School of Social and Political Science

Social Anthropology Seminar Series Spring 2023



Social Anthropology Seminar Series - Semester 2


Full programme of weekly seminars for Semester 2 2022/23.

Unless otherwise stated, all seminars: Fridays 3-5pm, Violet Laidlaw Room, 6th Floor CMB

January 27 | ONLINE EVENT | From Muggers to Gang Members to Modern Slave Masters: on drugs trafficking, victimhood and the making of enemies in post-colonial Britain.

Insa Koch, University of St. Gallen

At a time when Black Lives Matter has brought the legacies of transatlantic slavery to the global headlines, the British state has discovered slavery of a different kind: the evils of ‘modern slavery’.

‘Modern slavery’ has been defined as an urgent contemporary problem facing domestic citizens on ‘home ground’. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of ‘county lines’, the name given to the street level drugs economy of heroin and crack cocaine that is connecting larger cities to coastal and market towns. The runners of this illicit trade – working-class, white and black young men from marginalised social housing estates – are no longer treated as criminals but as ‘modern slaves’ in need of saving. Yet, the making of ‘modern slaves’ hinges upon fraught processes of techno-moral governance which divorce individuals’ de jure vulnerability from the state’s de facto production of classed and racial domination. Thus, in the name of saving the vulnerable, the state expands its remit of control into the most intimate realms of people’s lives.

What is more, by distinguishing those who are considered worthy of legal victimhood from others who are not, it has reinvented the figure of the enemy from within no longer in the figure of the mugger (Hall et al 1978), less even the political rioter (Gilroy 1986) or the gang member (Williams and Clarke 2016) but in the modern slave master himself. Far from constituting a departure from punitive modes of governance, the politics of victimhood entrenches deep seated inequalities while further distancing the state from the afterlives of Empire in postcolonial austerity Britain.

Register online

Feb 3 | Incising amaXhosa States of Personhood in Male Circumcision

Lauraine M.H. Vivian, Edinburgh Medical School

I draw on my monograph amaXhosa Circumcision: Stories of Manhood and Mental Health (2021) - recently released by Routledge - to explore how circumcision practices, enculturated into a phenomenal rite of passage, coalesce emergent and existing states of Xhosa personhood.

The stories I describe originate from my research in Valkenberg Hospital for the Mentally Unwell, as here I was asked by a psychiatrist to explore the psychotic content in 75 amaXhosa men whose psychotic content contained resonating symbolic images from the 6-month ritual initiation. I take advantage of my position as a medical educator to briefly touch on how such traumatic injury instigates radical shifts in youths neurological and cognitive dispositions modelling their future behaviour. However, it is my substantial decades long ethnographic fieldwork that underpins my understanding of this cultural engendering.

I describe states of personhood as engendered from the moment of birth and that in fathers’ taking their sons for circumcision after 16 years of age and with their consent, mothers withdraw releasing themselves to engender young women. In so doing, the mother’s son becomes the son of the mother. States of personhood are however, far more complex than this gendered dualism for wo-man-hood implies, for rites of passage - of which circumcision is but one - fashion a far more complex engendering of transitions and states of human-being amongst these African autochthons. My discussion on gender is inspired by a discourse on African Womanism and this infers on my ethical position in presenting this material as an African born, European woman. 

Feb 10 | Mafiapoetics. Why Mafiosi write and how they impersonate literary theory

Ulrich Vanloyen, University of Siegen

In my recent book „The Godfather and his shadow“ (Berlin 2021) I try to elucidate prose, poetry and songs written by members of the Italian mafias in two directions: on the one hand, as a strategy to cope with danger and liminality intrinsic to criminal life, and on the other as an appropriation of bourgeois culture and its expectations. But I also read Mafia behavior and codes as the “verification”  of modern literary theory, namely of the constitutive ambivalence of the symbolic. In this way, I try to explain why especially middle classes and the art world are obsessed with mafia - and how they got entrapped in its crafted discourse. In my talk I want to give a brief outline of my book with examples from my fieldwork in Naples and Calabria.

Due to industrial action, this seminar will now be a teach-out event to be kindly hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute from 1 to 3 pm.

Feb 17 | Reflections on Practice: Windrush ‘Insider’ Research Experiences. - ONLINE EVENT

Audrey Allwood, Goldsmiths, University of London

As a social anthropologist, I use the collection of life stories as part of my research methods. For life stories and narratives provide insights into personal experiences that occurred in the past and shaped the present, as well as capturing new experiences in the current time. In this instance, my work has focused on finding out about the people who came to Britain from the Caribbean during the ‘Windrush’ era of migration and their successive generations to understand their journey and experiences. Uncovering how they have contributed to British social and cultural spheres and the impact the sojourn has on them and their successive generations.  

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Mar 3 | What stays: a Tunisian revolution and the body of politics 

Alice Elliot, Goldsmiths, University of London

How long does a revolutionary moment last? In this talk, I trace what stays of a specific temporal parenthesis in Tunisia’s recent history, the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ of 2010-2011. Reflecting on conversations over the years with a group of young men from a working-class suburb of Tunis who took to the streets during the days of revolution, I attend to what are described as permanent bodily traces of the revolution – physical signs and ‘switches’ that happened during the revolution, but have outlived it. Attending to the permanence within personal biographies of a historical moment that has ended – for some, even failed – outside of them, I trace how bodily permanence forces us to reimagine what, and where, politics is.

Mar 10 | The Transformative Potential of Education in Central India. ONLINE EVENT

Peggy Froerer, Brunel University

In central India, some people regard school education as intrinsically beneficial, while many others consider it to be an expensive and risky means to an end that is not attainable by people like themselves: marginalized adivasis who lack the requisite forms of capital to translate their educational investment into a viable economic return. What gives rise to these contrasting perspectives? And what does this tell us about the powerful discourse surrounding the transformative potential of education, and the processes of ‘modernity’ and ‘development’ that correspond with it? This paper addresses these issues by focusing on the differentiated educational experiences of marginalised adivasi youth in Chhattisgarh, central India.

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Mar 24 | Machine Anthropology

Morten Axel Pedersen, University of Copenhagen

Can anthropological theories be combined with machine learning methods? Do recent advances within text mining allow for the realization of Levi-Strauss’ dream of a computational structuralism? Might we go as far as saying that computers are becoming vehicles of social scientific analysis: are we about to witness the birth of distinctly anthropological forms of artificial intelligence? By presenting recent attempts to use data science methods for augmenting and automatizing the collection, processing and analysis of qualitative data, my hope is not only to discuss the rise of so-called computational anthropology in my own and others work, but also to unsettle epistemological boundaries between, and predominant assumptions among, computational social scientists and data scientists.

Apr 7 | Screening and discussion of 'Four Days in May: Kingston 2010’

Deborah Thomas, University of Pennsylvania

An Experimental Documentary by the Directors of Bad Friday: Deborah A. Thomas, Deanne M. Bell, and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn