Accepted paper:

Power, crisis and anthropology


Lesley Gill (Vanderbilt University)

Paper short abstract:

Over the last 35 years, anthropology's mainstream has conceptualized power as decentered and deployed through discourses, "state-like effects," an bureaucratic practices. What was lost? How can it be recovered? Where do we go next?

Paper long abstract:

The emergence of neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s, its expansion under the label "globalization" after China's capitalist turn, and the collapse of the Soviet sphere (1989-92) have reshaped relationships of power and powerlessness across the globe. Yet even though power has become part of the conceptual framework of anthropology over the last thirty-five years, anthropologists have too often ignored or played down the clash of broad historical forces and political-economic relationships in favor of a circumscribed ethnographic focus defined by the study of culture. The rejection of broad explanatory frameworks and insufficient attention to processes of exploitation have impoverished out understanding of power. This paper focuses on an earlier and now revived concern with class power to ask what questions we might pose today and what issues we might explore. It argues that, because neoliberal capitalism has dispersed power to new locations, reconfigured states, and generated social fragmentation and political upheaval, anthropological explorations of power must explain the connections, as well as the ruptures, that are transforming the material relations, beliefs, and practices of people across the globe. They must also account for the ways that these processes emerge from the past and shape the limits of what people can do to chart the future.

panel W006
After the crisis: neoliberalism, postmodernism and the discipline of anthropology (EN)