APLA at AAA 2017: Graduate Student Workshops

Call for participants

Social Network” by Kevin DooleyCreative 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):

Affect, politics, and the law
Grassroots political organizing and surveillance online
University speech
Tampering with the human
Ethnography in/of the university

Each workshop will be limited to 4-5 students, who will meet with 2 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. Those interested in learning more about these workshops may check out our past workshops here.

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 Suraiya Anita Jetha (sjetha@ucsc.edu) and Zahirah Suhaimi (zsuhaimi@ucsc.edu) with any questions or concerns. The final deadline for consideration will be October 14, 2017 but workshops fill up quickly, so apply soon!

Workshop descriptions

Affect, politics, and the law

Contrary to early theorists’ assertions that bureaucracy and the law are rational, scholars have argued that state formation is a deeply affective endeavor.  From highway infrastructures to bureaucratic documents, the material objects of modernist planning exert their own forces in the world, often with unintended consequences. However, for students of anthropology, following the affective lives and afterlives of legal and political artefacts and relations can be challenging: when ethnography favors what can be touched, seen, or heard, what counts as evidence of the affective? This workshop invites advanced graduate students to grapple with the links between the affective and the ethnographic in legal and political anthropology. Possible projects include the deployment of affect in elections and political movements, the affective disposition of legal and political actors, or ethnographies of bureaucratic processes.

Grassroots political organizing and surveillance online

From the “hacktivism” of Anonymous to the socially networked Arab Spring, contemporary political organization often starts (and sometimes ends) online. As such, political mobilization is entangled with new hardware (such as smartphones and surveillance detecting devices) and software (apps, sites, and platforms like Twitter and Facebook). This workshop invites participants to consider how these technologies shape political action, and how anthropologists might trace their effects. How do we read the affordances of specific technologies in efforts to plan actions, amplify messages, and build power? How do activists address the limits of their platforms, most notably being tracked and monitored by corporations and the state? What methods are suited to studying grassroots political organizing, and how do we navigate the perhaps uncomfortable resonances between ethnographic methods and surveillance online?

University Speech

Recent headlines—telling of classrooms characterized by trigger warnings, disinvitations to speakers with politically unpopular views, firing and censure of professors, and the clash of protesters—suggest the rise of censorship and decline of free speech at universities across the globe. Yet, universities have always been sites where access to an audience for one’s ideas is actively, rigorously, sometimes contentiously worked out. What are the contours of “censorship” in today’s political climate of heightened nationalism and populist rhetoric? How is “censorship” understood and enacted, and what institutions are reproduced, strengthened, and undermined as a result? This workshop will open dialogue to help us, as both educators and scholars, root today’s political climate in the political and legal lineages of “free speech” and “censorship,” while navigating it in our teaching and scholarship.

Tampering with the Human

From AI to GMOs and Google Verily’s recent “Debug Project,” laboratories across the country have increased their momentum to doctor human bodies, ecosystems, and economies. Complex, but recognizable, political forces drive both advances towards and retaliation against scientifically altering basic fabrics of human life. This workshop will explore the moral and legal dilemmas arising from recent moves to fundamentally alter aspects of human life through GMO and AI technologies. What policies, regulations, or movements exist in this space? For anthropologists studying this subject, what dominant political dynamics should they be aware of? What ethical debates do these emerging technologies revitalize, particularly in dealing with their consequences? Finally, how do such technologies affect those most intimately involved?

Ethnography in/of the University

Following Laura Nader’s call to “study up,” anthropology now has a rich literature on institutions and bureaucracy. However, the university as an organizational space remains underexplored in anthropology. With recent public conversations about diversity, sexual assault, free speech, and funding, studying our educational institutions seems ever more urgent. This workshop invites scholars to consider the theoretical and methodological benefits and challenges of turning the anthropological gaze on the university. Potential questions for discussion may include: In what ways is “doing” ethnography at universities similar to or different from other institutions? What barriers arise to studying in universities (access, career, etc.)? How can graduate students doing research on universities navigate the intersection of “studying up” and studying “at home”?


Utopia enables the re-imagining of social relationships and politics within and beyond the law. Yet, as Lauren Berlant’s formulation of “cruel optimism” suggests, these affective attachments can hinder the ability to achieve utopia. This workshop invites participants to consider how utopian projects inform legal and political action and vice versa. What is the relationship between utopia, political organizing, and the law? Topics for discussion may include, but are not limited to: the ways in which legal frameworks both support and are at odds with utopian politics; the temporal and affective dimensions of utopia; the conditions in which some visions of justice, freedom, or “the good life” are dismissed as utopian (and, by implication, naive), while others are taken up as practical projects for reform.


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