American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December 2-6, 2009
Political Identities, Legal Identifications and Anthropological Practice
Shea McManus (City University of New York, Graduate Center)
Ceren Ozgul (City University of New York, Graduate Center)
In recent years, a proliferation of identities have been formed and employed in the institutions, discourses, and practices of modern power. The ‘Muslim’ has been linked to the alleged failed assimilation of religious minorities in Europe, the ‘sectarian’ has been accused of halting the advance of development in the Middle East, and the ‘victim’ has been used to promote healing in post-conflict and transitional societies. However, as the legal and political battles being waged by indigenous groups and religious/ethnic minorities around the world suggest, many social actors see identity not as a mode of subjugation, but as a site of autonomy and activism. While they are forced to regulate themselves in accordance with naturalized legal categories in order to make their claims, they also identify with these categories and make claims for rights based on them.
In line with this year’s theme, the End/s of Anthropology, this panel will explore the contribution that anthropological research can make to the study of both identities and identifications. On the one hand, it will examine how identities are formed and put to use in the institutions, discourses, and practices that accompany modern power. On the other hand, it will investigate the way law encourages identification with such identities, and the complex effects that result. While anthropology has always sought to denaturalize essentialist identifications, this panel will focus particularly on the different ways identities are recognized, mobilized, and excluded. It will examine the way identity is employed in the management and regulation of populations, the legal processes by which social actors are urged to identify with these identities, and the contradictory results that occur in this interaction. Using this three-fold focus, this panel seeks to think about anthropology’s unique contribution to the study of national and transnational processes such as secularization, legal reform, development, democratization, human rights, and transitional justice.
This panel takes as one of its aims investigating the construction, transformation, and mobilization of identities. It is our contention that anthropology could take a critical stance towards the institutions and discourses of modern power, as well as their modes of functioning, through an engagement with the identities they form and mobilize. Although these identities are essential to and embedded in the functioning of modern power, they often escape analysis. For example, who are considered the members of a sectarian, ethnic, national, religious or civilian population? Who are the victims of a civil war, and who are the criminals? Who is the subject and object of democratization discourse? This panel will investigate how such identities operate in practice, and how they are being adopted, transformed, and embodied by social actors.
Another aim of the panel is to scrutinize the ways law identifies and recognizes modern subjects and citizens. Rather than understanding identity as an authentic expression of the autonomous self, this panel explores how law works through ‘recognition’ and ‘identification’. How does law constitute subjects through the naturalization of abstract social, cultural, and political identity categories? How is it that certain legal recognitions and identifications operate to emancipate and enable the expression of identity at one moment and in one context, while at other times and under other conditions, law may contribute to a regulatory project in which deviant identities are repressed or normalized? Taking as one of its goals the critique of the universalist claims and assumptions embedded in these identifications and recognitions, this panel will investigate how such formations intersect with previously constructed identities defined on the basis of race, religion, gender, culture, sect, or ethnicity, and how these complex and intertwining identities and identifications are being used by subjects on the ground.
We invite paper submissions that address one or both of these themes through an engagement with these questions, or others:
- What identities are linked to the formation of liberal autonomous subjects in post-conflict societies or transitional democracies? How are they adopted and modified?
- How are religious identities included or excluded from political and legal discourse? How do they transform themselves in response?
- What kinds of identities are connected to development, legal reform, or democratization discourse? What can this help us learn about their modes of functioning?
- Which identities are included and excluded in local engagements with human rights discourse or humanitarian law? How do they intersect with previously constructed identities defined on the basis of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity?
- How are the boundaries of sectarian, ethnic, national, religious or civilian populations demarcated, and for what ends? How are they modified in response?
- How do legal claims bring people together and establish a community? What types of communities are created as a result of legal identification?
- How can law enclose and render unknowable some ‘identities’ and legal claims?
Please email abstracts (250 words) and a brief bio or CV to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by March 15, 2009.
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