Aesthetics and Performativity: Form and substance in cultural politics 
Martyn Wemyss (Goldsmiths)
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan (Goldsmiths, University of London)
SOAS Senate House - S118
Sunday 3 June, 15:30-17:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

The panel considers the political mobilization of aesthetic forms through performance and citation in online and offline worlds. Papers address the possibilities for an anthropology that takes seriously the generative power of the surface.

Long Abstract

This panel invites contributions which engage with aesthetic mobilizations in the service of political ends. Historically, much anthropological attention has been paid to aesthetics as signs or indexes to be charted and interpreted, as 'the stuff' of cultural belonging. Recent scholarship has shifted away from an implicitly essentialist theorization of aesthetics towards an account of the productive agency of things, forms, and appearances and the political work they do in the world. In this re-imagining of aesthetics, 'thin descriptions' (as J. Jackson Jr argues) are as important as 'thick descriptions.' For instance, pithy slogans and hashtags become entry points to engage political worlds which deeper contextualisations might obscure. We seek ethnographic contributions that deepen this engagement with performative aesthetics by analysing the present moment where contingent practices of citation generate hybrid forms of communication, where 'race', gender, kinship and power are re-narrated in social settings or refracted through the digital. How are emergent cultural forms, however fleeting, produced and performed? In what ways do they intervene in the socio-political contexts in which they emerge? How does an aesthetic theory that centres on the ephemeral performance or the production of a substantive 'thing' allow us to see how actors utilize creative practice to contest existing relationships or imagine new relationships with and beyond the state? How is citizenship claimed through cultural stagings at various scales and before various publics? Finally, how are anthropologists positioned and how do they position themselves in these stagings?

Accepted papers: