Displacements are in the air: episodes of profound political upheaval, intensified crises of migration and expulsion, the disturbing specter of climatic and environmental instability, countless virtual shadows cast over the here and now by ubiquitous media technologies. What does it mean to live and strive in the face of such movements? What social and historical coordinates are at stake with these challenges? And what kind of understanding can anthropology contribute to the displacements of this time—given, especially, that our most essential techniques like ethnography are themselves predicated on the heuristic value of displacement, on what can be gleaned from the experience of unfamiliar circumstances?
Exclusionary politics of spatial displacement always depend on rhetorical and imaginative displacements of various kinds: a person for a category, or a population for a problem. In the face of such moves, the critical task of ethnography is often to muster contrary displacements of thought, attention, imagination, and sensation. What forms of social and political possibility might be kindled by anthropological efforts to broach unexpected places, situations, and stories? This conference invites such prospects in tangible form, as experiences of what is elsewhere and otherwise. This is a meeting that will itself displace the conventional modes of gathering, taking place wherever its participants individually and collectively tune in.
For the first time, in 2018, the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Cultural Anthropology will take place as a virtual event. Air travel is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and one of the chief ways that an academic livelihood contributes to carbon pollution. We are exploring the virtual conference format with the ideal of carbon-conscious activity in mind, taking inspiration from prior such efforts. This format will also enable broader geographical participation, most especially against the backdrop of a political climate of unequal restrictions on international travel. We hope, too, that the web-based media platform we are developing for the conference will allow for novel explorations of expressive form in anthropology.
One of the chief values of the academic conference no doubt lies in face-to-face conversations and interactions. With this in mind, the conference encourages the formation of local “nodes,” decentralized, affinity-based forms of collaboration and exchange, in the spirit of experimentation that SCA and our partners in the Society for Visual Anthropology have long encouraged. The aim of this virtual conference is to extend access to anthropological knowledge and dialogue in as many ways as possible, and to invite other such experiments of this kind.
Conference Organizer – Anand Pandian (Johns Hopkins University)
Operations Advisor – Marcel LaFlamme (Rice University)
Conference Manager – Laura Johnson (LBJ Digital)
Technical Advisor – Mark Cyzyk (Johns Hopkins University Libraries)
Media Manager – Darren Byler (University of Washington)
User Experience Designer – Em Piro
Video Stream Manager – Hiro Amano (Open Range Video)
Access Advisor – Tyler Zoanni (New York University)
Illustration – Michael Bracco (spaghettikiss.com)
Graphic Design – Irfan Ibrahim
Climate Liaison – Jerome Whitington (New York University)
Treasurer – Eleana Kim (UC Irvine)
Conference Planning Team – Patricia Alvarez (Brandeis University), John Collins (Queens College), Gabriel Dattatreyan (University of London), Robert Foster (University of Rochester), Stephanie Gamble (Johns Hopkins University), Sander Holsgens (University College London), Peter Redfield (University of North Carolina), Arjun Shankar (University of Pennsylvania)
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