and politics by other means have all been ideas promoted to explain the innate violent connection between maleness and power.  But is any of it true?

The eminent Cambridge neuroscientist Joe Herbert, writing in 2015, tells us, “As well as the imprint of biological inheritance, we see the tendrils of testosterone all over war, gangs, and fanaticism,” and, “There’s a very simple reason why most financial traders are young(ish) men.  The nature of trading incorporates all the features for which young males are biologically adapted.”  Do the on-average differences between male and female physiologies form the underlying basis for violence?  Perhaps not, but if they do indicate something, what can we learn from them?

This conference will gather some of the leading researchers on maleness, masculinities, and violence in anthropology to engage each other in constructive dialogue on these issues.  If anthropology is to mean anything as an integrative discipline, it must be able to advance our understanding by bringing the subfields into the direct exchange of ideas on pressing social challenges like gender-based violence.

We are not looking to repeat past assessments of this topic.  Nor are we looking to remain segregated by different vantage points, ideologies and methodologies.  We seek to disregard traditional boundaries and ask all who participate in this conference to come prepared to absorb a full range of ideas, to attempt to identify and facilitate connectivities across approaches.

 

Symposium #158: Atlantic Slavery and the Making of the Modern World: Experiences, Representations, and Legacies

In October Wenner-Gren once again made the journey back to Tivoli Pálacio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal for the 158th Symposium, “Atlantic Slavery and the Making of the Modern World: Experiences, Representations and Legacies”, organized by Ibrahima Thiaw (IFAN-University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar) and Deborah Mack (National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC). Be on the lookout for the upcoming special issue of Current Anthropology for the meeting’s papers, available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Laurie Obbink, Mark Leone, Liza Gijanto, Ibrahima Thiaw, Deborah Mack, Catherine Hall, Joseph Inikori, Ana Lucia Araujo, Kelly Goldberg.
Back: Cameron Monroe, Jemima Pierre, Hannes Schroeder, Michael Blakey, Jean Muteba Rahier, Katharina Schramm, Temi Odumosu, Fátima Pinto, Danilyn Rutherford.

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Atlantic Slavery and the Making of the Modern World: Experiences, Representations and Legacies”

Ibrahima Thiaw (IFAN-University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar)
Deborah Mack (NMAAHC-Smithsonian)

Even today, Atlantic slavery and the slave trade continue to haunt our present and to impact our everyday lives. The persistence of racist ideology and its contestations, economic disparities within and between nation states and across continents, human trafficking and massive migratory movements in world populations today are stark reminders of global processes unleashed by capitalist and imperial expansions concomitant with the Atlantic economy. While the institution of slavery and the trade in people were important components in other major global trade networks (e.g., Roman empire, trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean commerce, etc.), the historical proximity of Atlantic slavery, its strong racial and racist foundations, its scale and its long-term effects make it profoundly relevant to the modern experience. Its enduring legacies and multiple reverberations on various domains of modern life are sensitive topics of tremendous political and popular concern in various regions of the globe, and particularly in Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

There is a massive body of scholarly (anthropologists, historians, sociologists, economic historians, art and architectural historians, preservationists, landscape and urban planners and various other heritage professionals, etc.) and non-scholarly production (e.g., visual artists, storytellers, musicians, performance artists, etc.) on Atlantic slavery and its afterlives. Over the past decades, however, the strong resonance of histories of slavery in local and global politics, the challenges they pose to modern governance and policing, the multiplication and multivocality of actors, as well as the racial polarization of these debates have collectively rendered the discipline of anthropology ever more relevant. Politically engaged anthropologists have dismantled Eurocentric assumptions about racial hierarchies and stigmatization, gender and class biases, and essentialist views on cultural identity. Many anthropological explorations of Atlantic slavery today are self-reflective and highlight the capacity of the discipline to reinvent itself by examining its paradigms, theories, and methods and by challenging accepted models of thought, as well as commonplace understandings of cultural, racial, ethnic and even socioeconomic differences. Anthropology has taken a stand against many power-driven assumptions to be more attentive to subaltern voices worldwide, particularly on issues related to slavery and its aftermath in the global North as well as in the global South.

