American Ethnological Society
Abstract: Saving is commonly thought to mean the preservation of something considered valuable. The earliest meaning of saving comes from the fourth century A.D., signifying heroic healing efforts that delayed death and rescued bodies from disease. In the tenth century, saving evoked Christian notions of rescuing the soul, delivering persons from evil, and offering salvation in the eyes of God. By the sixteenth century, saving took on a secularized economic tone through discourses about the frugal expenditure of money and the storing of resources for later redemption. Medicine, moralities, and markets remain key domains that shape contemporary compulsions to save.
Saving has attracted long-standing and broad-reaching anthropological interest such that it has come to bear the qualities of a contemporary keyword. In a cultural climate where theorists of the anthropocene are dispensing with the modern idea of saving in favor of other modes (e.g. salvage, composting, repair), anthropologists are noticing a resurgence of saving practices in the worlds we study and work we do. In all sub-fields, anthropologists within and beyond the academy are tracing how people across settings aim to save valued forms, from environments and bodies to cultural artifacts and knowledges. While saving practices take different shape within particular ethical, religious, and political orientations to value, scholars note similarities in their implied states of ongoingness and processes of transformation toward an imagined end. Both an object and method of study, saving shapes attitudes of responsibility among anthropologists as well as our interlocutors. Saving also fosters conditions for future action that implicate anthropologists in the saving practices we examine, including fertility preservation, environmental conservation, humanitarian aid, religious conversion, animal welfare, global health, cultural heritage, and museum collections, to name a few. Thus, examining cultural compulsions to save, as both anthropological object and method, remains a crucial task.
Inspired by Raymond Williams’ critical lexicon of cultural keywords, this roundtable brings anthropologist across sub-fields with wide-ranging expertise, and from within and beyond the academy, into conversation about the shifting meanings of saving in our work and the worlds we study. Toward a collaborative reflection forged through experimental presentations, we consider how saving practices, ideologies, ethics, theories and conceptual kin (e.g. repair, rescue, conversion, preservation, maintenance, salvage, hoarding) configure in our respective fields and approaches. Important to our conversation are questions about time and temporality, which are domains through which scholars try to make sense of the increasing speed of everyday life, changing horizons of change, and rupture resulting from dislocation and mobilization. By exploring how saving may be expressed as a temporal ethic or incite political formations that reconfigure relationships among pasts, presents, and futures, this roundtable reflects critically on the role of anthropological knowledge within a cultural climate that encourages saving. In doing so, we also attend to the shadows created by saving practices by naming the exempted, wasted, leftover, and abandoned people, communities, environments, and materials that have not been deemed worthy of preservation.