AAA/CASCA 2019, Vancouver

The Association for the Anthropology of Policy Sponsored Panels:

Roundtable Discussion: “Anthropological Approaches to Policy: Taking Stock and Looking Forward” (Invited Session)

When: Saturday November 23, 2019 – 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM

Abstract: An explicit ‘anthropology of policy’ is at least twenty years old and is part of a turn in anthropology to “rendering the familiar strange” as opposed to classical anthropology’s attempts to “make the strange familiar”. Anthropological takes on policy shine light on aspects of the policy process that mainstream, objectivist or legal-rationalist accounts rarely address, highlighting the messy, non-linear, complex, contradictory and ambiguous nature of most policy processes. Digging ethnographically into the ‘black box’ of policy making serves to deconstruct binary oppositions between, for example, public and private; top-down and bottom-up; formal and informal; and state and non-state actors. In a classic formative text, published in 1997, Cris Shore and Susan Wright wrote of policies as “social and political spaces articulated through relations of power and governance” bringing in both Foucault on governmentality and critical discourse theories, with policy documents treated as cultural texts, a specific genre of meaning making. As a corrective to an over-Foucauldian approach, later work brought human (and non-human) agency back in, suggesting that policies are actively made or assembled and remade by reflexive political subjects. Policy processes are highly performative, based on both disciplinary power and counter disciplinary power or intransigence. This roundtable takes stock of the intellectual history and accomplishments of approaches to the anthropology of policy, will explore the core concepts, questions, and research strategies that have emerged over the past two decades in the field. What have been the most important innovations in the field, as work has increasingly explored the transnational, international and global dimensions of policy? How can we ensure the greater presence of anthropological approaches to policy within schools of public policy? What are some of the ethical challenges in developing an anthropology of policy capable of ‘studying through’? How can policy ethnography become more multi- or para-sited (Marcus) as it attempts to ‘follow the policy’ (Peck and Theodore)? In 2004 some forty anthropologists founded The Association for Public Policy (IGAPP) as an interest group within AAA. Organizing panels and meeting regularly, IGAPP grew and became a new section, the Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP), in 2014. Today, as a medium-sized section, it has an international membership with a strong contingent of scholars not only in the United States but also in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the Americas. This roundtable allows scholars differently positioned in terms of location, field sites, career stages, and thematic interests to take stock of the state of the art of the anthropology of policy from their own perspective, focusing on its current intellectual and institutional positioning and, crucially, on some of the key challenges for the future.

Roundtable Presenter: Cris Shore (Goldsmiths College)
Roundtable Presenter: Janine R. Wedel (George Mason University)
Roundtable Presenter: Theodore Powers (University of Iowa)
Roundtable Presenter: Susan A. Wright (Aarhus University)
Discussant: Cansu Civelek (University of Vienna)
Discussant: Jamie Peck (University of British Columbia)
Organizer & Chair: Carol A. MacLennan (Michigan Technical University)
Organizer: Paul Stubbs (The Institute of Economics)