Building on such momentum and on the large corpus of existing literature, this symposium will gather pioneering academic and public scholars working from a wide range of perspectives. The symposium will not only evaluate existing literatures and practice, it will also provide a unique opportunity to generate and explore new ideas for future directions. We hope to build conversations among several disciplines of evidence, contexts and frameworks to challenge pre-existing approaches, and in the process identify new approaches in both theory and practices that benefit both scholarship and our globalized communities on the ground. Participants from different disciplinary homes, cultural backgrounds, and research traditions in Africa, the Americas and Europe are invited to reflect on the different geographies of power and cultural economies of Atlantic slavery and their enduring legacies in the 21st century. Because we want these conversations to be among people who are both strangers to each other and bring different types of new knowledge to the table, we hope that we serve as a strong voice to building bridges within anthropology and across disciplines. We are intentionally challenging intellectual traditions within and across the field of anthropology and offer models of what anthropology has to become in order to have greater impact in policy as well as public culture and action. Our goal is to provoke productive, cross-pollinating conversations across geographical, methodological and theoretical boundaries, to revisit, reactivate, and redirect debates on Atlantic slavery for the 21st century and beyond.

The symposium is organized around five major themes:

1. Historicizing Capitalist Expansion, Atlantic Slavery, and Empires: How have the historical linkages between capitalist expansion, Atlantic slavery and the making of empires been explored in different world regions? How central was the institution of slavery for the development and expansion of capitalism and empire? What were the roles of local versus translocal situations and processes in the polarization of power and wealth in specific world regions? How were these processes maintained and/or changed in different contexts and localities around the globe?

2. Atlantic Slavery and the Politics of Identity: How, when, where, and under which specific conditions did Atlantic slavery produce national and/or transnational identities and political strategies (e.g. diaspora, panafricanism, white supremacy, etc.)? How does the history of Atlantic slavery continue to inform contemporary racialization processes? How and when did the tangled genealogies of the Atlantic blur the very ideological reification of race and ethnicity upon which the institution of slavery was built? How then should we assess the contemporary relevance of identity categories and their eventual use in modern governance? What is the cultural and political significance of the growing industry of genetics and root identity?

3. Slavery and the Production and Reproduction of Social Inequality: How can anthropological approaches to slavery elicit the linkages between slavery and other regimes of inequality based on a manipulation of race, ethnicity, caste, class, gender, religion, etc.? How were these constructed and reproduced, and how did they influence one another in different contexts across the Atlantic and beyond?

4. Remembrance, Memorialization, and the Governance of a Difficult Past: How is slavery remembered in different regions of the world? How and why do different political subjectivities claim and/or contest established modes of memorialization? How do processes of memorialization intersect with the governance, management, and interpretation of these sites of memory and their commodification?

5. Societal and Ideological Responses to Slavery and its Legacies: How are slavery, its memories and/or its legacies produced, experienced, and contested? What are the counter ideologies and other societal responses to slavery, and what effects have they had? How can anthropology contribute to inform policy and the public on slavery and its legacies for a healthier society?

There might be different sensibilities in the ways the terms slave, slavery, and enslavement are used in different academic traditions. However, participants should keep in mind that our prime objective is to generate an up-to-date anthropological knowledge on Atlantic slavery that would dismantle prior assumptions and open up a renewed perspective foregrounded in research and evidence.

Upcoming November Conference

15th Congress of the Latin American Association for Biological Anthropology

November 1 – 4 2018

Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

Since 1990, the Latin American Association for Biological Anthropology (ALAB) meets every two years in different cities across Latin America. This will be its 15th meeting (Congress), and the first to take place in Puerto Rico or any jurisdiction under the United States of America. As expressed in its by-laws, ALAB will organize meetings to contribute to the development of Latin American researchers and professors for the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in the field of Biological Anthropology. Meetings serve has hubs for networking among Latin American researchers, their students, and world-renown investigators undertaking anthropological research on issues related to Latin America. Collaborations for research and dissemination initiatives are developed. The 15th meeting is expected to join approximately 300 participants from across Latin America, including the Caribbean, plus invited speakers from the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

Upcoming September Conferences

4th AIBR International Conference of Anthropology

September 4-7, 2018

Granada, Spain

After the success of our three previous editions, in 2018 the 4th AIBR International Conference of Anthropology will take place in Granada (Spain). AIBR’s yearly conference has become a meaningful and necessary gathering for anthropologists from many parts of the world, but specially from Iberoamerica (Spain, Portugal, and Latin America). This year we will meet around the general theme “Dialogues, Encounters, and Stories from the Souths”. This is a special edition of the Conference where we aim to bring together research, narratives and testimonies from non-Western scholars. We want to bring to the spotlight anthropology as it is practiced in countries and by scholars who situate themselves outside mainstream anthropological theory and practice. Focusing on narratives from the Souths brings us an opportunity to recognize diverse genres of research, writing, and scholarship coming from places and universities that are rarely mentioned in the top rated scientific journals of our discipline.

