Dear SMA community,
Apologies for cross-posting. Please see our CFP for a roundtable to take place at this year's 2022 AAA in Seattle, WA. May be of special interest to critical medical anthropologists "studying up" among biomedical practitioners!
Unsettling Good Intentions
This panel seeks to clarify the challenges involved in producing anthropological critiques of actors whose good intentions fail to result in the intended outcomes. Since Laura Nader’s call to “study up” (1972), anthropologists have turned their ethnographic attention towards structures, institutions, and global powers that produce the inequalities faced by marginalized communities. Since then, anthropologists have crafted language and theory that identifies how certain regional governing paradigms result in harmful, misguided, or intentionally unjust conditions of living and wellbeing (Gupta 1998; Povinelli 2002 Scott 1998, Trouillot 1990). In recent years, however, anthropologists have taken an interest in the subjectivity of the individuals who carry out, mitigate, and materialize these paradigms into real life (Brint 1994; Boyer 2008; Hetherington 2011; Mitchell 2002).
Just as anthropologists have incorporated state actors into their accounts of governmental function, anthropologists in a range of contexts have conducted ethnographic research among or about actors, organizations, institutions, and projects that attempt to ameliorate or address social concerns like poverty, racism, migration, and authoritarianism (Ferguson 1990, 2015; Ticktin 2011, 2017). NGOs whose work is often animated by “do good” morals hold most of this ethnographic attention (see Berry 2014; LaShaw, Vannier, and Sampson 2017; Li 2007; Redfield 2013). However, scientists, lawyers, medical experts, architects, teachers, engineers, and other professionals are also individuals that seek social transformation through accumulated and specialized knowledge. Some of these interventions are conceived with the best of intentions, but can be “unimplementable” (Mathur 2015), constrained by economic, social, or political limitations. Other interventions are unexpectedly burdensome for the subjects of such good intentions (Sullivan 2016). As Duana Fullwiley has suggested, “the potential for racism is often embedded in good intentions” (Fullwiley 2014, p. 812), and a burgeoning body of critical medical anthropology literature demonstrates how the imposition of societal norms around race, gender, and sexual reproduction challenge the disciplinary ideal of doing no harm (Sanabria 2016; Wolf-Meyer 2017, forthcoming; Plemons 2017; Bridges 2008; Davis 2019).
In what contexts are projects, tools, and organizations for social intervention and change hindered by an overreliance on intention rather than action? How do we, as anthropologists, seriously engage with such projects, proposals, and presentations by world-making actors who appear to be genuinely interested in building and thinking about a better tomorrow? How do we, as anthropologists, situate not only our fieldwork, but our critique and writing so that our work not only identifies the faults in the structures at play, but is also in discussion with the very thinkers and actors at the forefront of social change? And what are the challenges in maintaining good relations with interlocutors we must critique in our own quests to enact social change?
This roundtable seeks contributions that reflect on the practice of communicating anthropological critique with interlocutors and collaborators. We invite discussions that address:
- Challenges in the design, conduct, analysis, and writing up of ethnographic work that engages actors who participate in work with good intentions;
- The concept of “the good” and how it can be understood in relation to intentions, specifically;
- The effects—both intended and unintended—of good intentions;
- The knowability of intentions;
- The maintenance of relations with actors one must/has critique(d)
- The ethics of critique
Please submit a 100-200 word abstract to Yesmar Oyarzun (yesmar@...) and Melanie Ford Lemus (melanie.ford@...) containing information about your research background, interest in participation, and intended topical contributions to the roundtable by end of day March 27th, 2022.
Yesmar Oyarzun, MA, MPH
Department of Anthropology, Rice University
ph. (337) 849-7494 | email: yesmar@...
Schedule a Meeting: https://yesmar.youcanbook.me