Seminars

  • Founded 1972
  • Seminar Number 531

The Culture, Power, Boundaries Seminar is a forum for work and work-in-progress that strives for a critical analysis of contemporary power relations at local and global scales and how such power relations affect the analysis, reproduction, and transformation of inequality and its cultural expressions. The seminar began forty years ago with a focus on immigration and developed into a broad forum for critical social science. While the majority of seminar members are anthropologists, and presentations tend to focus on case studies, the seminar continues to welcome, as both guests and speakers, other social scientists interested in investigating the power dimension of cultural formations and the cultural aspects of inequality.


Co-Chairs
Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb
mluisa164@aol.com

Professor Patricia Antoniello
pata@brooklyn.cuny.edu

Rapporteur
Rebecca Stout
rjs2233@columbia.edu


All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/05/2020 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Going to Hell? A Polemic on Anthropological Futures
Steve Reyna, Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung (Germany)
Abstract

Abstract

This talk is a polemic in three parts connecting present, past, and future. Specifically, it links the present global conjuncture, the recent anthropological past, and a possible anthropological future. First, the present is shown to be going to hell for every living thing. Second, the recent anthropological past is argued to be not adept at truth telling about this situation. Finally, an anthropological future is imagined that can help discover these truths to help prevent going to hell from becoming –been there, done it.





11/02/2020 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Free Agents and Fated Futures: History, Personhood, and Cosmic Consciousness in Western Astrology
Omri Elisha, Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Abstract

Abstract

Western astrology has soared in popularity in recent years, especially among spiritually engaged, media-savvy, and (generally) left-leaning “millennials.” The cultural resonances of astrology in the U.S. are longstanding and pervasive. Yet they are almost completely ignored by anthropologists, due in large part to astrology’s reputation as a frivolous, anachronistic pseudoscience and its associations with tabloid horoscopes and curbside fortune-tellers. Despite this image, contemporary astrology is a field of highly systematized and increasingly professionalized consulting practices that draw on an eclectic mix of religious, occult, philosophical, and scientific influences. Building on fieldwork with professional astrologers, and recent trends in the study of religion, ethics, and cosmology, this paper explores what might be gained by taking astrology more seriously as a cultural phenomenon. I argue that by deprioritizing moral condemnations and questions of empirical validity, we can better grasp how astrological principles and categories are embedded in popular conceptions of personhood, politics, history, spirituality, and the cosmos.





02/08/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Fear of an Indigenous Planet: The Role of Anthropology in Muwekma Futurisms
Les Field, University of New Mexico
Abstract

Abstract

Audre Lorde’s axiom “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” sends a stern warning to anthropologists, working in a discipline made possible by colonialism, about the limitations they will encounter seeking to use anthropology for anti-colonial purposes. Nevertheless, as a tribal ethnohistorian and ethnographer for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been both employed by the tribe and collaborated in the production of a series of published works over the past three decades specifically to refute the extinction sentence passed upon this indigenous people by a disciplinary figure no less luminous than Alfred Kroeber, and in the service of their petition for federal acknowledgment. In our work, we have confronted, in the 1990s, the perils of anthropology’s theoretical debates about essentialism and constructivism in the world of federal Indian policy, and then in the early 2000s, participated in anthropology’s engagement with concepts of space, place and territoriality in a state (California) where indigenous presence was systematically erased. In the current moment, as social movements in the United States demand a reckoning with the monuments to racism and colonialism that form part of the lived landscape, the University of California Berkeley has initiated a discussion about re-naming Kroeber Hall, the main anthropology department building. In this paper, I discuss this effort in the context of indigenous futurisms, a political and artistic movement among indigenous writers, artists and intellectuals that seeks to emplace indigenous people in a place they were never supposed to be: the future. This paper has been critically reviewed by the Muwekma Ohlone tribal leadership, and comes out of discussions with indigenous students with whom I have worked, particularly Blaire Topash Caldwell (Pokagon Potawatomi).





03/08/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Chasing My Apical Ancestors, Finding My Humanity: An Anthropologist’s Journey into Family History, War, and Intergenerational Trauma
Ken Guest, Baruch College, CUNY
Abstract

Abstract

From January 1942 to February 1945, my grandparents and mother were imprisoned by the Japanese military in Manila's Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Seventy years after the war I found my grandfather’s prison-camp wallet carefully tucked away in my mom’s living room closet. For as long as I can remember, I have been haunted by my mother’s stories about her family’s journey (1925-1945) from small town America to the center of tumultuous world events in India, China, and the Philippines. Their complicated relationship to the missionary enterprise and their alliances with emerging nationalist leaderships reveal dynamic encounters of religion, economics, politics, imperialism and nationalism leading up to the war and during their experience of the prison camp’s “bare life”. I have been haunted—not as in some Halloween caricature. But haunted as in people, times, and places still viscerally present though long since gone. Finding my grandfather’s wallet a few years ago marked the beginning of a deeply anthropological journey—full of fieldwork, interviews, archives, and apical ancestors—to hear these stories and meet these people anew and to begin to fathom my family’s wartime trauma that has endured intergenerationally.





04/12/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Reconsidering Anthropology’s Future: Untimely Thoughts from a Virtual Department Chair
Jeff Maskovsky, Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Abstract

Abstract

From a variety of perspectives, we appear to be living and working in the anthropological end-times. The signs of disciplinary fatigue and doom are everywhere: our shrinking presence in the academy, our inability to gain a visible foothold beyond it, and our waning public influence, to name a few discouraging signs. One central issue underlying the sense of disciplinary exhaustion and rot has to do with the persistence of imperialist white supremacy in our discipline. Decades after prominent scholars called for decolonizing anthropology, we still attract too few Black, Indigeous and Latinx students. Abolitionist theories and methods are gaining traction but are not nearly as widespread in their use as they are in interdisciplinary fields such as Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, and American Studies, which are themselves under attack. It tells us something interesting about ourselves that one of the most popular anthropological event of 2020 was (with almost 1000 participants) the one that explicitly doubted that the discipline could be yoked away from its imperial and white supremacist legacies: the UCLA/Wenner Gren sponsored webinar, The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn? Race, Racism and Its Reckoning in American Anthropology.” In my talk today, I take inspiration from this event, and, more broadly, from recent work by the group of scholars whom some refer to as the “decolonizing generation” to discuss the challenges one program faces in its effort to emancipate critical historical ethnographic scholarship from anthropology's imperial and white supremacist present. In particular, I want to interrogate my own practice as the executive officer (chair) of an anthropology PhD program, which, thanks to the COVID health emergency, put me in the contradictory position of seeking to defend anthropology in the face of university budget cuts even as I became convinced by the institutional and political merits of the case for burning it to the ground. My talk has three parts. First I detail the necessity of defending an actually-existing anthropology program against austerity budgeting exacerbated by the COVID emergency. Then I discuss some of the ways that empire and white supremacy are also inescapably encoded in that defense. Finally, I discuss an alternative to the unreconstructed defense of anthropology, asking overtly what parts of discipline should live on, and in what form. I hope to suggest as an alternative to closing ranks or disciplinary cheer leading in hard times an approach that uses the extended emergency of the present as an opportunity to do two things at once: to decenter anthropology, unsettling its academic hierarchies and rethinking its conventional fieldwork practices, and to pursue an as yet unnamed collective reimagining of knowledge production that is better positioned to address the academy’s (not just anthropology’s) imperial and white supremacist past and present.