In the 4th AIBR International Conference we continue to build on the experience of our previous editions. In 2015, the II Conference was held in Barcelona, with sponsorship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, where a total of 876 delegates met and 140 panels took place. The high turnout in Madrid (1st edition), Barcelona (2nd edition) and Puerto Vallarta (3rd edition) and the positive feedback received from the Conference participants showed that it was necessary to create further spaces for dialogue within Iberoamerican anthropology. In 2017 we were able to cross the Ocean. The Puerto Vallarta edition (Mexico) brought together scholars from 28 different countries. The 4th edition of this conference will be jointly organized by AIBR (Network of Iberoamerican Anthropologists) and the University of Granada (Department of Social Anthropology and Institute of Migrations). The conference aims to create a space that combines a range of traditional and innovative forms of dissemination of knowledge to inspire discussion and debate.

8th Annual European Society For The Study of Human Evolution Meeting

September 13-15, 2018

Faro, Portugal

ESHE, the European Society for the study of Human Evolution, promotes the broad field of research which investigates how humans evolved both biologically and culturally. Contributing disciplines typically include hominin palaeontology and palaeogenetics; comparative and functional studies of extant primates, using both morphological and molecular evidence; Palaeolithic archaeology; and applied studies of stable isotopes, dating, taphonomy, palaeoecology and palaeogeography.

ESHE aims to stimulate communication and scientific cooperation between scientists, and to improve public understanding of human evolution. Core activities of the society are: the organization of yearly meetings with a scientific programme, as well as a public-outreach event; encouraging and helping the development of international and interdisciplinary research proposals and projects, and initiating and supporting activities which increase the public visibility of human evolution studies.

The ESHE annual conference brings together an average of over 350 experts and graduate students that present the most recent research in human evolution and adaptation in Plio-Pleistocene contexts, including results from biological-physical research, archaeology, geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology, earth sciences, aDNA, isotopes, etc.

21st Congress Of The Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association

September 23-28, 2018

Hue, Vietnam

This 21st IPPA Congress will gather indigenous Indo-Pacific and other, mainly “Western”, scholars to discuss diverse themes in Indo-Pacific prehistory. As per IPPA procedure, convenors will organize sessions around topical themes in Indo-Pacific archaeology, cultural heritage, natural science, comparative linguistics, cultural anthropology and biological anthropology and genetics. The IPPA region extends W-E from Pakistan to Easter Island, and N-S from Siberia to Australasia. Conference topics can concern any part of this area.

IPPA congresses run every 4 years in collaboration with in-country institutions, most recently at Angkor with the Royal Academy of Cambodia and Khmer Archaeological Society in 2014. Past co-sponsors include the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi (late 2009), the Philippines National Museum and University of the Philippines in Manila (2006), Academia Sinica in Taipei (2002), and the National Museum of Malaysia in Melaka (1998). The 21st Congress in 2018 is co-organised with the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre and the Institute of Archaeology in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

 

Upcoming August Conference

15th Biennial European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)

August 14 – 18, 2018

Stockholm, Sweden

Recent times, for much of humanity but not least in Europe, have been marked by dramatic mobility. It has taken many forms: refugee streams and labor migration, but also pilgrimage, tourism, and the transnational leisure migration of retirees. It is continuously in the news. Mobility has long been a topic in anthropological research. In view of the range and importance of its current forms, mobility is a suitable main theme of the 2018 conference of EASA. The conference will not only focus narrowly on the forms of spatial movement, but willl reflect the variety of its backgrounds, forms and contexts, and longer-term implications ranging from communities left behind, infrastructures of mobility, and the meaning of home, to the relationships between mobility and social media, and the public uses of anthropology. While providing opportunity for reports on ongoing and recent research, this will in addition inspire future anthropological investigations.

The conference brings together scholars and students from across Europe and beyond;
thus creating new formal and informal relationships and collaborations. The Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University has a longstanding extensive engagement with EASA. The Department is prominent internationally not least through its teaching, research and publications on globalization and migration. Building on this, the 15th EASA conference will be an excellent opportunity to further develop this international network, and encourage scholars, especially young ones and students, to broaden the scope of their collaborative networks.

Upcoming July Conferences

Eighth Conference of The International Society For Gesture Studies: Gesture and Diversity

July 4-8, 2018

Cape Town, South Africa

The first conference on gesture on the African continent will focus on the rich diversity of human gestural communication. Gestures and gestural behavior are dynamic and changing –  varying not only across languages and cultures but also within cultural groups according to social levels, age, gender and situation.

