Network for Contemporary Anthropological Theory (NCAT)
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The Network for Contemporary Anthropological Theory (NCAT) is the home for discussing and promoting anthropological theory within EASA. By theory, we refer to the common language and concepts that anthropologists use to analyze and write across spaces, times, and cultural contexts. It also refers to what anthropologists consider shared knowledge and reflection on who or what contributes to theory. Where theory is often associated with a set of core thinkers, a set of fixed historical concepts, and high-level language, the network seeks to provide a space for anthropologists from all areas and topics to contribute to broader discussions of anthropological theory. We look to experiment with ideas, forms, and concepts emergent from ethnographic work as well as those in conversations with other disciplines. The network aims to make theory accessible to all members of the anthropological community and to use language, concepts, and ideas to address pressing or overlooked social phenomena.
Of central concern to the network is what topics or fields are seen to contribute to the canons of anthropological theory. How do certain regions or topics become part of what is recognized as core theory? The network aims not to harken back to ‘classic’ theory or concepts, as significant as they may be, but to highlight the fact that anthropologists around the world are working on issues that demand new theories and language to describe life in the twenty-first century. We believe there are a number of emerging efforts by contemporary anthropologists to develop new theory for others across the field. Moving past the binary opposition of ethnography versus theory, we seek to decolonize the canons of anthropology. The network aims to be a platform to promote such ideas, conversations, and thought experiments (in the spirit of German Denkexperimente). For instance, we aim to highlight how new areas of topical interest, from digital practices to transportation infrastructures, might be sites for anthropologists to ground broader theories. Additionally, how might key anthropological theories be developing in languages outside of English and in regions of the Global South? In light of these considerations, the network puts particular emphasis on promoting contemporary anthropological theory.
Anthropological theory should also be able to contribute ideas that address contemporary issues. What anthropological terms or concepts might help elucidate issues like climate change, global racial injustices, financialization, or pandemics? How might anthropological concepts or ideas be of use to contribute to popular understandings of the complexities of these issues? How can anthropology be a voice in these discussions? The network aims to amplify many of the important ideas that scholars across the field are developing and provide a digital space for them to circulate.
We aim to establish the network as a core site of engagement for theory-building in anthropology from centers and margins in Europe, as well as from around the world. We also aim to become a central and reliable node in the exchange and circulation of literature, events and other information about anthropological knowledge production in fieldwork, publishing, and teaching. We will do so across the network’s mailing list, as well as our independent website (anthrotheory.net), our public Facebook group, and Twitter account. We also welcome collaborations with individuals and organizations that can contribute to our goals.
The network was founded in September 2014 as the Network of Ethnographic Theory with the aim to promote intellectual collaboration around the heuristic of ethnographic theory as part of the HAU project. In summer 2018, the network decided to become independent from HAU while maintaining the original name of the network. In 2021, it was decided to formally distinguish the network from the concept of ethnographic theory and focus on anthropological theory in general to avoid confusion. With the support of current members and EASA, the name was officially changed to the Network for Contemporary Anthropological Theory while continuing many of the projects begun in 2018. The network aims to bring intellectual curiosity and ambition to the shared project of opening up new spaces for contribution and reflection within anthropology.
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University.
Lecturer at the University of Sheffield.