Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
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: Materiality
What might an anthropology of the political have to gain by thinking again about form? Following the decline of structuralism, a predominant concern of the social sciences has been with the theoretical and political possibilities of the dissolution, disruption, and transgression of form; with boundary-crossing hybridity and mobility; and with the inchoate flux of history and becoming. To speak of forms—including hierarchies, binaries, and enclosures—appears in this light to be to speak only of stasis or domination.
As Caroline Levine (2015: 9) has recently argued, however, “too strong an emphasis on forms’ dissolution has prevented us from attending to the complex ways that power operates in a world dense with functioning forms.” Taking forms “as features of the world in their own right” (Pedersen 2011: 36), this panel proceeds from the observation that in any given situation multiple and often contradictory forms are at play. As such, we call for ethnographic attention to the ways in which different forms travel, persist, overlap, and collide to produce sometimes unexpected effects. What kinds of social and political agency do such disjunctures between multiple forms afford?
From the mandala form which structured cosmology and politics in the “galactic polity” (Tambiah 1977), to the fractal patterns shared by river networks and debtor-creditor relations during the Amazonian rubber boom (Da Cunha 1998; Kohn 2013), to the concomitant cultivation of forms of both bodily and ethical comportment (Mahmood 2005), consideration of form also provides a way of thinking across domains conventionally considered separately: the material, conceptual, natural, social, aesthetic, political, human, and nonhuman. This panel will thus seek to theorise the effects of form’s reiteration across different scales and spheres in order to consider its potential to enable a newly comparative sociocultural anthropology.