EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W006)

After the crisis: neoliberalism, postmodernism and the discipline of anthropology (EN)

Location Theatre S1
Date and Start Time 13 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

James G Carrier (Max Planck Institute) email
Michal Buchowski (Adam Mickiewicz University) email
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Short Abstract

Echoing neoliberalism, since the 1980s anthropology has abandoned its disciplinary authority and confined itself to recording the understandings of individuals. What are the consequences and how might we reverse this?

Long Abstract

Neoliberalism rejects specialist thought as inevitably flawed, and so abandons the partial certainty that its models and frames can offer. All that matters is the perceptions and understandings of economic actors: the Free Market. This mentalistic individualism is echoed in anthropology by forms of postmodernism, which also reject specialist thought. All that matters is the perceptions and understandings of people in their everyday lives: the Native Point of View. As the crisis challenged neoliberalism, many in the discipline are beginning to challenge its anthropological echoes. This panel is part of that challenge. It considers what the discipline lost when it embraced that mentalistic individualism, what is worth recovering and how we might do so as we face the task of analysing the spreading uncertainty and disquiet that the crisis engendered. We offer two aspects of such consideration. Firstly, in the 1970s different schools of thought were flourishing in anthropology, with their different understandings of the social world, the processes that shape it and the questions we can ask about it. Do any of these seem especially timely now? Secondly, areas of anthropological interest have changed over the past thirty years, shaped by the changing prevailing winds in the discipline. Might any of these areas look different if the prevailing winds changed?

Chair: James G. Carrier
Discussant: Michal Murawski

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Postmodernism and post-socialism

Author: Michal Buchowski (Adam Mickiewicz University)  email
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Short Abstract

Postmodernism as a theory emerged in Western anthropology, but it has had different implications for various anthropologies worldwide. This paper considers its reception, consequences and ultimate rejection in a post-socialist context.

Long Abstract

Postmodernism affected the anthropological art in the post-socialist regions, and this paper discusses the example of Poland. At the time when postmodernism had become popular in the West, Polish ethnology was developing its own interpretive approaches that were largely detached from historical materialism. The result of this development was an intellectual milieu in which postmodern ideas could easily flourish. The reason for their acceptance was different from those in Western centres of anthropology and they need to be identified and analysed. Also after 1989, many scholars understood anthropology as predominantly a kind of philosophical endeavour and cultural reflection on anthropological issues, although new issues, trends and theories have been integrated into local discourses. The list involved not only the notion of postmodernism, but also the literary turn in anthropology, reflexive anthropology, multiculturalism, media and popular culture problems, and the status of ethnographic description from a post-structural perspective. However, this 'ideational' approach seldom addressed the enormous social and economic changes that took place in the 1990s. Those changes have not been anthropologically conceptualised and no significant anthropological theory of the post-socialist change has been proposed. However, combined socio-economic circumstances, particularly the imposition of economic neoliberalism, and the revival of anthropological theories addressing these kinds problems have led to the emergence of non-interpretive anthropologies.

Anthropology's ground zero: what is and to what end we study anthropology?

Author: Sabina Stan (Dublin City University)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper argues that documenting discursive techniques, the minutiae of daily life or the lived experience of people is not anymore, if it ever was, a sufficient grounding for anthropology’s intellectual and social role. Could we instead bring back in institutional perspectives and thus revive classical anthropology’s holistic ambitions?

Long Abstract

In the last several decades, anthropology came under repeated attacks from a series of posts (post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-structuralism). By challenging its authority and master narratives, these currents led to an internal hollowing out of the discipline at the level of both its substance (theory and methodology) and its form (language and references). While the analytical steam of the posts progressively lost its force, anthropology was left with the residue of widely shared writing style, vocabulary, and non-explicit, taken-for granted assumptions about its contribution to academic and social debate.

The paper takes stock of this process and tries to assess if some of anthropology's classical tools could not serve us anew. It argues that documenting discursive techniques, the minutiae of daily life or the lived experience of people is not anymore, if it ever was, a sufficient grounding for the discipline's intellectual and social role. Instead, anthropology needs to get below the abstraction of discourse and above the individualism of experiences, and re-appropriate the mid-level terrain of institutions and their interconnections. In this way anthropology's renowned contextual look could again become an encompassing, holistic one.

