Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Inclusivity
Secondary Theme: Ethics
This session focuses on popular and anthropological imaginings of conviviality to address dignity and dignity-claiming as central to the fraught art of “getting along” across lines of difference. In philosophy, dignity exists as a categorical imperative (Kant 1996) or emerges implicitly in utopically reformed socioeconomic relations (Illich 2009). Meanwhile, anthropological treatments of conviviality have emphasized aesthetic practices as symbolic of willing cultural intimacy, melding differences into shared repertoires of expression and creating counterweights to social fracturing or inequality (Erickson 2011; Overing and Passes 2000). In the midst of the largest global displacement of people since World War II, burgeoning grassroots political movements (in the U.S. alone: Black Lives Matter, #metoo, #NeverAgain), and myriad efforts by state and non-state actors to manage demographic and political changes, what can we learn about contemporary personhood by attending to dignity claims and threats (Coe 2016; Gomberg-Muñoz 2010)?
The papers in this session bring interdisciplinary and geographic breadth to bear on dignity as an under-examined, but ideologically and experientially rich, feature of convivial debates. From local responses to healthcare reform in northeastern Brazil to efforts at multicultural inclusion among Presbyterian churches in Toronto, Ontario, we seek to illuminate how dignity-claiming tactics among disadvantaged—as well as relatively privileged—actors resist or reframe contextually hegemonic notions of conviviality. Additional case studies focus on migration and the micro-politics of youth interactions in schools in Spain and the U.S., the macro-politics of populist discourse in urban Brazil, and growing cross-community alliances among Muslim American activists. In highlighting everyday engagements and affordances across ethical, ethno-racialized, and religious boundaries, we address how dignity and conviviality unfold at distinct scales of interaction and amidst diverse structural constraints. Together these papers pursue the following questions: What does dignity look and sound like, empirically? How do dignity-claiming repertoires intersect with performances of identity, subjectivity, or citizenship? How do aesthetic practices related to conviviality subsume or elevate dignity threats and claims? And how might dignity claims signal morally adaptive strategies when rights and recognitions are foreclosed? In building toward an anthropological theory of dignity, we interrogate common usages and scholarly assumptions around this idea, using convivial practices and projects as generative frameworks for understanding the structural, phenomenological, and discursive dimensions of human resilience in the face of competition over space, status, and resources.