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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/gc7b-dd03


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Incommensurability and Responsibility in Anthropology’s Academic Freedom: Perils and Obscurities


free speech

race and racism


One of the challenges we face in anthropological thinking is to get dragged away from ethnographic knowledge and entangle in abstract thinking. While it is centralized in certain new turns in anthropology such as in ontological turn or in postmodern theory, abstraction especially when it doesn’t emerge from ethnography, is not always helpful in understanding the messiness and the complexity of social dynamics. Concepts such as equality, liberalism, or freedom are not floating in the air freed from their social contexts. Once the social dynamics are dismissed, it is easy to be disillusioned into using the same liberalist discourses and concepts in a manner that dismisses the other, messy, and complex social dynamics. Today we are witnessing a rightwing backlash and a rise in racist movements, practices, and discourses across the globe. We would like to propose a conversation between two issues taking place side by side, and in relation to one another. On the one hand, we witness a number of incidents such as the withdrawal of Azarova’s offer for an assistant professorship, and conference cancellations of events that are about freedom in occupied territories such as Palestine, Xinjiang, and Turkey’s Kurdistan due to the interventions of the colonial powers. On the other hand, we have been hearing ever-louder inversive speech acts that condemn critical race and decolonial theories as divisive, intolerant, hate-promoting, and even racist. Voices raised against such attempts to criminalize critical conversations around the issue of racism and supremacism have often been accused of disrespecting free speech. This, in effect, paves the way for the tendency to speak about abstract ideas as if they were disconnected from everyday life, “social weightlessness” (McNay 2012) In this roundtable, we are developing a conversation on freedom, free speech, and academic freedom through exploring the silenced voices. What is silenced if all speech is free? Can we think about academic freedoms without addressing the complex social dynamics? What is the responsibility of anthropology in providing conceptual grounds to address such complexities? Would the ethnography-based theory help us build new terminologies and save us from falling into traps of social weightlessness? We will be addressing a number of issues that are raised by the scholars across a wide range of political spectrum when discussing academic freedoms: ● Equality: Is all speech created equally? ● Silence and Academic Freedoms: Can we talk about academic freedom and integrity if the scholarly debates further deepen silences? ● Emotions: Are emotions and especially strong emotions to be avoided in analysis? ● Agency: How should we think anthropologically about the agentive processes through which principles like equality or freedom is appropriated by fascism, racism, or anti-feminism? ● Normativity: If indeed there is a tendency to drag progressive concepts away from ethnographic knowledge to abstraction in social thought, then how can we use those moments and instances to question epistemology and to think closer about epistemological normativity?


Transcript English (automatic)

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