Anthropology at the margins: A report of EASA 2014

(This guest blog comes to us from Theodoros Kyriakides. Theo is a PhD student at the University of Manchester social anthropology department, currently writing his thesis on the political and subjective dimensions of thalassaemia in Cyprus. You can follow him on twitter at @bio_karneia. -Rx)

I am reporting on the wrapped up EASA 2014 conference, entitled “Collaboration, Intimacy and Revolution,” which took place at Tallinn University from July 31st to August 3rd. EASA is the main body of European Social Anthropologists, and the conference takes place once every two years. This was the 13th EASA conference, and with an attendance of 1,200 delegates it was one of the biggest gatherings of anthropologists in the world this year.

I arrived two weeks before the conference, as part of an exchange scheme the Tallinn anthropology department recently set up with the Manchester anthropology department, where I am doing my PhD. Tallinn finds itself in a marginal position, not only in terms of European history and identity, but also in terms of anthropological relevance. As a scholar of illness I have always been interested in the marginal, not as a space of withdrawal, but of creativity and production. This has been the case with Tallinn anthropology: a relatively new initiative, founded in 2006, the department in the process of producing the first batch of Estonian anthropologists, conducting research in Estonia and also abroad. 

The department has been steadily growing in size and activity: a winter and summer school are now a regular fixtures in the academic year, while several photography exhibitions have thus far been organised by students (in a recent interview with Allegra, staff member Professor Patrick Laviolette provides a succinct overview of the department’s history and scope). In addition, Associate Professor Carlo Cubero, in cooperation with the Baltic Film and Media School, is adding a new track in audiovisual ethnography to the department’s already established MA course, come September 2014. This year the department found their number of undergraduate and masters applications booming, with almost triple the number as last year’s. Having been invited to participate in the undergraduate admission interviews I got the opportunity to talk to students from all sorts of backgrounds: semiotics, dance, nursing, and cultural studies, to mention but a few.

But to say that EASA 2014 is their crown jewel in their capacity and effort as a department thus far is an understatement. Contrary to the short-lived four days of the conference, this has been an arduous two year trajectory of organising panels, plenaries, ceremonies, finding speakers, sponsors, caterers, venues and overall preparing for the imminent descent of an anthropological horde in Tallinn. I had the pleasure of partaking in the final meeting of the local organising committee, a week before the conference took place. Coffee, pens and tablets in hand, the crew put the finishing touches on the conference schedule. By the end of the nearly three-hour long session a serenity and joking mood overcame all; nothing else was left, the wheels were in motion.

The conference ran smooth. The four interconnected buildings of Tallinn University allowed delegates to fluidly move in-between panels, laboratories and films. Lunch was busy with people mingling in spacious atriums, conversing over well-cooked food, wine and cake. The coffee was good and plenty. #EASA2014 was buzzing. Tallinn Old Town, where the heart of Tallinn beats, is a short walk from Tallinn University where the conference took place, and provided an ideal setting for delegates to roam and go out after panels. Remnants of Estonia’s history were more than capable of tickling anthropological imagination. Between abandoned breweries surrounded by cafes and restaurants, derelict factories turned into bars, and black-clad hipsters kick flipping their skateboards off brutalist buildings, Tallinn seems to oscillate between two aesthetics – enigmatic architectural spectres of the past, now infected by youthful bustle and energy.

The baroque style of the Estonia Concert Hall, where Elizabeth Povinelli’s opening keynote took place, provided a warm, intimate and at the same time grandiose setting for the opening ceremony. The dimly lit hall was packed with whispers and anticipation, while the domed ceilings and marble-carved pillars showcased Estonia’s artistic heritage. Povinelli’s provocation of rethinking “collaboration” as a form of “investigation and alteration” is timely to the increasingly widespread demand of making anthropology more applied and publicly relevant. Thought of as a form of collaboration, anthropology sheds all pretences of objectively and distantly documenting the people we conduct fieldwork with. Rather, anthropology, as a collaborative practice of investigation and alteration, unapologetically adopts an intentional stance of addressing, informing and directly participating in socio-political dilemmas of our time.

To this end, “Collaboration,” and the two other themes of the conference, “Intimacy” and “Revolution,” figured prominently in the panels of the conference. The problems currently affecting Europe, both as a political entity and as a geographic locale, took centre stage, with papers addressing the numerous social, political and economic fronts of what came to be known as a European in scale “crisis.” Particularly evident was ethnographic engagement with new types of socialites, subjectivities and social movements emergent of intensifying migration patterns, austerity politics and nationalist sentiments apparent throughout Europe. Several panels also concentrated on the growing ecological relevance of anthropology, and focused on issues such as environmental politics, climate change, biodiversity and mining. Besides panels, the conference also introduced two new innovations: the young scholars forum taking place according to a Pecha Kucha style of presentation, and laboratories. The forum consisted of short presentations by several early-career researchers, while laboratories provided an unstructured, interactive setting which encouraged the formulation of new concepts and ideas.

I cannot think of any serious mishaps or insufficiencies from an organisational or disciplinary perspective. If any of the delegates have any feedback please write in the comments section below, I am sure the local committee and the EASA executive committee would love to hear anything you have to say. To me the conference was a success. New ideas, concepts and presentation formats were put to the table, tested and discussed. In addition, Estonian anthropology was affirmed. This is important: whether it is Estonia or other anthropologically “marginal” parts of Europe, resources, labour and attention need to be supplied to turn them into centres. I believe this was the case with EASA 2014 and the Tallinn University anthropology department.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

23 thoughts on “Anthropology at the margins: A report of EASA 2014

  1. What were the racial/national demographics of the attendees? And of the speakers?

  2. Hi,

    I don’t know the exact numbers, but mingling with the crowd I would say that many delegates were from the nearby Baltic, Scandinavian, and mainland Europe regions. This being said this was a a global in scope conference, and many attendees came from farther away – the Balkans, Americas and Asia.

    I hope this helps.

    Best,
    Theo

  3. Great update on the event. But what did they talk about? How was the content of anthropology at the margins' different to that promoted by thecenter’?

  4. Theodoros: Thank you for your response, but it doesn’t really answer my question, which is actually an important one in relation to issues of hate crimes against visible non-White minorities, especially in Europe’s margins, in Eastern European countries: http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/Racist%20Violence%20Report%20Estonia%20-%20online.pdf.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but when a post is stressing anthropology as collaboration and including anthropologists from the margins (geographic or otherwise), it is frustrating to feel like the rhetoric is not matching the practices and what should be obvious issue of racial exclusion are yet again being overlooked. I don’t keep beating this drum to annoy people, but because this is a real issue that deserves serious attention.

    Certain anthropological spaces and practices often are imagined and presented as inclusive and collaborative even when they may actually be very exclusive and unwelcoming, even hostile. Where speakers and attendees come from and what they look like actually matters, including in relation to what kinds of collaborations will be made possible and what topics will and won’t be discussed. Having attendees from a large number of countries does not in and of itself mean that there was much racial diversity, which actually should matter to anthropologists, unless we just want to keep reproducing the same racial hierarchies/power asymmetries of colonial-era anthropology. I noticed you mentioned attendees from the Americas, but, racially, what does this mean? I also noticed no mention of African delegates. Especially if the conference was supposed to be interrogating issues of nationalism and immigration in Europe, these absences matter. Who gets to speak about what (and for whom) is always the question in anthropology, and very much relates to the claims of collaboration the conference was making.

    I also think we need to be honest and explicit about White privilege as the proverbial elephant in the room. White anthropologists need to be more honest about the freedom of movement that they have, which my question was gently trying to raise. I am 100% in support of marginal European locales having their anthropological voices heard on equal footing, but let us please also be honest about what it means for different kinds of racialized bodies to travel to different locales. Some of us are literally worrying about our physical and psychic safety in making decisions about which European margins we might want to travel to, and for conference organizers not to have such issues on their proverbial radar screens is disappointing (even if unsurprising).

    Unless they choose to wear visible religious markers, White Americans and Europeans can travel to Europe’s margins without fear of physical or verbal violence. If anthropologists can’t honestly reckon with such racial/racist realities, what kind of collaborations and public engagements are they truly interested in?

    Yes, sometimes uncomfortable conversations need to be had, and uncomfortable questions asked head-on.

  5. Correction: I should have said, “Unless they choose to wear visible religious markers, White Americans and Europeans can travel to Europe without fear of physical violence on the basis on racial ascription”. The issue of racial ascription was implied given the link to a discussion of hate crimes in Estonia/Europe, but just want to make this clear before it is suggested that there are no other reasons for individuals from this group being targeted for violence.

