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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/tvhn-xm66

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Shifting landscapes of authority among Muslims in Europe.



political subjectivity


Authoritarian movements are on the rise worldwide. At the same time, we see a proliferation of new articulations and new styles of authority, as well as vehement debates on what authority should look like (e.g. in the field of parenting, governance, and (pious) religion). In response to these developments, this panel combines the analytical frameworks from the anthropology of religion, the state and pedagogy to explore a grounded anthropological theory of how authority is ‘done’. The anthropology of religion, and Islam in particular, has conceptualised authority as an ethical relationship in which disciplinary techniques and “aesthetics of persuasion” allow for the shaping of a more virtuous self (Agrama 2010; Fernando 2014, Mahmood 2005; Meyer 2010; de Witte, de Koning and Sunier 2015). The anthropology of parenting, education and therapeutic care, instead, point to broad shifts in pedagogical ideals of authority in line with the global dissemination of neoliberal and psychology-based models of personhood emphasising egalitarianism, emotions, and non-violence (Faircloth 2013; Kaneh-Shalit 2017; Wilce and Fenigsen 2016). Last, the anthropology of the state and governance have shown that state authority, including bureaucratic or institutional authority, is inherently performative and provisional (Jauregui 2016). It requires constant boundary work and carries possibilities of violence (Aretxaga 2003; Babul 2012; Bear 2011; Hansen and Stepputat 2006). This panel explores two themes that tie these fields together in their appreciation of authority not as something ‘had’ but as something ‘done’. The first theme consists of the distributions and relationalities through which authority, provisionally, emerges. The second theme is that of the shifting and heterogenous nature of registers of authority and the polyvalent ethical subjectivities and sensibilities such registers invoke and enable. Both themes highlight that enactments of authority straddle and unsettle, rather than confirm, dominant conceptual divides, such as the religious and the secular, formal and informal, state and non-state (Fader 2009; Kloos 2019; Lammer 2019). The papers in this panel combine insights from the anthropological fields mentioned above to ask new questions about contemporary contestations over, and new enactments of, authority in various contexts across the globe (the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Europe as well as mediascapes and big data). What aesthetic, affective and ethical genres and practices are performed and (re-)combined to create persuasive authoritative relationships? What ethical subjecthood and desired attuning between 'author' and 'authorised' do enactments of authority seek to effect? How are enactments of authority distributed, assembled, and renegotiated across scales, spheres, and actors? The papers address a wide range of dimensions, actors, and manifestations of authority, from the anti-authoritarian ideals of new parenting models and 'reality game' universes, and the shifting genres of Islamic authority, to the distributions of authority in big data and through extra-judicial violence, and the affective brokerage performed in development and urban governance networks. Together, they showcase what an anthropological theory of ‘doing’ authority might look like.


Transcript English (automatic)

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