The main aim of this conference will be to examine the wide range of linguistic and cultural phenomena and other factors that influence and shape gestural diversity. Special emphasis will be on comparative work looking at, but not limited to:

  1. Studies on gestural form, meaning and function;
  2. The relationship of gesture to language, whether spoken or signed;
  3. Gesture in language development and learning among children in different cultures and multilingual contexts;
  4. Gesture in language learning and conceptual development;
  5. Individual variation in gesture use and comprehension;
  6. The link between gesture and cognitive, cultural and linguistic diversity;
  7. Studies of gestural forms and practices across languages and cultures;
  8. Gesture and its role in sign language variation.

Global Survey of Anthropological Practice (World Council Of Anthropological Associations Biennial Conference)

July 14-15, 2018

Florianopolis, Brazil

The 2018 biennial conference of the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA) will assess the contemporary global range of anthropological activities, including such foci as: the articulation of applied and academic anthropology; the institutional distribution of anthropologists’ employment; the local, regional and global challenges addressed by diverse forms of anthropological engagement; and the teaching of anthropology in non-university contexts. WCAA delegates representing member associations will present papers based upon research they have conducted to explore the parameters of anthropological practice among their constituencies in each nation-state and region they represent, as well as drawing upon the results of a common survey instrument designed and administered by the WCAA in 2017. This conference seeks through these facets of this Global Survey of Anthropological Practice to investigate how anthropologists are confronting such issues as precarity across a range of work places and the populist backlash against policies of multiculturalism, accommodation of migrants and other aspects of globalization by examining what anthropologists across diverse settings are doing and contributing both within the academy and in applied occupations and thus address how ‘scientific research and scholarship can be, has been or will be employed to understand and engage in social processes’.

18th World Congress Of IUAES World (Of) Encounters: The Past, Present And Future Of Anthropological Knowledge

July 16-20, 2018

Florianopolis, Brazil

Anthropology is always remaking itself. Whilst keeping old and new relationships with several other disciplines, it has proven to be able to fill unique scholarly niches that have granted the discipline a distinct and recognizable profile. This proposal is a large umbrella to discuss the many old and new encounters anthropology is made of as well as to prospect for what anthropology might be in the future. It is ample enough to accommodate different research, methodological and theoretical interests of cultural and social anthropologists, of physical anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists. Research is made of encounters and findings. What/which are the encounters that inform anthropologists’ findings? In a changing globalized world how has anthropological knowledge persisted and how will it tackle the political and epistemological challenges of our times?

From this theme, key notes, panels, symposia, workshops, exhibitions, ethnographic videos, short courses, workshops and other activities of interest to IUAES will be organized, with ample participation from the world anthropological community.

 

Twelfth International Conference On Hunting And Gathering Societies (CHAGS 12)

July 23-27, 2018

Penang, Malaysia

The Twelfth International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS 12) will deliberate on the theme of “Situations, Times, and Places in Hunter-Gatherer Research.” This broad umbrella is meant to provoke thinking on productive connections and confluences across disciplines and with non-specialists while maintaining CHAGS’ historical embrace of egalitarian inclusiveness. These conferences generate intellectual exchange, advanced knowledge of the lives and times of hunter-gatherers, and have shaped anthropological theory. For CHAGS 12, emphasis will be placed on Southeast Asian peoples, and what they continue to teach us about anthropological models and practices. We aim to cultivate not just diversity in concept-building but good anthropological practices of working with and relating to hunter-gatherers by:

•     Drawing into conversation researchers who do not normally identify with CHAGS or hunter-gatherer studies (particularly local and regional scholars), and nearby hunter-gatherer communities and their advocates;

•     Promoting discussion and debate across the four fields of anthropology on hunter-gatherer practices and their potential to revitalize anthropological models;

•     Highlighting problems in doing and producing hunter-gatherer ethnography that is more aligned with indigenous models of knowledge, and recognizing the value of ethnography across the subfields;

•     Encouraging more precise geographical comparisons.

Upcoming June Conference

9th  Meeting of Archaeological Theory in South America (IX Reunión de Teoría Arqueológia de América del Sur, TAAS)

June 4-8, 2018

Ibarra, Ecuador

The South America Theoretical Archaeology meeting or TAAS (Teoría Arqueológica de América del Sur) is based on the collective reflection of Latin American archaeologists about the situation and projection of archaeological theory and practice in the Southern Hemisphere.  This 9th version will focus on issues of gender, sexuality, race and local ancestral communities, specifically to address and look into challenging the patriarchal, homophobic and racist undertones that have historically permeated archaeological research in Latin America.

