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"Transformations all the way down": On the possibilities of critiquing the zeitgeist of change 
Mario Schmidt (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle))
Martin Fotta (Czech Academy of Sciences)
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Silvia Posocco (Birkbeck, University of London)
Mathematics & Physics Teaching Centre (MAPTC), 0G/017
Thursday 28 July, -
Time zone: Europe/London

Short Abstract:

"I thought that escalating change must always lead to climax and destruction of the status quo" (Bateson, Angels Fear, 1987). Discuss.

Long Abstract:

The standard narrative about the history of anthropology recounts how static approaches were surpassed by processual analyses capable of capturing change. As exemplified by the theme of the EASA2022 conference, transformation is indeed the dominant esprit of our discipline today. When thought along with proliferating discussions on future(s) and futurity, we could—with some exaggeration—say that, if the "ethnographic present" characterised the structural-functionalist mode, the "ethnographic future" characterises anthropology's current analytical trends and "ethnographic speculation" its political hopes. If things are not transforming, they, at least, should.

We are neither disputing the legitimacy, nor the urgency, of this orientation (given, e.g., the environmental collapse or the reckoning with anthropology's colonial past and present). As a conceptual exercise, however, this panel pauses to think through observations made by one of anthropology's earliest proponents of relational complexity, ecological thinking and (escalating) change. "I could not in 1936", wrote Gregory Bateson (1987), "see any real reason why the culture had survived so long, [or how it could include self-corrective mechanisms that anticipated the danger]."

We invite ethnographic contributions of social and cultural practices of self-correction, stabilisation, and even stasis without falling into the facile talk of conservatism. Why do some changes not escalate into climactic transformations? What is maintained stable in different imaginaries of transformation? What notions of reproduction—cultural, social, biological—are implied in anthropologists' accounts of the future? Can we think of complexity without change? What happens to responsibility within anthropology's unspoken consensus on complex transformations "all the way down"?

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -