indeterminacy: Spring Conference March 23-25, 2023

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)