APLA at AAA 2016: Graduate Student Workshops

Social network 2
Social Network” by Kevin Dooley. Portion of image cropped to display as thumbnail on APLA website. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).


Each year during the AAA meetings, the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) sponsors a series of special workshops in which small groups of graduate students and faculty convene around thematic conceptual, theoretical, and methodological issues. These workshops offer an intimate mentorship context in which students can engage in intensive discussions regarding specific problems in their anthropological research and writing. This year’s workshop topics are the following (descriptions can be found below):

  • Anthropology and Activism Part I: Political Engagement through Writing
  • Anthropology and Activism Part II: Anthropology of Activism in the 21st Century
  • Nationalism and Charismatic Leaders
  • Conceptualizing Decay in Political and Legal Anthropological Frameworks
  • The Military, The Law
  • Temporalities of Law

Each workshop will be limited to 4-5 students, who will meet with 2 or 3 faculty members at a café or restaurant near the AAA conference hotel. These locations, as well as the exact dates and times of the workshops will be determined in the weeks prior to the AAA meetings.

Doctoral students who wish to participate in these workshops should apply as soon as possible by completing this application form.

Proposals will be accepted on a first-received, first-reviewed basis, and with the requirement that applicants’ projects/questions be closely related to the workshop topics. If an applicant feels that her or his project could be appropriate to more than one workshop, please feel free to list a second choice (in the event that the first-choice workshop has already filled up). 

Email Zahirah Suhaimi (zsuhaimi@ucsc.edu) with any questions or concerns. The final deadline for consideration will be October 17, 2015 but workshops fill up quickly, so apply soon!

 Workshop descriptions

Anthropology and Activism Part I: Political Engagement through Writing

Anthropology as a discipline has a long history of political and public scholarship, yet the academy has privileged the monograph and journal article as ethnographic genres. The contemporary moment offers more options for anthropologists to mobilize scholarship and influence social change through a variety of written forms. In this session, graduate students are invited to workshop short pieces of writing intended for public audiences (such as blog posts, op-eds, or news articles) that address current social and political topics relevant to their research. Potential topics for discussion may include problems or challenges reaching different audiences, protecting informant privacy and safety, or responding to urgent social issues against the “slowness” and specificity of ethnographic research.

Anthropology and Activism Part II: Anthropology of Activism in the 21st Century

Activism is no longer defined only by rallies, street marches, strikes, and sit-ins. In contemporary times, there are different levels of intervention where activism might occur. For example, the act of existence as oneself on-line or in the physical world may constitute an activist act. It seems that activism has adapted to include unique ways of changing existing social norms. How is activism being redefined beyond borders of public protests? For communities where protests might not be the only effective tool, how can ethnography and anthropologists work to recognize individual and community actions as activism? As we are seeing changes in what defines an activist act, in what kinds of spaces and forms does activism exist today?

Nationalism and Charismatic Leaders

Britain’s referendum on its membership of the European Union, Donald Trump’s candidacy for President, and the increasing electoral success of European far right parties, like Front National, have led to claims of a resurgence in nationalist sentiment in Western democracies. Inevitably coverage of these developments has centered on the seeming charisma of their leaders and their ability to articulate anti-establishment positions. Political anthropology has long associated charisma with Max Weber, who regarded it as an emotive force and counterposed it to the increasing bureaucratization of modern life. This workshop invites graduate students to explore charisma in the light of both recent political developments and new developments in the anthropology of bureaucracy and expertise.

Conceptualizing Decay in Political and Legal Anthropological Frameworks

Decay powerfully influences popular political culture, particularly in development and postcolonial settings. For example, decaying public infrastructures like roads, buildings, and public works often stand in direct contradiction to development promises and “expectations of modernity” (Ferguson 1999). When applied to states and other imagined communities, moral decay, or corruption, serves as an important feature of grassroots political critique, indicating falls from grace and frequently justifying calls for political change (Gupta 1995, Gupta et al. 2015). This workshop asks participants to consider the specific ways political processes can be analysed using the concept of decay.  Questions include, but are not limited to: How does the concept of decay shape the ways in which political processes are understood? How does the specificity of ‘decay’, such as its symbolic and material manifestations, timing, and intensity, shape political movements?

The Military, the Law

The violence of military action is sometimes figured as outside the rule of law.  But military force also works through law – from definitions to justifications to classificatory schemes.   The law confers upon the military the right to violence, and delineates the rules of war.  At the same time, law is invoked to work around them, lending order to excess after the fact.  This workshop asks participants to consider the ways that law is mobilized in militarized contexts (as well as evaded, contested, and ignored). Possible questions include, but are by no means limited to: legal pluralism within and around the military, the role of law in militarized imaginaries (i.e. “Fortress Europe” and the “war on terror”), and the merging and muddling of the law and armed forces in the case of military regimes.

Temporalities of Law

Legal techniques such as statutes of limitations on claims, the written materiality of law, and the role of precedent structure time—past, present, and future. But social change can reveal established temporalities within law as discontinuous with lived experience, such as when toxins cause illness that manifests only after legal claims expire or when alternative gender identities create “temporal disjunctures” with law’s static categories (Conley 2008). This workshop invites scholars to explore temporalities of law and the forces that push against those temporalities. Topics discussed might include how changes in technological and scientific understanding challenge legal timescales; how analytics such as suspension and potentiality might be used in ethnography; and how law retroactively structures time.

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