Category Archives: Conferences and other events

Call for Papers: Photography in Print

Via Prof. Elizabeth Edwards, De Montfort University
22-23 JUNE 2015
Photographic History Research Centre De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

The 2015 PHRC Annual International Conference will address the complex and wide range question of ‘photography in print.’ The conference aims to explore the functions, affects and dynamics of photographs on the printed page. Many of the engagements with photographs, both influential and banal, are through print, whether in newspapers, books, magazines or advertising. We would like to consider what are the practices of production and consumption? What are the affects of design and materiality? How does the photograph in print present a new dynamic of photography’s own temporal and spatial qualities? In addition, photography can be said to be ‘made’ through the printed page and ‘print communities’. What is the significance of photography’s own robust journal culture in the reproduction of photographic values? How has photographic history been delivered through the printed page? What are the specific discourses of photography in the print culture of disciplines as diverse as history and art history, science and technology?

Photography in Print continues the theme of previous PHRC conferences, which have explored photographic business practices and flows of photographic knowledge. We would, therefore, like to invite abstracts for papers on these important themes of photography in print. We welcome papers not only on the printed media itself but also on its contextualising processes (e.g. techniques, reception, work practices, design and social impacts). We also welcome interdisciplinary studies from, for example science, history, anthropology, and mass-media. Papers might consider the following key topics but, of course, are not limited to them:

  • Photographic Press
  • Journals and Magazines
  • Photographic Books
  • Writing about Photography (historiography)
  • Photography’s printed ephemera
  • Printed photographs and social as well as technical change

Papers are welcome from all career stages. The PHRC can offer three small bursaries of £100 to help Ph.D. students with travel and accommodation expenses. Please indicate when submitting your abstract if you would like to be considered.

Abstracts of no more than 200-300 words should be sent to: by December 1st 2014.

Review Essay: “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge”

This critical examination of the 2013 double issue of Museum Anthropology Review (MAR), entitled “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge,” (volume 7, numbers 1-2) was written by our spring 2014 class on the Anthropology in and of Museums, as part of the Museum Studies MA Program at New York University.  Contributors included Brittany Darrow, Christina Fernandez, Mary Kate Gliedt, Houda Lazrak, Jacqueline Masseo, Maria Montenegro, Edward Ovadek, and Laura Williams; and the project was overseen by our professor, Dr. Sabra Thorner (who facilitated class discussion on the journal issue and its broader context in Anthropology and Museum Studies, and had a final editorial role over the contents).  We’d like to collectively thank Barbara Mathé, Museum Archivist and head of Library Special Collections at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, who planted the seed for this idea and participated actively in several conversations about this issue’s contents and significance; and Jim Enote, Director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center at Zuni, New Mexico, who was a guest speaker in our class during the process.

In this review, we address the issue’s prominent themes and discuss the collection’s contribution to the field of digital repatriation and return. Our first concern was to define terms and unpack metaphors, and we found anthropologist Haidy Geismar’s concluding commentary to be our most helpful guide (see her essay, “Defining the Digital”).  She outlines three defining characteristics of the digital.  The first is that digital objects are born digital, and thus, their production and preservation depend on constantly changing forms of hardware and software.  The second characteristic involves translation into and out of binary code; through minute changes in coding, very different objects are created.  Thirdly, as metadata is permanently attached to digital files, the distinction between an artifact and the information about that artifact is increasingly difficult to discern.  Geismar emphasizes that the digital is a process rather than a fixed materiality; as such, digital collections present a unique set of circumstances, issues, and solutions, for museums and source communities alike.  These qualities were central to the case-studies addressed in this review.

