AAA Annual Meeting Program

AAA Annual Meeting Program Details

Session Information:
This session may be of particular interest to:  Students  Students
Program Number: 3-0635
Type: Session
Session Sponsor: American Ethnological Society
Session Date/Time: Fri., 1:45 PM-3:30 PM
Organizer(s): JOHN BORNEMAN (Princeton University), ABDELLAH HAMMOUDI (Princeton University) 
Chair(s): GEORGE MARCUS (University of California-Irvine) 
1:45 PM: ABDELLAH HAMMOUDI (Princeton University) -- Antropology and the Critique of Modernity  
2:00 PM: TALIA DAN-COHEN (Princeton University) -- Rethinking Thick and Thin  
2:15 PM: GEORGE MARCUS (University of California-Irvine) -- Para-Site Experiments: Concept Work in Fieldwork  
2:30 PM: PARVIS GHASSEM-FACHANDI (Rutgers University) -- Violence, Intimacy, Disgust  
2:45 PM: ANNELISE RILES (Cornell University) -- Collateral Knowledge  
3:00 PM: JOHN BORNEMAN (Princeton University) -- Thought, Theory, and Ethnography  
3:30 PM: End of Session
Abstract: This seminar explores the changing relation of ethnography to theory in socio-cultural anthropology. The methods, objects, and forms of ethnography are rapidly changing, leading to new understandings of theorization and, in other cases, to activism or advocacy that places more emphasis on doing. Initial paradigms of observation with or without participation have been replaced by encounter-based fieldwork and interlocution, informed by various schools of phenomenology, leading to reflections on radical alterity and difference (how it emerges, what are its meanings) in fieldwork situations. In some concentrations of anthropology, however, such as science, medical, or media studies, the paradigm of the encounter itself is no longer compelling, as the observer’s separation from the objects of study in time and space is no longer critical. Hence reflections on differences between people and places have been replaced by reflections on contemporaneity and questions regarding knowledge regimes and the constitution of objects. Can we make explicit the assumptions and goals of some of these alternative practices of ethnography and theory, and ascertain what is new, gained, and lost in knowledge through the current proliferation and substitution of research paradigms? Does the concern for new objects make past anthropological theory irrelevant and require new modes of theorizing? Three key questions: What is the status of the concepts “relationality” and “reflexivity” within anthropology? If anthropology concerns itself with describing and accounting for virtual or emergent life forms rather than with the difference of lived experiences within and across contemporary social forms, does this obviate the need for establishing ongoing relationships, if not relationships altogether, with the people or material and immaterial objects we encounter? Are there new kinds of attachments or distance at stake in the choice of objects/subjects? What sort of interlocutors and methods, what kind of time frames for research, and what sense of responsibility are appropriate for the study of emergent objects, networks, or knowledge games? What are the justifications for selecting different objects? Central to anthropology has been the study of modernity and its critique. Questions have increasingly been reduced to effects of European ethnocentrism and domination. What do we learn from this frame about non-European humanity? Do alternative modernities refer to a specific time and place, or do we all live in an “incomplete modernity”? Can we still learn anything from “premodern” institutions about the uses of reason, the scope of rationalization within traditions, and human life (e.g., kinship, exchange) as well as relations to non-humans (“nature”)? Since many of the forces driving social life today are not to be located in their relation to Europe, can we envision abandoning the concept of modernity? Anthropologists have used multiple modes of comparison. The structure of units in time and space was one such influential model, today largely abandoned and replaced by epistemic and genealogical paradigms that claim to be outside comparison. Is comparison still relevant for theorization of social life, and can we spot modes of comparison in paradigms that seem to disavow its use?


If you have any questions about the program, please contact the AAA Meetings Department at