  6. Hey, thanks Maia.

    “Marginal” does not refer to the event of the conference but to, prior to such event, position of the Tallinn anthropology department. It is my impression that as a discipline we need to provide resources and opportunities to newer departments and initiatives to flourish, and I think this will be the case with Tallinn anthropology following EASA 2014. So it’s not a matter of joining the marginal to the centre, but rather of making the marginal a centre-in-itself – I don’t think European anthropology has a singular centre, but a cartography and plurality of centres!

    Regarding what people were talking about; as said the themes of the conference encouraged delegates to grapple with present European problematics, as well as questioning and reconfiguring the relevance of anthropology to these. This wasn’t always the case of course, and some may have different evaluation of the discussions going on during panels and breaks. For my part I think that such thematic predisposition (Intimacy, Collaboration, Revolution) carries a political urgency that anthropologists should embrace. Hopefully those outside anthropology will similarly appreciate the preoccupation of anthropology with timely issues.

    You will be happy to know that none of the plenaries/panels I attended showed traces of the anthropological obscurantism you identified in your report of the ASA conference (whether the poetics of obscurantism are necessarily bad is a whole different discussion). Perhaps this had to do with the composition of the crowd attending the conference: being European in scope it brought together delegates from all sorts of anthropological and theoretical backgrounds, and I think such “anthropological cosmopolitanism” prevented discussion from being stuck on a single plane of reference.

    I hope I answered your question :)

    Best,
    Theo

    PS I hope Tanzania was fun, I’m going to Cyprus on Wednesday and coming back September 10th, see you then!

    PS2 You’re still not following back on twitter.

  7. I am not sure if the author’s previous response was supposed to be a response to my question(s). If it was, I am sorry to say that my question was not really answered. I am referring to the dynamics that produce these kinds of demographics in European anthropology departments. This is why I asked about the racial/national demographics of the conference attendees and speakers.

    I hope the Times article makes clear why I raised the question, which is very much related to issues of immigration, nationalism, and collaboration raised in the post. While I don’t disagree with the idea that marginal anthropology departments should receive more support and attention, I also think it is important to acknowledge racial marginalization which occurs in these departments and at their conferences too, especially when collaboration and demarginalization are conference/themes goals.

    If one is accustomed to not seeing certain kinds of immigrant/racialized bodies in one’s program, at one’s university or conferences, these absences/exclusions come to be seen as normal and racist exclusion comes to be normalized such that one doesn’t even notice the absence of such bodies until it is explictly questioned.

  8. Hi DWP,

    Sorry for not providing a more in-depth answer the first time, I didn’t induce your points from that short post of yours.

    Let me begin by saying that in the one month I lived in Tallinn I never experienced an incident of racial abuse, whether that relates to myself (a rather dark-skinned kid from Cyprus – I tick the “other” box when asked about race) or other delegates around me. The link to the report you posted also verifies this: while it says that some incidents took place in the early 2000s, it also points out that nowadays they are non-existent.

    I would prefer not to have the terms of my answer predetermined, so I would like to partially move away from notions of “race” and “white privilege.” I would rather write of fieldwork as means of connectivity and of bridging racial and nationalist differences.

    This was a European conference – would it be realistic to expect all races and nationalities to be equally represented? Most of the topics put to discussion had to do with Europe, and perhaps most of the delegates were white. But, then again, we would be fooled to deem Europe as a strictly European and white in dimensions topic.

    Which brings me to fieldwork as a tool of connectivity. We don’t have to be the same race/nationality as the people with do research with. One doesn’t have to be from Africa to write about African immigration. As anthropologists we transcend static categories of race and nationality, and are capable of connecting to the people and field sites we do research with. In such way, fieldwork acts as a connective transversal. In the members forum in EASA 2014 it was firmly established that “European anthropology” does not mean a field of anthropology solely preoccupied with European issues, regions and cultures, but a set of discourses, concepts and scholars, European in origin, yet extending research throughout the globe.

    Let me also add that we would be mistaken to perceive inequality in terms of often historically hierarchized categories of race. Social, economic and political injustice cuts, disrupts and amalgamates such categories. Not all whites are privileged nowadays: anthropology’s gradual disenchantment with the exotic other has taught us this much.

    Every event takes place in relation to the space in which it is enacted. Equality, in terms of events like conferences, doesn’t entail that each race and nationality is equality represented in the given event, but rather acknowledging that each event equally differs in its composition, circumstance and agenda. The Association of Brazilian Anthropologists also had a conference this month and, if I am not mistaken, it attracted more delegates than EASA. I am sure that the percentages of Europeans and non-Europeans there would be also skewed in favour of the latter.

