- Being Human (BH)
- Life and Death (LD)
- Producing the Earth (PE)
- Survival and Extinction (SE)
- The World of the Mind and the Mind in the World (WMW)
- Movement, Mobility, and Migration (MMM)
- General (G)
- Museum Anthropology (M)
- Visual Anthropology (V)
Our thematic tracks sought to highlight the fundamental issues with which anthropology has been engaged in the past and with which our subject will remain engaged in the future, allowing space for discussion of topical issues that are “current” and “relevant” to contemporary society whilst contextualising them in a longer-term perspective, focused on enduring issues about the meaning of being human which anthropology as a whole seeks to address. Many of the interests of specialized IUAES commissions were explicitly mentioned as topics in the description of the tracks, although panels proposed by commissions were identified as such in the programme and were timetabled to ensure that they did not clash with each other.
Panels that did not fit our thematic tracks or which cross-cut the different themes were grouped in a 'General' track. We also had separate tracks for Museum Anthropology and Visual Anthropology.
There would be a general consensus amongst anthropologists and ethnologists that this is the fundamental question that our subject as a whole seeks to answer. Because that is the ultimate question, anthropology as a human science cannot be simply a broader kind of sociology or history, but must also embrace biology and the relations between humans and other animals and the environment. Yet the consensus can mask paradigm clashes. Socio-cultural anthropologists, for example, abandoned the nineteenth century evolutionist approaches to society and culture as ethnocentric, and most remain sceptical in principle to applying Darwinian ideas to explaining different forms of society and human behaviour, although few are familiar with modern work on evolutionary processes. And a great many absolutely fundamental questions remain subject to debate. The sessions in this track therefore have a dual purpose. One is to highlight what contemporary anthropology has to say about the most fundamental of issues from the variety of approaches that it embraces. The other is to promote exchange between anthropologists practising these different approaches that will enhance mutual appreciation of their significance and constructive debate in areas where ideas and explanatory frameworks differ.
Discussion could focus on topics such as:
- • Human origins: myth or reality?
- • Rethinking biological and cultural evolution
- • Humans and the non-human
- • Beyond the universal and the particular?
- • Persons and relations
- • Language and human development
Whether it makes sense to speak of ‘human origins’ is a contentious issue. What assumptions lie behind the notion of origins? What is originating? What does all this imply for the way we do (or do not) distinguish between evolution and history, biology and culture? Rethinking the distinction between biological and cultural evolution follows, and is equally challenging for both biological and socio-cultural anthropologists. Then there is the whole issue of ‘non-humans’, which covers everything from human-animal relations to issues of material agency, as posed, for example by actor-network theory. ‘Beyond the universal and the particular’ picks up the old (and ever unresolved) chestnut of universalism versus relativism, but a series of debates around these issues might take us beyond it (as suggested, for example, by anthropological work on rethinking the simple dichotomy between the local and global). Finally, there is the separate but related question on what it means to be a person, and of what is the difference, if any, between being human and being a person. The point at which living organisms become "persons" or cease to be "persons" is already a subject of strong controversy. Traditional anthropological topics such as "kinship" have already provoked fruitful new lines of enquiry in the age of new reproductive technologies, but issues such as the use of stem cells and advances in techniques for prolonging life continue to raise new moral, legal, political and economic issues. Anthropologists tend to focus on issues of relations and relatedness.But are human relations always social relations? Finally, panels addressing the role of language in human development will be relevant to this track, although issues of language, cognition and communciation are also relevant to the World of the Mind and the Mind in the World track
By focusing on the life course, this track offers opportunities for integrating demographic and medical anthropology studies with other comparative questions in socio-cultural anthropology, such as the nature and meaning of ‘childhood’ and ‘old age’ in different cultural contexts and differing cultural conceptions of life and death themselves (including ideas about how life is regenerated in the cycle of existence and the relations between the living and the dead).
