It is often assumed that social and spatial formations are made to last, but certain formations are meant by their members to be ephemeral and transient rather than permanent. The discussion of ethnographic examples is intended to stimulate more general methodological reflection. When is ephemerality a constraint on social relations? When and for whom may it be a tactical asset? How does ephemerality work socially, and what might be its uses? What challenges does it pose to anthropological research?
While anthropologists recognize that social aggregates and cultures are in principle emergent, always changeable, require constant maintenance and even can perish, it often seems assumed that both space and society are generally made to last. Such methodological assumptions of a perpetuity of being and identity can be usefully challenged by ethnographic research that acknowledges transience and ephemerality as defining characteristics of certain spatial and social formations.
Some examples of such formations would be the transient audiences of street art, the "single-service friendships" in air travel, flash mobs, internet chatrooms, the communities of homeless shelters, happenings and music festivals, nomad encampments, guerrilla cells, or tourist groups.
The following questions drive the panel: What spatial and social forms are meant by their members to be ephemeral and why? When is ephemerality a result of oppression or domination, when is it a compromise, and when and for whom may it be a deliberate end in itself? Are transient formations marked by uncertainty and disquiet, or by the members' relief that commitment need not be maintained forever? Just how fundamental is the relative permanence of the spatial and the social for anthropological theory and method? Should we even research ephemerality at all? As a discipline that has long emphasized the diachrony of structure as well as favoring depth of understanding, how can anthropology deal with seemingly superficial and a priori transient phenomena? To address these epistemological challenges, the panel seeks to assemble stimulating cases of ephemeral socio-spatial formations.