    Perhaps a further point can be made on connectivity between spaces such as conferences, and also anthropological milieus as assemblages of scholars, concepts and institutions: the Brazilian one, the European one, the American one, etc. I think further attempts at connecting such milieus can be made. EASA, for example, is not that well known in American audiences, and that Savage Minds gave me an opportunity to post this report is a step or two in the right direction.

    Best,
    Theo

  9. Dear Theo,

    Thank you for the more detailed response. The way you answered it actually reveals why many of the ‘white public space’ questions in anthropology exist.

    You seem not to understand what the term ‘White privilege’ actual means, relative to critical race theory, given that you answered by saying that all Whites are not privilege because class and other inequalities exist. I never said that these other inequalities don’t exist, but I was specifically asking you to think about the role of racial inequality, which intersects with other modes of structural inequality, to think about conference dynamics.

    I would never make facile assertions like one needs to be African to understand African immigration, or that every nationality needs to be equally represented at a conference. These responses, along with your claims about field work as transcend, are actually quite shocking to me given that they reveal an uncritical view of power relations that I am surprised to hear. No, one doesn’t have to African to discuss African anthropology, but something is wrong–there are serious power asymmetries affecting collaboration–if everyone discussing African immigration is non-African. If nothing else, multiple perspectives on a topic, including from those directly affected speaking for themselves, increases the knowledge we have of a subject, no? Also, fieldwork is not ‘transcenent’ in the way you are claiming, and to claim so rests on certain kinds of privilege that not all anthropologists have. I also think you need to think more critically about who gets to study whom and how much easier it is for Whites to study non-Whites, elites to study marginalized populations, than the other way around.

    Yes, the first link I said did point out that there are no recent reports of serious hate crimes in Estonia, but that also does not mean that there are no issues of racism or non-Whites being treated hostilely. My point in raising these issues, along with the ones raised by the Times article, are to remind you and others that just because you find a space to be welcoming, just because your conference (or discipline) has good rhetoric about equality, does not mean that all bodies are or feel equally welcome. Dismissing the issue of racialized power asymmetries definitely does not help this situation.

  10. DWP,

    You would be right to assume that I am not initiated in critical race theory. Because of this, and as aforementioned, I am hesitant to accept your invitation to “specifically think about the role of racial inequality” because it presupposes two things. One, that inequality indeed exists within a certain setting (in this case a conference) and two, that the category of race acts an over-deterministic organiser within the social field of the given event.

    I would prefer to instead situate the category of race as implicated in a more complex, multi-dimensional milieu of relations, as well as how notions of race become disrupted, diffracted and even suspended by such relational multiplicities – by issues of class, as you point out, but also sex, gender, kin, as well as by emotions such as friendship, joy, and love. This does not mean that I am dismissing all considerations of race, but acknowledging that the importance and potency of such category is not omnipresent, but is rather triggerred, activated and deployed at specific instances, according to particularities of social happenings and events. Yes, biological and social dimensions of race can act as catalysts in certain settings. This however isn’t always the case; the most tension that exists in Estonia isn’t between whites and non-whites, but between Estonian and Russian parts of the population.

    To me there is a certain violence in declaring that one “does not understand” or “asking one to think,” especially when one has “been there,” to use a faithful ethnographic dictum. The demand to think and understand first and foremost comes from the outside, from specific events taking place in a social field. As I say in the opening paragraphs of my report, conditions of marginality and liminality, racial or otherwise, do not give way to silencing and exclusion but, on the contrary, to acts and events of enablement and attempts at being heard. Racial inequality is not a given within a social space, but is rather emergent of specific relational interactions and the events such interactions give way too – it is something that happens, rather than exists (and it is something which didn’t happen in EASA).

    At the risk of introducing another tangent, let me just say that to me there is nothing wrong with non-Africans studying Africans, even if this was entirely the case. I am only making such radical statement assuming an anthropological project of collaboration which departs from previous anthropological prerequisites of “studying others.” Collaborating does not entails “studying others” but working with others. This is by no means a monological attempt but an act implicated in entanglements of relations, acts and agency coming from all those involved in collaboration. To this end, asymmetry, racial or otherwise, is exactly the prerequisite to collaboration. Achieving a connection between asymmetrically existing people, and putting this connection to work on a mutual cause is the collaborative project par-excellence.

