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States of the absurd II 
Ståle Wig (University of Oslo)
Charline Kopf (University of Oslo)
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Charline Kopf (University of Oslo)
Ståle Wig (University of Oslo)
Catherine Alexander (Durham University)
Peter Froggatt Centre (PFC), 03/007
Tuesday 26 July, -
Time zone: Europe/London

Short Abstract:

The panel invites ethnographic explorations of the absurd across regions, political contexts and institutional arrangements, from everyday moments of pointless waiting or standing in a queue to seemingly senseless processes in bureaucracies, international institutions, and workplaces.

Long Abstract:

Across a range of ethnographic cases, anthropologists have encountered experiences people classify as absurd, purposeless, illogical. In the USSR, a common joke among employees was that state employers "pretend to pay us, while we pretend to work", describing their labour as fundamentally meaningless. Today, anthropologists have sounded the alarm about "bullshit jobs" that are so pointless that even those who hold them fail to explain their existence. Despite deeming such practices absurd, people continue engaging in them, finding themselves caught in a paradox. So far, the absurd has mainly been studied as a fundamental condition of humanity. This panel invites participants to engage with "states of the absurd" through ethnography, in two ways.

First, "states of the absurd" refers to states of being that people characterize as senseless; when they feel "stuck," lost in repetition or waiting. What do people do in these moments of sustained absurdity and how do they envisage a future? When are irony and cynicism used as coping mechanisms for absurdity? Panelists are also encouraged to reflect on what we define the absurd against. What, in other words, is not absurd? And how does absurdity differ from meaninglessness?

Alongside ethnographic explorations of subjective experiences of absurdity, we invite scholars to consider the meaning of "states" in a second sense: What are the links between political and socio-economic configurations, and experiences of absurdity? Are there certain political-economic structures or characteristics, such as a lack of accountability, that provide fertile ground for states of absurdity?

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -