Indeterminacy: A co-hosted spring conference

23-25 March 2023 at Princeton University
Co-hosted by: American Ethnological Society, Association for Political and Legal Anthropology, and Council on Anthropology and Education

This year’s spring conference is committed to exploring the nature and dangers of indeterminacy. The time has come for indeterminacy to be interrogated, not least for the ways it prevents a rush to judgment, enables prurient behavior, and creates blind spots towards injustice. Yet if anthropology is to avoid retreating to a high moralizing stance, it must leave itself open to forms of indeterminacy that enables existence, trespass, and interruption for those living in subjugation and systems of oppression. Pedagogy and education, both formal and informal, have to struggle with communicating the necessity of indeterminacy for improvisation and newness. Indeterminacy and ambiguity are also often the wellspring of insights into the divine. Thus, at the same time we interrogate indeterminacy, we must also acknowledge that everywhere we live with indeterminacy. Such is the coil of a mode of academic inquiry that takes the social for its object and is thereby inextricably bound up with its polarities and oscillations. Is there a way to think of indeterminacy without resolving matters once and for all?

Topics for consideration range from issues of what is taken as a fact (for example, where perceptions of relative indeterminacy in climate science is leveraged to create doubt about anthropogenic climate change) to those of meaning (as in the case of multiple sexual harassment and sexual abuse cases with sufficient cause for ambiguity in the law reducing the blunt of charges of violence and transgression to a he said/she said melodrama, thus, pandering to a form of toxic masculinity). Some areas where indeterminacy seems to have paralyzed scholarly analysis are those relating to the nation-state, whether it is still a form with which to tarry or has it merely become a handmaiden of capital? If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that no hegemonic power lets a good crisis of predictability go to waste. Is social media a force for the good or the bad? Given the global uptake of conspiracy theories of many kinds and the violence that they have produced, time has come for some genuine soul-searching about our desire for instant translatability or communicability. Do AI and robots pose a challenge to labor and forms of work? Ask people working for Amazon. Are we an interconnected world or Balkanized? While the trans-border movement of pollution and waste provide one vantage, the differential spread of suffering around the war in Ukraine provides another. And then there is the indeterminacy that comes from the unfinished business of the past or the complete obscurity of the future that may not be in people’s consciousness but that erupts into the present insistently. It reminds us of our immersion within other structures than those of which we are aware, other strata of time than that of the present alone, and the changeable nature of our own susceptibilities. Perhaps one way to think of forms of indeterminacy is to ask what sustains them, what do they sustain, and what are the prices of establishing certainties in their wake?

This in-person spring conference is being co-hosted by three subsections of the AAA: AES, APLA and CAE. We will have plenaries, panels, receptions, workshops and reading salons including Swayam Bagaria, Monica Bell, Jacob Bessen, Andrew Brandel, Vincent Brillant-Giroux, Thomas Csordas, Clara Han, Keith Hart, Toby Kelly, Michael Lambek, Sandra Laugier, Sameena Mulla, Vlad Naumescu, Milad Odabaei, Jessica O’Reilly, Annelise Riles, Carolyn Rouse, Lotte Segal, Susanna Trnka, Anna Wherry, and others.

We invite you to submit papers, panels, roundtables or workshops through a joint registration and submission portal, which will go live over the winter break with a quick turnaround, so please get organized ahead of time. If you have an ongoing project or an edited volume in the making
or ideas for a panel, please contact any of the section heads to get our input (contacts provided below). This is a variant of the invited panel issued in the form of an open call. We would like to hear from you before December 20 or else please feel free to submit your proposal when the portal opens. We are planning for robust participation, great conversations, and lots of festivity. More to come. Stay tuned!

Contacts:
Ilana Gershon (APLA, igershon@rice.edu)
Naveeda Khan (AES, nkhan5@jhu.edu)
Mariela Nuñez-Janes (CAE, mariela.nunez-janes@unt.edu)
Carolyn Rouse (AES, crouse@princeton.edu)

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