2 – 5 October 2013 at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz
Locations: Anthropology in the Academy, the Workplace, and the Public Sphere
For quite some time, anthropology in Germany has been expanding, thanks to consistently high rates of student enrolment, the creation of new academic chairs and a growing demand for intercultural skills und anthropological expertise. Given anthropology’s engagement with both the political and epistemological consequences of the postcolonial critique, will (and can) the discipline become the vanguard of the academy? Or, should it remain on the margins, as a discipline that destabilises and subverts the Euro-centric biases of neighbouring disciplines? But in a postmodern world no longer geographically or epistemologically structured by centre – periphery hierarchies, what is the raison d’être of a discipline traditionally devoted to the global periphery? On the other hand, maybe there is a strong case precisely to the contrary? In such a fractured, decentred world anthropology’s established strengths might be what is most needed: its attention to the hermeneutics of informal practices, confounding realities and diverging domains of meaning. What are the methodological and theoretical implications when anthropological fields of enquiry are broadened – from the marginalised to the elites, from the peripheries to the centres of global society? How do anthropologists deal with the conflicting demands o f their research ethos of unbiased understanding, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, public expectations to take a political stand? To what degree can or should anthropologists champion the interests of their interlocutors? How can the increasing anthropological engagement in such areas as development cooperation, international business or even the military be reconciled with a disciplinary ethos that has tended to cast anthropologists as critical observers of power rather than as parties to it? Can anthropology continue to be a troublesome discipline and still prepare students for the job market? The 2013 conference of the German Anthropological Association will explore these questions and anthropology’s ambivalent locations in the academy, the professional world and the public sphere. In university contexts anthropologists work increasingly in interdisciplinary networks. What consequences does this have for the discipline’s self-definition and its methods? Considering that neighbouring disciplines have made participant observation and “ethnography” part of their own methodological repertoires, what is the added value of our discipline? Most anthropology students go on to work outside the university. What demands does this place on the anthropological curriculum? What aspects of the discipline are relevant to graduates’ professional lives? In what ways does feedback from these professional contexts present new challenges and opportunities for anthropological theory? In public debates on the integration of immigrants and the challenges of multicultural society, civil war, failed states, genocide, and other urgent sociopolitical or security issues, German anthropologists only seldom make notable contributions. Should this reticence be overcome, and, what would a “public anthropology” look like?