[URBANTH-L]aaa panel call for paper posting request

Amanda Snellinger ats35 at cornell.edu
Wed Mar 26 12:11:50 EDT 2008

Can you please post the following message:

If anyone would be interested in participating in the following  
panel,  we have a spot or two left. Those interested, please send me  
an email as soon as you can and we would need your abstract by this  
Saturday, March 29th so that we can appropriately frame the panel  
abstract around all the contributing papers.  ---Thanks, Amanda  
Snellinger(ats35 at cornell.edu)

Panel Description:

Representations of communities in a language of social demographics  
are a familiar enough thing. Systems of enumerating populations along  
lines of ethnic, national, and religious composition, lines of  
economic status and mobility, lines of social transition and  
violence, etc., both justify and shape all kinds of large projects.  
It'd be hard to imagine in this day and age techniques for producing  
national policies, international development schemes, business  
feasibility studies (and so on) that didn't rely on census bureaus  
and statisticians. Few people would deny the incredibly powerful  
influence that the study of demographics exerts at a macro level,  
producing and instantiating categorical boundaries that --  
practically speaking -- have a monopoly on legitimate knowledge in  
state and economic institutions. These are positivist epistemologies  
that have grown up in tandem with the ascendence of political  
economics in, say, the last 150 years. They are moreover often  
exactly the frames of knowledge to which anthropological  
representations try provide an alternative.

I think it's fair to say that the majority of social anthropology is  
at least agnostic and at most hostile to positivist descriptions of  
the social world, preferring instead a framework that takes  
categories of knowledge as context-specific and largely  
untranslatable from one sphere to another without considerable  
justification about why such a re-application is warranted. This gets  
characterized by anthropology's critics as a rejection of truth and  
science in favor of an uneasy faith in relativity, but a more  
sympathetic reading would say that anthropology regards social facts  
as existing across an ontological break with the material world,  
i.e., that symbolic interactions get to operate according to rules  
that are undetermined by an ostensibly larger and universal reality.  
Having a masterly understanding of the properties of wood doesn't  
make a carpenter an expert at chess, so to speak, because even though  
a chessboard might be made out of wood, the rules of the game have  
nothing to do with the physical traits of the pieces. Anthropology  
has tended to maintain the width of this gap with pick-axes and  
shovels, something I'm not necessarily opposed to lest we all turn  
into sociologists, but it'd be interesting to think about what kind  
of social forms exist at precisely this boundary between positivism  
and symbolic relativity, where two mutually irreconcilable forms of  
knowledge bump into each other.

On the ground, of course, irreconcilable category paradigms are  
constantly reconciled by groups of people who must move between them.  
So such here. All the papers in this panel deal with groups of people  
that shift between multiple frameworks of self-identification. Rather  
than sit around and mutter about why any one framework is more  
representative than another, which would just be another name for  
identity politics however sophisticated, we're interested in figuring  
out what kinds of social dynamics are in play as people circulate  
between different contexts of recognition, what kinds of meta- 
categorical specificities are to be seen in a world of regimented  
categorical generalisms. This offers, I think, an interesting out  
from the feud between the disambiguating tendencies of the  
structuralists and the radical embrace of ambiguity by post- 
modernism. As much as anthropologists are generally tired of that old  
battle, I don't think we've every really escaped the weight it puts  
on our brains. Moreover, I think will allow us to take positivist  
analytics seriously, something that's important considering just how  
damn influential they are, without relegating them to "over there  
with the electrons and gravitational bodies" (or, worse, just  
translating it into the social world as a site to witness "resistance  
to power").

Amanda Snellinger
Ph.D. Candidate
Anthropology Department
Cornell University
ats35 at cornell.edu

"Scientists have suggested that certain hypothetical properties of  
space-time, predicted by certain “theories of everything” and thought  
to be undetectable by currently achievable experimental means, might  
have already influenced experiments, but without anyone noticing."

—Harpers, December 2006 pg 96

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