Suggested sub-themes are:
- • Vitality, biopolitics and governmentality
- • The world from the child’s point of view
- • The demographic transition
- • The meaning and value of old age
- • Death and the regeneration of life
- • Vitality and health
The first sub-theme addresses general issues of power over life, death and the quality of life enjoyed by different groups, from the standpoint of anthropological perspectives on population vitality as an object of government (governmentality). The anthropology of children/childhood is an established field of study, but more work still needs to be done on what life looks like from the point of view of children (a child-centred anthropology, in other words), bearing in mind cultural differences with regard to the experience and definition of childhood and personhood. Anthropologists clearly have much to say about the issue of exploitation of children (sexual, labour, in the media, in criminal activity, and in warfare as "child soldiers"), and about how children’s rights link to the definition of persohood and ideas about legal and moral responsibility. The demographic transition refers to the implications of the exponential rise in human population, lengthening life expectancies, and resulting changes in the shape of the demographic pyramid, with more co-existing generations and a much greater proportion of older to younger people. This makes the anthropology of older people an increasingly important area of study, given that there are more of them, living for longer, than ever before in history. At the same time, however, we need to consider how both the economy, as evidenced by current controversies over the age of retirement and pensions, and family and kinship relations, are being affected by this increasing coexistence of generations. Death, another long-established anthropological theme with many different dimensions, can be usefully linked to discussion of regeneration in order to capture some of the most fundamental differences in conceptions between cultures, now and in the past. At the same time, however, we have changing ideas about mortality and death linked to techniques for prolonging life and debates about the right to chose death rather than suffering (through euthanasia) or the choice of death as martyrdom. The final sub-theme, vitality and health, offers opportunities for demonstrating the practical contributions of anthropologists in the areas of public health and epidemiology (including HIV/AIDs research) as well as critical analyses of and alternatives to Western biomedical models and institutions. Some contributions on gender and sexuality themes might also fit well into the framework of this track, although they would also be relevant to other tracks and sub-themes, as would some work on health and nutrition, and on cosmologies, ritual and religion.
This track, which is particularly broad ranging and likely to include a large number of panels, seeks to combine political economy and political ecology issues, because they are so intimately entangled with each other. Suggested sub-themes are:
- • Energy: flow and friction
- • Water and society
- • Returning to Production
- • Mainstream Economics versus Economic Anthropology
- • Anthropologies of capitalism and the social economy
- • Feeding and nutrition
- • The political economy and ecology of development and urban and rural sustainability
British Petroleum’s devastation of the eco-system of the Gulf Coast prompted even leftist critics such as Naomi Klein to remark that the views of the natural world as a living organism that human beings wound at their peril that typify many non-Western cosmologies had much to recommend them as a practical check on the hubris of capitalist civilization. Such a vision of a living earth in which mountains and oceans are sentient has been actively reasserted by indigenous movements contesting oil and mining projects. Oil and mineral resources have proved a major cause of conflict in the modern world, whilst comparatively few countries that possess them have managed to translate such ‘national’ wealth into benefits for their populations as a whole. Even if it is possible to imagine a world that could continue to develop on its present lines without oil, alternative energy sources may prove to have their own social disadvantages, and the availability of water is likely to prove an even more serious problem as the twenty-first century advances, a tendency already marked by the definition of water issues as matters of national security and conflicts over privatization of the administration of water resources. These are therefore rich topics for anthropological discussion. As a continuation of these themes, the third topic will consider the broader theoretical question of whether it is now appropriate for anthropologists to return, after a period of emphasis on consumption, to a focus on production, as the fundamental way in which humans are alive and active in the world, engage with material flows such as those of water and energy and attempt to solve their problems and enhance their capabilities through technologies. But we also wish to include systematic discussion of anthropological challenges to the current dominance of mainstream economic thinking across the human sciences (as manifest in the pervasive influence of rational choice theory and some arguments in socio-biology) in order to highlight leading edge critical work in economic anthropology across a broad range of issues. These include the contributions that anthropology is making towards developing alternative ways of understanding the institutions at the centre of contemporary finance capitalism and the process of ‘globalization’ itself (including its conceptual critique), along with anthropological work on experiments in alternative ways of organising economic life, such as the role of not for profit and charitable organisations in different regions of the world, different moralities of the market, exchange and distribution and the possibilities of developing a ‘social economy’ within capitalism. So this track invites work on the anthropology of contemporary capitalism covering labour, work and management, the role of money, credit and debt, and the functioning of markets and regulatory institutions. But all contributions on alternative ways of organizing economic life, past and present, will be equally welcome. The anthropology of food and nutrition sub-theme will include food production, from the origins of agriculture and the nutritional status of human populations to modern subsistence farming, global agribusiness and alternative food movements, along with problems of inequitable access to land, imbalances in distribution and exchange, and problems of reconciling the interests of farmers and poorer urban consumers.Contributions on the cultural and symbolic aspects of food and nutrition will also, of course, be welcome, as will work on diet, health, including obesity,and society. The final sub-theme covers the very broad field of global environmental change and development anthropology. We invite papers on issues such as how top-down policies for managing climate change and biodiversity protection may disempower local/indigenous inhabitants, the sustainability and “liveability” of modern cities, and ethnographic studies of the logic and workings of the local and transnational organizations that make up the international development apparatus.
