Panel Proposal for:
Society for Cultural Anthropology
Santa Fe, New Mexico
May 7 & 8, 2010
The practical application and theoretical underpinnings of cultural anthropology and the idea and methods of experimentation and experiments usually don’t mix. As a largely inductive “science,” experimentation in anthropology often smells of social engineering and the ethical missteps of past research (e.g., Darkness in El Dorado). Another aspect distancing anthropology from experiments is the lab/field split – with anthropology tending to align itself with the latter.
However, experimentation as a kind of imaginary has received considerable attention as of late, largely through anthropology’s turn toward STS. (This is perhaps most explicitly drawn out in Michael Fischer’s evocation of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s concept of “experimental systems” as well as ethnographic interest in thee world of scientific practice that includes experimentation as a primary method.)
For more on these ideas, see this exchange on the anthro blog Savage
This call for papers seeks anthropological projects that engage with ideas of experimentation in all conceivable facets: history of anthropology, contemporary ethnography [of lab sciences, clinical trials, etc.] science writing, historical examples, etc. Some of the questions that might be pursued may include: How do we write ethnographically about experimental practice? How is the idea of experimentation a cultural form or ethos? What is the relationship between theory and experimentation? How do experimental imaginations mystify issues of ethics? Political economy? Difference?
This CFP is deliberately vague in order to allow the themes of the proposed papers that may surface to give form to the panel. My own paper will focus on experimental imagination in the Cornell-Peru Project a Vicos, an early Cold War-era project (1952-1966) in which a highland Andean hacienda was transformed into ethnographic laboratory for the study of modernization and culture change. It addresses how, for a brief moment in 20th anthropology, the promise of experimentation, gave rise to new imaginative understandings of culture and culture change.
Please send paper ideas (or composed abstracts) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sooner the better, but no later than January 6th.
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Director, Latin American Studies
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