2018 cancelled abstracts

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Anarchizing the Disciplines

In the last few decades, a slew of anthropologists, best-known among them David Graeber, have shown their discipline's affinity with anarchy. On the other hand, my field, German studies, may be one of the least politically oriented of all, despite its Marxist reputation. Struggling to reconcile this with my commitment to anarchism has led me to the question: what would an anarchist literary studies look like? More broadly, what would it mean to "anarchize the disciplines," that is, to recreate the university's current forms of knowledge by focusing on anarchist techniques, resonances, and worldviews? I argue that engaging with these academic forms of knowledge is worthwhile at all, a point that's not obvious. Marxism had a moment in the post-68 period whose imprint is still visible today, and though I don't want to copy that, it's worthwhile to think about what it would mean to outplay the university at its own intellectual game, given its outsize influence on North American social hierarchies and its alibi as a beacon of truth during liberalism's troubles. If, as I would argue, anarchist and anti-authoritarian thought is more present than ever, how can we make that political message more visible in a context like the US where anarchism is rarely more than an epithet? And, if the goal is to make anarchist science better (and more fun) than the neoliberal university, how can we do intellectual work in an anarchist way? With reference to Fred Moten's quip, "the only possible relationship to the university today is a criminal one," I offer some thoughts on how we could defraud biology, architecture, economics, and all the other disciplines for the sake of outdoing the old and eminently corrupt structure. Pace Francis Bacon (and DARPA, as it happens), knowledge is power.

The Trouble with Pierre Clastres

2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the death of anarcho-ethnologist Pierre Clastres. My goal is to examine Clastres’s lasting theoretical contributions to anarchist political anthropology while assessing the shortcomings of his work. I plan to present an overview of his account of how societies against the state ward off state power, and then I will consider his two theses that he presented regarding the cause of the transition from a stateless society to a state society: the reversal of debt and the introduction of voluntary servitude. In general, I will argue that left critiques (I will focus on Claude Lefort’s and Samuel Moyn’s) that fetishize statist democracies don’t give us much insight into Clastres’s work. By contrast, Indigenous critiques of Clastres’s work do.

I will argue, in the critical component of this talk, that Clastres gave too much weight to the problem of voluntary servitude. He presents the introduction of voluntary servitude as unidirectional threshold that serves as a point of no return for a given society—once the state is introduced, it cannot be destroyed. I will argue that his account is overly dualistic and commits him to a form of salvage ethnology that accepts the Western/settler trope of the “Vanishing Indian.” Clastres’s framework does not acknowledge ongoing forms of Indigenous resistance to colonial state forms. I will focus first on what Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance” as a mode of resistance, and then I will examine the politics of Indigenous resurgence as discussed by contemporary Indigenous theorists including Leanne Simpson and Glen Sean Coulthard. I will trace how Clastres’s work has served as a point of reference for Indigenous theorists when they critique Western ethnology and anthropology.

Messy Anarchism in a Memphis School

Deborah Reed-Danahay, in her 1997 volume Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social, argues that auto-ethnography can “question the binary conventions of a self/society split, as well as the boundary between the objective and the subjective.” Following her methodology, I will share several vignettes and reflections from my time as an anarchist teacher in a strict public school. My vignettes will focus on the moments that I tried to put my anarchist values into pedagogical practice, and my reflections will sort through the wide range of responses that I got from my students and colleagues. My overall argument is that we should give up ideas of anarchism predicated on purity and identity. Instead, we can search for hybrid collective understandings of what anarchism looks and feels like in local institutions. Efforts like these can make our theories more richly textured and our practice more widely effective.

Studying Toward Anarchy (Pedagogical Becomings Of/Against Anarchy)

(Panel Discussion)

In this 60 to 90-minute roundtable conversation, the 5 of us are going to teach you how to be good anarchists. Or not. Actually, the opposite of that. Perhaps a mixture? Through an open conversation, this session probes at questions and tensions in the relationship between pedagogy and anarchy. Emerging from work in a multidisciplinary reading group, we (anthropologists, philosophers, Germanic scholars, and educators), wander through issues of study (Moten & Harney, 2013) and thinking against mastery (Singh, 2017) to explore how we learn to do and be what essentially stands against learning. We will begin with brief remarks (15 minutes total), framing the session through relevant literature on anarchist pedagogy (e.g. Hawthorn, 2012) and offering examples of links between anarchy and education. We will then open the session to those who join us, asking questions like:

  • How have you come to anarchist praxis?
  • How does one teach anarchy? Is that inherently anti-anarchist?
  • Does such a thing as an anarchist pedagogy exist?
  • If so, how can it be infused in the commons?
  • Who gets to learn about anarchy? When? How?
  • how can we conceive of a relationship between anarchism and traditional venues of education (e.g. schools, universities), or should these venues be
  • altogether?
  • What are some examples of actually-existing anarchist study? what tensions do they encounter/embody?