The 9th TAAS will bring together around 500 participants from throughout the Americas to discuss how to better critically engage race, sexuality and indigenous issues that are central to the continent’s archaeological heritage.  To this effect, particular emphasis has been placed on inviting local Afro-American (continentally-speaking) and ancestral community members, as well as, highlighting feminist and queer archaeological theoretical insights and contributions.  Finally, the meeting will also emphasize recruiting undergraduate and graduate archaeology and anthropology students throughout the continent to engage in these discussions on race and sexuality in Latin American archaeology, to hopefully contribute into changing the current hegemonic discourses of the discipline in the region.

TAAS has historically looked to challenge the dominant theoretical paradigms of the discipline and provide nuanced perspectives to understand our intricate relationship with the past.  With the support of international institutions such as the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), TAAS was born in Argentina in 1996. The first meeting was held in 1998 and, since then, versions have been organized in Argentina (twice), Brazil (twice), Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Bolivia.  This 9th TAAS will, for the first time, take place in Ecuador in the city of Ibarra

Symposium #157: “Disability Worlds”

This past March Wenner-Gren headed west to Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch in Tucson, AZ for the 157th Symposium, “Disability Worlds”, organized by Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp of New York University. The meeting’s edited papers will appear in a forthcoming supplement to Current Anthropology, 100% free and open access

Kneeling: Rayna Rapp, Michele Friedner, Susan Reynolds Whyte, Cassandra Hartblay, Tom Boellstorff, Ayo Wahlberg, Laurie Obbink. Standing: Devva Kasnitz, Beatriz Miranda-Galarza, Faye Ginsburg, Herbert Muyinda, Arseli Dokumaci, Laurence Ralph, Tyler Zoanni, Richard Grinker, Patrick Devlieger, Danilyn Rutherford, Renu Addlakha, Pam Block, Lori Stavropoulos (CART Writer), Tanya Marie Anderson (Revoicer)

 

ORGANIZERS‘ STATEMENT

“Disability Worlds”

Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (New York University)

Anthropology is well known for its capacious and ever-expanding framework and its embrace of diversity. Yet, as we argued in our 2013 Annual Review chapter “Disability Worlds”, this universal circumstance – how the realities of embodied, cognitive, and emotional impairments are understood in different socio-cultural contexts as part of the human condition — has too often been neglected in our field.  Ethnographic studies of embodiment, personhood, kinship, gender/sexuality/reproduction, cognitive diversity, violence and its disabling aftermath, as well as citizenship and biopolitics remain incomplete and undertheorized without the consideration of disability. This framework provides a powerful lens to refocus and potentially transform thinking about new and enduring concerns shaping contemporary anthropology. At its most basic, the recognition of disability as a social fact helps us to understand the cultural specificities of personhood and to reconsider the unstable boundaries of the category of the human.

This symposium addresses the transformative value of critical anthropological studies of disability for many of our discipline’s key questions.  Historically, anthropological studies of disability were relatively rare until the late twentieth century, often intellectually segregated into the realm of medical and applied anthropology.  Yet, the international spread and uneven impact of the disability rights movement in the 21st century, as well as cross-cultural work in anthropology show that what counts as a disability in different cultural settings is not obvious. The need for research and theorization cannot be underestimated, given that approximately 80% of the world’s one billion people with disabilities reside in what is glossed as “the global south.”   Anthropologists have interrogated the limits of a Western individualizing model when studying disability across the world. This work examines the presence or absence of disability in familial, community, religious and political life as constructed by larger notions of the social, relatedness, personhood, as well as diverse epistemologies regarding “normalcy.”  Our conference builds on this work, and is premised on the recognition that disability is not a category of difference unto itself; rather, it is profoundly relational and radically contingent, dependent on specific social and material conditions that too often exclude full social participation in society. Beyond such exclusions, a focus on disability also reveals creative cultural production. Unexpected sites of innovation, inclusion and the reframing of “the normal” are producing new kinds of “disability worlds.”

This is a propitious moment to gather a group of international scholars to consider how a disability perspective can expand and transform the discipline as anthropologists increasingly focus on the social, political, experiential, narrative and phenomenological dimensions of living with particular impairments in different cultural settings across the life span. Our symposium builds on the work of anthropologists who incorporate a critical disability studies perspective, working in diverse settings to consider if and how the promissory note of expanding inclusion (as well as barriers to it) shape the “world-making” of people living with disabilities and their allies. We hope to collectively grasp how the experience of disability — whether named or unnamed – is reshaping understandings of personhood and boundaries of the human, while always accounting for broader social contexts that enable and constrain disability worlds. Concretely, this entails anthropological attention to this essential form of difference whether one studies kinship, sexuality, activism and political movements, technologies, religion, alternative communication/language practices, or the sensorium in light of atypical forms of cognitive and sensory processing and many other topics.

