Efficiency and excess

Jennifer Clarke (Robert Gordon University)
Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)
Palatine - PCL054
Session slots:

Short abstract:

A forum for critical interrogations of the concepts of efficiency and excess, this panel seeks to gather contributions from across anthropology. We ask how the two concepts are related, how their histories are entangled, and how they manifest in contemporary cultures

Long abstract:

From the fact that environmental standards in construction are increasingly reduced to a building's energy-efficiency to the prevalence of the notion in the discourses of neoliberal management of workforces, efficiency, with its senses of savings made, qualities of concision and implications of smooth-running systems, has become a buzzword of our times. Excess, meanwhile, speaks to 'superabundance' (Bataille), to outpourings that don't necessarily follow rational economic logic and to threats to the stability of systems. It speaks of luxury and gift-giving, to extreme levels of consumption and resource use, as well as transformation and aesthetics. We are interested in how both terms are made to work in different ways in political, environmental and economic discourses. We see efficiency and excess as grounds upon which many anthropologies can meet: those of energy, economics, environment, politics, the arts, the gift, to name but some. We pair the concepts of efficiency and excess in order to allow one to illuminate the other, and to allow for the consideration of their relation. Are they necessarily oppositional? What are their histories? To what extent might we argue that efficiency and excess are key characteristics of contemporary life in today's world, and does this constitute a paradox? What might careful and nuanced anthropological accounts of the particular but varied ways in which these two concepts manifest lend to our critical understandings of them? We invite papers to consider one or other, or both, concepts and to do so ethnographically and/or theoretically. Papers accompanied by visuals are welcomed.