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 conference will take place between March 23-25, 2023 at Princeton University.  It is being co-hosted by three subsections of the AAA: AES, APLA and CAE.  Some pre-planned plenaries and panels are to be found below. There will also be roundtable discussions, flash ethnography, salons, speed mentoring, and workshops (More on this to follow).  Please join the conversation by planning to submit a paper, a panel or a roundtable through our registration and submission portal.  Selected paper submissions will be organized into thematic panels and provided a chair and possibly a discussant.  Panel submissions will take up to 5 participants (3-4 paper presenters and 1 discussant) for slots of 75 minutes.  Organizers may request double panels.  Roundtables will take up to 7 participants.  Please restrict your participation to two roles across the conference (as paper presenter in either panel or roundtable and as discussant).  Your role as organizer and/or chair does not count towards the two roles maximum.  Unless you indicate someone to serve as a chair, one will be assigned to you.  The deadline for submission is January 25, 2023 with decisions to be provided by the second week of February.

Hotel information will be available shortly but as a heads up AAA is booking a block of rooms at Westin for the conference rate of $145/per night with daily transportation from the hotel to the Princeton campus. This offer will only be available in the new year so be on the lookout for it then. Forrestal Village, where Westin is located, also has other hotels, which may be of interest. If you have any questions, please get in touch with Naveeda Khan (AES,

Pre-Planned Events:

Opening Plenary: Facing the Law

Panel 1: Tarrying with Indeterminacy in Political and Legal Anthropology

Panel 2: The Indeterminacy of Anthropological Translations

Panel 3: Enacting Climate Knowledge and Politics in Global Climate Institutions

Double Panels 4 & 5: Death and Dying from the Region of the Feminine

Roundtable Panel 6: Revisiting Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity

Roundtable Panel 7 (Book Discussion): The Generic, the Indeterminate and the Non-Specific

Open Solicitation, Panel: Indeterminacy at the US-Mexico Border(lands): Reflections on Culture, Society, and the New Limits of Border Theory in Anthropology

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