In recent years social theorists have explored the hegemonic status of discourses of flexibility in contemporary life. This panel focuses on the location of notions of flexibility and their articulation with particular places, histories, economies and experiences in Europe and the wider world.
Flexibility has recently assumed enormous importance across a wide range of arenas. Whether we are talking about citizenship, work places, cultural products and artefacts, or identities, flexibility is on the agenda as a scale of value that resonates with modernity (eg Beck et al., 2003; Beck, U, A Giddens and S Lash, 1994; Appadurai, 1986; 1996). Critics from a range of fields of knowledge seem to agree that flexibility and associated processes (eg mobility, reflexivity) work as dispersers of relations of authority, privilege and exclusion, fracturing previous social relations while simultaneously becoming the axis along which new forms of inequality and marginalisation are constructed (eg Adkins, 1999; 2002; Argyrou, 2003). In different ways these discussions engage questions about agency and structure, and power and difference at the heart of anthropological theory. This panel will imaginatively refine these debates by focusing on a question seldom explored, namely the location and locatedness of notions of flexibility. The contention of this panel is that the where of flexibility matters a great deal. Understanding how hegemonic notions of flexibility travel, how they emerge in and through particular histories, economies and experiences, offers an important lens through which to understand contemporary realities within, as well as social and economic relations between, Europe and the rest of the world. Papers might consider: How are notions of flexibility valued in different contexts? How are ideologies of flexibility made meaningful through local places and histories? How does flexibility become an individual or group capacity? How is the dualism in flexibility theory between potentially positive flexibility (eg as dynamic, progressive, anti-essentialist) and a potentially negative one (eg as a product of capitalist economy, a trope through which new kinds of essentialisms are produced) negotiated in different contexts?
'The situation needs balance, balance': flexible cosmopolitans and the reconfiguration of morality and kinship in post-apartheid Namibia