At the conference, we seek to understand how disability can provide a critical anthropological perspective on “everyday life with a difference,” often experienced in the shadow of a selectively globalizing neoliberal economy.  Disability is implicated in circumstances of increasing precarity, exacerbated by the erosion and privatization of resources in late capitalism as well as the environmental impact of the anthropocene. Additionally, the survival of fragile infants and those with chronic disease, along with the expansion of people living into “extreme old age” all challenge the scarcity of social labor for caregiving for those with disabilities (and other dependents) across the life cycle. At the same time, social movements for disability rights, spreading unevenly across the globe since the late twentieth century, have made powerful claims for the growing recognition and inclusion of disability.  This is in tension with the drive toward perfectibility that fuels culturally seductive neo-eugenic medical interventions, now routinized in everyday biopolitics such as genetic testing for selective abortion of fetuses with potential disabilities; this technology is rapidly diffusing from rich to middle and low-income countries. Such interventions raise utopian hopes of individual perfectibility and control that challenge the reality of disability and the crucial role of kinship, community, religion and other longstanding cultural resources for support and inclusion. These are essential to the interdependence on which disability integration ultimately depends.  Moreover, other instances of rapidly transforming technologies – including media, prosthetics, social networks, infrastructure, and assistive communication devices along with attendant therapies – have produced life-changing opportunities for people with disabilities and their supporters, across domains ranging from disability rights activism, to public culture, to intimate realms of kin and friendship where personhood and disability worlds take shape. All require political will as well as a recognition that disability futures are fragile and uncertain at best. Nonetheless, we ask conference participants to consider how our work, individually and collectively, might contribute to building an ethics of possibility in the construction of disability worlds.

Toward that end, the symposium is organized around the following topics.

  • Decolonizing Disability in Anthropology
  • Sexuality/ Gender/Kinship
  • Biopolitics and its discontents
  • Inclusion/exclusion and habitable worlds
  • Technology, Creativity, media
  • Precarity, Violence, mobility.

We anticipate that each topic will also incorporate issues of kinship, activism, political transformation and discrimination, collaborative methods/theory, reflexivity, and life course perspectives.

Workshop Grantees Launch “An Anthropocene Primer”

In 2016 Drs. Fiona McDonald and Jason Kelly received a Conference and Workshop Grant to aid their workshop on “Anthropology of the Anthropocene: Structures, Theories, Practices”. A direct outgrowth of the workshop is An Anthropocene Primeran innovative open access, open peer review publication that guides learners through the complex concepts and debates related to the Anthropocene, including climate change, pollution, and environmental justice.

This born-digital publication is a critical and timely resource for learners across multiple fields from academia, to industry, to philanthropy to learn about issues and topics relating to the Anthropocene, a framework for understanding environmental change that highlights human impact on earth systems.

An Anthropocene Primer was created to provide learners in museums, schools, non-profits, and formal research institutions with an entry point into some of the big concepts and debates that dominate discussions about the Anthropocene. The primer is not intended to be comprehensive (this is, after all, An Anthropocene Primer, not The Anthropocene Primer), nor is it intended to be didactic. The primer is a framework to guide individual and collaborative learning from the beginner to advanced levels.

Version 1.0 of An Anthropocene Primer is available for open peer review from October 23, 2017 through February 1, 2018. Open peer review allows users to contribute to and engage with fellow readers and the authors as the editors develop it for a final print and open access ebook version. A video tutorial on how to participate in open peer review is available at  www.anthropoceneprimer.org/index.php/videotutorials/.

Edited by Jason M. Kelly and Fiona P. McDonald, An Anthropocene Primer emerged from the “Anthropology of the Anthropocene” workshop hosted by the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute in May 2017. The participants from this workshop make up list of authors: Jason M. Kelly (IUPUI, USA), Fiona P. McDonald (IUPUI, USA), Alejandro Camargo (University of Montreal, Canada), Amelia Moore (University of Rhode Island, USA), Mark Kesling (The daVinci Pursuit, USA), Ananya Ghoshal (Forum on Contemporary Theory, India), George Marcus (University of California, Irvine, USA), Paul Stoller (West Chester University, USA), Dominic Boyer (Rice University, USA), Serenella Iovino (University of Turin, Italy), Rebecca Ballestra (Artist, Monaco/Italy), Eduardo S. Brondizio (IU, Bloomington), Jim Enote (A:shiwiw A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni, USA), Ignatius Gutsa (University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe), Cymene Howe (Rice University, USA), Sue Jackson (Griffith University, Australia), Phil Scarpino (IUPUI, USA). This workshop was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant program.


