Reviewed by: Association of Black Anthropologists
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Social movements
Secondary Theme: Human rights
THE UNDERCOMMONS, an influential 2013 publication by social theorists Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, seeks explicitly to draw upon “the theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought and aesthetic critique.” Harney and Moten are expressly concerned with “the proliferation of capitalist logics, governance by credit, and the management of pedagogy.” And, since no discipline has arguably devoted as much scholarly attention to theorizing “capital,” “credit,” or “pedagogy,” this panel puts the “theory and practice of the black radical tradition” in conversation with anthropological theory.
In fact, this panel asks whether what we call “anthropology” might not be another word for “critical social theory” rather than a synonym for ethnography, as it is often deployed. While anthropology has, since the latter part of the twentieth century, often been used interchangeably with ethnography, police departments, standing armies, and corporations routinely use ethnography in ways that most professional anthropologists would not endorse, let alone condone.
This roundtable features anthropologists discussing concepts that emerge from the theoretical legacy of anthropology as well as from what THE UNDERCOMMONS dubs “the black radical tradition,” guided by two key questions: Might anthropology be usefully defined as the discrepancy between how people discuss the concepts and institutions in the world around them and the way those concepts or institutions work based on what social science research reveals? In practice, is anthropology merely the word we give to scholarship that we consider to be empirically sound and conceptually innovative?