Oral Presentation Session
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: The Political
Secondary Theme: Ethics
Anthropologists are often considered suspicious characters. From Vine Deloria Jr’s writings on the extraction of indigenous knowledge without reciprocity (1969) to Katherine Verdery’s reflections on her spy file (2018), it is clear that we operate in tenuous spaces of intimate meaning-making. Anthropologists have used suspicion as an analytic to understand cultural negotiations around trust and social fact production in studies of the occult (Evans-Pritchard 1937, Ashforth 2005), technology and expertise (Masco 2006, Checker 2007), and the unknown or uncanny (Lepselter 2016). Simultaneously, anthropological practice itself becomes a target of suspicion when undertaken in particularly sensitive or politicized contexts. Anthropologists in government and private industry can face questions about their investment in cultural anthropology’s imagined political project (Cefkin 2009). Critics of social science in the academy often target the discipline as a whole, suggesting anthropology’s direct engagement with issues of inequity, injustice, and resistance indicate ulterior political motives.
In this panel, we ask: how do we take suspicion seriously as both object and artifact of ethnographic practice? As object, moments of suspicion can be moments of rupture: a space where the known and the seemingly knowable do not follow an apparent teleology. How might our engagement with the tenuousness of a relationship, desire, or social structure actually produce generative anthropological knowledge, as these moments of suspicion reveal the limits of ethnography? Suspicions can also be artifacts, reflexive practices through which we question the ethnographer’s desires and motives, and recognize that we, our scholarly practices, and our work are also part of the worlds we seek to understand. But is suspicion sufficient? How might our suspicions help us disrupt our paradigms of understanding cultural production?
For this panel, we bring together reflections on an anthropology of suspicion. We employ the concept of suspicion to bring together work on cultural practices like hesitation, obfuscation, and secret keeping with examinations of the complex relationships of fieldwork and anthropological writing. Our panel seeks to engage the work that suspicion does as productive and generative, rather than a barrier to overcome. In a political moment where suspicion seems to circulate more readily than trust, certainty, or knowability, it is particularly key that we interrogate our suspect belongings.