EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

The anthropology of race and ethnicity network launch [ARE]
Location U7-10
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Markus Balkenhol (Meertens Instituut) email
  • Kristine Krause (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Katharina Schramm (University of Bayreuth) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Discussant: Wayne Modest (KIT)

Short Abstract

Race remains an important social issue, but how do anthropologists study it? Inaugurating the EASA network on race and ethnicity, this panel deals with issues including postracialism; intersectionalism; postcolonialism; race, religion, and the postsecular; racial technologies; the ontological turn.

Long Abstract

In 2013, the editors of Cultural Anthropology, Anne Allison and Charles Piot, were "surprised that we've had so few submissions about race over the past three-and-a-half years. Are anthropologists no longer interested in the topic - or feel that they've exhausted what they have to say about race? Or has the world changed, with race today a less salient category of everyday life and analysis?" Not surprisingly, their answer was a resounding "no": "The articles in this issue suggest otherwise - that race remains a significant and pressing social category, not only in the United States but also beyond, perhaps more so today than ever - and that anthropologists should be playing a vital role in its analysis". Not only is the history of anthropology entangled with race, both in the production and (self-)critical deconstruction of racial knowledge, but many anthropologists are working on these issues, simply because race, racism, and ethnicity remain pressing social issues across the globe.

This panel inaugurates the new EASA network for the anthropological study of race and ethnicity. By way of officially launching the network we want to explore what the anthropological study of race and ethnicity might look like, and what role the network could play in facilitating it. Issues to be explored may include postracialism; intersections between race and other forms of discrimination; postcolonialism; race, religion, and the postsecular; racial technologies; race and the ontological turn. Both ethnographic and theoretical papers are welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"If races don't exist, why are forensic anthropologists so good at identifying them?" Anthropology and metric ancestry estimation: a critical examination of FORDISC and CRANID

Author: Sarah Fruendt (University College Freiburg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will look at the underlying assumptions of two programmes for metric ancestry estimation used in contemporary anthropology. I will argue that not only their approach to human variation can be questioned, but that there are also several epistemological problems meriting closer inspection.

Long Abstract

More than 60 years have passed since the publication of Ashley Montagu's influential work "Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race" (1942) and the consecutive publication of the UNESCO's statement "The Race Question" (1950). Yet, especially in the disciplines of physical and forensic anthropology, the debate on the existence or non-existence of race is still far from being settled. In the 1990s, two computer programmes (FORDISC and CRANID) were developed to support and simplify the estimation of ancestry from the human skull. While both of them shy away from the biological race term, they nevertheless use concepts such as social race or geographic ancestry, which are based on the assumption that humanity can be divided into certain categories based on cranial shape. This paper will look at the underlying assumptions of the programmes and examine the contexts in which they are used today. It will especially emphasize the sampling processes that were used in building up the comparative databases for the programmes as well as the particular categories used (many of which have a long conceptual history). I want to argue that not only the entire approach to human variation could be questioned, but that there also several underlying epistemological problems with the programmes that merit closer inspection. This seems not only relevant because they are used in forensic contexts and thus have direct consequences on legal cases, but also because they indirectly support the use of racial categories in legal, political, and social settings.

Undoing the knot: racial gift giving, imaginary lines, and downpression in the Dutch kingdom

Author: Francio Guadeloupe (University of St. Martin, Dutch Caribbean)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the ways in which persons from the Dutch West Indian isles living in Caribbean and the Netherlands seek to undo this knot by rethinking the project of the Human. Their distinction to those who solely seek to redo the knot will be highlighted.

Long Abstract

Undoing the Knot: Racial Gift giving, Imaginary lines, and Downpression in the Dutch Kingdom

What distinguishes the diverse colonial projects and their lingering effects and contemporary effectuations, is not solely the sheer downpression of peoples. Focusing on that important aspect leads to endless rebuttals and reactions of think tank specialists that throughout human history there have been more physically brutal regimes.

The distinguishing mark to me is that these diverse colonial projects were perverse acts of gift-giving.

The Gift of racial identity!

