[URBANTH-L]Call for Papers: "In Times of Need"

amiel melnick amelnick at gc.cuny.edu
Mon Jan 5 13:37:20 EST 2009


MARCH 13, 2009

Students in the Anthropology department at the Graduate Center, City  
University of New York are pleased to announce a conference inviting  
reflection on the politics, genealogies and epistemologies of ‘need.’

Need is a politically potent idea. As some notion of ‘human need’ is  
requisite within most political frameworks, specific needs are often  
bound up with discourses of human rights and tend to be formulated at  
moments of intervention. But need is manifested in many different  
contexts and affixed to all kinds of discourses—from the framing of  
humanitarian goals and health projects, to discourses of the self and  
self-betterment, romantic relationships, and spirituality, to the  
intervention and regulation of family forms. We’re interested in what  
grants coherence to the concept of ‘need’ across these and other  
frames of reference, and in how to understand the contingency of a  
notion that often presents itself as fundamental and universal.

In questioning the multiple ways that ‘need’ is mobilized, grounded in  
practice, and thereby understood—we seek to trouble that which appears  
self-evident. How are needs distinguished from the ‘un-needed’ or  
unnecessary? How are needs typologized, authorized, and  
institutionalized? What work does the concept of need do in erecting  
or maintaining categorical differences and with what tools might we  
then interrogate that work?
We seek a wide range of approaches to this topic, but we’re  
particularly interested in how the tools of ethnographic research can  
help us set aside the question of what is ‘true’ need by focusing  
instead on how people talk about, practice, and embody needs in a  
variety of different situations.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

Life and the politics of need: How are our ideas about what  
constitutes ‘basic human needs’ formulated and to what end? How do  
political discourses mobilize the concept of need to legitimate or  
justify policies or interventions.

The political economy of need: How have political-economic  
arrangements shifted in tandem with discourses and practices  
surrounding need, at either the global or local level?   How might we  
complicate the privileging of neo-liberal assumptions in framing  
questions of need?

‘Higher needs’: How are notions of the ‘fully human’ embedded in  
‘higher needs’ discourses of spiritual, emotional, or psychological  
well-being and human potential? How do these models mobilize or  
contest particular understandings of subjectivity and selfhood?

‘Things we didn’t know we needed’:  What roles do experts and  
expertise play in defining, determining, and diagnosing need? How are  
needs distinguished from wants, desires, and aspirations?

Need and dependency: How do ideas of material dependence and addiction  
create discourses that valorize the independent individual? Might we  
revisit distinctions between independent and dependent?

Future needs: How are ideas of need both used and formulated in  
planning for the future or in projecting an imaginable future? What  
happens to need at moments of crisis or collapse?

Please send title and 500-word abstract to: needsconference at gmail.com  
by January 20th, 2009. For further information and updates please  
visit: http://demapped.net/need/

Amiel Melnick
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Anthropology
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 5th Avenue, NYC 10016
amelnick at gc.cuny.edu

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