Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Resilience
Over the past decade, ethnographies of bodies that move, perceive and react - bodies that ache, eavesdrop, glare and hurtle - have become an entry point into understanding the emotionally charged and sensorially rich ways that worlds and their atmospheres are intuited, generated and endured (Stewart 2007; Ahmed 2010; Sedgwick 2003; O’Neill 2015). These modes of ethnographic writing have allowed anthropologists to attend to bodily sensation and affect, in order to illuminate the “permutations of evolving power relations” (White 2017), often absent from mainstream accounts of wars, epidemics, expulsions, and quotidien forms of abandonment and exploitation; from the paralysis, numbness and forgetting that results from overwhelming events, to the kinds of weariness, aching and melancholy that proliferate with the precarity and pressures of the everyday.
This panel seeks to rethink the connections between sensory forms of knowing and late liberal modes of hope and ‘resilience.’ Critical scholars have traced the ways in which ‘hope’ became a vacuous political slogan (Kirksey 2012) and ‘resilience’ a deeply conservative technology. Sarah Ahmed (2017) imagines the resilient body of late liberalism as a twig “asked to take it; or to acquire the strength to take more of it… if the twig was a stronger twig, if the twig was more resilient, it would take more pressure before it snapped.” By attending to a range of affective and sensory registers, this panel examines pressure, and the ways in which bodies are forcibly bent, snapped and plied, or asked to ‘take more of it’ and to bounce back. How can we, as ethnographers, deploy a kind of scholarly synesthesia to listen to and articulate pressure and its relationship to forms of resistance, resignation and reimagination?
An attention to senses and affects requires an altertness to environment and space. The papers in this panel draw on long-term ethnographic research in order to examine bodies, affects and lives in the different environments and spaces of late capitalism: from the entanglement of bodies and waste and in the production of salvific space; the dispossession engendered by multinational mining and market-based environmental conservation; the aftershocks and affective memories of a devastating epidemic; the nervousness and paranoia engendered by surveillance in a drug war prostitution zone; the effects of violent educational practice on moral sensing; to the corporeal and affective repercussions of violence on women’s bodies.
This panel situates the body and its sensory engagement as central to any discussion on resilience, space and the political. By considering how pressure builds and is released - through music, memory, touch, rumour, prayer - and by focussing on the currents and conduits through which affects and senses strike, cajole, and lull, we foreground an appreciation of the ways in which bodies act, and react, in order to remake intimate and social space, and to engage in political-emotional projects. Ultimately, we seek to open up the question: If one rethinks resilience as pressure, how might one rethink hope?