The study of digital collections emerges originally from the 1990 passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law that endowed native tribes and communities with the right to request return of human remains (and associated objects) held in publicly-funded U.S. institutions, but more importantly, ushered in a sea-change in museums’ commitment to more collaborative and inclusive engagement with “source communities.”  Digital collections emerged as a possible solution to repatriation—increasing source community access to objects and knowledge in contexts when analogue repatriation was perhaps impractical or impossible.  Images, films, objects, and texts have been digitally “repatriated.”  With this in mind, this issue of MAR examines how digitization influences methods and forms of knowledge production, and how digital objects move within and across different cultures of knowledge management and preservation.  Scholars, activists, community members, and museum professionals are together investigating and analyzing what digital repatriation means in terms of ownership, access, the production of knowledge, the maintenance of personal and collective identities, and the negotiation of power relations.

As objects and knowledge become increasingly inseparable, some scholars raise concern about the blurring of boundaries between originals and their copies.  Philosopher Walter Benjamin argued for the aura of a unique, original object (see his 1931 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”)—a sensation or atmosphere that it constructs, emanating from its singularity and its relation to the genius or divine inspiration of the maker.  Applying the notion of the aura to Indigenous objects held in public museums, source communities make claims to have their objects returned because these objects make their cultures, languages, knowledges, and lifeways, tangible.  The creation of digital surrogates raises important questions about the significance of original artifacts.  Many of the articles in “After the Return” acknowledge these complexities.

“Collaboration” is one of many strong themes in this issue: in its simplest form, pointing towards the working together necessary to achieve a larger goal.  Collaboration can be an effective strategy to improve both museums’ and Indigenous communities’ access to objects and information.  Yet it is important to remember that collaboration is an ongoing process, not a fixed destination: it must be striven for via listening and respect; it can also go awry when goals are understood differently by different parties.  “Contact zones,” is perhaps a more helpful metaphor in understanding the coming together of different peoples or communities, to establish ongoing relations amidst legacies of colonial power relations, including inequality, conflict, and/or coercion (see Clifford 1997).  We argue that every example of “collaboration” might be rethought as a negotiation between multiple viewpoints.  In the “contact zone,” struggle and negotiation may in fact be productive, enriching communities’ access to their objects of cultural heritage, and/or improving museum collections at the same time (see Srinivasan, Enote, Becvar, and Boast 2008 for an example of a “contact zone” in action).

One successful example of this in the MAR volume is the FirstVoices Initiative (see the article by Smith, Wells, and Brand), in which the provincial government of Vancouver Island endowed the Ehattesaht Chinehkint community with legal property rights to the contents of a digital language archive (see also Leopold, Sarkar, this volume).  Yet collaboration also occasionally breaks down, as evidenced by the article by Shankar and Hooee on the return of cultural heritage materials to the New Mexico pueblo of Zuni from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  In this example, Zuni elders refused a proposal to raise funds to acquire the infrastructure and tools needed to store the Doris Duke Storytelling Collection, resulting in no increased access to tapes imagined by project coordinators to be important in a language revitalization project.

These examples illustrate that “repatriation” is not an uncomplicated or inherent good; nor are communities necessarily unified in their desires/needs for further or reinstated access to artifacts originating from their homeplaces or made by their forbears.  Collections and their (potential) processes of return are so contested precisely because Indigenous communities and museums have had conflicting structures, systems, and strategies for accessing (and controlling access to) knowledge.  For many Indigenous peoples, objects are alive and therefore, must be treated with respect.  Different communities have different restrictions for the access to and use of traditional knowledge—based on the nature of the object or knowledge (if it is sacred or secret); and/or the age, gender, initiation status, or cultural origin of the person wishing to have access.

Putting objects, photographs, and other culturally-significant materials online challenges native communities who are often striving for more control, and/or reinstated ownership or custodianship, as they try to devise strategies of sharing and privacy consistent with traditional protocols (see the article by Anderson and Christen for an innovative strategy on this front).  In the Introduction to this MAR issue (see Bell, Christen, and Turin) the editors favor the idiom of “return,” rather than “repatriation,” as a linguistic emphasis on the processual nature of shifting relationships between public institutions and source communities.  “Return” is not a conclusion of a relationship or a solution to a concrete problem, but rather, an initiation of decentering the authority of museums and other holding institutions, an impetus to develop strategies of shared custodianship of objects, and value for other ways of storing and transmitting knowledge.  As Jim Enote argues in the Introduction, digital return is not just about sending copies of material culture home to communities of origin, but also about reinstating their legal control and enabling their cultural oversight over Indigenous ways of knowing.

