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technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Torture Survivors in Asylum - Ignoring the Obvious

keywords:

violence

vulnerability

knowledge

“We did not know.” These words have often been uttered as a reaction to violence that apparently suddenly has become known. Not only did these words follow the documentation of the Nazi concentration camps. They were also voiced after more recent events of genocide, such as those in Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Central African Republic. And they are voiced in the light of the spiralling violence following recent anti-democratic measures such as the Citizenship Amendment Act accepted in India, somehow signalling the absence, or lack, of will to take responsibility for how easily history might repeat itself. And yet, parts of the public, and the state act as is if this is not the case. Albeit acknowledging the fact that the phrase “we did not know” might mask the absence of care rather than the absence of knowledge, we want to also take it at face value and ask how such modes of ignorance is produced and enacted. Within the anthropological archive forms of secreted, unspoken or disregarded knowledge has been richly conceptualised. In some literatures, following Foucault (Foucault 1980) , the notion of subjugated knowledges as knowledge that is nested but overheard in dominant discourse has helped ethnographers make compelling arguments regarding specific constellations of power and knowledge. Lately, the notion of ignorance has come to stand not simply as an absence or as a deficit of knowledge, but regarded as productive in its own right. Like knowledge, ignorance is described as closely related to power and as an effect of occlusion (Stoler 2016) or unequally distribution of knowledge. By implication, ignorance as an analytical concept often serves as a heuristic tool to ponder questions of power in knowledge production: why and how some forms of knowing gain ground whereas others do not (Proctor et al. 2008). Yet there are ways of bearing and ignoring knowledge where the intentionality involved in, say, an expression like ‘turning the blind eye’ is difficult to hold, grasp or detect. What would ethnographies of such instances look like and how might they be brought to bear on anthropological knowledge? In this panel, we take our clue from Veena Das’ suggestion in Textures of the Ordinary. Doing Anthropology After Wittgenstein (2020) that Stanley Cavell’s concept of Inordinate Knowledge might open up how we think about such forms of knowledge as immanent in forms of life where violence is present, borne, but secreted in modes of speech and forms of action (Das 2020: 245). On this background we invite papers that engage with the slippery movement of knowledge among people where violence is present, albeit not necessarily tangible or homed in language, people who by virtue of their marginal status crisscross the boundary between being at risk and being targeted by the state as a risk (Stoler 2016), the current landscape of a raging pandemic, and ensuing, discriminatory regulations that seek to contain it are only too stark exemplars of. We invite papers that reflect on how such forms of knowledge mark anthropological thought.

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Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021

Trust, transgression and public secrets
technical paper

Trust, transgression and public secrets

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

Aditi Saraf

18 November 2021

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