In the field of contemporary anthropology, the “who,” “where” and
“how” of ethnographic study are being destabilized. Experiments with
form, methods, styles of writing and media, together with
unconventional sites and subjects, demand that we examine what it is
that we are committed to in the discipline. Commitment implies a
steadfastness or durability that is seemingly at odds with the
rapidity and flux of the world we inhabit and study. What has
changed? What stays the same? What do our commitments imply about the directions we imagine for the future of the discipline? Have our commitments changed vis-à-vis emergent forms of life (ways of acting, ways of being, socialities) and the new methods and concepts we use to attend to them? If so, how?
We use “commitment” as a frame for this conference in several senses:
commitment to a particular epistemological and methodological stance,
the commission of an act, and being committed in an institutional
sense. We see these valences as ultimately entangled: that to commit
to an epistemological stance is at the same time to commit an act, and
that this action is always within and/or against institutional
constraints. How does commitment move through our choices of fields,
objects, pedagogies, and styles and forms of writing? Is there any
particular commitment that unites anthropology? Must we share
commitments at all? How do we understand what it is to commit– to a
method, to a concept, to a site, when many of these things appear to
be deconstructed, fragmented, multiple, and contingent? Do
commitments have the same tenure as they once might have, and if so, how malleable are they through the course of various conceptual,
methodological, and/or ethical turns?
We are organizing this conference in order to draw out the range of
commitments that the invited panelists and New School faculty imagine, anticipate, and question—and in order to deepen and broaden the range of our own commitments.
Janet Roitman received her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. She has conducted extensive research in Central Africa, focusing specifically on the borders of Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Chad. She has published an analysis of the unregulated commerce that transpires on those borders, which inquires into emergent forms of economic regulation in the region of the Chad Basin and considers consequential transformations in the nature of fiscal relations and citizenship. More generally, her research covers topics of political economy, the anthropology of value, and emergent forms of the political. Roitman has served as an instructor at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques de Paris. She is a research fellow with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and a member of the Institut Marcel-Mauss (CNRS-EHESS) in Paris. Professor Roitman is recipient of many fellowships and grants, and is currently devising a collaborative project on “Archeology of Violence in Central Africa.”
Dr. Hugh Raffles is interested in the interaction between the human and the non-human, between humans and other animals. He asks us “How do we identify and make sense of the complex connections among people, other beings, and “inanimate” phenomena? What imaginative and practical tools do we need?” Taking up these questions with the approaches of cultural and historical anthropology, Raffles engages networks that give us a richer understanding of the world in which we live. Dr. Raffles is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at The New School, and has won many awards for his work, including the co-reception of 2003’s Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, as well as The Whiting Award, for his forthcoming book titled Insectopedia.
Ann L. Stoler is the Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School. She has been greatly influential in scholarship concerning knowledge, colonial encounters, postcolonial presents, critical race theory, histories of sentiment and sexuality, and historical ethnography. Stoler has authored many books and articles including the seminal work Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power, which was released in its second edition earlier this year.
“Discourses of sexuality do more than define the distinctions of the bourgeois self; in identifying marginal members of the body politic, they have mapped the moral parameters of European nations. These deeply sedimented discourses on sexual morality could redraw the “inferior frontiers” of national communities, frontiers that were secured through—and sometimes in collision with—the boundaries of race. These national discourses were predicated on exclusionary cultural principals that did more than divide the middle class from the poor. They marked out those whose claims to property rights, citizenship, and public relief were worthy of recognition and whose were not.” -Race and the Education of Desire, p. 7-8. (1995)
Sharika Thiranagama’s doctoral and postdoctoral work has focused on various aspects of the Sri Lankan civil war. Primarily, she has conducted research with two different ethnic groups, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims, and the effects of protracted civil war on ideas of home, kinship and self. She has also conducted other research on the history of railways in Sri Lanka, on the political culture of treason amongst Sri Lankan Tamils, the BBC World service in South Asia etc. Her new research will focus more broadly on the South Asian region and the south Indian state of Kerala in particular. She is currently working on a book project entitled In my Mother’s House: the Intimacy of War in Sri Lanka which will be forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Miriam Ticktin is assistant professor of anthropology and international affairs at the New School; she did her doctoral work in Cultural Anthropology (Stanford) and medical Anthropology (EHESS, Paris). She has been interested in the category of the human, and as part of this, in the discourse and practice of humanitarianism. She conducted research in France with undocumented immigrants, following their quest for basic human rights, and more recently, she has done comparative work with humanitarian NGOs and refugees in the United States. Her book (forthcoming 2011) tentatively entitled, The Moral Emergency Complex: Humanitarianism, Sexual Violence and the Politics of Immigration in France looks at how politics are enacted in the name of care and protection, under threat of emergency. She has also co-edited a volume with Ilana Feldman called “In the Name of Humanity: the Government of Threat and Care” that is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2010. Her new research examines the interplay between law, medicine and science in creating and erasing distinctions between human and animal.