Control can be shared between a museum and a community; it can also be ceded by an institution to an original source community.  In their article “Sound Returns,” authors Reddy and Sonnenborn mobilize four case studies in which musical recordings were returned to communities all over the world, in various ways, in order to illustrate successful transfer of power from the Smithsonian archives to local hands.  This labor can strengthen fragile communities—as they regain access to cultural forms that may no longer have been prevalent or current—and, in some cases, provide specific financial boon (in the form of royalties) to the original sources of these musical forms.  These efforts of return have also inspired dialogue about what is appropriate for public access, and what should be restricted (how, and under what terms).

In other examples, it is debatable as to whether power is being returned to communities in any meaningful way, or rather, if a particular project perpetuates community dependence on institutions.  For example, the Tlingit-Smithsonian collaborations via 3-D digitization technologies (see the article by Hollinger et al) illustrates a successful coming together of a national museum and a native community, in which original artifacts were returned to the Pacific Northwest, and replicas retained by the Smithsonian.  While this article celebrates the positive outcomes, for our class, this example in particular raised important concerns and questions.  The infrastructure required to conduct three dimensional scanning and printing is expensive and owned by the National Museum of Natural History: does a project like this reinforce the power of the Smithsonian, as native communities remain dependent on the national institution to use (and/or benefit from) this technology?  If original objects were damaged or destroyed, the replica would still exist in museum collections; yet what are the implications of this on long-term power relations between the community and the museum?  Thinking through this collectively, we return to Zuni elder Jim Enote’s words once again: a digital replica is not equal to an original; and technologies such as these might in fact reinforce the colonial power relations of old, allowing museums to retain originals and return aura-less surrogates to communities.  Enote’s caution illustrates that while one technological innovation—3D printing—was an exciting development for one “source community” (Tlingit), it was something to be suspicious of for another (Zuni); there is no singular solution to return (whether in the form of digital surrogacy, or shifting ownership) for all Indigenous peoples whose objects currently reside in museums.

Several digital repatriation projects outlined in this volume bear witness to the advantages of digitally returning culturally significant material to Indigenous groups.  However, hardware and software developments may also impede the successful return of tangible and intangible culture.  Hooee and Shankar’s experience with the Doris Duke Zuni Storytelling Collection illustrates that outdated hardware and information systems can prevent access to language revitalization resources.  Although audiocassettes containing Zuni story recordings from the 1970s are physically present at Zuni, the obsolete playback technology is too outdated for the community to listen to the tapes.  The current information system at the Zuni Public Library also lacks the infrastructure to store a digitized version of the recorded stories.  In this context, digital return is not a uni-directional process, traveling only from museums to source communities, but rather involves the flow of knowledge and representations in many directions and via multiple technologies.

Indeed, greater emphasis on the diverse set of challenges posed by digital technology is needed.  Colonial legacies embedded in collections; the expense of hardware and software maintenance and migration; geographical remoteness of many communities from urban centers; Indigenous restrictions of access to traditional knowledge; and the limited digital literacy of many in these communities represent just a few of many challenges in implementing digital “return.”  Several essays in this volume fail to acknowledge these social, political, and economic conditions, embedded in and central to the projects they describe.  For instance, how are Indigenous representations altered in a museum when 3-D objects are exhibited hand in hand with original ones (see Hollinger et al)?  Do colonial legacies subtly recreate power structures in the relationship between Smithsonian professionals and Inuvialuit culture-bearers as they produce a virtual exhibit of the MacFarlane Collection (see Hennessy et al)?  Should digital surrogates of objects provided by the NMAI to native groups be used to create local community exhibitions (see O’Neal)?  This volume presents a collection of success stories.  And while these are important to acknowledge, equally important to recognize is that each collaborative project between Indigenous groups and large public institutions is faced with a unique set of challenges (see Dobrin and Holton, for an example).  These limitations should be addressed in scholarly publications to prepare the stakeholders of future initiatives to creatively problem-solve, fully aware of the efforts that have gone before them.  Native communities’ needs must be considered on a case-to-case basis.

