ASA14 Decennial: Anthropology and Enlightenment


Wednesday 18th June

6pm: Chrystal Macmillan Lecture

Although not part of the official conference programme, this public lecture may be of interest to delegates. The lecture is free to attend, but booking is necessary.

The lecture will be given by Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.

Title: War and intimate violence: reading the ethnographic record in the light of the Mahabharata

Abstract: What is the relation between large scale violence and violence experienced in intimate spaces of the domestic? I look at the place of singularity in addressing this issue, asking what does the appearance of figures, personal names and first person narratives tell us about the importance of experience for understanding violence. How can the personal be made to stand for the impersonal, and inversely how is the person formed through the impersonal in situations of war and violence? The Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, which is the emblematic story of war and intimate violence, offers the provocation in this lecture for theorizing from a mythic space, an elsewhere in terms of time and space.

Thursday 19th June

Firth Lecture

By Marilyn Strathern

Title: Becoming enlightened about relations

Abstract: Some sixty years ago Raymond Firth thought it necessary to point out that social relations could not be seen by the ethnographer, they could only be inferred from people’s interactions.  Abstraction was necessary.  -- Others have thought making concrete was the problem, and resorted instead to personification.  -- At the same time Firth unproblematically talked of relations in the abstract when he was comparing (for example) economic and moral standards.  The issues would have not been unfamiliar to Hume, and other luminaries of the Scottish Enlightenment, who dwelt on the power of relations in (human) understanding and (scholarly) narrative, as well interpersonal empathy.  At this early stage of the conference, it seems appropriate to evoke an antecedent period in the European Enlightenment at large, among other things for its interest in narratives of the ‘unknown’.  We also find in this epoch some peculiarities in the English language that many Scots were making their own.  These usages thicken the plot as far as ‘relations’ in the eighteenth century go, with implications that still tease us.

Reception and “Depth of field: an anthropological installation”

In the Playfair Library Hall, Old College of the University of Edinburgh

During the reception, there will be an exhibition entitled “Depth of field: an anthropological installation”, co-organised by Ilinca Vânău, Elspeth Parsons, Livia Marinescu and Christopher Hewlett.

This installation draws together anthropology and art, and seeks to illuminate the opening of the former towards a multiplicity of disciplines and practices. Through video, photography and sound recordings, we aim to bring fragments of fieldwork into dialogue with each other, while addressing a larger epistemological debate about the construction of narrative through words and images.

What it is to be human is one question which invites a calibration of distance: a close up view on the human in dialogue with a more telescopic one. Standing by Ingold's idea of a dwelling perspective on experience we seek not to juxtapose the human and the world, but to look at the former in its environment. Hence "Depth of field" takes the form of an art installation in order to look at the question of the human and its narratives through an immersive experience.

Friday 20th June

The ASA's annual general meeting (Seminar Room 2.14, Appleton Tower)

The AGM will take place from 12.45pm to 1.45pm and a buffet lunch will be served (subject to availability) for those members attending.

Munro Lecture

By Judith Farquhar

Click here for more details.


This will take place in the Wolfson Hall, Quincentenary Building, Surgeons' Hall from 8pm. The band The Occasionals will be leading this evening of traditional Gaelic folk music and dancing. No previous experience is necessary, as the band will have a "caller" to lead you through the steps. There will also be a cash bar, for when you need a rest from the dancing. This is a free event, but numbers will be limited.

Saturday 21st June

12.45pm (Seminar Room 2.12, Appleton Tower): ASA Postgraduate Network - Anthropology Matters

This session will introduce the ASA postgraduate network and its online initiative Anthropology Matters. Developed by postgraduates and early-career researchers, Anthropology Matters aims to stimulate discussion about the production of anthropological knowledge through a focus on training, teaching, research and writing. This session will be dedicated to a presentation and discussion of the network’s mailing list and its open-access online journal. The editors of the journal "Anthropology Matters" will explain how postgraduate students and early-career researchers can get involved in the publishing and editing process of the journal. A buffet lunch will be served.

HAU Roundtable: The Universe of the Imagination and Value, 18:15-19:30, Wolfson Hall

In collaboration with HAU - Journal of Ethnographic Theory

Abstract: What would an ethnographic theory of imagination that would not use the word “imagination” look like? In the last two decades, phrases like ‘social imagination’, ‘moral imagination’, ‘political imagination’, ‘affective imagination’, ‘cosmological imagination’, and the like — much like the related phenomenon of ‘scapes’ (landscapes, ethnoscapes, mediascapes) – have come to be used so casually as to become well-nigh meaningless. The word “imagination” seems to encompass phenomena as diverse as fantasy, utopia, prognosis, divination, futurity, dreaming, visualization, memory, ideology, and creativity—or some kind of open-ended combination of all of them. When we speak of cosmologies, ontologies, subjectivities, as being “imagined,” what do we actually mean by this? Rarely do anthropologists even ask the question. Instead, we see a succession of anthropological ‘turns’ that appear to be obsessed with totalities that no one can fully imagine at all. Against the de-humanizing trends that some ontological and ANT approaches seem to foster, this roundtable also advocates a return to a Marxian-Vichian humanist study of the relationship between (human) "values" and imagination. As Sahlins (2010) remarks “economy is the objectification of cosmology” but the mystery of the cosmological order lingers in that very same nature of the concept of ‘objectification’: since objects ultimately preserve a kernel of opacity and cannot ultimately - unlike humans - imagine. Hence Marx’s famous passage in Capital on the human architect who, unlike the best of the bees, must raise a building in his own imagination before it is raised in reality. This means breaking with the Cartesian definition of imagination as referring to that which does not exist, but rather, seeing it as an active force, embedded in creative projects of action—as immanent in a reality that is constantly being shaped rather than a transcendent from it. This in turn means seeing what we are used to calling “imaginaries” as, above all, the effects of the pursuit of forms of value, and as such, they tend to take on a certain hypothetical, “subjunctive,” or “as-if” quality, creating contexts which make questions of ontology, in a certain sense, not always apt.

Participants: Hayder Al-Mohammad (Wisconsin), Giovanni da Col (Cambridge), Rebecca Empson (UCL), David Graeber (LSE), Jane Guyer (Johns Hopkins University), Carlo Severi (EHESS) and Charles Stewart (UCL)


In the Playfair Library Hall, Old College of the University of Edinburgh

At the dinner, Gerard Woodward will give a talk entitled 'Real worlds, imagined worlds: why would a novelist want to study social anthropology?' Gerard studied social anthropology at the London School of Economics and at the University of Manchester. He is a novelist, poet and short story writer, and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, among others. He is currently Professor of Fiction at Bath Spa University.

There will also be music provided by the Ison Quartet.

Sunday 22nd June

Closing ceremony

This will take place in the Wolfson Hall from 6.15/6.30pm, and refreshments will be served on arrival. Do come along to celebrate what we hope will have been a successful conference.

Throughout the conference

Film programme (Saturday and Sunday)

Publishers space

Fringe events