We are told we live in precarious times. Postcolonial nation-building and post-Cold War democratization have not been one-way tickets to modernity as imagined. The ideology of limitless growth has not brought stable labor systems or economic security for the many, and instead it has brought ecological ruin that threatens everything built upon promises of stability. Yet, such promises persist. As anthropologists, how do we engage with this contradictory moment without reproducing teleological narratives of either progress or decline? Postcolonial perspectives suggest that, on the one hand, a stable future was never a promise accessible to most of the world’s population, and, on the other, such promises have taken multiple forms and stem from different genealogies. The 2018 Anthropology Graduate Conference at Stanford University invites papers that engage with differences within and across states of precarity through the figure of the promise.
Precarity has been theorized, first, as a consequence of global political economic transformations that have largely undone technologies of security and welfare (Standing 2011) and hindered the ability of workers to “transform the present by reference to a projected future” (Bourdieu 1998, 83). Second, precarity has been understood as a politically induced condition that leads to differential exposure to the vulnerabilities of life itself, rendering the more vulnerable among us susceptible to injury, suffering, neglect, and death (Butler 2009). Recent scholarship has bridged these perspectives and refashioned precarity as a site where to explore uneven encounters and unlikely alliances (Allison 2013; Berlant 2011; Stewart 2012; Tsing 2015).
Promise, on the other hand, is a concept that describes a type of contract, a mode of expectation, and an intention. Promises attempt to counteract the effects of unpredictability and vulnerability that the notion of precarity often conveys. And yet, promises are fragile, too. To the extent that promises depend on anticipated futures, they create contested grounds for articulations of truth, performances of certainty, relations of care, and various forms of speculation.
University of Toronto
Author of the landmark ethnographies of development, indigeneity, and land reform in Indonesia's upland regions, Land's End (2014) and The Will to Improve (2007), Tania Li is one of the leading contemporary political and economic anthropologists.
Alumni Keynote Speaker
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
A recent graduate from Stanford, Hannah Appel's work concerns the "daily life of capitalism, the private sector in Africa, and the re-emergent dialogue between economics and anthropology" (UCLA). Her current book project, Futures: Oil and the Licit Life of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea, explores the U.S. based oil and gas industry in Equatorial Guinea.
Urban Beyond Measure Workshop with
Professor, African and African American Studies & Anthropology, Harvard University
Author of Renegade Dreams (2014), a critical ethnography of life, injury, and race in Chicago, Laurence Ralph's critically acclaimed work "explores how the historical circumstances of police abuse, mass incarceration, and the drug trade naturalize disease, disability, and premature death for urban residents" (Harvard) in the contemporary United States.
ANTHROPOLOGIST WITH A CAMERA
Sarah E Vaughn, UC Berkeley
I am a sociocultural anthropologist whose focus is the critical study of climate change and its expertise in the present. This concern informs my recent articles and book in-progress entitled Engineering Vulnerability: An Ethnography of Climate Change and Expertise. The book develops a case study of coastal flooding in Guyana as a site to think with and through how people learn to pay attention to hydraulic modeling operations across forms of expert labor.
Kristina Lyons, UC Santa Cruz
Kristina Lyons is Assistant Professor of Feminist Science Studies with affiliations in the Anthropology and Environmental Studies Departments and the Science & Justice Research Center at UC Santa Cruz. She has been awarded the Cultural Horizons Prize by the SCA and the Junior Scholar Award and Rappaport Prize by the A&E section of the American Anthropological Association. She has published articles in Cultural Anthropology, Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, and the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, among other venues. Her research is situated at the interfaces of the environmental humanities, feminist and decolonial science studies, socio-ecological justice, and experimental ethnography.
Jerry C Zee, UC Santa Cruz
Jerry Zee is assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. His work explores reciprocal entanglements of political and environmental process and change. It moves along politico-meteorological trajectories that draw together the Chinese interior and its political centers, the airscapes of northeast Asia, and sometimes North America as moments in the formation, suspension, and deposition of dust events that have substantiated China's strange meteorological contemporary. He received a minor and a master's degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford.
Sharika Thiranagama, Stanford
Sharika Thiranagama's research has focused on various aspects of the Sri Lankan civil war. Primarily, she has conducted research with two different ethnic groups, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims. Her research explores changing forms of ethnicisation, the effects of protracted civil war on ideas of home in the midst of profound displacement and the transformations in and relationships between the political and the familial in the midst of political repression and militarization. She has also conducted other research on the history of railways in Sri Lanka, on the political culture of treason amongst Sri Lankan Tamils, the BBC World service in South Asia etc. She is currently carrying out a new fieldwork project on Transformations of Public and Private Life in Kerala. It is based in the Palakkad district of Kerala and will examine three generations of transformation among agricultural workers and the rural library movement.
Kabir Tambar, Stanford
Kabir Tambar is a sociocultural anthropologist, working at the intersections of political anthropology and the anthropology of religion. He is broadly interested in the politics of history, performances of public criticism, and varieties of Islamic practice in Turkey. His first book is a study of the politics of pluralism in contemporary Turkey, focusing on the ways that Alevi religious history is staged for public display. More generally, the book investigates how secular states govern religious differences through practices of cultural and aesthetic regulation. Tambar is currently working on a new project that examines the politics and ethics of nonviolence in Turkey.