Further, the title of this special issue, “After the Return,” leads one to believe that the heart of the issue will be to discuss the effects that digital return has had on these communities.  However, while the majority of articles discuss a specific digital repatriation project, not much attention is given to what actually happens after the return.  How are Indigenous communities integrating, rejecting, adapting, contributing to, and responding to the advent and proliferation of new digital technologies?  For example, in the article “The Inuvialuit Living History Project: Digital Return as the Forging of Relationships Between Institutions, People, and Data” (Hennessy et al), the authors focus on the process of creating a digital archive, emphasizing the importance of the relationships forged during the project.  If the topic of this particular issue of MAR was to discuss what happens after the return, this article, among many others, falls short of that task.  Too much emphasis is given to how these digital repatriation projects came to be, not interrogating what their role has become within the relevant Indigenous communities.  The focus was on process, not on outcome, and indeed perhaps, as the authors of the Introduction assert in their favoring of “return” over “repatriation,” the emphasis on process was quite purposeful; nonetheless, there is something here that leaves the reader unsatisfied.  We can only begin to know the importance of these digital repatriation projects through studying how effective and useful they actually are to the communities going forward from the moment of “return.”

This special issue of MAR discusses the implications of digitally (and otherwise) returning objects, knowledge, and other forms of cultural heritage from museums to the Indigenous communities from which they originated.  This is a significant effort in a defining moment in Museum Anthropology and related fields.  “Contact zones,” take many forms: efforts that have improved various stakeholders’ access, such as the international collective Reciprocal Research Network (see Rowley), or using a 3-D printer to reproduce Tlingit artifacts for museums when originals have been returned to their source communities (see Hollinger); and some that have illustrated how complex access can be as a goal, such as Zuni recordings held in the Library of Congress with limited accessibility both in the Library and in Zuni (Shankar and Hooee), or the Smithsonian Folkways recording process and its concern for degrees of knowledge within Indigenous communities (Reddy and Sonneborn).

Overall, the articles in this volume illuminate the complex nature of digital “return.”  Museum anthropologists have only just begun the investigation into its practice and possibility.  Their attempts have been innovative and intriguing, and the future of the field can be glimpsed in their successes and failures.  The digital mediation of our social lives, as Geismar tells us, is no longer emergent, but rather, already well-established.  Taken as a whole, the articles in this issue of Museum Anthropology Review (2013) prove that “return” is both a metaphor and a genre of social relations worth examining, one that wields the potential to revolutionize both the future of museums and the representations of Indigenous peoples, ushering in partnership, respect, power-sharing, and collaboration as foundational to all future endeavors.

Works Cited

Bell, Joshua, Kimberly Christen, and Mark Turin, eds. “After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge.” Special Issue, Museum Anthropology Review 7, nos. 1-2 (2013).

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 1931.

Clifford, James. “Museums as Contact Zones.” In Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. 188-219. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Katherine M. Becvar, Robin Boast, and Jim Enote, “Diverse Knowledges and Contact Zones within the Digital Museum.” Science, Technology & Human Values 35, no. 5 (2008): 735-768.


CFP: Studies and Dialogues between Anthropology and Art

We are pleased to announce the Call for Papers and Visual Projects for the Conference Studies and Dialogues between Anthropology and Art organized by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. The conference will take place in Lima on November 19 -21, 2014.

The keynote speakers for our conference will be Dr. George Marcus, Chancellor´s Professor of Anthropology at University of California Irvine, and Dr. Fred Myers, Silver Professor of Anthropology at New York University.

The deadline for submissions is August 05, 2014. The language of the Conference will be Spanish. For more information and conference updates, please visit our website at

We look forward to submissions!


Giuliana Borea, Conference coordinator

Theorising Personal Medical Devices: New Perspectives

CfP, Symposium hosted by the Social Analysis of Health Network, Cantab

Closes Monday 14 July

Having worked with Professor Julienne Hanson at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies for some time, I became increasingly aware of the relationships between materiality and social well-being. Indeed, there is currently some fascinating scholarship on the issues dealing with ethnography and technology as well as the home, the indi-vid(s)ual and collective forms of medical care.

This current symposium CfP is a fine example of this, featuring medical anthropologists known in the UCL community as well as within EASA and other networks.

For further info please see:

Social Analysis of Health Network (SAHN) website:


18-19 September 201, Post-doctoral Suite, 16 Mill Lane, University of Cambridge.

Fuelled by the accelerating pace of technological development and a general shift to personalised, patient-led medicine alongside the growing Quantified Self and Big Data movements, the emerging field of personal medical devices is one which is advancing rapidly across multiple domains and disciplines – so rapidly that conceptual and empirical understandings of personal medical devices, and their clinical, social and philosophical implications, often lag behind new developments and interventions. Personal medical devices – devices that are attached to, worn by, interacted with, or carried by individuals for the purposes of generating biomedical data and/or carrying out medical interventions with/on the person concerned – have become increasingly significant in clinical and extra-clinical contexts owing to a range of factors including the growth of multimorbidity and chronic disease in ageing populations and the increasing sophistication and miniaturisation of personal devices themselves.

Paper proposals should of: a paper title, authors/co-authors, a short abstract of fewer than 300 characters, a long abstract of fewer than 250 words.

Submissions from both early career and more established researchers are welcome, with a small number of the presentation slots reserved for early-career researchers (i.e. doctoral students or researchers in their first post-doctoral position). Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding we are also able to offer a limited amount of funding towards travel costs and cost of attendance for three early career presenters. Please specify if you would like to be considered for this.


CfP Materialities of Religious Engagement

CfP for papers to be included as part of panel proposal called ‘materialities of religious engagement’ for this year’s British Association for the Study of Religions conference.

Where: This year’s BASR conference will be held at The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

When: 3rd-5th September, 2014.

250 word abstracts may be sent by 16.06.’14


Media Worlds and the Ethnographic Imagination Workshop

MediaWorldsWorkshop copy

Media Worlds and the Ethnographic Imagination

A workshop organised by the Goldsmiths Media Ethnography Group and the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths University of London

June 16th 2014, 10:00am – 6pm

LG01 and 314 Stuart Hall Building (formerly New Academic Building)

Goldsmiths, University of London

This one-day event launches the Goldsmiths Media Ethnography Group, an interdisciplinary network of scholars who use ethnography to understand our mediated worlds. The workshop is organised around a series of talks, panels and round-table discussions which will trace the diverse traditions and future trajectories of media ethnography. Apart from showcasing the richness of ethnographic research on media practices, broadly defined, speakers will also address questions of ethnographic practice. The workshop aims to encourage an interdisciplinary dialogue through which we will consider different types of ethnography (including auto-ethnography and digital ethnography) and the challenges and opportunities of conducting ethnographic research in digital environments. Speakers will address questions of ethnographic writing, self-reflexivity and ethics as well as the ways in which ethnography relates to other modes of inquiry, both qualitative and quantitative.

The event will begin with a keynote talk by Professor David Morley entitled ‘Towards an Ethnography of Media Audiences (Part 2)’. The workshop will end with a plenary round-table discussion on the contribution of ethnography for understanding digital practices.

Confirmed participants include: Julie Archambault (Oxford); Veronica Barassi (Media, Goldsmiths); Somnath Batabyal (SOAS); Marianne Franklin (Media, Goldsmiths); Richard MacDonald (Media, Goldsmiths); Miranda McLachlan (Media, Goldsmiths); Mirca Madianou (Media, Goldsmiths); Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (Anthropology, Goldsmiths); Evelyn Ruppert (Sociology, Goldsmiths); Anamik Saha (Media, Goldsmiths); Gareth Stanton (Media, Goldsmiths); Olivia Swift (Anthropology, Goldsmiths)

Registration is free but please RSVP here:

You can find more information about the group here:


10:00 – 10:15 Registration

10:15 Welcome and Introduction

10:30 – 11:30 Opening Keynote David Morley (Media & Communications, Goldsmiths): Towards an Ethnography of Media Audiences (Part 2)

11:30 – 11:45 Coffee Break

12:45-13:15 Panel I

Chair: Olivia Swift (Anthropology, Goldsmiths)

Julie Archambault (University of Oxford): Mediated intimacy, ethnography and the search for authenticity in Mozambique.