    Best,
    Theo

  11. Theodoros,

    You fundamentally do not understand race as a political technology, or Whiteness as a category of privilege, given your response above. I would urge you to read the following: http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol3no2_2004/ahmed_declarations.htm.

    Most of what you have written can be distilled down to: I don’t think about these issues of racial exclusion because they do not negatively affect me, so I have convinced myself that they can be ‘suspended’, ‘transcended’, ‘seen past’. This is your Whiteness–as a structural position, through which you have been produced as a racial subject–speaking. And I say this respectfully. Because it is invisible to you, in the way Ahmed details in the article to which I have linked, you can make the kind of power-evacuated claims about race that you are making. You are not thinking about race intersectionally, and that is why you oppose it to class and talk about ‘suspending’ it, which is actually not possible to do–but you believe is because of the invisibility of (your) Whiteness to you. (And here, again, I refer you to what Ahmed is writing on this very issue.)

    You should really read through the full text of Ahmed’s text on Whiteness before responding to my comment, please. You are completely misunderstanding th category of race as I am a engaging it, such that this exchange is the proverbial ‘talking past each other’.

  12. DWP,

    As I said in my previous response, I sense a certain violence in declarations that “one does not understand,” as well as in demands to do so. An injustice take place, a power asymmetry if you will, when mechanisms and theories of critique allow one to be able to speak in the name of all those involve in an event, as well as in the name of that event. As an anthropologist I would prefer to have the event speak for itself, for it to reveal is own problematics and inequalities, rather than grounding these in non-intentional, invisible contours of thought.

    For this I would like to distance myself from our discussion, at least for now, as I currently see no merit in further pursuing the line of thought you propose. EASA, the event my initial post was about, was in many ways a positive experience for those involved. Indications of past racial abuse incidents in Estonia, or speculations that these might have taken place, are unnecessary and detract from such positive character of the event, as such incidents did not manifest to me or any other people I know (of various, white and non-white racial backgrounds) attending the conference. I embrace your project of making academics more sensitive to the racial inequalities permeating their environment, as well as an invitation to maintain a prospective stance in discerning and addressing these. But as said, such project makes itself apparent and urgent at given instances and moments, according to specific interactions and happenings – or else the antithetics of critique could hinder our appreciation of the affirmative and connective facets of an event.

    Best,
    Theo

  13. Dear Theo: it looks as though the comments’ section to your fascinating blog has been somewhat hijacked. Please know the range of insights you provided are very interesting to many of us, even if we don’t have a specific question to add and so our voices are not heard here in the comments. But thank you thank you for sharing.

  14. Mia, your comments about the thread being hijacked are implicitly racist. The term hijacked is quite freighted, and implies raising a question as simple as what where the race/nationality demographics of the conference as being a kind of terrorism. That this is what you are implying is well worth thinking about, anthropologically. Especially since the ‘hijacking’ of which you speak would not have occurred if my answer had been directly answered the first time, including by saying: You know, I’m not sure because it’s not something I noticed but now that you’re asking it is well worth thinking about. And then that could have been that, instead of a ‘tortured’ back-and-forth which you have de facto attributed to the Black person ‘polluting’ the conversation by bringing up race, which relates to larger issues of blindness to racism and race avoidance raised in the article “Anthropology as White Public Space?”

    And yes, it is worth asking why the term ‘hijacking’ was used, as opposed to, say, ‘commandeering’. If anthropologists can be critical about informants’ word choice, they should be capable of being self-reflexive and engaging in the same discourse analysis of their own word choices and their associated connotations.

  15. DWP,
    could I ask what are the practical neglects that you think EASA is guilty of?
    Do you think EASA should have been advertised elsewhere than via professional networks?
    Do you think EASA should have been organised elsewhere than in Europee?
    Do you think there should have been (positively disciminating) quotas in place according to which to accept panel convenors and/or delegates?
    Anything else you think should have been done differently in practice?
    May I.

  16. May et al.,

    The issue is not one of guilt, which implies a crime, or ‘hijacking’ which implies terrorism by raising a question that shouldn’t be asked, or ‘being initiated into race theory’, which assumes that being asked to think about the racism that others is experience is about something other than being a decent person and not taking discussions about race as a ‘special project’ for those other people because racism is something constantly affecting you as a person whose structural position is white.

