I'm incredibly keen to form a group of like minds who are interested to discuss the ideas of Elizabeth Povinelli. If you are likewise interested in talking about late liberalism, affect, ontologies of potentiality, ethical substance, explorations of the otherwise and other Povinelligrams, please hit me up and we'll start a group asap. All interested parties welcome.
Hi John, thanks for your reply.
There are a number of reasons for wanting to discuss Povinelli, and I confess they are not all limited to what she herself, has written. For instance, I am broadly interested in the themes of marginality, precarity, social visibility (or lack of it), alterity, and for want of a better term, material life histories. There is nothing necessarily Povinilliesque about these ideas (arguably they have been at the very heart of anthropological enquiry for at least the last 30-40 years). What I find incredibly compelling about Povinelli's work, is her commitment to understanding how life endures at the fringes of a system which insists that one either conform or perish. What I also find alluring and potentially groundbreaking is her framing of debate within the context of 'geontologies of the otherwise,' and this particular idea is one that I find myself simultaneously drawn to but also somewhat out of reach.
I suppose what I am looking to discuss here are the details and implications of her thinking, and how they manifest around particular research topics. I know, for example, that Dr Thomas Cousins at Stellenbosch University and Prof Fiona Ross at the University of Cape Town make use of her ideas in their discussions of childhood obesity and early child development respectively, but I am curious as to who else is making use of this theory and to what end. For myself, I have done research on small, community led boxing gyms in the townships of Khayelitsha and Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town, and am preparing to conduct more research this March on homelessness in the same city.
Really, I am reaching out to people who are similarly interested in her ideas (as well as those who have most influenced her) and wish to engage in ongoing debate about the implications of immanent theory in anthropology and how the ideas that spring from it are helping to mould their work.
Povinelli is an interesting author, but I have not read her in a couple of years and I 'm not sure I remember much. I would join a discussion group which talks about some of the concepts she is engaged with. I would particularly be interested in the relationship between agency and potentiality and whether they are overlapping concepts. I think a lot of academics speak past each other because they are using different concepts to explain similar things.
John: I think the Geontology of the otherwise is the idea that built into the substance of all things that exist is an unintentional by product which does in some way disrupt the thing itself. So in having the concept of "a home" you get a byproduct "homelessness". I think Povinelli's argument is that the people who are "otherwise" to systems of power endure and disrupts these systems by their existence. Si would have to correct me on this if I'm wrong.
Povinelli is inspired by Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Giorgio Agamben in particular.
Andreas, thanks for the explanation of Geontology. Do you think that there is more here than a new buzzword for the now relatively commonplace sociological observation that societies create deviants by imposing norms that are, in practice, always violated?
Well I wouldn't say it is a buzzword. There is much more complex framework for which I provided a very simplistic explanation. No doubt Povinelli has been inspired by works like "Stigma". Particularly i think she is inspired by the concept of alterity. But Povinelli's larger framework tries to integrate this into a larger theory about human existence in the system of power which she calls late liberalism. Her use of ontology (and geontology) is about bridging the dichotomy of mind and substance, and finding new ways for anthropology to understand the social as part of for example the material or the geographical (for geontology in specific). Her work is also about the suspension and endurance of peoples potential, especially in the light of the end of the cold war and the ideological hegemony which came after it (at least in some parts of the world).