Papers and Panels of Interest at the #AAA2016 Meeting

2016-aaa-annual-mtg-logo-4c-250x286It’s that time of year again: time for Anthropoliteia’s list of papers and panels pertaining to police, security, crime, law and punishment at the Annual Meeting s of the American Anthropological Association!

As impassioned followers of this blog know, we like to curate a list of sessions and papers of interest to our readers.  We’ve created a Google Calendar, which you can find embedded below and import into your own.  Be sure to keep an eye on @anthropoliteia’s twitter feed as well, where you’ll find coverage of the #AAA2016 hashtag with which several participants will be live-tweeting sessions ad other events.

Beyond that, we’d like to call your attention to two sessions in particular, which are direct offshoots of projects and collaborations on this blog:


Thursday, November 17, 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM Hilton, Room: Duluth

Session Description: At a time when many aspects of law enforcement are coming under increased scrutiny, anthropologists have a renewed opportunity to investigate questions around police and policing. What can anthropology bring to an area of research whose terms, methods, and theories have traditionally been set by the disciplines of sociology and criminal justice? What approaches allow us to navigate this contested domain and understand its forms and effects inside and out, from those “on the beat,” to the recipients of police terror, from activists calling for justice to those whose radical alterity renders them “no-bodies” (Silva 2009)? How does an anthropologist’s loyalty to the state (our law-abidingness) affect the ways they take up our positions with respect to policing? One answer suggested by some anthropologists of police (Garriott 2013, Karpiak 2016) is to direct investigations at the boundaries of police as a field of inquiry. Rather than assuming the police to be a bounded field site, it can be understood instead as a refractive lens that extends beyond policing as an official institution and reverberates in response to broader social phenomena. Others have argued that we should seek to develop new lexicons to describe, denounce, and theorize racialized policing practices and put them in the context of a broader security-knowledge system that informs subjugation at large (James 2006, Alves and Vargas 2015). In this panel, we seek new critical perspectives on longstanding issues involving police: violence, the body, community, citizenship, and rights. We are interested in exploring how issues such as racial and sexualized violence are positioned across the permeable boundaries between the police and subjects of enforcement without discarding critiques coming out of both the popular and scholarly spheres that have identified forms of structural violence in police work. Whether dropping the notion of a clear and fixed boundary (a “thin blue line”) or reanalyzing the police as operating within regimes of domination, ethnography has the potential to show how policing is both continuous and distinct from the broader social contexts in which it is embedded and attend to the diverse forms of life that fall under the heading of police. We argue that such modes of anthropological understanding can ultimately contribute greatly to projects of police reform or abolition.

Organizer(s): Victor Kumar (Johns Hopkins University) & Amrita Ibrahim (Georgetown University)


EnCountering the Criminalization of Disabled Bodies: Talking about Racialized Policing and Colonialism in the Settler-State (Michelle Stewart, University of Regina)

Avatars Unbound: Digital Policing, Algorithmic Detectives, and the New Surveillance of Child Sexual Abuse (Mitali Thakor, Northwestern University)

Life on Patrol: An Ethnography of Police Work on the Streets of Post-Freddie-Gray Baltimore (Victor Kumar, Johns Hopkins University)

Kinship, Police, and Journalists: Querying the Policing Function in Stories of Sexual Assault in India (Amrita Ibrahim, Georgetown University)

Staging Encounters: Ethnographic Paradigms in Performance and Policing (Christina Aushana, UC San Diego)

Discussant: Kevin Karpiak

Discussant: Eric Haanstad


Friday, November 18, 8:00 AM – 9:45 AM Hilton, Room: Marquette IV

Session Description: Traditionally, anthropology of security and the state allied itself with the insecure, a consequence of both a disciplinary focus on “marginalized” peoples and the political leanings of most anthropologists. With the rise in police and/or security ethnography as a distinct disciplinary zone, however, ethnographers often find themselves studying institutional agents who oppose their convictions and who enact the abuses of oppressive institutions. Because police and security ethnography entails “studying up,” ethnographers experience a power differential which creates vulnerability, as the object of study often wields the ability to exile, defame, and coerce. At the same time, police and security ethnography often includes “studying down” towards the structurally vulnerable agents of the rank and file, who are routinely constrained by powerful institutional employers. The political realms of policing and security are reliant on fear and risk, a reliance that is internalized by police ethnographers. Ethnographers create this intimacy and mimesis with police, security, and intelligence agencies because of their intimate engagement with similar sources. In other words, the intertwined relationship between ethnography and the tendrils of state investigation occurs because we traffic in similar modes of information. Researchers investigating police and security phenomena are often subject to covert and overt surveillance from state agents and the criminal netherworld, or are keenly aware of the potential for surveillance and suspicion. Simultaneously, we are struck by our routine affinity for these same people; by how much we can appreciate their openness, their sense of humor, duty and conviction; and by their kinship, camaraderie and humanity. This uncomfortable juxtaposition generates a unique set of challenging affective relationships in ethnographic research. Police and security research thus offers a confrontation between our darkest understandings of political orders and our brightest aspirations for the state’s agents and for ourselves. This roundtable will explore the affective tension between paranoia and compassion, empathy and disdain, mistrust and understanding, as a thematic key toward telling fully human stories in police and security ethnography. We also ask how, in these contexts, the commitment to politically engaged anthropology can be balanced with aspirations to represent another’s occupational worlds, particularly when we might take great exception to their machinations.Of Interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists| Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges| Students

Organizer(s): Erika Robb Larkins (University of Oklahoma) & Eric Haanstad (University of Notre Dame)

Chair(s): Jeffrey Martin (University Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) & William Garriott (Drake University)

Presenter(s): Avram Bornstein (City University of New York, John Jay College), Simone Gomes (Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos [IESP-UERJ], Brazil), Eric Haanstad (University of Notre Dame), Beatrice Jauregui (University of Toronto, Canada), Kevin Karpiak (Eastern Michigan University), Erika Robb Larkins (University of Oklahoma), Audrey Winpenny (University of Pennsylvania)

Followers of our #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project should also consult Sameena Mulla’s summary of events at the meeting, which includes in the moderated discussion on racism, Black Lives Matter and immigration rights to be held during the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology’s Business Meeting (Saturday, November 19, 12:15 PM – 1:30 PM in Minneapolis Convention Center, Room: 209AB), featuring recent Anthropoliteia contributor Bianca C. Williams.

We hope to see you there!


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