    In a previous post Rex wrote that empathy should be foundational to ethnography/anthropological practice: there is not a lot of empathy in defensively avoiding valid questions about racial inequality, or affixing smiley-faces to thank commenters who make comments that are implicitly racist and rooted in a fundamental refusal to acknowledge the basic reality of how race/color/nationality situate people different in the world, in Europe, the European academy, European anthropology, European anthropology conferences.

    So let me personalize it such that some people finally might ‘get’ it. I am Black, I go to Europe fairly often because I have White and Black family members there. I have had many negative experiences as a dark-skinned Black person in Europe. Shockingly racist comments have been made to me and my White husband, questions like asking if I am a sex worker, questions like, in January, asking me if I knew about the Eurostar schedule–as though I worked for the company because I was in their office waiting to get tickets, despite wearing an entirely different set of clothing than ALL the other Eurostar employes, but, hey, when you are used to never seeing Black people who look like me in positions where they are not serving you (which, yes, is the fact for most of the European academy, because, not, the dearth of a Black professors is not an exclusively UK problem, or simply a matter of not having a critical mass of Black people in one’s country, it is about actual barriers for Black people, and some other racialized minorities, in gaining equal access to the academy, then no, it is not surprising when in the UK you are a White French person who sees a dark-skinned Black woman standing near some luggage that you assume that she must be an employee there to serve you. And while I don’t remember the exact question this woman asked me, I do remember being shocked that she asked me because it was undeniably clear that she thought I was an employee/servant, to the point where my husband and I were astonished at her daftness.

    When I go to Europe I have to worry about my physical safety in the ways that people who like to be race avoidant usually done. I have to worry: hmm, will I be abused here, maybe sexually assaulted because of my skin color? But yes, let’s just suspend race, right? True, Estonia has not had any hate crimes recently, but does this knowledge put me completely at ease given other incidents of racist abuse I’ve been subjected to in parts of Western Europe with far more Black bodies, accustomed to seeing Black people. If nothing else, there is always the embodied realization that one is seen as a foreigner, in a very different way than a White American. The experiences of constantly being ‘the fly in milk’ is wearying. Because, no, it is not the same as being the lone White body in sub-Saharan Africa or some other all-Black space (real or imagined or fleeting). One knows to expect certain ‘unenlighted’ exclusions, assumptions, comments ‘just coming out’ even if they weren’t ‘intended’ to be insulting and offensive. It’s not hypersensitivity, it’s reality: and yes, again, a reaction to who people are used to seeing in those spaces, and what experiences they are familiar with, who they are used to seeing as an intellectual (much less an intellectual authorized to speak and worth listening to, as opposed to dismissing because, you know, they’re forcing you to think about racism you didn’t have to think about until someone like me came along and asked).

    The issue is certainly NOT about token representation or quota, this totally misses the point. The issue is as simple as asking: How can we be inclusive? Are we excluding racial minorities without even intending to? How can we change this–because we actual think their perspectives would be valuable (not so we can say, Look, some tokens, see, we’re not racist!). How does one concretely do this, in many ways, including offering to sponsor people from countries that are not usually represented, making conference announcements as broad as possible–by country and discipline. And yes, also by acknowledging that, even in Europe, almost entirely-White spaces don’t just happen. They are the product of structural inequalities, of racism–both conscious and unconscious, individual and institutional. Moreover, when one is actually willing to acknowledge that maybe the conference in Estonia didn’t seem as inviting to some potential attendees, for legitimate reasons, that these concerns should actually be addressed openly and respectfully and in advance of the conference. I am one person, I do not have all the answers, I raise these questions because the issues I am bring up are not just about me, even as they affect me personally.

    Think about other people’s comfort at a conference, not just your own. And sorry, if you’re response to questions I’ve asked is ‘let’s suspend race’ and ‘ there were some other non-White people there so there couldn’t have been a racial exclusion issue’, you are not doing a very good job of anthropological empathy, even as you are insisting that my very reasonable questions are violence and high jacking. Talk about real structural violence, instead of so-called violence that I actually did not engage in by simply trying to get the author of this post to take seriously that everyone does not share his structural position and racial privilege and he needs to think more about why since race is always imbricated with other power asymmetries in Europe (and elsewhere).

  17. I’ll add that there there seems to be two (very important) ships passing in the night here.

    On the one hand, Discuss White Privilege is raising some very important and critical points about the implications of race and racialized spaces in academic conferences and beyond. And yes, these concerns should weigh heavily on all of us. And no, we (all of us, myself included) have not even begun to address them nearly enough. But on the other hand, there is another discussion happening here about the experience of Europeanists who – we should also recognize – feel very marginalized within the hegemony of the U.S.-American academy.

    One can see this other discussion playing out not only here, but also on AllegraLabs, which has also published a series of critical reflections on Povinelli’s keynote that I think is worth sharing: As they put it, “let’s think momentarily if Povinelli’s talk has a context that should be considered here. For there were also those who took notice of the fact that – once again – it was an American scholar who had been summoned to open a conference of European anthropologists…from a European perspective, perhaps there is also something more: a growing shared frustration over how the American scholarly scene is dominating the debate also within anthropology.” See also: http://allegralaboratory.net/persistent-point-of-first-contact/

    Lest we be too quick to dismiss the concerns they raise, it may also be worth highlighting one of the more egregious comments that was posted in response to AllegraLab’s second blog on EASA, wherein an American anthropologist had this to say: “Ironically, French post-strucuturalism, which marks much of AMERICAN “CUTTING EDGE” ANTHROPOLOGY, is not as keenly embraced in Europe, not even in France where Piron, the harsh author, is based… It baffles me that a discipline that sees itself as the epitome of reflexive cosmopolitanism falls pray to such nationalistic differences of thinking…”

    As an anthropologist, it is hard for me not to not also cringe when I read a sentence that belittles all of our European colleagues as parochial scholars prey to “nationalistic differences of thinking.” If this kind of patronizing attitude is what the Europeanists encounter when they come to the AAAs, then we should perhaps also take that into account when thinking about why they might be trying to cultivate alternative spaces of scholarly production in Europe. Does that mean that they can defer a discussion about race and privilege? No. But I do think it means that we should also try to take into account the role of U.S. privilege in shaping how knowledge is shared, produced, experienced, related, and promoted.

  18. Really interesting discussion, I’m sorry I’m a little late to it. I think DWP’s points are important, but I think it’s interesting how Theo and DWP are talking past one another a little.

    First off, having attended EASA and ASA conferences, I note that there is a predominant whiteness. This is undoubtedly an issue – Europe is not a “white continent”, so why are other ethnicities so absent? (In the context of the ASA, which purports to be “of the commonwealth” such a problem is perhaps even more urgent, but let’s not play games, it’s a problem in both contexts.) What are the barriers to this broader participation? Are we addressing them?

    Secondly, to Theo’s points that we need to broaden out this discussion – I think he’s absolutely right. There’s not only a racial predominance in these meetings, but also a class predominance, which is perhaps more hidden because it’s not something we immediately see on people’s skins. But it’s there. And we have to think about how these two issues – class and race – intersect, in anthropology, in Europe, and in the world at large.

    But there’s something that perhaps DWP is missing, that I do see coming through in Theo’s posts, and that is a point about marginality and Eastern Europe. In a context where Western Europe dominates the continent economically, and many Eastern Europeans migrate to support themselves and their families, there is a different situation of privilege at work here. Indeed, in my current fieldwork in East Anglia, UK, I see everyday contexts where Eastern Europeans are subject to overt and covert abuse, verbal and sometimes physical. They are perceived as an external and criminal threat “flooding” rich Western Europe, and the economic context which leads to migration (and the employment practices in the UK which exploit such migration) is ignored in a wave of hate. Bringing Eastern Europe into view, making it central, is itself something we need to do to fight privilege in Europe. This needs to be brought into discussions on race/ethnicity/nationalism, not seen as a distraction from it.

  19. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your response. I agree that the issues of class and Eastern European migration to Western Europe, and the marginalization of Eastern Europe by Western Europe, you raise also need to be part of this discussion. It is unfortunate that my comments did not communicate this clearly enough, especially as I am very much aware of hostility to Eastern European immigration and saw it firsthand in 2004 when I spent three months between England and Belgium, in the immediate aftermath of the accession of the ten new EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe, and saw the hostile reactions of parties like UKIP to this migration, with incessant talk about the mythical Polish plumber who would steal ‘native’ jobs.

    So yes, definitely also an issue to discuss, though I would like to clarify that my comments were not intended to assert that these issues do not exist and are unimportant, but that even within the context of this marginalization of Eastern Europe(ans) we also need to be aware of forms of racial exclusion based on Fanonian epidermalization.

