Past event

ASA2021: Annual Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK

The Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK's 2021 conference will be hosted by the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, taking place online from 29 March to 2 April.

Who is responsible? Where does responsibility lie? Between whom? Towards what? Who shares responsibility and upon whose authority is responsibility named? These are questions that anthropologists regularly encounter both in the field and in the archive, in their relations with bureaucracy, and with regard to anthropology's multiple and diverse audiences.

These are also questions, we are told, that are pressingly contemporary in nature. Talk about an era of 'post-truth' or about the predicament of expert knowledge, alongside talk about the challenges of the Anthropocene and a crisis of austerity, all fold into particular discussions of responsibility.

The category of responsibility has a long genealogy within anthropological scholarship. It has been central, for instance, to historical debates about sorcery and witchcraft, kinship, and the organisation of economic and political life. It also surfaces in intriguing ways in a number of contemporary debates within the discipline, as well as in relation to anthropologists' collaboration with other disciplines, and the ways in which anthropology is applied in fields like development, medicine and humanitarian response.

As a category that unsettles and at the same time entangles political, ethical and epistemological questions, responsibility faces anthropological theory, ethnographic practice, collaborative research, and applied engagement with key challenges.

This conference aims to unpack and explore the scope and scale of responsibility as both an emic and etic category for anthropology, to ask how responsibility is recognised and invoked in the world, what relations it draws upon, and how it comes to define notions of the person, institutional practices, ways of knowing and modes of evaluation. What are the contexts that substantiate particular meanings of responsibility, prioritising some potentials of our use of this word while perhaps silencing or muting others?

Given the diversity of deployments of responsibility as a category good to think with inside the discipline and as a category operationalized at multiple scales in the world, this conference asks what anthropology might say about responsibility in the round. It also asks how that reflection might productively play back on what we mean when we talk about the 'responsibility of anthropology' or the responsibility of anthropologists to specific others.

Should anthropology be held responsible for the knowledge it produces? Why and on what terms? Is it necessarily correct to expect that anthropologists have responsibilities? And if so, who defines what they are? Is irresponsibility necessarily problematic? What responsibilities might anthropology or anthropologists demand of others? And has anthropology reached its limits of its "responsible image" (as both translator and provider of qualitative analysis) in light of current indigenous critiques of ethnography?

Conference Panels are organised around six themes:

  • Extinction
  • Who Speaks and for Whom?
  • Evidence
  • Health, Disease and Wellbeing
  • Morality and Legality
  • Irresponsibility and Failure

Firth lecture: Aparecida Vilaça
Ladislav Holy memorial lecture: Peter Geschiere

Plenary speakers
Epidemics: Lisa Boden, Janet Cox Singh, Frédéric Keck, Ann H Kelly and David Napier
Extinction: Liana Chua, Genese Marie Sodikoff and Dace Dzenovska

Lead Conveners: Dr Melissa Demian, Dr Christos Lynteris and Dr Mattia Fumanti
Local Committee: Professor Mark Harris, Dr Huon Wardle, Dr Melissa Demian, Dr Mattia Fumanti, Dr Christos Lynteris & Professor Nigel Rapport, Dr Stavroula Pipyrou
Conference Administrators: NomadIT

For any questions about the conference please contact conference(at)