Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: Technology
The study of modern life has shown that gathering bodies together is not required for the making of such entities as nations, communities, and publics. That is, the semiotic processes that make social collectivities can be disconnected from actual bodies. But at times, people go to great pains to have others physically co-present. What should we make of cases in which it is not enough for collectivities to be projected, abstracted, imagined, or invoked--in which bodies together are all that will do?
In this panel, we explore when and why bodily presence matters and what is required to make collectivities semiotically present. In four papers, we examine 1) How activists in Kerala, India make "the people" present both in the streets and online; 2) The need for presence at corporate annual meetings, from the East India Company in the 1600s to Walmart today; 3) The extent to which being present with others and seeing their gestures affords collaborative imagination, or "face-to-face thinking"; and 4) What counts as “being there” at funerals and post-partum events in Luang Prabang, Laos, where people are invited to be present "until dawn."
Contemporary narratives of the production of collectivities tell of advances in technology gradually rendering physical copresence superfluous. Without ignoring the importance of new ways of connecting, these papers revise these narratives of change by recognizing moments in which people demand and have demanded copresence. What, if anything, do such moments tell us about the power and appeal of being together? Why do people stress the need for bodily presence in some contexts but not others? As a set, the papers ask what narratives of progress toward less-embodied forms of sociality have overlooked, and what place bodies should hold in the anthropological imagination of future modes of social connection.