    Again, thanks for your comment.

  20. Hi all, and thank you for comments and prolonged discussion.

    American Anthropologist: Yes, I share your sentiment that more cross-fertilisation needs to take place between anthropological milieus. As said in a previous post we need to consider such milieus as assemblages of institutions, scholars and concepts – to map the activities of these, their channels of communications, their means of knowledge production, and to forge connections between these where there was previously none.

    So to me it’s not about non-Europeans going to European conference and vice versa, but rather constructing a terrain of conversation which takes place in the hyper-relational. That is to say a form of discussion which exceeds specificities of time and place such as conferences, capable of bringing into discussion scholars mutually situated in disparate locations of the world.

    In such task I think social media technologies are of importance, and that Twitter was widely used in EASA is a good sign. Also journals and who gets to publish in it have a say in knowledge production, and also blogs such as Savage Minds and Allegra. The speed by which blogs operate is capable of raising timely issues faster than slower, traditional means of publication. I am glad to see that EASA is still being discussed even one month after it took place, and I largely attribute this to the versatility of the blogosphere!

    Finally, something else we can talk about is the language gap which exists between anthropological milieus such as the Brazilian one, the English one, French etc. In thinking about ways to bridge such gap faster translation turnovers are important. One of the things I like about Bruno Latour’s work is that it has a really (really) fast translation turnover. AIME was translated into English one year after publication in French. On the other hand Philippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture took a bit more. English might be the predominant language of publication but since it is one of the most oft-spoken languages to me this is no sort of linguistic privilege but rather a potent means of connectivity.

    As for that comment to the Allegra post, I take it with a grain of salt or two, and not as representative of the actual connection between European and US anthropologists. Deleuze and Guattari might not be that well known to European anthropologists as with their “cutting-edge” American counterparts (not even sure that’s a correct claim, yes many US anthropologists use post structuralist philosophy but I wouldn’t say it’s central to their work), but they’re no strangers either. Besides this I think Allegra’s second post on the keynote is raising some other important questions on the relation between philosophy and anthropology. I personally don’t hesitate to reveal my philosophical allegiance to D&G, and for that I might enjoyed Povinelli’s talk more than some others. At the same time, however, I do recognise that Povinelli went a bit wild with D&G’s concepts during the keynote, sometimes at the expense of her ethnographic interlocutors. But that’s a different question all together, and a big one at that.

    Richard: Hey, yes, you are right to spot a certain hesitancy on my part to fully engage with DPW’s posts. “To talk past” was perhaps intentional on my part, as I didn’t want to get up in the antithetics of her critique, but rather nod at some other points which I felt her analysis was lacking, and I thought were important. As said many times in this thread I don’t support the proposition that the category of race is all-encompasing and the sole organiser/distributor of relations and interactions within social field/event like EASA, neither than racial violence/inequality are omnipresent.

    That being said DPW’s last couple of comments have acquired a more concrete quality which I am more comfortable to engage with. Questions of broadening participation and of how events like conferences can be more inclusive, accessible and advertised to under-represented countries are important. I can’t speak for other conferences, but EASA organisers for example provided 50,000 USD to delegates from underfunded parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia to help them come to the conference.

    Best,
    Theo

  21. Sorry Theo, but you need to ‘check your privilege’ and re-read what I actually said, instead of making patently false claims, like the following:

    “Richard: Hey, yes, you are right to spot a certain hesitancy on my part to fully engage with DPW’s posts. “To talk past” was perhaps intentional on my part, as I didn’t want to get up in the antithetics of her critique, but rather nod at some other points which I felt her analysis was lacking, and I thought were important. As said many times in this thread I don’t support the proposition that the category of race is all-encompasing and the sole organiser/distributor of relations and interactions within social field/event like EASA, neither than racial violence/inequality are omnipresent.”

    NEVER did I say that race is all-encompassing and the sole organizing principle of social relations. That is not the intersectional analysis that I put forward, and because of your lack of familiarity with what intersectionality actual is and looks like, you are making exceedingly false claims about me and my comment, while also literally talking past me in very questionably dismissive ways rice with race and gender privilege. As such, I would urge Rex to address the issue of intersectionality as I feel this exchange has become about reacting to me as a Black woman making Theo uncomfortable, instead of engaging the substance of what I actually wrote.

Leave a Reply