[URBANTH-L]CFP for AAA panel: Illegibility, ambivalence, and the political

Brandt Peterson peter699 at msu.edu
Mon Feb 25 18:30:13 EST 2008

Illegibility, ambivalence, and the political

Anthropologists have documented with increasing precision and insight  
the ways in which technologies of measurement, identification, and  
inclusion define certain social subjects as knowable and known,  
legible and registered, and as objects in need of intervention.  
Emanating from dispersed sites throughout ‘civil society’ and  
transnational networks, as well as traditional locations within the  
state, these technologies work by idetnifying the characteristics of  
particular groups, defining the meaning of social problems and  
conceivable remedies, and so containing the space of the political.

This panel explores instances when subjects exceed or elude  
strategies of institutional knowledge production and the technologies  
of exclusion/inclusion and regulation they authorize. Through  
concrete ethnographic and geographic studies, can we understand  
uncertainty and ambivalence as a form of the political, rather than a  
condition of being incompletely or insufficiently ‘political’?

We seek to move away from the too-familiar celebrations—and  
condemnations—of hybridity, multiplicity, and liminality, on the one  
hand, or fixity, identity, and essence, on the other, that typically  
attend discussions of what we think of here as illegibility or  
ambivalence. To identify hybridity as a condition of political  
possiblity risks minimizing the traumatic injuries or political  
immobility that may attend or produce ambivalent attachments.  
Likewise, blanket assertions that “some essentialism is necessary”  
for politics risk separating a limited space of political  
authenticity from the complexity of real lives, and so reinscribing  
the authority of experts and diminishing or silencing those who  
exceed essentialist boudaries. Sensitive to these risks, this panel  
turns to concrete ethnographic investigations of illegibility,  
uncertainty, and ambivalence, keeping in mind that that these may be  
conditions of injury and abjection as well as possibility, and may  
attend rooted identities or places as well as fluid or unstable  
locations. What are the conditions of illegibility? What are the  
consequences for subjects who trouble or elude institutional modes of  
knowing, or who reside within or alongside illegible or ambiguous  
spaces? Finally, what are the politics of anthropological practice in  
these conditions? What models of collaboration or activism can we  
imagine to address the terrain of multiple political attachments,  
ambivalent identifications, and uncertain spaces?

We seek papers addressing a broad range of sites, subjects, and  
locations, organized around the questions we pose about ambivalence  
and the political. In order to meet the AAA deadline of April 1, we  
need to receive abstracts of no more than 250 words by March 20,  
2008. Please send abstracts to Brandt Peterson at peter699 at msu.edu.

Brandt Gustav Peterson
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
312 Baker Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Phone: (517) 353-7136
peter699 at msu.edu

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