Simultaneous with the brute violence, acts of racial gift giving (benevolent acts alleviating the unfair trade and subjection) created a world inhabited by humans seen and seeing themselves White and humans seen and seeing themselves as Non-White. The sense of being a singularity in continuous unexpected change got/gets clouded by racial identities that become habitual ways of performing personhood from a young age.

Third, no matter how one does the intersectional dance of multiple identities in academic and activist speak and writing, an imaginary line remains drawn between the White side of the world (that can consist of persons with a darker hue) and the non-White World (where you will occasionally find impoverished pink skinned persons).

One needs radical rethinking to undo the knot

This paper focuses on the ways in which persons from the Dutch West Indian isles living in Caribbean and the Netherlands seek to undo this knot by rethinking the project of the Human.

Race must fall: the politics of heritage, race and identity in South Africa

Author: Rosabelle Boswell (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University)  email

Short Abstract

This article considers the relationship between cultural heritage, race and identity in contemporary Port Elizabeth in South Africa before, during and after the #FeesmustFall university protests.

Long Abstract

Twenty-one years after the end of apartheid, South African identity is in the process of re-construction. There seems to be increasing racial polarisation of the society and a concomitant emphasis on indigeneity/autochthony amplified via intensified heritage politics. The paper asks how might heritage politics embed a hegemonic politics of race in South Africa? The discussion offers ethnography of the city of Port Elizabeth, a city situated in the poorest province of South Africa with a visible and pervasive history of European colonisation. I argue that the emergent politics of race are deeply influenced by new imperatives for decolonisation after #feesmustfall movement. There is pressure to re-localise identity and re-value indigenousness. The process is producing new tensions because after apartheid democratisation and neoliberalisation encouraged less primordial and arguably less embedded notions of self and heritage. The paper explores these tensions and complexities and what they mean for the conceptualisations of race in South Africa.

Black citizenship, Afropolitan critiques: African heritage practice on contested terrain

Author: Marleen de Witte (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This paper places the question of race and heritage politics in post-colonial Europe in the triangular relations between “white” majorities, Afro-Caribbean and African populations. This conveys the complexity of racial dynamics in heritage making and sensitizes to alternative sources of critique.

Long Abstract

This paper offers a new perspective on the relationship between the contested terrain of race and the politics of heritage and territorial belonging in post-colonial Europe. Presenting material from the Netherlands, I argue for including a "third perspective": instead of reproducing the dyadic framework of "white majority" versus "black minority" populations, I situate the negotiation of race in the triangular relationship between the persistent "whiteness" of Dutch nationhood, its postcolonial Afro-Caribbean population, and its more recent African migrant population.

Discussing "African heritage" projects by Dutch people of Afro-Caribbean and Ghanaian descent respectively, I discern two different critiques of the racialized exclusivity of Dutchness. Struggles for "Black citizenship" seek recognition of African heritage as part of Dutch colonial history and serve to inscribe Blackness into Dutch nationhood; "Afropolitan" celebrations of "being African in the world" not only question the primacy of Dutch national belonging but also resist hegemonic formulations of Blackness. These projects speak to the circulation of categories of difference and belonging on multiple spatial levels: 1) global trajectories of " blackness" and "Africanness"; 2) intensified xenophobia and growing Black emancipation on a national level; and 3) shifting hierarchies of ethnicity on a local level.

In this "trialogue", race gets done and undone in intersection with other axes of difference and inequality, including citizenship status, migration trajectory, and African origin. The triadic framework the paper advances not only conveys the complexity of racial dynamics in heritage making, but also sensitizes to alternative understandings of belonging and alternative sources of critique.

Unpacking the colony: race, place and space in the context of the former Belgian Africa

Author: Bambi Ceuppens (Royal Museum for Central Africa)  email

Short Abstract

Against studies which reduce racism to antisemitism, this paper aims to foreground racial colonial theories with an aim to analyse the extent to which they continue to influence and shape contemporary Belgian ideas about ‘Africans’ in the widest sense as ‘others’.

