14th EASA Biennial Conference
Anthropological legacies and human futures
Department of Human Science for Education 'Riccardo Massa' and Department of Sociology and Social Research at University of Milano-Bicocca
20-23 July, 2016
The recent years have seen EASA engaged in inspiring and fruitful discussions on margins, subjectivity and intimacy. It is time to pause and put the fundamental concerns of anthropology once again at the center of attention. The idea of legacies brings with it that of taking stocks, and taking stock is a way to prepare for the future. Anthropology has lived a time of change, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue, but has also struggled to define and establish its own research priorities against the tendency of other intellectual traditions to coopt its contributions. Political agendas external to the discipline have often bent the broader significance of our findings, and other fields of knowledge have partly appropriated, partly trivialized as anecdotal information, the strengths of the anthropological approach to the study of humans: the ethnographic method.
Anthropology treasures lessons learnt that enable the questioning of 'evidence' and the sensitive understanding of shifting realities. Its relentless contextualization of human experiences and institutional powers liberates the ability to envision and build new frameworks of civic coexistence. Its bottom-up gaze and long-term engagement with the rich diversity of ways to be human play a fundamental role in re-shaping and sharpening general concepts (i.e. gender, relativism, culture, tradition, and so on) by now widely employed, if often superficially, among media of all sorts. The interest of anthropology for the subjective navigation of broader social systems always carries with it an implicit cultural critique.
To stimulate such engaging tasks, the 14th EASA conference invites anthropological work anchored in the legacies of the discipline, but dealing with new forms of livelihoods, symbolic practices and material conditions. These could concern political collective actions and collective selves, as much as local and transnational structural forms of inequalities (i.e. social class and implicit or explicit hierarchy). Other paths to explore are the continued, if shifting relevance of kinship (political, structural, symbolic), the significance of religion and of its institutions in an interconnected and highly conflictual world, ideas of nature and the various relationships between nature and human societies, different normative systems, languages, technologies and the contested construction of powerful knowledge, human dignity and the exploitation of labor.
Six broad themes have been identified as a platform for discussion. Each theme opens up a discussion on how, if and when the legacies of anthropology enable to decrypt human futures. What are the potentials and limits of the mainstream approaches developed so far? Are there marginal traditions of thought that should be reconsidered as a source of inspiration? Which are the awkward legacies of anthropology, i.e. the questions unsolved?
We intend to approach the study of power through the examination of the relationship between local and transnational hierarchies and institutions and new forms of political collective selves and actions. At the core of this analysis lies the importance of the notions of structure, class and identity. We look at power from both a symbolic and material perspective, with an emphasis on its discursive and normative language, the inequities and the reactions it produces.
The interest in economy lies in the study of forms of production and consumption, exchange of commodities and reciprocity, as well as in the different moral economies. From this starting point, we try to unpack the modern ideology of neoliberalism and the global market through the investigation of social practices, communal forms of sharing economy and conflictual access to natural resources. With reference to this last point anthropology today looks back at some of the key issues within the history of the discipline: the relationship between the environment and social groups, how climate changes influence the economic life and the circulation of people, how the quality of natural resources impacts on the quality of material life.
The study of kinship is at the heart of the discipline. Since its beginning anthropologists have examined kinship from a social, economic and political perspective, as the basis on which family relationships, economic activities and alliances were constructed and reiterated. Moreover, kinship has provided a language to talk about social identities, post national conflicts and internal relations between political entities. It offered a cognitive schema to frame society in its multiple aspects and elements. Today, anthropologists situate themselves within this line of research and use kinship to challenge and critique ideologies, normative ideas and ethical issues and to pay close attention to the asymmetries produced by new reproductive technologies.
Anthropologists are concerned with the symbolic and material aspects of religion: how does religion create meaningful social relations and social cohesion? How does it exacerbate conflict and cultural differences? How does religious morality affect political identity? What is the relationship between religion and scientific knowledge in the current global scenario?
Knowledge and form of expressions
We decline the multiple nuances of the broad concept of knowledge. We certainly look at modes of transmission, in line with the anthropological tradition and its interest in the construction of histories, in oral cultures and written sources. We look at how knowledge is produced, circulated or contested through different channels both locally and globally. We consider arts and hybrid disciplines as fundamental. We also question the kind of knowledge that anthropologists can produce today and how other disciplines engage with anthropological knowledge.
The ideas and meanings of work have been questioned by anthropologists for the past few decades by analysing how work is perceived and experienced by social actors in their everyday lives. Underneath these accounts of subjective experiences and local ideas of work we want to focus on the ‘infrastructure’ of work itself: the institutions, laws and the economic interests that regulate the impact of work on society. Against a backdrop of a global neoliberal work market we invite to question the notion of human dignity in a comparative and historical perspective.