Suggested sub-themes for this track are:
- • Hominid extinctions
- • Racism, Genocide and Ethnic cleansing
- • Cultural survival and indigenous self-determination
- • Memory, Conflict and Conflict Resolution
- • Violence and compassion in social life
- •Security: international organizations, states and non-state actors
- •The law, legitimacy, citizenship and human rights
The work of palaeo-anthropologists on hominid extinctions (e.g., what did really happen to the Neanderthals?), opens up the question of whether, if not today, then in the distant past, different human sub-species may have been living and interacting contemporaneously. This has massive implications for contemporary anthropological arguments against race: for example, does the recognition that all extant humans are of one sub-species, Homo sapiens sapiens, do away with the race concept or confirm it? Issues of race and racism have long been central to the IUAES agenda, and this track invites contributions on the full range of problems that represent the inhuman side of humanity and the uncivil side of civil society. In addition to panels on conflict, war and violence (including urban violence), we also seek to include contributions on the problematic notion of ‘cultural survival’ (as opposed to indigenous self-determination), what it means to be ‘indigenous’ in a world of nation states, controversies over cultural property (including their impact on museums), the limits of "multicultural' politics and the role of bilingual education programmes and affirmative action in the creation of more tolerant, inclusive and truly decolonized societies. This track also provides opportunities to highlight what anthropological knowledge can contribute to conflict resolution and peace making. The study of conflict resolution and conflict management is clearly also a field where perspectives from biological, demographic and ecological anthropology can be productively brought into dialogue. Studies of social memory and the role of museums in processes of reconciliation or coming to terms with the past would also be relevant to this sub-theme. At the same time, comparative anthropological research highlights the different ways in which different human societies and groups within society understand time, nature, rights over space and territory, social and economic rights, and indeed, the nature and meaning of violence itself. The violence and compassion sub-theme therefore also seeks to highlight how compassion and caring for others can assert itself even under conditions of violence and social collapse, and the need to complement studies of violence, conflict and terror, with studies of gentleness, harmony and peacefulness in human affairs. In discussing options for achieving survival, we suggest that two further issues deserve attention here. The first is the issue of security and securitization: this includes the role of international organizations, national states (as perpetrators of terror, in providing or failing to provide security for their citizens, and in defining social problems as matters of national “security”), and non-state actors (such as paramilitary groups, self-help justice systems and vigilante groups, and gangs and criminal organizations, but also the role of non-state organizations that provide people with alternatives to the worlds of crime and violence or offer alternative approaches to reducing or mediating conflict). The second is the role of the law and the liberal notion of citizenship, which also invokes the issue of the kinds of power and authority that are considered legitimate in the contemporary world, and, inevitably, the debates about human rights with which anthropologists have been intensively engaged in recent years.
This track gathers together panels that address the issues that traditionally went under the labels of religion, symbolism, belief and cognition, although, as mentioned in the descriptions of other tracks, it is not our intention to eliminate these perspectives from discussion elsewhere in the program, simply a matter of ensuring that all interests in this area are given sufficient space. A cross-cultural perspective not only demonstrates that what it means to be a ‘person’ or an ‘individual’ is different in different societies but also that the boundaries between the human, natural and spirit worlds are also differently conceived in different contexts. The first sub-topic therefore addresses the question of ontological differences (e.g. naturalism vs. animism) and what this implies for the project of cross-cultural comparison. This leads on to the question of whether cultural continuity depends on a mechanism of transmission (e.g. of classified knowledge) or whether it is rather a matter of continuous regeneration (as in storytelling). This in turn brings in the issues of memory and remembering, and of the relation between times past, present and future, as well as of learning and apprenticeship. But where does creativity come from? If apparently universal aspects of human culture and behaviour depend on the existence of unconscious cognitive mechanisms, then mechanisms of learning and transmission become crucial to explaining cultural difference and change. But the concept of an extended mind (distributed cognition) offers a radical alternative to the idea that cognition can be understood in terms of information processing at the level of an individual, dissolving the inside/outside boundaries associated with individuals and the distinction between culture and cognition itself. This leads to classical issues about language, cognition and social communication, but also to the new issues produced by the Internet, virtual social networking and other ongoing developments. Finally, to balance the emphasis on the mind, we invite contributions on the anthropology of the emotions and the senses, including the sensual. Suggested sub-themes are:
- • Ways of being; ways of knowing
- • The transmission of culture?
