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Challenging Anthropology's Fetishes: Rethinking Sovereignty, Resistance, and the Places of Ethnography 
Lori Allen (SOAS)
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Advocacy and Activism
Wednesday 16 September, 15:00-16:30

Short Abstract:

This panel seeks to challenge some standard anthropological tropes of resistance and "the local" by considering oppositional politics through different analytical frames. We reconsider notions of sovereignty, fieldwork, and the archives through ethnographic cases in the Middle East and India.

Long Abstract

A persistent fetishization besets the discipline of anthropology: fieldwork and "the local," (where difference is found) remain at the heart of the anthropological project for many. Alongside this quest for difference in belly-button places, there also remains a desire to identify resistance, usually by small actors in small corners of the world. Although Lila Abu-Lughod and Saba Mahmood have called out this romantic attachment to a liberal notion of freedom,"resistance"—and its ally "agency"—are sought by ethnographers who sit with occupiers, walk with marchers, and proclaim victory in human rights declarations.

This double panel consisting of papers engaged with Turkey, the Middle East, and India seeks to challenge these standard tropes by exploring what else we can learn by considering oppositional politics through different analytical frames, expanded senses of place, and with diverse methods. Rather than lionize resistance, we consider oppositional politics as claims to hegemony, and as demands for political efficacy (that anthropologists should assess in those terms). Rather than finding these hopeful assertions of agency through fieldwork in "local places," we search the archives and other sources for everyday practice and political claims. And rather than celebrate sovereignty in its diminutive forms, we consider how law's definitions of sovereignty and citizenship limit people's demands and curtail political imagination in both its geographic scope and senses of what constitutes an identity.

Accepted papers: