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Accepted Paper:

Portable analytics and traveling theory  
Dominic Boyer (Rice University) Cymene Howe (Rice University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses how anthropological analytics can be developed in one context of ethnography and made "portable" and available to transpose into other ethnographic contexts. We explore three examples of this process. The first is historical and focuses on the massive analytical mobilization of the Melanesian-Polynesian term mana and its importance for shaping entire fields of anthropological theory. The second discusses how juxtaposing late Soviet aesthetics of parody (stiob) to contemporary American public culture reveals an association between late liberal authoritative discourse and the formal orthodoxy of late socialism. The third examines how Nicaraguan same-sex advocacy practices demonstrate the portability of analytic frameworks across time and space and suggest new ways, both liberal and communitarian, of conceiving human rights in anthropological discussion. Like Said's "traveling theory," portable analytics are epistemically mutable, taking on new contours and nuances as they adjust to their new contextual circumstances. They neither promise new universalizing theory nor do they remain completely anchored to their point of empirical origination. Such theory has always been an immensely important engine of anthropological knowledge and an art that deserves more rigorous attention.

Panel W007
Intermediate categories
  Session 1