Anthropological utopias: debating personal, political and idealist expectations in the intersection of theory and ethnographic practice
Maïté Maskens (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Ruy Blanes (University of Gothenburg)
Ramon Sarró (University of Oxford)
Start time:
1 August, 2014 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

In this panel we propose to debate to what extent is and has anthropology been a utopian project, one where personal and political expectations become driving forces in its empirical, epistemological and heuristic configurations.

Long abstract:

Since its inception, anthropology has configured the "ideal savage", the exploration of otherness was tied with strong idealist expectations (hopes, promises or fantasies) of finding a perfect society, a concrete realization of utopia. Nowadays, the study of utopia has been recently described as an "ethnography of nowhere" (Shukaitis 2010), as indeed there seems to be no specific utopian place the we can approach. However, empirically speaking, we can also agree that utopia can be detected both in political and economic associations, as well as in ideologies, expectations and idealisms that affect and determine our being in the world. From this perspective, anthropology's longstanding concern with the exotic, the marginal/minoritary and the oppressed can be understood in terms of conveying, both at an individual and collective level, particular quixotic idealisms. Likewise, the critical and interventionist stances that have punctuated the discipline throughout its history can be seen as expressions of political unrest and moving beyond mere observation into action, collaboration and (ex-)change. From this perspective, "utopia" can be located in both the anthropologist's ideals and those of his interlocutors, as an emergence of the mutuality that is inherent to ethnography. In this panel we invite our colleagues to discuss experiences and histories of 'collaboration, intimacy and revolution' in the framework of anthropological reflection on utopia as a concept or reality. We point to several key terms - ideals, expectations, wills, interventions - and question the consequences of 'mutualizing utopias' that may originate both from the anthropologists' personal positioning and his or her interlocutors' ideologies practices.