Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Anthropocene
Secondary Theme: Technology
At the dawn of the Anthropocene, we face perceived breakdown and precarity on multiple scales demanding anthropology’s attention across the four fields. Though long an implicit aspect of anthropology -- theoretically and through accidents of fieldwork -- breakdown and repair have not received sustained examination. Many representations of social life continue to harbor an embedded model of a balanced “system,” which means that the particular forms of resilience and repair are frequently taken for granted. Careful documentation of trouble, misfortune, and failure inevitably points toward rupture and discontinuity, and has important implications for policy and intervention. Addressing anthropology’s blindness with respect to repair requires recognizing that suffering is an essential feature of life in all societies, as well as interaction with objects. Recent engagements with vital materialism suggest that suffering is a potent concept that implicates both a subject and object, and as such can be extended to a broad array of forms of life, and perhaps even to matter itself.
In more detail, this panel examines the relationship between breakdown and resilience, adaptation and repair; How are these concepts constructed historically, contextually and cross-culturally? How do “trouble” and breakdown complicate the materiality of the broken object? How do processes of repair and resilience implicate discourses of power, authority and control? What formal and informal institutions shape these histories and narratives? In a Global North that depends on marketing manufactured things as finished, closed, and disposable, how does third party repair, as an increasingly transgressive act, affect the future of all other forms of repair?
The panel proposes to bring together anthropologists from a range of subfields to discuss 1) specific cases of breakdown and repair 2) their variations and similarities across subfields, 3) narratives of cause, resilience and remediation, and their implied forms of responsibility and intervention; 4) implications for comparison and social theory. Among the potential examples to be considered include: environmental collapse and repair in toxic waste sites, transgression and apology on social media, social breakdown and reconstruction among refugees, “civilizational collapse” and resilience, and disease and pharmaceutical repair.