Long Abstract

In Belgium, scholarly research and public debates about racism tend to take as their starting point antisemitism in the context of World War II. As a result, colonial racial theories are all but ignored. This paper aims to redress this balance by comparing racial colonial theories in the Belgian Congo and Belgium in relation to the categories which were considered the most problematic: female Eurafrican women in the colony and male Congolese men in Belgium, with an aim to analyse the extent to which these colonial debates continue to influence and shape contemporary Belgian ideas about 'Africans' in the widest sense as 'others'. As such, this contribution seeks to destablise notions of racial difference as fixed essences and stress their positioning in different geographical/cultural contexts.

Manufacturing whiteness at Swiss registry offices

Author: Anne Lavanchy (University of Applied Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the relevance of whiteness as analytical concept to explore mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Switzerland, it analyses the way registrars produce legitimate couples as homogeneous entity based on matching fiancés.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses some contributions and limits of whiteness as study-up perspective and as analytical concept to explore mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion into a national body. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Switzerland, it analyses the way registrars produce legitimate couples as homogeneous entity based on matching fiancés.

Registrars' work is increasingly about the selection of potential co-nationals. The struggle against foreigners' "abuses" has led to the development of bureaucratic technology aiming at tracking down "sham marriages". The analysis shows that the manufacture of legitimate couples takes into consideration the matching of internal (values, affects and love) and external (appearance, skin complexion, origin) markers. But narratives about "lovely couples" do more than articulate notions of homogamy with the necessity to avoid mixedness: they contribute to reaffirm, redraw and reproduce the contours of Swiss whiteness. Socially relevant despite remaining unspoken, whiteness reveals a fluid category that draws boundaries between groups enjoying more or less privileges, blurring the usual dichotomy between nationals and foreigners.

Drawing on this specific case study, my contribution also aims to discuss the relevance of whiteness as analytical tool to understand social configurations in non-Anglo-Saxon contexts. In French and German speaking areas, some social scientists consider necessary to use "race" to avoid blindness toward racialized discriminations while other ones underlined the dangers of doing so as it might rehabilitate popular uses of "race". At the confluence of these linguistic sensibilities, Switzerland offers an enthralling perspective from which to explore such issues, at the core of critical race studies.

From racialization to dehumanization: urban segregation and State governance

Author: Ana Rita Alves (Centre for Social Studies )  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes how colonial rationalities shape contemporary urban landscapes, specifically in Lisbon (Portugal). I focus on the role of the racialized apparatus of governance in forging the existence of “ungrievable lives” in the "ghetto" and preventing people to access rights.

Long Abstract

Since colonial times, processes of racialization have been constructed in a close relationship with notions of space, enclosure and confinement. Racialization has played a fundamental role in dethatching certain areas of the urban landscape, producing them as marginal and unlawful, and thus creating the idea that it is necessary to intervene. I focus on specific urban locations in Lisbon, namely the so-called "bairros", self-constructed neighborhoods and public housing quarters. The history of this peripheral ubanizations can be traced back to the first five decades of democracy in Portugal. At first, the self-constructed neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city represented the only housing solution for most of the migrants that came from the former colonies; later on, public housing quarters - even more segregated than the first ones - were developed within the Special Rehousing Program. With a focus on police brutality and eviction processes that took place in different peripheral neighborhoods of the city, I argue that institutional processes of racialization had led to corresponding processes of dehumanization. Dehumanization enables the existence of "ungrievable lives" in the "ghetto" that are constantly subjected to State control and repression, in a context of social and political indifference. Therefore, the interrelation of territorial apparatus of governance and institutional racism prevents migrants, black Portuguese and Portuguese gypsy/Roma communities from accessing housing, citizenship and (human) rights.

Ordinary life: surpassing normative categories of race

Author: Beth Epstein (New York University-Paris)  email

Short Abstract

This paper draws on Daniel Miller’s articulation of the “ordinary” to think about race. As opposed to the normative, the ordinary disrupts overdetermined conceptions of difference, allowing engagements that break with the assumption of stable identities upon which racial categories make claim.

