In 2011, three anthropological associations, EASA, ABA and AAA, agreed to try out a variety of collaborative endeavours. These are pilot projects which are not meant to create their own hegemony, but rather to open up and encourage the construction of a global anthropology in practice. The first has been a series of panels at three scholarly meetings (ABA 2012, AAA 2012, IUAES 2013) under the heading of Desplazamientos y desigualidades/ Deslocamentos e desigualdades/ Displacements and inequalities/ Déplacements et inégalités. We now wish to propose a different format, under a different theme.
Language and anthropological knowledge
This virtual seminar aims to explore the centrality of language in the production of anthropological knowledge and its political aspects, in two different albeit connected ways:
Language is central to the ethnographic encounter and sets the grounds for a potentially unequal interaction in the long term. Anthropologists have choices to make about how to represent the knowledge they produce (in what language, what communicative variety, what genre, what medium) and in what communicative spaces to engage, no matter where they do their work or with whom. These are necessarily going to be shared unequally by all stakeholders, raising issues of power, expropriation and potential misrepresentation with possibilities for important consequences in policy and practice. While these issues have emerged along with the postcolonial critique of the discipline, sustained conversation and debate on equal terms remains minimal. What are the political and epistemological consequences of directly engaging with different accounts of practice and different expressions of knowledge and, by extension, anthropological traditions?
The global circulation of anthropological knowledge, and the shifting relations of power that it entails, has become more and more salient to anthropologists of all kinds. The growth of international organizations such as the World Council of Anthropological Associations or the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, and the increasing attention – and excitement – they attract, are testimony to commitments to greater inclusiveness in participation in the field and to resistance to centralization and hegemony. Anthropologists have begun to pay attention to a variety of issues connected to these efforts, including the role of digitalization, new media, distributed knowledge, and innovative research methods. Apart from some local conversations, however, we have not paid sustained attention to one of the central ways in which knowledge is constructed, circulated and evaluated: language in its different expressions and traditions. We are familiar with debates over the role of English as lingua franca versus global dominator, but have rarely examined the question empirically or engaged in open, systematic debate as a way to overcome the prevailing inequalities and make way for a variety of anthropological expressions.
We want to engage with the challenges of new communicative media and propose to develop this virtual seminar in various digital platforms (including a real time streaming of the live event with commenting for other moments of the event). The webinar is an experiment both in collaboration between associations and in the use of IT for facilitating this engagement and extending the debate. It will also be an experiment in multi-lingual interaction by scholars native to different language environments (French, Portuguese and English) that understand all three languages with various degrees of proficiency but are willing to make the effort at sharing ideas from a position of linguistic equivalence.
Four scholars, from four different parts of the world, will be invited to circulate a short text on the theme in the weeks preceding the live event. These texts will be made available from 1 October 2013. During this period viewers can comment on the papers directly online. Four additional scholars will respond to these texts during the live event on 15th October 2013. This will be a two-hour webinar discussion among all eight, with the help of a chair and a moderator serving as the link with members interacting with the papers and event. For the following week, association members can participate in an online written discussion. At the end of that period the seminar will be closed.