Richard MacDonald (Media & Communications, Goldsmiths): Projecting films for the spirits: researching the use of media apparatus in ritual practice

Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (Anthropology, Goldsmiths) Ethnography beyond representation: media artefacts and the politics of invention

13:15 -14:15 Lunch break

14:15-15:15 Panel II

Chair: Miranda McLachlan (Media & Communications, Goldsmiths)

Gareth Stanton (Media & Communications, Goldsmiths): Movies, Melodramas and Murderers: the Journey of Media Anthropology

Somnath Batabyal (SOAS) Minding the Gap: practitioners as ethnographers

15:15- 15:30 Coffee break

15:30 – 17:00 Plenary Round Table Discussion: Ethnography for understanding digital practices

Chair: Anamik Saha (Goldsmiths)

Speakers: Veronica Barassi (Media and Communications, Goldsmiths); Marianne Franklin (Media and Communications, Goldsmiths); Evelyn Ruppert (Sociology, Goldsmiths); Mirca Madianou (Media and Communications, Goldsmiths).

17:00 Reception


CFP: Trans-Atlantic Dialogues on Cultural Heritage: Heritage, Tourism and Traditions

Call for Papers
Trans-Atlantic Dialogues on Cultural Heritage: Heritage, Tourism and
13-16 July 2015, Liverpool, UK

Abstracts of 300 words with full contact details should be sent as soon as
possible but no later than 15th December 2014 to

Trans-Atlantic dialogues on cultural heritage began as early as the voyages
of Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus and continue through the present
day. Each side of the Atlantic offers its own geographical and historical
specificities expressed and projected through material and immaterial
heritage. However, in geopolitical terms and through everyday mobilities,
people, objects and ideas flow backward and forward across the ocean, each
shaping the heritage of the other, for better or worse, and each shaping the
meanings and values that heritage conveys. Where, and in what ways are these
trans-Atlantic heritages connected? Where, and in what ways are they not?
What can we learn by reflecting on how the different societies and cultures
on each side of the Atlantic Ocean produce, consume, mediate, filter,
absorb, resist, and experience the heritage of the other?

Continue reading

CFP: Missionaries, Materials and the Making of the Modern World

15-17 September 2014
Emmanuel College Cambridge
United Kingdom

While some scholars have understood the activity of overseas Christian missionaries primarily in terms of a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’ (Comaroff & Comaroff 1992), a range of recent scholarship has also emphasised the profoundly material dimensions of much missionary activity. While religious conversion was never unimportant historically, many missionaries have been equally heavily involved in practical projects to remake the world. Their global projects have transformed landscapes, forms of architecture and modes of dress, but have also shaped underlying narratives of modernity and modernisation (Keane 2007).

This flagship international conference will bring scholars from different disciplines together with heritage professionals to explore the global networks of exchange established by Christian missionary organisations, the materials that circulated through these, and the transformational effects these exchanges had in many different parts of the world, including Europe itself. 
Abstracts of up to 200 words emailed to:
Deadline is 29 April
Dr Chris Wingfield
Senior Curator (Archaeology)
MAA, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ
Tel: + 44 (0)1223 333515
Keep up to date with MAA on facebook:

Materiality in Japan: Making, Breaking and Conserving Works of Art and Architecture

April 11, 2014

Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Organized by Anton Schweizer, 2012-2014 IFA/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
RSVP is required. Please find instructions below.

