Anthropology has paid little attention to the diversity and everyday lives of liberal ideas, focusing largely on (neo)liberal governmentality. This panel takes a reinvigorated look at how the social grammar of liberalism is articulated in complex ways across contexts and scales.
The anthropological lens has been fundamentally shaped by liberal categories and preoccupations (Keane 2007). This has meant that in the past, liberalism itself has eluded the anthropological gaze, while more recently it has come into focus mostly in the singular vision of neoliberal governmentality.This conceptual history has been an obstacle to understanding liberalism "on the ground" more broadly as a mobile project of transforming social, political and material relations the world over. Although space has been opened up by contemporary anthropological investigations of human rights (Englund 2011; Goodale and Merry 2007), multiple modernities (Bear 2014), public spheres (Ansell 2015; Lempert 2012) and universalism (Englund 2006; Povinelli 2002; Tsing 2005), we suggest that there is further ground to be gained by attending to liberalism' as an explicit area of anthropological enquiry. This panel aims to explore the diverse ways in which liberalism's grammar of idealisation and universalisation, detachment and abstraction, its particular socio-historical imaginaries and socio-material arrangements are articulated across diverse contexts. To this end, we invite ethnographic papers that explore the social life of liberalism, however configured. How do liberal ideas, and the grammar of liberal ideology, become unbundled and reassembled, differentiated and made to cohere? How is this grammar deployed to "speak for" subjects, how do subjects themselves "speak with" it, and to what effects? By developing a comparative perspective on liberalism, we hope not only to identify it's local articulations and entanglements, but also to trace how these are made mobile, and enrolled within broader, durable configurations.