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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/c14e-1429


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Conceptualizing Volatility





Faced with intersecting mass extinction, climate change, illegalized mobility or growing inequality, it becomes increasingly clear that the world we live in today cannot be understood through the dichotomous categories of normality and crisis anymore. Rather, close attention to particular tactics, agencies, but also vulnerabilities in navigating the radically uncertain world is needed. Volatility as a social and ecological condition, we propose, might provide an analytic lens to trace what life in such a world means and does to its inhabitants • even more so, we hold, when we think with people and ecologies from the margins, where volatility has long been the order of the day. To make volatility fruitful as an analytical tool for anthropology, we must first abandon the connotations that volatility is either something problematic or a means to an end. Whereas the former is a product of ideals of control and predictability that evoke and legitimize projects of dominance and exploitation, the latter is part and parcel of venture capitalism and other manifestations of accumulation by dispossession. In this roundtable, we aim to discuss how anthropology can approach and inquire volatility rather as a way of life that includes both social and ecological circumstances and people’s agentive ways of dealing with and reproducing them. As a way of life, volatility is both more than an external, political or ecological constraint and a functionalist adaptation to uncertain transformations; it goes beyond notions such as ‘crisis’ as bounded periods, ‘variability’ as restricted fluctuation between upper and lower limits or ‘resilience’ as a snap-back to an equilibrium. It might be more akin to what Taussig (2020) calls ‘the mastery of non-mastery,’ which combines vulnerability with flexibility, defined here as uncommitted potential for change (Bateson 1972) and building on skill, openness, and ‘attentionality’ (Ingold 2017). Together we will trace the analytical as well as the political usefulness of volatility, explore its weaknesses and limitations and work out its commonalities with and delineations from related phenomena such as ‘change’, ‘rhythm’ or ‘rupture’. And we will seek to relate volatility as a way of life with volatility as ways of resistance, endurance, creativity and care, as conceptualized for instance as ‘survivance’ (Vizenor 1999), ‘the art of not being governed’ (Scott 2009) or of ‘living on a damaged planet’ (Tsing et al. 2017), or ‘response-ability’ and ‘staying with the trouble’ (Haraway 2016). Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chandler Publishing Company. Ingold, Tim. 2017. ‘On Human Correspondence’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23 (1): 9•27. Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press. Taussig, Michael. 2020. The Mastery of Non-Mastery in the Age of Meltdown. University of Chicago Press. Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt, Nils Bubandt, Elaine Gan, and Heather Anne Swanson. 2017. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. University of Minnesota Press. Vizenor, Gerald Robert. 1999. Manifest Manners. Narratives on Postindian Survivance. University of Nebraska Press.


Transcript English (automatic)

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