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Colonial Legacies, Decolonial Struggles: Anthropology and Europe’s Peripheries Today

This plenary session of the European Association of Social Anthropologists Biennial Conference, which took place July 21-24 in Lisbon, rethinks anthropology in and beyond Europe and considers how disciplinary hierarchies are reinforced. This requires concerted effort to create new spaces to counter structures and practices that reinforce hierarchies. The speakers engage with anthropology’s margins and marginalisations.

Prem Kumar Rajaram (Central European University) &Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool, LeftEast editorial board) convened this panel. Discussants include Mary Taylor (CUNY, LeftEast editorial board), Margit Feischmidt (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Nora El Qadim (Université de Paris-8), &Rosana Pinheiro Machado (University of Bath).

This panel emerged out of two converging moments. One was the conference call, which asked participants to critically rethink anthropology’s role in and beyond Europe and to consider the way that disciplinary hierarchies are reinforced despite ongoing critical discussions. The other followed from this, and reflected current discussions within the EASA Executive Committee: that this rethinking also requires a concerted effort to create new kinds of spaces for these topics in order to do justice to them and to attempt to counter structures and practices within the discipline that reinforce old hierarchies. The aim was to make a start in this direction by recognising, challenging and analysing these conventions and hierarchies within the plenary panel.

While prone to bouts of retrospection and self-critique, like any other discipline, anthropology has a tendency to reinvigorate its core. How could we rethink the knowledge production of the discipline and challenge its tendency to reinforce hierarchies? What might it mean to think anthropology from its contemporary peripheries or margins? The reinvigoration of a disciplinary core is dependent on a specific relation with the margins it generates, both in terms of geographic location and subject focus.

The aim of this plenary is to both shed light on and explore this relation between core and periphery. How can anthropologies, including anthropologies of non-core regions, contribute to the understanding of new forms of nationalism and populism, as well as of authoritarian regimes? How do we do that, as new authoritarianisms are threatening the very existence of anthropology as a discipline and perhaps might produce encapsulation that does not allow for internal critique and transformation within the discipline?

Participants also explored tensions between postsocialist and postcolonial narratives, and narratives of decoloniality, especially within Europe; questions of historical reparation, and questions of racialisation and racism that can look quite different in different parts of Europe. Conference organizers asked the following questions: how should anthropology participate in these discussions? Does the particular history of the discipline, its engagement with otherness, and the directions that academic funding and resources flow reinforce boundaries and hierarchies in anthropology? If so, how might this cycle effectively be challenged? What are new spaces and networks of solidarity emerging as a result of these new political, economic and social configurations?

How do we as anthropologists, or as scholars engaged in the intersection of academic and political work, and often working in more than one discipline, respond in a meaningful way to these mobilisations? This conference held in Lisbon considered the position of Portugal and other core European ‘cradles of anthropology’ as former colonial powers, still working on coming to terms with their colonial legacy, while – in the case of Portugal in specific – simultaneously also located at the European periphery with a recent history of dictatorship. How can we approach the multiple and even contrary histories and politics of the geography where the EASA2020 conference is held?

LeftEast makes this plenary session available in hopes that the discussions sparked at this conference might invigorate similar conversations among both anthropologists and others interested in the current state and progressive potentials of the discipline.

More on the Panelists:

Mariya Ivancheva is a Lecturer in Higher Education Studies at the University of Liverpool. She has done research and published widely on the legacy and present of social(ist) movements, the casualisation and digitalisation of academic labour, and the role of universities and their communities in processes of social transformation in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Mariya is a founding member of LeftEast, the PrecAnthro collective and is active in the Bulgarian Left-feminist group LevFem. You can follow her at @mivanche.

Prem Kumar Rajaram is Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. He is also Head of the Open Learning Initiative and project leader of the Refugee Education Initiatives ( consortium. In his research, Prem Kumar Rajaram is interested in questions of marginality and depoliticization. His research has focused on the government of asylum-seekers and people called refugees and on colonial histories of capitalism and race. A further research area is on critical pedagogies and higher education, with a focus on investigating how universities can be made more accessible and welcoming to marginalised groups.

Margit Feischmidt is senior researcher at Centre for Social Sciences, Institute for Minority Studies where she is currently leading the Sociology and Anthropology Department of Minority Studies Institute. She is editor in chief of Intersections: East European Journal on Society and Politics. She teaches at Institute for Communication and Media Studies, University of Pécs, Hungary. With a doctoral degree from Humboldt University and habilitation from her home university, she works on issues of migration, nationalism, ethnicity and minorities in East-Central Europe. She currently publishes about new forms of nationalism and populism, xenophobia and racism (Rocking the nation’: the popular culture of neo-nationalism. In Nations and Nationalism, with Gergő Pulay and Understanding the rise of the far right from a local perspective: Structural and cultural conditions of ethno-traditionalist inclusion and racial exclusion in rural Hungary. Identities. Global Studies in Culture and Power, with Kristóf Szombati). Currently she works with Ildikó Zakariás on pro-refugee civic action in Hungary. She also edited (together with Ludger Pries and Céline Cantat) the book Refugee Protection and Civil Society in Europe, Palgrave Macmillan.

Mary N. Taylor is a militant researcher grounded in anthropology, urbanism and dialogical art, and currently the Assistant Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research examines sites, techniques and politics of civic cultivation, social movement, and cultural management; the ethico-aesthetic cultivation of nationalism and cultural differentiation and the making of nation-states; and people’s movements in interwar, socialist and post-socialist East-Central Europe and the Balkans. Her book on folk dance revival, political personhood and state formation in Hungary, tentatively entitled Movement of the People: Folkdance, Populism and Citizenship in Hungary, is forthcoming in 2021 (Indiana University Press). Her praxis includes LeftEast, of which she is a member of the editorial board, and a related summer school hosted by different social movement formations in ‘postsocialist Eastern Europe;’ Brooklyn Laundry Social Club, an experiment in co-research in New York City laundromats, and Amenawon Solar School Initiative, a process of developing a neighborhood “green school” in Lagos, Nigeria. She has taught at Hunter College, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the Parsons School of Design.

Nora El Qadim is a senior lecturer of political science at University Paris 8, and a researcher at the CRESPPA-Laboratoire des Théories du Politique (LabTop) research centre. She was trained in sociology, history and political science. She is interested in the international and postcolonial dimensions of public policies. She has focused in particular on migration, mobility and border policies between Morocco and EU countries/the EU, and more recently on archival policies in Morocco and in Africa.

Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, anthropologist, is an Assistant Professor of International Development in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath. Previously, she was a Lecturer at the University of Oxford, and held visiting positions at the University of São Paulo and Harvard University. Pinheiro-Machado acts as a public intellectual in Brazil. She is an awarded-winning columnist of The Intercept Brasil and the author of the book Amanhã Vai Ser Maior (Planeta, 2019), which discusses the conservative turn and resistance in Brazil.