Society for Cultural Anthropology
Abstract: How do anthropologists participate in the creative invention and emergence of a (political) possibility? Speaking to a growing disciplinary interest in possibility, potentiality, and otherwise worlds, this panel engages critical hermeneutics, as described by Jarrett Zigon (2018 and 2019), to interrogate the political and epistemological potential of contemporary anthropological theory and praxis. Critical hermeneutics is a theoretical-analytic approach to anthropology that emphasizes a move from a distanced critique toward the active generation of alternative conceptualizations for thinking and political action that emerge in and through agonistic engagement with the conditions of a social world. Alongside work to decolonize anthropological thought and imagine otherwise underway in numerous corners of the discipline, critical hermeneutics assembles a specific set of conceptual tools from phenomenological philosophy to engage the anthropologist in the disclosure of otherwise worlds through the acts of ‘ungrounding,’ limiting social conditions and ‘opening’ space for already-latent possibilities to emerge. Such disruptive and generative ‘opening’ is held by Zigon to be a necessary political action of our time, yet such ‘ungrounding’ stands in distinction from the grounded ethnography described by generations of engaged anthropology. What modes of involvement and creativity does such ethnographic ungrounding/opening demand or entail? How does one recognize possibility?
Embedding critical hermeneutics in the doing of ethnography, we seek to place it into conversation with broader work on political creativity and engaged anthropology. How does political invention occur within and spread or scale up to scaffold other ontological arrangements and what is the anthropologist’s role in this process? What temporal and ethical considerations ground our approaches to theoretical-analytical disclosures of grassroots movements’ possibilities, and how are these distinct from or aligned with Black or Indigenous Studies’ lineages of struggle? How does the racialization of emancipatory political projects shape the way they are engaged and theorized? What are the challenges of concept recursivity or disclosure among our interlocutors and when does language get in the way of emergent worlds? What interplay is involved in active ungrounding and/or opening in our field relations? When or how can ungrounding/opening fail or do violence, and what are the stakes for the movements and worlds we are part of? Finally, what role could critical hermeneutics play in what anthropology could become?
We invite generative engagement with critical hermeneutics and its central method of disclosure, bringing it into dialogue with resonant or dissonant anthropological and theoretical approaches. We ask panelists to interrogate the ways anthropologists may (or may not) take up critical hermeneutics as a manner of not only documenting but participating in the emergence of otherwise modes of thinking, acting, and being in our worlds.