Back to the ’30s? Capitalist Crisis, National-Popular Politics, and the Specter of Sovereign Violence

Call for Papers
2017 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC

In the wake of global financial crisis and in the midst of a transnational right-populist resurgence, it has become increasingly common in scholarly discourse and public culture to invoke the 1930s (and its scholarly discourses and public cultures) to make sense of and to critique the nationalism, nativism, and authoritarianism of today’s political and economic scene. The points of comparison are many: from juxtapositions of the Great Depression and Great Recession; to attempts to compare populisms and fascisms past and present; to declarations of the end of (neo)liberalism or calls to revive the Keynesian welfare state; to the revival, across the political spectrum, of thinkers marked by the violence and upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s—Arendt and Benjamin, Gramsci and Polanyi, Keynes and Hayek, Schmitt and Strauss (to name but a few). This panel will critically assess such parallels, asking what it takes to draw them and what work they do in contemporary politics. Why the 1930s? What forms do connections between the 30’s and today assume in our work and in broader popular cultures of comparison? What makes them epistemologically legible and affectively potent? What can an “anthropology that matters” contribute to understanding trans-historical comparison, as an ethnographic phenomenon and an analytical tool?

We welcome papers that consider the following questions, among others:

—To what extent do parallels between the present and the ‘30s reflect fears and struggles of capitalism-in-crisis, whether financial collapse or secular stagnation? Are such parallels harbingers of global economic transitions, the passing of Minskian cycles of financial fragility or Arrighi’s systemic cycles of accumulation? Do these historical parallels point to shortcomings of contemporary materialisms? Do they challenge us as anthropologists to incorporate larger spatiotemporal scales in our research and theoretical work?

 —How do such parallels frame (differentiate or lump together) the rise of national-popular political movements and revanchist governance? How are the “people” imagined in different moments and by different forms of left- and right-populism, how are they fashioned, and what kinds of solidarities—of race and class, grievance and resentment, power and privilege—do they rely upon? What forms of solidarity, or of intersectional alliance, might prove capable of interrupting the legitimization of white nationalism and authoritarian autocracy? 

—To what degree do parallels with the 1930’s make visible and/or obscure a longue durée of racial capitalism and state violence? Are we connected to the 1930s by a sovereign logic that makes possible states of exception and the reduction to bare life? By the persistent logics of racialized extraction, exploitation, impoverishment, and disenfranchisement?

—Finally, what intellectual resources do the 1930’s offer us in confronting today’s political challenges? Why might thinkers from the 1930’s be particularly salient or timely today? And how might we decenter or provincialize these Euro-American intellectual trajectories by diversifying the geographies of our temporal comparisons? How might we return to the ‘30s in order not simply to confirm emergent common sense, but to reshape or reframe contemporary conflicts?

Please send your abstracts, titles and keywords by April 3rd, to:

Jeremy Rayner,

and Taylor Nelms,