The paper takes the example of post-socialism, an area where institutional perspectives were firmly established in the 90s. It argues that we need not only resist their current dilution in the corrosive salts of the posts, but also to deepen them by focusing on processes of institutionalisation at two levels: class configurations, and geo-political relations between regions and nations.

Power, crisis and anthropology

Author: Lesley Gill (Vanderbilt University)  email
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Short Abstract

Over the last 35 years, anthropology's mainstream has conceptualized power as decentered and deployed through discourses, "state-like effects," an bureaucratic practices. What was lost? How can it be recovered? Where do we go next?

Long Abstract

The emergence of neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s, its expansion under the label "globalization" after China's capitalist turn, and the collapse of the Soviet sphere (1989-92) have reshaped relationships of power and powerlessness across the globe. Yet even though power has become part of the conceptual framework of anthropology over the last thirty-five years, anthropologists have too often ignored or played down the clash of broad historical forces and political-economic relationships in favor of a circumscribed ethnographic focus defined by the study of culture. The rejection of broad explanatory frameworks and insufficient attention to processes of exploitation have impoverished out understanding of power.

This paper focuses on an earlier and now revived concern with class power to ask what questions we might pose today and what issues we might explore. It argues that, because neoliberal capitalism has dispersed power to new locations, reconfigured states, and generated social fragmentation and political upheaval, anthropological explorations of power must explain the connections, as well as the ruptures, that are transforming the material relations, beliefs, and practices of people across the globe. They must also account for the ways that these processes emerge from the past and shape the limits of what people can do to chart the future.

Seriously enough? Describing or analyzing the native(s) point of view

Author: Carlos Eduardo Valente Dullo (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS))  email
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Short Abstract

What happens with the attempt to describe the native point of view when that position is not morally acceptable? I suggest to multiply the points of view, showing the ways they overlap or conflict and analyzing the categories used to build them and the effects to maintain or disrupt their positions

Long Abstract

Speaking from within the Brazilian anthropology, I pose the question of the difficulties that arouse to the ethnographic practice that pretends to record and describe the native point of view. I sustain that the main way to avoid the problem is to keep describing a position that is morally acceptable and agrees with the one the anthropologist hold. What happens with the attempt to describe from the native point of view when that point of view is not morally acceptable? I try to develop some concerns about the lack of social critique in the current ethnographic mainstream of Brazilian anthropology by relating to the emphasis in the subaltern and dominated natives that are the main focuses of the fieldwork (and, when the dominant pole is aimed, it is done by its margins). It is more and more common to hear that we must "take the native seriously", echoing a Viveiros de Castro expression. My objective is to address a critique by arguing what does it mean to "take your native seriously"? Is it to be faithful to him? To believe in everything he says? So a way out of this impasse is to multiply the natives point of view in the fieldwork, showing the ways they overlap or conflict, making the misunderstanding between the them about what is happening as a way to show the relations of power, i. e., analyzing the categories used to build this point of view and the effects to maintain or disrupt their social positions.

Postmodernism in issues of Lithuanian ethnology and anthropology

Author: Vida Savoniakaite (Lithuanian Institute of History)  email
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Short Abstract

In recent decade Lithuanian ethnology and anthropology changes to recording the understandings the individuals. On the other hand the main approaches of the disciplines are formed historically. The paper will discuss the main theoretical issues and areas of interest in Lithuanian anthropological thought.

Long Abstract

In the history of Lithuanian science and in contemporary research ethnological and anthropological discourses share certain features in common and anthropological and ethnographic investigations are under way. In this paper we seek to provide an issues and areas of interest in Lithuanian anthropology and ethnology over the last three decades. In other words, we discuss the peculiarities of the history of Lithuanian anthropology in the wider context of social and cultural anthropology. We intend to show how Lithuanian theory of anthropology cannot be discussed or assessed in isolation from a human being's ethnic, historic, cultural and national approaches. This is a concept which can be interpreted and constructed in different contexts by neo-liberal individuals. From the interpretational interdisciplinary point of view the impact of global factors is studied. The paper will discuss the main theoretical issues and areas of interest in Lithuanian anthropological thought and look to some postmodern methodological approaches of recent two decades.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.