Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: Anthropocene
Anthropologists have long delighted in investigating subjects that scholars in other disciplines would dismiss as unremarkable, quotidian, and mundane. We see this clearly in the work of those who have queried the dichotomy between nature and culture, studied human-environment relations, or engaged the human and non- or more-than human (even long before this dyad entered the discipline’s lexicon). Hal Conklin’s “Betel Chewing among the Hanunóo”(1958), published sixty years ago, offers an unparalleled example of such attention, revealing not only the nuances of human-plant relations but the complex social and cultural patternings that such relations produce. Anthropology, indeed, has refined the art of making the mundane and quotidian anything but boring; rendering them instead intriguing, puzzling, and worthy of our collective, lingering attention. In doing so, it has also taken such inquiries into new realms, opening up novel sites of inquiry, such as bureaucracies or corporations, for thinking through the everyday.
Recent years have seen some significant shifts in the discipline’s approach to what Sidney Mintz (1985) once termed “mundane matters." While Mintz showed us the world historical significance of a spoonful of sugar, more recently anthropologists have turned to science and technology studies and post humanist perspectives to throw new light on the overlooked, the unremarkable, and the (seemingly) exasperatingly boring. From pipes to microbes, rocks to paperwork, this scholarship calls on us to think anew long-held ideas of agency, materiality, personhood, citizenship, and subjectivity, among other things. In this sense, it extends a disciplinary legacy that, through the “arts of noticing” (Tsing, 2015), remains ever-curious about the mundane around us.
With this disciplinary history in mind, we ask how anthropology’s relation to the mundane is being reshaped through inquiries that conceptually privilege liveliness, energy, mobilities, vibrancy, and agencies. How do these concepts and attributes condition how we approach our objects of study, and with what consequences? Given that the nature of “boring stuff” is necessarily relative, what kinds of inquiries, questions, and research objects are coming to be seen as boring as disciplinary attentions shift to the dynamic, lively, and vibrant? What might we draw from these new explorations to elaborate further anthropology’s long-standing engagement with the quotidian? Is it possible that the tedious and stultifying, the tiresome and the trite might illuminate aspects of our world that we have missed, distracted as we are by that which is new, hip, hot, cool, dynamic and extraordinary?
Drawing together papers on seaweed raking in Belize, export standards for basmati rice in India, plastic bags in Egypt, the slow peace of post-conflict Cambodia, grass cutting in Nepal, and potato cultivation in Bihar, India, the panel seeks to offer diverse and wide-ranging perspectives on our discipline’s changing relationship to the mundane.