Long Abstract

Among the more perplexing questions of contemporary social life is the persistence of racialized forms of thought in these post-colonial, nominally "post-racial" times. Regularly discredited as a valid biological category, the concept of race nonetheless endures as a salient variable of contemporary life. Central to this tension is the extent to which race aligns with actually existing differences or is simply, or only, a social construction that corresponds to, and regularly reaffirms, racial difference as an objective fact. The constructedness of race aside, its realness is all too often lived and felt, a tension that leaves many convinced of race's relevance, as either a foundational principle of social life, or a troubling reality it would be best to overcome.

In this paper I seek to move beyond these debates through a consideration of the exchanges of everyday life in the culturally plural, and many would argue racially troubled, suburbs outside of Paris. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in towns to the west and north of the city, I reflect in particular on Daniel Miller's articulation of the "ordinary" to argue that a focus on ordinary life allows a promising means to move beyond the round-robin debates that considerations of race often spawn. In contra-distinction to the normative, which carries an intrinsic moral claim, the ordinary carries the potential to disrupt overdetermined conceptions of difference, giving way to renewed forms of engagement that break up the assumption of stable identities upon which racial categories make claim.

Effecting 'whiteness': Galician immigrants and ideas about 'race' in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Author: Elena Calvo-Gonzalez (Federal University of Bahia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses ‘whiteness’ as a processual experience that encompasses notions about difference beyond ‘natural’ physical bodily features, using as case study the historical experience of poor Galician immigrants in Salvador, Brazil.

Long Abstract

This paper aims to discuss 'race' in general, and 'whiteness' in particular, as a processual experience that goes beyond physical bodily characteristics. The experience of lower-class Galician immigrants in the city of Salvador, Bahia, to which they arrived during the first half of the 20th century with little symbolic or economic capital, but with bodies that exceeded, in terms of phenotypical characteristics associated with being of European-origin, the physical 'whiteness' of the majority of local elite members, can be helpful as a way to understand how 'racial' categories in general, and 'whiteness' in particular, incorporate notions about difference beyond having a 'European' phenotype. The reception of local elites towards these immigrants, which considered them as inferior and not worthy of mingling with their circles, as well as the social trajectories of upward and, in some cases, downward mobility of some of these immigrants and their offspring, offers us a window into understanding how 'whiteness' is not a natural characteristic of these bodies, but it is rather performed, even when describing the experience of groups and/or individuals who have no phenotypical marks of non-European ancestry whatsoever. Based on ethnographic and archival work, I show how these immigrants had to effect their 'whiteness' through different strategies so as to attain their dream of upward social mobility, but also how this very process contributed to the upkeep of some of the ideas about galician inferiority found both in the past and, to a lesser extent, nowadays.

Autochthony, super-diversity, and the politics of race in the Netherlands

Author: Paul Mepschen (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the dialectics of super-diversity. Rather than understanding super-diversity in terms of the normalization of diversity, I focus on the ways in which super-diveristy goes hand in glove with everyday racism.

Long Abstract

By focusing on what I call the 'culturalization of everyday life' in a neighborhood in the Amsterdam district of New West where I pursued ethnographic research from 2009 to 2011, this paper examines the dialectics of urban super-diversity. Rather than understanding super-diversity in terms of an increasing 'normalcy of diversity', I argue that the contemporary global city is characterized by a 'dialectics of flow and closure' where increasing heterogeneity goes hand in glove with an ever more powerful focus on locality, belonging and identity 'fixture'. In a world characterized by flux, a great deal of energy is invested in fixing, controlling and freezing identities. In this paper, I argue that Dutch culturalism is a mode of controlling and fixing identity: the culturalist 'common sense' produces an increased awareness of the proximity and alterity of others. The resulting focus on autochthony is a process of boundary-making between those who belong and those who are construed as guests or strangers. In this process, a particular anatomo-politics is involved that points to the continuing significance of race and racism in the Netherlands. Culturalist boundary dynamics rely on the particular configuration of the sensory, the cultural and the biological which has historically defined the modern category of race.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.