ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future

6th-9th April 2009, University of Bristol, UK


Monday 6th April 2009

Keynote, 2.40pm, Great Hall

The conference key-note opening address was given by Professor Michael Herzfeld (Harvard).

Whose rights to which past?  Archaeologists, anthropologists, and the ethics of heritage in the global hierarchy of value

As the irony of a globalized vision of 'heritage' becomes increasingly apparent, with UNESCO listings and nationalistic forms of exceptionalism driving up the economic power of the concept of 'site,' professionals in both disciplines find themselves confronted as never before with wrenching decisions about what to reify, what to preserve, and what to select for whose vision of history.  Drawing on his work in Greece, Italy, and Thailand, and on related researches by other scholars in China, the Middle East, and Latin America, the speaker will outline these dilemmas and frame them in terms of the aftermath of colonialism -- a global cultural hierarchy that has been invested with an often under-appreciated force, and that will, unless subjected to extensive analysis and criticism, result in the massive confirmation of existing structures of power and exclusion.  He will make the argument that it is only through ethnographic investigations of archaeological practice, conservation policy implementation, and heritage politics that we can apprehend the damage that current global forces such as neoliberalism bring to local cultural formations; appreciate how these formations resist annihilation; and perceive the costs to them of so doing.

Tuesday 7th April 2009

Honorary Degree

The University conferred an Honorary DSc upon Professor Ian Hodder. This was preceded by the H.H. Young Lecture, given by Professor Hodder, with the provisional title Archaeology and Anthropology: the state of the relationship.

ASA AGM, 1pm, Wills 3.31

The ASA held its Annual General Meeting during the conference, at 1pm.

Wednesday 8th April 2009

Firth Lecture, 1.15pm, Great Hall

The ASA Firth Lecture was given by Professor Tapati Guha-Thakurta (Professor in History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta).
Click here for more details.

Careers of the copy: simulating sites and monuments in colonial and post-colonial India

It is an aphorism of our times that we are living in the age of the copy. The notion of this age stretches backwards in time to different nodal points in modernity when new technologies of reproduction invested the duplicate and double with the full powers of substituting the original, and allowed it a mobility and circulation that gave it a life far in excess of its authorizing source. But it also keeps hurtling towards a present that is connoted by the unruliness and ungovernability of the copy, in the way it tends to completely extricate itself from its referent, subvert its authority and become a sign only of itself. A capacity for limitless proliferation, ingenious improvisations and transplantation in different settings becomes the contemporary hallmarks of the copy. In this paper, I will be focusing on architectural replicas and recreations, and on the kinds of travels they embark on in India's colonial and contemporary histories. In keeping with the theme of this conference, I will treat the monumental replica as a central entity that has sustained, over time, the popular imaginaries of the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, and has served as the grounds on which professional knowledges came to be configured within new public domains of display and spectatorship. I will also use the divergent forms, claims and aspirations of these fabrications as a way of marking out their post-colonial careers from their colonial pasts – and as a way of distinguishing the popular from the official, the regional from the national, the local from the global trends of replications.      

Anthropology of Britain network meeting, 2.30pm, Wills 3.33

We plan to start the meeting with a short talk and Q&A session by Professor Catherine Nash (Queen Mary, University of London) about her recently published book, 'Of Irish Descent: Origin Stories, Genealogy, and the Politics of Belonging', Syracuse University Press, 2008. The meeting will then open for any other business.

ESRC: Undergraduate methods teaching in Social Anthropology, 14:30-16:00, Arch & Anth Seminar Rm A

The ESRC has launched an initiative aimed at improving the teaching of quantitative methods at undergraduate level across the social sciences. The aim is both to improve such methods teaching generally and also to improve the supply of graduates coming forward who have the basic skills necessary to take advantage of the improvements the ERSC has made to such training at postgraduate level.

This session is aimed at those who are involved in teaching methods to social anthropology undergradutes As well as outlining the initiatives the ESRC is considering in this area I wish to explore how far anthropology undergraduates are exposed to quantitative methods, hos far such methods are seen as relevant or desirable, and what kinds of resources might best support undergraduate methods teaching in social anthropology.

The session will be run by John MacInnes (University of Edinburgh), who is the ESRC strategic advisor on undergraduate quantitative methods teaching.

Thursday 9th April

RAI Presidential address, 1.15pm, Great Hall

The Royal Anthropological Institute presented their Presidential Address, given by Professor Roy Ellen (Kent).

Theories in anthropology and anthropological theory

What is it that makes a theory ‘anthropological’ beyond being a theory that anthropologists use? Assuming a framework that understands anthropology in its broadest sense, the address invites us to remind ourselves what theories are actually supposed to do. Distinguishing theories in terms of the scale of presumption in their claims, it argues for a pyramid of nested levels of explanation. As we move from the base to the tip of the pyramid, so our explanations and the interpretation of our data must become increasingly simple to accommodate the forms of measurement that each level demands. Given such a model, how can we reconcile evolutionary theories based on individual behaviour geared to immediate survival and reproduction, with theories that best explain the uncertainties of 'emergent systems', or which consider how individual actions are in turn constrained by the systems of which they are part? Anthropology, we must conclude, has always acquired its vitality by being critically 'conjunctural', and must be ultimately and necessarily a strategic cross-disciplinary theoretical compromise.