ASA18 Theme: Sociality, matter, and the imagination: re-creating Anthropology
One of the major debates within anthropology broadly defined is the question of how to bridge approaches primarily concerned with the social, and those primarily focused on the material, the physical, or the biological. Much recent anthropology, from a variety of theoretical perspectives, seeks to overcome artificial conceptual divisions, either by proposing new (often hybrid) ontologies or simply by pursuing problems that challenge conventional boundaries. ASA2018 aims to address this key question directly. If sociality, matter, and the imagination are reconsidered from multiple perspectives across the discipline, how might we renew and re-create anthropology? What kinds of theoretical, methodological, and ethical concerns are raised by this potential re-creation? Working with a very broad definition of ‘the material’—potentially including linguistic, biological, genetic, neurological, environmental, and evolutionary factors—the conference aims to advance debates on sociality and matter, the imagination and creativity, and therefore on what it is to be human in a rapidly changing world.
Contributions to the conference will be organized according to
the following four themes:
Many philosophers argue that the imagination plays a fundamental
role in the very conditions of possibility of thinking. Likewise,
many anthropological approaches have assumed that without the works
of imagination there would be no other forms of cultural
work.Imagination underlies politics, ritual, materialities,
language, and, of course, art and creativity. Imagination is one of
the loci where anthropologies meet, and where serious dialogue must
take place. From cognitivist sciences to the anthropology of art, of
politics, of religions, of kinship, etc., understanding the capacity
of humans (and perhaps non-human primates too) to create potential
scenarios is a key part of what we find in the field and a key part
of the representations we document in our writings. What are the
effects of imagination in life and in anthropology?
Other approaches might consider mind and language in their material manifestations. Social life and the environment work on and are shaped by humans and their languages. Local ideas of how languages and thought relate to the world may challenge academic theorization. Do we need new comparative approaches for the study of radical variation?
The human body has long been recognized as a site where the
biological, social, and the material converge. Bodies are creative
in the sense that they not only grow and reproduce other bodies, but
through performances and gestures, they inscribe, manipulate, and
communicate ethnicity and gender, health and sickness, vulnerability
and resistance. At the same time, bodies remain sites for the
production of inequality and alterity. Proliferating images
represent and mediate bodily experiences in diverse ways, and bodies
are increasingly mobile, distributed, and virtual. Furthermore,
developments in technologies – whether applied to bodies before
birth, in life, or after death – are recreating both human
physicality and the ways in which it is possible to imagine it.
We invite panels to explore questions relating to bodies, their materiality, and their imagined dimensions. How are imaginative processes grounded in embodied action, and how are bodies enmeshed in wider social and ecological relationships? How are shifting relations between the human and the non-human affecting bodies, and indeed redefining the 'human'?
Earlier generations of anthropologists tended to focus on human
environmental adaptability in a wide range of ecosystems and
climates. More recent anthropological research has instead
prioritized the spatial possibilities afforded by
deterritorialization and globalization at many scales. ‘Nature’,
which has always functioned as a repository of social ideas and
political values, is being recast through a multiplicity of global
environmental change discourses. The landscapes that people inhabit
embody forms of agency beyond full human control, and
anthropologists are increasingly urged to engage in
interdisciplinary work. What people actually mean or desire when
they talk about stability and/or transformation has become much more
Is environmental change limiting the human imagination, or are people using their imagination to adapt to the changing climate? Where weather extremes are already affecting livelihoods and ecological practices, what contests and transformations are they triggering? If place and mobility are mutually constitutive (mobility everywhere depends upon dwelling in specific places), what movements will take place on a rapidly changing earth, and what dwelling projects will succeed in an increasingly uncertain atmosphere? We invite contributions on the roles that ethnographic knowledge and anthropological imagination continue to play in an era bound to involve fraught politicized disputes about ways to live with environmental change.
How do sociality, matter, and the imagination transform over time?
Whether addressing short- or long-term processes, anthropologists
and archaeologists are confronted with questions relating to the
temporal nature of the phenomena they analyse. As social relations
form and change over time, how are these shifts registered and
expressed in material terms? In what ways do material objects
emerge, stabilise, and then disintegrate or re-form? And how does
time figure in imaginative processes?
In relation to this theme we welcome panels that explore temporalities and transformations in social life, material formations, and acts of imagining. How is the past reconstructed and the future predicted through material practices? What kinds of institutions promote change or aim to preserve the present? How do the political, ethical, and economic aspects of social, material, and imaginative transformations develop and play out?
You can read the abstracts of the theme keynotes here.