Generic becoming: anthropology and the non-specific
Everywhere and nowhere, the “generic” is discarded as the copy, the knock-off, the old and overgeneralized. In this talk, I want to describe how it is instead remarkably neglected as a concept within anthropology and social theory. Implicated in everything from substitutes to shorthands, from the proxy to the promissory, as well in taxonomies and classifications, the generic is arguably a universal semiotic tool, allowing us to move through the world with necessary outlines. Whether it is in city planning, social media platforms, genres of music and art, ethno-nationalist projects, or the universalist teleologies of religion, the generic points to spaces in which knowledge is both over-produced as well as desperately lacking, providing ready-made molds of social action. Moreover, to begin to think about the generic is to consider long held concerns in how anthropology has understood the nature of category and typification, structure and practice. Within this context, and moving between a number of ethnographic and archival contexts, notably in the Philippines, this paper explores how the generic offers a critical vantage point in understanding the building blocks of contemporary social worlds.
- Scott MacLochlainn (University of Illinois, Chicago)