Possibilities with Jane Guyer


Call for Papers

2014 Graduate Student Conference

Department of Anthropology

Johns Hopkins University


The graduate students at the Department of Anthropology have dedicated this year’s conference as a celebration of and tribute to Professor Jane Guyer, who has been a dynamic force in the intellectual life at Johns Hopkins University and beyond. Though Professor Guyer is not set to retire until Summer 2015, this year’s conference will be the last of which she will participate as a full-time faculty member. Please join us in celebrating her work and showing our gratitude for the crucial role she has played in the academic and professional vibrancy of our scholarly community.


While much attention has been dedicated to charting out disciplinary shifts and turns within anthropology, the notion of possibility, as Jane Guyer suggests, remains a recurring yet largely unexplored center in the history of the field. For Guyer, whose distinguished career has been spent studying local strategies for managing market volatilities in post-colonial Africa, a robust anthropological engagement with possibility entails “an ethical stance, demanding courage; it is an aesthetic of coexistence, demanding discernment; it is a vision of politics, demanding study and steadfastness” (2009: 363). Alongside Guyer, David Graeber takes possibility as a lens to the otherwise encountered in the field. Graeber finds anthropology’s persistent return to possibility to be a “constant reminder that most of what we assume as immutable has been, in other times and places, arranged quite differently, and therefore, that human possibilities are in almost every way greater than we imagine” (2007:1, see also Guyer 2009). The question of possibility is central to Janet Roitman’s recent work, which instigates an engagement with what the term “crisis” is productive of and the possibilities its mobilization creates, but also forecloses (2014; see also Mbembe and Roitman 1995). Whereas Roitman compels us to render visible the work that seemingly given concepts are doing, Guyer and Graeber see possibilities as enjoining disciplinary ethics and innovations to a concrete politics of futurity, threads that we hope to elaborate upon in our discussions at the conference.


To that end, the graduate students of the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins invite colleagues across the social sciences and humanities to reflect on possibilities in their own (field)work, whether as concept, method, or mode of analysis. Moreover, this graduate conference hopes to explore how we, as a new generation of scholars, might articulate the notion of possibility through our work.


Possible lines of inquiry include, but are not limited to:

--When, how, and where do possibilities emerge in our work?

--How do disciplinary possibilities become enjoined in the opening up of futures?

--How do possibilities allow us to engage with the multiplicity of life forms in the present?

--How might possibilities unsettle present disciplinary, methodological but also political and institutional configurations?

--How do we engage possibilities ethnographically?

--What spaces of possibility are available or visible whether in the field or the archive?

--What are the possibilities for (re-)thinking the human? The gift? Value? Pedagogies?

--What possibilities are opened, allowed for or foreclosed by “crisis”?

--What are the methodological implications of a social science positioned around the possible rather than the probable or predictable? How might we consider the possible in relation to the potential or the actual?

--How do we think the link between possibilities and empiricism, possibilities and imagination, possibilities and experience?


Submission Guidelines: The conference will take place on Friday and Saturday, April 18 - 19, 2014 at the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. We encourage submissions from graduate students across disciplines. To apply, please submit a concise abstract (max. 500 words) to JHUgradconference@gmail.com by March 15, 2014. Submissions should include either a curriculum vitae or a listing of the following information: presenter's name, program, year of study, research focus, and contact information. Submission of a full paper is required no later than two weeks prior to the start of the conference. Additional details can be found at http://jhuanthropossibilities.wordpress.com/. Citations for and links to works by Professor Guyer (as well as other relevant scholarly works) will be posted shortly.

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