Japan is widely regarded as an exemplar in terms of the preservation of material integrity, the perpetuation of historical production techniques and the responsible preservation of works of architecture and artifacts in museum contexts. The Japanese certification system for Cultural Property – which also includes the category of Living National Treasures for specialist craftsmen who embody manufacturing techniques as Intangible Cultural Property – has earned far-reaching acclaim. It is frequently overlooked, however, that there is actually a wide range of divergent approaches towards originality and authenticity even in contemporary Japan. While some of these inconsistencies find their counterparts in the West, others are related to pre-modern cultural practices, e.g. concurrent concepts of artifacts in divergent contexts of reception and evaluation.

This conference attempts to shed light on this issue with a series of case studies as a means to deconstruct overly simplistic explanatory models.

The conference schedule will follow three thematic sections:

Continue reading

Communities and Commodities: Anthropological Perspectives on the Material Bases of Social Groups

CALL FOR PAPERS: American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Washington, DC, December 3-7, 2014

While commodity consumption and commodification, especially when tied to globalization, were once primarily defined as superficial pursuits in modern societies linked with the homogenization or “loss” of culture, we now understand that people  use commodities, even mass-produced goods, in highly varied and culturally-meaningful ways. Commodities can and do reflect a community’s status, ethnicity, identity, and even morality. The creation, acquisition, and exchange of commodities can be processes of socialization that reinforce some identities and social ties while downplaying or masking others, and this can occur at many scales and toward many purposes. The existence and use of varied commodities by people in ancient and modern communities in ways that create or manifest material patterns (e.g. specialized crafts, organized labor, slavery, the body as a sexualized commodity), reinforces the need and potential of research in all of the subfields of anthropology on this subject.


We welcome papers from across the sub-disciplines of anthropology that explore how communities, past and present, are produced through the practices of making, moving, controlling, and consuming commodities. From Marx’s ‘relations of production’ to Appadurai’s ‘social life of things,’ scholars of society and culture have investigated the links among social organization, cultural practices and identities, and the economy. Building on these ideas, we welcome papers that apply a wide range of theoretical stances. We are especially interested in how a focus on the material dimension of this topic provokes questions about how best to identify, investigate, and understand multi-scalar communities from the perspectives of material remains, social practices, historical patterns, political economies, language and communication, and physical bodies.

If commodities are one anchor for this session, the idea of the community is the other. We define communities in an open-ended way – drawing especially on John Watanebe’s definition of the community as the union of ‘people, place, and premise’ – to investigate the ways in which economic practices are social practices. Defined broadly, communities of study may be imagined (in Benedict Anderson’s sense) and/or ‘real,’ and they may be based in spatial proximity, biology, production, consumption, or other practices.

Questions addressed by this session may include: How do workshops, factories, and unions become sites of social production and group identity? How do changes in global commodity flows challenge existing communities or bring new communities into being, and how do existing communities  create links to new commodities? How do commonalities and conflicts over consumption practices galvanize some communities and dissolve others? How do more hidden points in commodity chains – from storage and transportation, to sale and stealing – become the basis for social groups to form and operate? How can communities become commodities in and of themselves (such as tourist destinations)? Linking all of these questions are material patterns that reflect and reinforce communities.

We especially encourage submissions that explore how material goods and the places where they are made, stored, transported, sold, and consumed become anchors for social relations. However, this is not an effort to fetishize the commodity, but rather to better investigate the many ways in which products of economic demand are producers of social groups. Our focus on the material qualities of commodities is deliberate, as it provides a link to various anthropological approaches to study communities past and present.

If you are interested in participating, please contact both John Millhauser ( and Dru McGill ( with an idea of your topic. The deadline for submitting abstracts to the AAA is April 15 (both for sessions and individual papers). Once we have gauged the level of interest and range of topics, we will contact potential participants to let them know if their paper fits. Participants should be prepared to provide a rough draft of an abstract to us by April 8th so we can organize the session (or sessions, depending on the response) and provide instructions for submitting abstracts to the AAA. Details are also available on the AAA website:

We also plan to submit this session for sponsorship by the Society for Economic Anthropology:

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions whatsoever,

John & Dru &