EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W007)

Intermediate categories

Location Arts Theatre 2
Date and Start Time 25 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent) email
Dominic Boyer (Rice University) email
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Long Abstract

Ethnographic accounts depend on the use of intermediate categories of analysis which, without necessarily posing themselves as universal, allow for the recognition of social phenomena that connect one ethnographic context to another. Such intermediate categories have long been the lifeblood of anthropology, which constantly moves between representational and interpretive accounts of particular social contexts and cultural forms (ethnography) and an interest in defining the transparticular aspects and relations of human experience (social theory). Since the late 19th century, anthropology has helped develop a number of vital intermediate analytical categories that became widely influential in the human sciences, among them kinship, liminality, ritual, symbolic action, and not least a variety of categories of culture, all of which seek to reconcile the particular and transparticular dimensions. Over the past decades, many of these categories suffered considerable criticism and erosion; some feel that anthropologists now too often 'outsource' their analytical work to philosophy and literary theory. Some even speak of a crisis of the anthropological imagination, connected often to the dwindling relevance of the culture concept to contemporary anthropological analysis. We feel, however, that this crisis of imagination has been overstated; anthropology has given evidence of late of the production of a new wave of intermediate categories, among them categories like friction, assemblage, and partial connection. In this workshop, we mean to explore the vital role of intermediate categories in anthropological knowledge past and present and to think about how contemporary ethnography can improve its work with intermediate categories in the future.

Discussant: Christina Toren

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Portable analytics and traveling theory

Authors: Dominic Boyer (Rice University)  email
Cymene Howe (Rice University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper discusses how anthropological analytics can be developed in one context of ethnography and made "portable" and available to transpose into other ethnographic contexts. We explore three examples of this process. The first is historical and focuses on the massive analytical mobilization of the Melanesian-Polynesian term mana and its importance for shaping entire fields of anthropological theory. The second discusses how juxtaposing late Soviet aesthetics of parody (stiob) to contemporary American public culture reveals an association between late liberal authoritative discourse and the formal orthodoxy of late socialism. The third examines how Nicaraguan same-sex advocacy practices demonstrate the portability of analytic frameworks across time and space and suggest new ways, both liberal and communitarian, of conceiving human rights in anthropological discussion. Like Said's "traveling theory," portable analytics are epistemically mutable, taking on new contours and nuances as they adjust to their new contextual circumstances. They neither promise new universalizing theory nor do they remain completely anchored to their point of empirical origination. Such theory has always been an immensely important engine of anthropological knowledge and an art that deserves more rigorous attention.

The name of the between

Author: Hoon Song (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)  email
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Long Abstract

The notion of intermediacy obtains its pertinent unity within a rigorous thinking of the Two. Today, however, Twoness is purged under the jurisdiction of the privileged Multiple or plurality. This trend is coextensive with anthropology's marginalization. For anthropology's vocation of productively sheltering intermediate categories had been historically organized under the sign of Twoness. The case to be considered here is the name that summons the gift. Among Papuans and Melanesians, as famously observed by Mauss, the same term designates both the giver and the receiver of the gift. This one name does not join the two. Rather, by a referential self-inadequation - whereby two referents receive one name - the operation points to an 'intermediary' excess that disallows the giver and the receiver ever becoming equivalents in thought. The one-name brings the two together only to make their incompatibility visible. Sylvain Lazarus' 'Anthropology of the Name' will be our guide.

Anchorage, relay and flow

Author: Brian Moeran (Copenhagen Business School)  email
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Long Abstract

In Rhetoric of the Image, Roland Barthes suggested that visual media were characterised by two contradictory processes: anchorage, which was designed to link an image to the written word; and relay, the aim of which was to link successive images to one another. For his part, Arjun Appadurai has discussed the notion of flow, in particular in relation to globalization and the flow of cultural forms across national borders, and flow is a concept much used by the social psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in relation to creativity and what he calls "optimal experiences".

This paper tries to bring together three related intermediate categories of anchorage, relay and flow, and place them in anthropological perspective. It takes up Barthes's distinction by looking at ways in which social forms are structured, sustained and linked to other social forms by means of anchorage and relay. It also makes use of flow, a term used by media practitioners themselves, as a structuring device in different media forms (for example, television programming and fashion magazine publishing). The argument put forward is that anchorage, relay and flow underpin such conventional anthropological, sociological and linguistic categories as frames, networks, fields, and syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations. It seeks to illustrate the argument with examples of the production of different media forms.

