Call for papers

CFP – THE CULTURE CONCEPT IN CONTEMPORARY CIRCULATION

(This CFP seems relevant to this dialogue about the utility of theorizing policing around a concept of culture)

Call For Papers — Proposed Session for AAA 2010
THE CULTURE CONCEPT IN CONTEMPORARY CIRCULATION

Does the culture concept have a place in anthropological understandings of a world increasingly defined and shaped by global circulations? Or, as decades of critique would wish it, can a concept of distinctive logics organizing human relations no longer hold water as the boundaries between the contexts and spaces in which those relations are negotiated become increasingly porous?  This panel will consider, in light of both the history of its critiques, and recent ethnographic work from diverse locations and positions, the continuing relevance of a concept of culture — taken as a distinctive logic organizing social relations, moral and political projects, collective histories and imagined futures — as anthropology responds to the apparent dissolution of spatio-temporal, social and communicative boundaries. To what extent does the culture concept rely on our capacity to identify bounded collectivities, or on the isolation of those collectivities from each other, their ignorance of a world outside their “own” world, or on the difficulty of people associating with more than one of them or moving between them? (To put it another way: must “cultural” context always be relatively presupposed, rather than entailed?)  What do prior theorizations of culture qua both difference and structure bring to our understanding of contemporary negotiations of the semiotic fields in which identity, alterity, and other sorts of projects come (or fail to come) into being?  As it proliferates as a form in circulation beyond anthropological discourse, what force does culture retain or accrue as context or pretext, social text or hypertext?  What pressure does the appearance of culture as a form in circulation place on our uses of culture as analytic frame?

Rather than seeing contemporary difficulties with deploying the concept of cultures as objects coterminous with geographically bounded social entities as an occasion for despair we see it as an opportunity for a productive untangling:  Is difference (especially difference marked by a boundary) essential to the culture concept or simply the context in which it was first noticed?  Need cultural “logics” be largely or partly unconscious to be powerful or is this a misguided analogy with linguistics? Need people have only one culture?  Are unit cultures but one historically specific way in which human semiotic life can be organized (as bands, empires, or states are historically specific ways of organizing human political life)?  Such untangling might let us continue to understand culture as the ground on which both alterity and alliance are negotiated regardless of the size and boundedness of the units involved, a use we see as faithful to its intellectual and political history, as well as one with a promising future on both fronts.  As a platform for — and as a form accompanying— people and projects in circulation, the analytic concept of culture may in fact be of greater importance than ever.

Please address inquiries and submissions, in the form of an abstract of no more than 250 words, as e-mail text or attachment, to session organizers:  Amy McLachlan (University of Chicago) amclachlan@uchicago.edu, or Daniel Rosenblatt (Carleton University) daniel.rosenblatt@gmail.com, by Friday, March 26th.  In addition to an abstract, please also include your full name, contact information and institutional affiliation.

Feel free to circulate this announcement widely!

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