Well, I went to the European Anthropology conference and it was really good. Smallish, with perhaps five hundred delegates- with plenary sessions and workshops, the latter being a kind of succession of panel , often with a continuity of themes participants, creating a different and more coherent experience than at the AAAs. And I kind of got the answer to the question I raised the other week, about the rationale for a specifically Europe focused association. The stated aim was for a professional association across the expanded Europe. Another aim, officially unstated but one mentioned in conversation by some delegates, was as an explicit alternative to the apparent American hegemony of the AAA. This was not unexpected. It was however intriguing, especially in relation to some of the topics which came up at the conference, which included conspiracy theories and our current favourite, neo-liberalism.
A presentation by Kathleen Reedy on popular conspiracy theories in Syria got me thinking. It emerged from the discussion that in many ways conspiracy theories are like social theory. They do the same things. And whether or not we categorize something as conspiracy theory or not is a matter of the politics of to what we are willing to accord credibility. This insight brings me back to neo-liberalism, or rather, to anthropological takes on it. We are very keen to accord neo-liberallism conspiratorial power to wholly re-form multiple world orders in its own image; indeed, the opening speech at the conference made this explicit claim.
The conference itself was partly informed brought into being in response to an American conspiracy. Strangely, this self conscious rejection of such hegemonic ordering does not seem to lead to radically divergent anthropologies.. The preoccupations of papers seem on a par with the range of offerings at a triple A meeting. Is this a victory for hegemony and evidence of the neo-liberal reach, creating, as Hardt and Negri might have it, the possibility for the replication globally of the same few core institutional forms? Or is it simply the reality that we comprise the same scholarly community within and outside Europe, that the boundary is not so much between European anthropology and the US axis but elsewhere, perhaps imposed by the de facto alliance of European and North American influenced anthropological forms? Which leads to another question: whether the apparent uniformity of the product and preoccupations of anthropology now are an indication of a crisis of the anthropological imagination, on both sides of the Atlantic?