The personal name as a category of comparison

Author: Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper I propose to explore the category of "personal name" by means of a comparison of my own ethnographic material on names in Portuguese with other instances of naming. It will be argued that the vast ethnographic register that we presently possess suggests that the anthropological category "personal name" describes a disposition of human thought and action that, whilst it might vary widely, is a universal proclivity to the extent that it is probable, frequent, spontaneous, and there seems to be an inclination for it. It is an intermediate category to the extent that it depends on two notions which are far more abstract and general - person and name.

The theory of justice and the ethics of kinship

Author: Juan Bestard (Universitat de Barcelona)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, I want to analyse if justice, as presented by Rawls in his Theory of Justice, is a concept appropriate to introduce in the anthropological analysis of kinship. First, I will examine why kinship was set apart from modernist theories of social contract. Second, I analyze the concepts of "reciprocity" and "amity" as the main anthropological concepts of the ethics of kinship, which could be related with the concept of justice. Finally, I analyze the justice as a virtue in kinship relations, especially between generations and gender relations.

Territorial belonging: historicizing intermediation in ethnographies of indigenous land claims (Brazil)

Author: Susana Viegas (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon)  email
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Long Abstract

One of our main challenges in contemporary anthropology is to find intermediate categories that reflect different worlds of knowledge in relation. In this paper, I will discuss this issue by reference to the lived experience of contemporary indigenous peoples that fight for rights over a territory. Based on the situation of indigenous land claims by the Tupinamba of Olivença (south of Bahia, Brazil), the paper will discuss the advantages of a category such as 'territorial belonging' in dealing, on the one hand, with the contemporary claims for a territory and, on the other, with the long-term processes of inhabiting a land and a country where the model of private property of land became hegemonic. The paper argues that 'territorial belonging' gives an accurate description of how people are historically engaged in the world in long-term relational processes. To that extent it corresponds to a contemporary need in anthropology for intermediation.

Activists and civil society as mediating categories

Author: David Gellner (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

In many of the contexts in which anthropologists work today they encounter NGOs and activists, often depending on them to gain access to the field. Such activists are, so to speak, the prophets of the cargo cult of modernity. They attempt both to embody a particular vision of modernity and to bring it into existence. Political contexts make a big difference to the degree of freedom they enjoy; political crises represent both threats and opportunities for them. The concepts of civil society and the Third Sector are not anthropological in origin, but ethnographic studies offer the most interesting and original ways of thinking about what are in many countries relatively new and emergent organizational realities. Using examples from Nepal, where social and political transformations have been particularly rapid, I intend to consider activism and civil society as intermediate categories that help us to conceptualize a whole range of phenomena.

Mobility and the ethnographic account: reflections on a fluid tool

Author: Simone Frangella (Institute of Social Sciences - University of Lisbon)  email
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Long Abstract

The aim of this proposal is to take mobility as analytical category, examining its importance in the anthropological field, as well as its potentials and limits to produce knowledge in contemporary ethnographic contexts. The relevance of mobility as an analytical parameter intensified in the discipline, with the growing concern around globalization and its consequences. Seen either in terms of the dynamics of movement dynamics or in relation to "place/fixity", mobility has enabled comparison of diverse contexts and forms of dislocation.

Based on my own ethnographic experiences on homelessness in São Paulo (Brazil), I discuss mobility from two perspectives: while the category translates fundamental meanings and subjectivities built on the constant move of these persons, it is also deeply intertwined with meanings of fixity, leading the researcher to a permanent relational rhythm. It reveals itself as a transitory, unfinished parameter, inscribing mutual relations between movement and "location".

Revitalizing 'community': new perspectives on an old notion

Author: Roberta Clara Zanini (University of Turin)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the heuristic value of a classic anthropological concept, that of community. During the last twenty years the need to "rethink the community", by assessing which elements of the original concept can still be useful to depict present situations, has been emphasized. The "macro-concept" of community has been substituted by many intermediate categories that cover lower portions of the research field, allowing, however, for more appropriate levels of research. I intend to focus on two specific aspects: the study of the symbolic dimension of the community and the examination of its boundaries, both real and symbolic, by borrowing some conceptual tools from "micro-history". In fact, the analysis of a community involves also the investigation of how it is perceived by its members, in order to understand the community itself and its relations with the outside.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.