Symposium #156: “Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications”

This past September Wenner-Gren found itself back at Tivoli Pálacio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal for the 156th Symposium, “Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications”. Be on the lookout for the upcoming special issue of Current Anthropology for the meeting’s papers, available to all 100% Open-Access.

Laurie Obbink, Jacob Doherty, Rosa Ficek, Donna Haraway, Heather Swanson, Ivette Perfecto, Anna Tsing, Zahirah Suhaimi, Kate Brown, Vanessa Agard-Jones, Naveeda Khan, Danilyn Rutherford, Andrew Mathews, Nils Bubandt, Natasha Myers, Frédéric Keck, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Atsuro Morita, Mike Hadfield

 

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications 

Anna Tsing (University of California, Santa Cruz / Aarhus University, Denmark)

Nils Bubandt (Aarhus University, Denmark)

Andrew Mathews (University of California, Santa Cruz)

When geologists first argued that modern humans were a geological force and should have an epoch named after them—Anthropocene—cultural anthropologists were skeptical.  After all, the term encapsulated many of the problems anthropologists have pointed to in science policy, including willingness to view the planet as a homogeneous space and the human race as a homogenous group.  In the past few years, however, anthropologists have begun to join multidisciplinary conversations in hopes that anthropological insights might reshape Anthropocene discussions, and, conversely, that the urgencies of the Anthropocene might spark a new anthropology.  This Wenner-Gren Symposium pushes forward this agenda through an exploration of a “patchy Anthropocene,” that is, the fragmented landscapes of livability and unlivability created by colonialism and industrial development.  On the one hand, we are concerned with “violent simplifications,” that is, ecological estrangements and displacements that threaten more-than-human livability.  On the other hand, we do not look for these threats merely in elite plans; instead, our focus is on the unintentional design of landscapes, that is, the social and ecological arrangements that have developed beyond the planning of any authority.

To invoke the unintentional is not to argue for pure souls who should not be blamed for destroying the earth.  Indeed, blaming is often useful in sparking remedial action. However, our point is to move beyond the dreams of engineers to attend to the consequences of their actions, whether or not they imagined them.  Predicting the fate of the earth through the strange dreams of planners is a powerful bad habit that has developed over the last several centuries and continues to reign in the shape of a vision of a “good Anthropocene”; we refuse that vision.  This allows us, too, to offer full regard to the historically shifting actions of nonhumans, both living and nonliving.  Some nonhumans become allies of industrial and imperial landscape engineering; others interrupt their simplifications and coercions.  Landscapes are the sediments of both kinds of actions, along with those of both elite and subaltern humans.

Three kinds of unintentional design inform our discussion.  First, we examine the logics and limits of ecological simplifications, as these have been key to the making of “resources” for capital, on the one hand, and the invasion of indigenous space, on the other.  Second, we track forms of violence that exceed the logics of planners.  Finally, we turn to hope amidst apocalypse—of the kind that emerges out of unintentional design.  Together, these kinds of unintentionality help us describe a patchy Anthropocene in which threats to livability are far from randomly distributed.  By investigating more-than-human landscapes that emerge from, yet also exceed, industrial and imperial plans, we hope to identify “Anthropocene-in-the-making.”  This also means sketching the contours of an anthropology pushed onto new terrain in its efforts to explore a world where the violence of modern simplification and the poisons of the Great Acceleration are creating new worlds of livability and unlivability. Anthropology, we suggest, is currently in a moment of experiment and retooling that would allow it to align the potential of a more-than-human anthropology with insights from critical political history; to cultivate new forms of collaboration that are open to learning from indigenous cosmologies as well as from the natural sciences and environmental activism; and to study both the secular rationalities of a world in ecological crisis and the nonsecular fissures of hope and wonder amidst disaster.

The Symposium begins the arduous process, then, of intervening in debates about dramatic environmental change by describing the Anthropocene with the tools that anthropology can make available—through trans-disciplinary collaboration, ethnographic insight into indigenous worlds, as well as critical reflection about the otherwise—in full recognition of heterogeneity and power differences across life on earth.  Anthropology, arguably, has always been the study of unintended consequences; our conference brings this anthropological perspective to more-than-human landscapes.

The three themes of the Symposium are addressed in three sessions, each organized into dialogues.

I. More-than-human estrangements: what worlds do simplification and acceleration make?

A puzzle to consider: The proliferation of modern engineering has also been the proliferation of pests and plagues.

