The Department of Anthropology hosts occasional major conferences and symposia that seek to advance scholarly conversation, collaboration and research supported by the department's faculty and students.
Conference: Africa at AD 1000: Scalar Transformations and Global Interactions at the turn of the Millennium
March 27 and 28, 2015
Beyond Socialism and Liberalism?
Transnational Perspectives from Eastern Europe and East Asia
January 28, 2011 - January 29, 2011
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Organizers: Dominic Boyer, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Elitza Ranova, Research Associate, Anthropology
Co-sponsored with the Humanities Research Center
Much research on China and Eastern Europe in the humanities and social sciences today emphasizes the importance of a socialist legacy, often characterizing these as “post-socialist,” “late socialist” or even “neo-socialist” environments. Alternative accounts have emphasized the impact of political liberalism and market capitalism in both regions over the past twenty years. We wonder, however, whether the seemingly hybrid cultural forms, social institutions and political ideologies that are emerging in China and Eastern Europe (among other “post-socialist” contexts) can really be meaningfully captured by the spectrum of terms ranging from “late socialism” to “neo-liberalism.” A significant problem is that the dominant philosophical and political discourse the humanities and social sciences have inherited from the mid-twentieth century (and before that from Western European political philosophy) insists on treating socialism and liberalism as oppositional to, and exclusionary of, one another. In this tradition, socialism is commonly aligned with social collectivism and political authoritarianism whereas liberalism is aligned with individualism and political democracy and so socialism and liberalism are typically viewed as contradictory and indeed incommensurable social principles and forces. Yet, cultural studies of contemporary China and Eastern Europe routinely turn up mutations and fusions of socialist and liberal influence that confound exclusionary models. Nevertheless, socialism and liberalism (inflected by their various ‘posts’, ‘lates’ and ‘neos’) still tend to provide scholarship its most significant compass points in the social analysis of these regions. We thus face a problematic gap between our analytical strategies and the complexity of real cultural, social and political forms.
We intend the proposed conference means to address this gap by asking whether our inherited oppositional understandings of “socialism” and “liberalism” can really account for the new kinds of political ideas and social subjectivities, the new aesthetics and mediated forms of knowledge and the new relations of practice and property that have emerged in China and Eastern Europe particularly after the collapse of Cold War geopolitics. This conference will ask what new kinds of analytical strategies and conceptual categories might emerge by taking the hybridity (rather than incommensurability) of socialist and liberal influence as our point of departure. Indeed, one possibility is that we might need to think beyond the categories of socialism and liberalism altogether, these categories having been deeply embedded in the political ontologies of modern (western) Europe in its historical phase of state consolidation and colonial expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We can think of no better stage for this critical reevaluation than China and Eastern Europe, two areas of the world representing not only margins but also constitutive ‘Others’ for the Western European political imagination. This conference should make an important contribution to demonstrating what contemporary research on China and Eastern Europe can teach interdisciplinary humanities and humanistic social sciences scholarship about the contemporary limits of our classic (western) political categories and social theories.
At the Juncture of Ethnography and Social Theory
April 24-25th, 2009
Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, Rice University and the Center for Ethnography, University of California-Irvine
The dialogue between ethnography and social theory has long been a fertile area in the human sciences, one that has helped give shape to entire fields like social-cultural anthropology and cultural and historical sociology. But the dialogue has often been accompanied by tension and fallen short of true collaboration. Social theory and its practitioners have too often tended to treat ethnography as the provider of raw forms of data for theory’s “higher” analytical labors. And, ethnographers have reciprocally often accused theory of metaphysical estrangement from the goals and methods of ethnographic engagement and they have called for more delicate and reflexive analytic methods and mechanisms.
Our premise in this event is that the juncture between ethnography and social theory is an extremely generative analytical space one that deserves more sustained and innovative collaborative enterprises to tap its full potential. We highlight, for example, how ethnography produces social theoretical problems and settlements of its own, settlements that can then be transposed as “portable analytics” into the conceptual apparatuses of other research and design contexts. We note the presence and significance of embedded modes of theorization within ethnographic analysis but we also explore how ethnography helps to refine social theoretical attention to the processual and material dimensions of human experience. And, finally, we discuss how greater historicization and contextualization of the making and circulation of theoretical knowledge – parallel to the attention paid to the contexts and genres of ethnographic knowledge in the 1980s -- can help to reframe our practices of teaching and mentoring students in the arts of social theory. We find that dissolving the artificial divide between theorem and datum, and undermining the transcontextual fantasies of theory and the realist fantasies of ethnography are essential to opening the juncture between ethnography and social theory to new modes of analytical attention and practice.
In short, our conversation explores how a more intensive and focused critical collaboration between the analytic methods of ethnography and social theory could help to reshape the future of both fields and of the disciplines (like anthropology) that rely upon them.