- • Remembering pasts; imagining futures
- • Learning, apprenticeship and creativity
- • The extended mind
- • Language, cognition and communication
- • Virtual worlds and new modes of sociality
- • Emotions and the senses
Bodily movement and rest are fundamental to the life process. But movement of populations through space and the colonization of new ecological niches have been central to the story of humanity from its very beginnings, and as humans move around they make places and spaces. Movement is facilitated and impeded both by features of the "natural" landscape and by man-made conduits and obstacles (roads and fortified frontiers), but even after the domestication of plants and animals and the formation of states and empires set in train processes that favoured greater sedentarization, nomadic ways of life and mass migrations remained a significant counterpoint to these tendencies that shaped the history of all the worlds’ continents. The extent to which pre-modern empires were territorialized and the ways in which they exercised control over space and the populations that they notionally encompassed were also variable. Political, social and environmental barriers to mobility have therefore had important effects on human development in the long-term history of humanity, and mobile ways of life have often disrupted attempts to impose particular kinds of social and political order over space. But the creation of the modern Atlantic World set in train even larger movements of population as all the world’s regions were affected by the development of European empires and movements from the global South to the global North became increasingly important after decolonization as a result of the uneven development of the capitalist world. In today’s world barriers to mobility include the imposition of visa and immigration restrictions, the efforts of some countries to control their citizens’ relations with the outside world, which include, for example, censorship of transnational media channels, the creation of ‘no-go’ areas by localized powers, and predation on international communication routes by pirates. Those groups that wish to continue mobile ways of life often conflict with other interests, as exemplified by indigenous groups demanding recognition of their rights to territories that are seen as ‘excessive’ in size by farmers and governments and corporations interested in mineral extraction. Yet the impetus to mobility remains strong, and the global social and cultural implications of mobility and immobility seem more important than ever. Some contemporary forms of mobility (such as those associated with crime, people-trafficking and terrorism) are clearly far from desirable and many people who move in the contemporary world would not only not do so if they felt that they had better options available or had not been forced to do so by violence or dispossession, but may also, ironically, sometimes experience their movement a form of incarceration (through the conditions under which they move and through the surveillance and insecurity they feel after they arrive). This track will include studies of migration and transnational processes and the continuing economic, social and political significance of mobile forms of life by socio-cultural anthropologists and studies of population genetics and dynamics and environmental adaptations and their consequences by palaeo-anthropologists, human ecologists and demographic anthropologists. The contemporary social effects of migration and remission-based economies on local societies and the role of kinship networks in organizing social life in transnational fields is also likely to be a central topic in the "Migrants and migrations" sub-theme. Papers are also invited on the ways in which borders are closed and citizens still incarcerated within the countries of residence in an age of transnational connections and global communications. The final sub-themes considers the further implications of immobility, bearing in mind that there are a wide variety of reasons why people cannot move as well as reasons why they would not wish to move, and that freedom of movement remains an unequally distributed social capacity in the contemporary world (as highlighted, for example, by anthropological studies of tourism or studies of the effects of de-industrialization in North America). Panels are therefore invited on topics such as:
- • Techniques of the moving body
- • Movement, place and space
- • Paths, roads and frontiers
- • Nomads and territories
- • Migrants and migrations
- • Policing borders and forms of incarceration
- • Immobility and its implications
The General Track was created principally to accommodate panels that address broad issues that cross-cut our different themes and would be of general interest to delegates at the conference. We also included a few panels that had a more specific focus but did not readily fit our thematic tracks in this group.
The Museums track contained a series of panels of interest to those who work in museums or engage in research on museums and museum collections from an anthropological perspective.
The Visual Panels programme was oriented towards ethnographic documentary filmmakers and other specialists in Visual Anthropology, and was coordinated by Metje Postma and Angela Torresan. Further information is provided on the Visual Anthropology page.