Projects of state-making and empire building, of weaving world-spanning commodity networks and intrusive bureaucracies, have helped produce the environmental and cultural transformations that we now call Anthropocene. Such projects have focused on controlling plants, animals, and material processes, and on related efforts to define and control the people who work in plantations, factories, farms, or broader landscapes.  At every stage, efforts to control humans and nonhumans have been undermined or reworked by transformations and escapes from control, sometimes visibly, sometimes almost unnoticed. From the Columbian exchange, which moved people, plants, animals and diseases between the Old and New World, to plantation economies which helped bring into being smallholder cultivation systems and forms of anti- and decolonial political resistance, to more recent efforts to build factory-farm systems that have produced new diseases, the ordering projects of modernity have continually undermined themselves, producing unexpected escapes, transformations, and estrangements. The first set of dialogues in this symposium asks participants to consider how world-making projects have produced unexpected consequences, how new and strange forms of human and non-human have come into being. How do the more-than-human relations of non-humans produce new diseases, new plants and animals, new kinds of human subjects, and new landscapes? How might the details of particular cases and landscapes help us understand the Anthropocene more widely, perhaps as “Plantationocene,” perhaps as “Capitalocene,” perhaps as something else? How might thinking of the spaces of modernist control as inhabited by excess and escape enrich anthropological engagements with the Anthropocene? What new concepts, methods or collaborations might we need in order to engage with these experimental spaces?

II. Patchy violence: what kinds of unlivability shape the Anthropocene?

A puzzle to consider: Why, despite continual assertions of its homogeneity, is the Anthropocene so uneven?

The Anthropocene is a time of heightened violence against all living things on earth; the big question today is whether enough can survive to allow the kinds of life on earth we inherited from the Holocene, and earlier epochs, to continue.  Species extinctions have rocketed; ecosystems disappear; industrial and military waste spreads around the planet.  Vulnerable humans and other forms of life bear the brunt of such violence—and sometimes stand in its way.  There is a lot for anthropologists to tackle in such challenges to livability.  In this conference, we’ll take up three themes.  First, beings other than humans make landscapes, and we turn to those “creatures of empire” (to use Virginia Anderson’s term) that wreck indigenous life-worlds along with humans.  These include animals and plants—but also nonliving things, including the waste products of urban life.  What kinds of landscapes are made by such ambivalent allies and enemies of human well-being?  Second, what species and ecosystems are destroyed in industrial and imperial conquest—and what possibilities are there for resistance, resilience, and survival?  This is a set of questions, too, in which biologists and anthropologists might look for common ground; the challenges of transdisciplinarity share center stage in discussing more-than-human vulnerabilities.   We hope to tackle these creatively.  Third, unintentional landscapes of the Anthropocene exist inside bodies as well as around them.  To track the poisons of our times, attention to the links between inner and outer landscapes is essential.  Poison is a key characteristic of the Anthropocene, and we need to understand its dynamics and its distribution.

III: Illegitimate hope: what more-than-human worlds are made amidst destruction?

A puzzle to consider: What do anthropological collaborations with natural scientists, with activists, and with indigenous spokespeople have in common?

The Anthropocene ties new terrors to novel kinds of hope.  Environmental change, global warming and the imminent prospect of mass extinction are pushing new modernist dreams of control, and the contemporary moment is replete with designs for carbon trading, climate engineering, re-wilding, DNA banking, and escapes to Mars.  Anthropology needs to pay attention to the ways in which the modernist project of human mastery and economic growth seeks to reinvent itself in the face of ecological apocalypse.  But other formations of hope, different kinds of conviviality, exist beyond this “good Anthropocene.”  The more-than-human worlds of indigenous communities around the world offer one kind of alternative. Critical environmental activism may hold the promise of another.  And Western science itself, long the backbone of the imagined modern conquest of Nature, is currently being transfigured, as new insights within the natural sciences into the fundamentally symbiotic and an interdependent make-up of life question cherished oppositions and concepts of modernity. All of these alternatives, disparate as they may be, point to another Anthropocene: patchy spaces in which human worlds critically depend on the world of spirits, animals, ghosts, plants and other non-humans. In an Anthropocene that is fundamentally unknown, uninvited, and unexpected, hope may also dwell.  The third session of the symposium explores this more-than-human Anthropocene as an occasion to reinvent anthropology, as an invitation to transdisciplinary collaboration, and as a space for illegitimate hopes for co-species survival. How might anthropology reinvent itself to explore the magic of the more-than-human comparatively across the worlds of indigenous communities, activist groups, and science? What possibilities of transdisciplinary collaboration exist when neither “the human” nor “Nature” is what we thought? What forms of radical hope for co-species survival exist in the critical zones of the Anthropocene?