Irresolution and the Politics of Possibility

Deadline for abstract submissions: March 24
Panel Organizers: Chuck Sturtevant (University of Aberdeen) and Susan Ellison (Wellesley College)

While anthropologists have long been interested in conflict as a mechanism for producing social change, conflict also provokes widespread anxiety and has spurred entire fields of study dedicated to its resolution or ‘transformation.’ Donor agencies, NGOs, and good governance advocates worry over conflict’s mismanagement, frequently characterizing it in negative terms and tying its resolution to positive outcomes including stability, democratic governability, economic growth, and, ultimately, human flourishing. Within national contexts, partisan actors are drawn to the seductive possibility of permanent or complete resolutions to ongoing conflicts. This panel challenges that consensus by exploring contexts in which conflict’s resolution is unwelcome or conflict’s persistence is understood as vital to social life. For example, protestors, from the streets of Ferguson, Detroit, or El Alto, frequently refuse cheap efforts to quell their demonstrations; ritual combat between moieties generates fertility in parts of the Andes; libertarian municipalists in Rojava advocate for a system of “dual power” in which municipalities and the state compete and coexist; indigenous peoples reject politics of recognition when faced with regimes of settler colonialism. As people and communities foster ongoing disagreement or discord in a wide range of contexts, we ask: what does it mean to nurture conflict? What practices do people deploy to sustain disagreement rather than allow it to subside or be settled? Does its cultivation only occur when people perceive themselves to be on a ‘losing’ side? How do we make sense of practices that appear to foster conflict’s continuity even as our interlocutors characterize it as painful, frustrating, and disruptive to their lives? What kinds of politics does conflict’s irresolution unsettle, and what possibilities does it open? What kinds of social relationships do people and communities opt into when they opt out of frameworks of consensus that emphasize resolution and stability?

 Please send your title and a 250-word abstract to us at and by March 24.