Matthew Kohrman, Stanford
Matthew Kohrman joined Stanford’s faculty in 1999. His research and writing bring anthropological methods to bear on the ways health, culture, and politics are interrelated. Focusing on the People's Republic of China, he engages various intellectual terrains such as governmentality, gender theory, political economy, critical science studies, narrativity, and embodiment. His first monograph, Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China, examines links between the emergence of a state-sponsored disability-advocacy organization and the lives of Chinese men who have trouble walking. Recently, Prof. Kohrman has been involved in research aimed at analyzing and intervening in the biopolitics of cigarette smoking among Chinese citizens. This work expands upon heuristic themes of his earlier disability research and engages in novel ways techniques of public health, political philosophy, and spatial history.
CONFERENCE PANELS AND SCHEDULE
Day 1 (Friday, April 27)
Panel Section A (Panels 1 & 2)
“Failed” Economies:The Possibilities of Vulnerable Transactions
Mother, Daughter, "Girlfriend": Remaking kin and community in post-socialist Kyrgyzstan
Grace Zhou (Stanford University)
‘My House…it’s Like a Tornado:’ Black Women Mobilizing Against Subprime Foreclosure in Baltimore
Sa Whitley (UCLA)
Embodying magic, Scamming future: The Fever of Internet-mediated Pyramid Schemes in China
Haoqian Chen (Brandeis University)
A Nice Warm Little Pathology We Like to Call Home: Precarity and Legitimacy in American Anthropology
David Platzer (John Hopkins University)
Student Discussant: Vivian Lu (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Sarah Vaughn (UC Berkeley)
Protracted Liminalities and Strategies in Deferment
Promising Futures: Ethical Duration and Deferral in a San Francisco County Jail
Sam Maull (Stanford University)
Eventfulness and Endurance of Exile Tibet as Social Project
Jill Tan (University of Chicago)
Waiting and Its Side Paths
Marios Falaris (John Hopkins University)
Economies of Aging: Growing Old in Contemporary Cuba
Elix Colon (Stanford University)
Student Discussant: Valentina Ramia, (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Matthew Kohrman (Stanford University)
Conference Keynote Address
Tania Li (University of Toronto)
Film Screening with Karen Nakamura (UC Berkeley)
Day 2 (Saturday, April 28)
Panel Section B (Panels 3 & 4)
Transgression, Security, and Reform in the City: Rethinking the Social Through Urban Futures
The Gangs of Lyari: Precarity and possibility amidst an urban gang war in Karachi, Pakistan
Adeem Suhali (Emory University)
Finding the Future in the Marvelous City: “Re-socialization” and Life after Prison in Rio de Janeiro
David Thompson (UC Berkeley)
Pious Prostitute: Negotiating Religiosity within Indonesian Sex Work Economy
Bahram Naderil (Northwestern University)
Proximity as Promise, Proximity as Precarity: Scenes of Distress, the Production of Exemplary Space, and the City as Civic Encounter
William Stafford (UC Berkeley)
Student Discussant: Yasemin Ipek (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Sharika Tharinagama (Stanford University)
Trajectories of Disease and Flourishing
Toxic Agriculture: The Promise of Innovation in a Precarious Food System
Gregory Kohler (UC Irvine)
Life Beyond Causation: Productive Uncertainty in Central America’s Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemic
Carlos Martinez (UCB/UCSF)
Implanon: Temporalities and Vulnerabilities of Family Planning for Ethiopian Female Migrant Workers
Young su Park (Stanford University)
Oncological Promises and the Physiological Precarity of Cancer
Anthony Wright (UCB/UCSF)
Student Discussant: Amrapali Maitra (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Kristina Lyons (UC Santa Cruz)
Urban Beyond Measure Workshop
with Laurence Ralph (Harvard University)
SECTION C (Panel 5 & 6)
Promises on the Move: Power, Violence, and the Politics of Space
Vertical occupations: Astronomy’s promises and politics in post-Oslo Palestine
Jake Silver (Duke University)
“Ni tan mal ni tan bien, es lo básico”: Eating practices in assemblages of desire in Tijuana, México
Montserrat Pérez-Castro (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa)
Half-promises, Environmental Precarity, and Ojibwe Treaty Rights
Sheamus Johnson (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Roads of Promise and Disparity: Territorializing Tibet through Sino-Tibetan Highways
Shuting Zhuang (University of Chicago)
Student Discussant: Tomo Sugimoto (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Jerry Zee (UC Santa Cruz)
Precarity and Promises Realigned: Movements, Mobilization, and the Poetics of Recognition
Folds of Authoritarianism: Political Mobilization, Financial Capitalism, and Islamism in Turkey
Firat Kurt (Columbia University)
Indifference to promises: Reflections on the associations of truck drivers in Tanzania
Elisabetta Campagnola (University of Toronto)
When ‘structural violence’ is renamed ‘precarity’: Coal mining and right-wing populism in Aegean Turkey
Irem Az (Columbia University)
The Gift of Rule: Praise, performance, and precarity in the Sultanate of Oman
Bradford Garvey (CUNY)
Student Discussant: Lorraine Weekes, (Stanford University)
Faculty Discussant: Kabir Tambar (Stanford University)
Alumni Keynote Address
Hannah Appel (UCLA)
CONFERENCE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
Shan Huang (Co-chair)
Pablo Seward (Co-chair)
Special Thanks to Emily Bishop for webpage, poster design, and technology support.