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This panel will explore and theorise essentialism, its diverse logics, uses, and meanings, through a comparative ethnographic juxtapositon. We are interested in both different nationalist and xenophobic discourses, practices and movements and the 'strategic essentialism' of identity politics.
Study of different types of grouping and othering has gained a new sense of urgency and relevance for anthropology. Globally, on the one hand, we are faced with a rise of nationalistic and xenophobic political movements and social practices which systematically prey on essentialist and reductionist representations of the social world. On the other hand, movements of resistance often seek unity and legitimacy through 'strategic essentialism' and 'identity politics'. This panel will comparatively debate the reasons for, uses, meanings and logics of different current essentialisms, such as new nationalisms, new racisms, new emergent forms of xenophobia and religious neofundamentalisms; but also essentialism of indigenous and ethnic resistance groups, political autonomy movements, ethnic or racial 'consciousness' projects, and other forms of 'strategic essentialism'. Through such comparative juxtapositon, our aim is to explore and theorise essentialism and the qualitative and axiomatic differences of its diverse uses. We ask what does it mean to 'essentialise' a social identity; whether and how one might distinguish between essentialism perpetuated by victims of historical abuse and inequality, and that of those in positions of power and privilege; how to understand the allure of essentialist thinking; what are the alternatives to essentialist 'groupism,' national rootedness and sedentarism; and other different analytical and philosophical takes on the phenomena. We invite papers from all ethnographic regions and theoretical perspectives which contribute to the debate.