ASAP monthly update: October 2018

Recent Session: The Anthropology of Policy at 25 Years

In August, Cris Shore and Sue Wright hosted a session for ASAP at the 15th biennial conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, held in Stockholm, Sweden. This was a symbolically important event as it was twenty-five years ago that the project for an “Anthropology of Policy” was first initiated at EASA conferences held in Prague and Oslo. At that time, neoliberal experiments in the reinvention of government through structural adjustment programs, New Public Management reforms, and the “governance” turn were at their height in many countries, including Britain, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States. In the decades that followed, the rationalities that drove those processes have mutated, diversified, and spread rapidly, bringing major changes to the global economy and local societies. Titled “Policy mobility in a Globalised World: How Ideas and Practices of Governance and Management Travel, Settle and Colonise New Domains,” the panel examined how policy ideas and practices travel, how they get taken up, adapted, and applied to new contexts, and the new kinds of social relations, subjectivities, and cultural practices this process creates.

The eight papers in the Stockholm panel generated lively discussion of these themes. Tess Lea (Sydney) developed the evocative notion of “policy hauntology” as a way to think about the troubled legacies of indigenous policy in settler colonial Australia. Jens Adam (Humboldt Universität, Berlin) examined the various actors and assemblages around a failed tramway project in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, and the lessons of that failure for infrastructural projects. Reflecting on the uses of actor-network theory, Alexandra Oanca (Universidade do Vale do Taquari, Brazil) gave a thoughtful assessment of the value and limitations of assemblage theory for the anthropology of policy. Also using an assemblage approach, Jérémie Forney (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerlan) presented results from an international research project on environmental governance in the context of agriculture and food, with case studies from Switzerland, New Zealand, the UK, and at the EU. From a very different perspective, Jie Gao (Aarhus) combined Lacanian theory and critical discourse analysis to interrogate the “fantasmatic” logic behind China’s Ministry of Education and its policies for promoting Sino-Foreign partnerships as an instrument of soft power. “How do human rights policies travel?” was the question addressed by Miia Halme-Tuomisaari (Helsinki). Her analysis of NGO reports and UN Human Rights Committee meetings in Geneva invites us to rethink the idea of “universalising” human rights and what that term means empirically. Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins (Aberystwyth, Wales) explored what happens when EU policies to promote cohesion collide with nationalist ideas about devolution for Wales within the United Kingdom. Finally, the paper by Cris Shore (Auckland) and Sue Wright (Aarhus) explored how performance indicators and national rankings have become a populist project yet one that can easily slide into new forms of authoritarian management, as is illustrated by the spread of Private Finance Initiatives and the rise of Academy Schools in the UK.

Overall, these papers highlighted the rich range of topics and diverse theoretical approaches currently being developed within the anthropology of policy — still a new field but, at twenty-five years, now an established one.

Coming up

More information will be coming up on the AAA meetings in San Jose. But note especially that:

1. The ASAP business meeting will be on Friday,  from 7:45 – 9:15 in the evening. The time was not of our choosing. But we took the opportunity to try something new for ASAP: a cash bar and — by golly — free food courtesy of a little bit of ASAP money and some anonymous donations from the ASAP executive committee.

2. Cansu Civelek, our grad student representative on the exec. committee is organizing our usual mentoring session pairing grad students and younger scholars for small group discussion. If you are interested, see her call on our web site. The direct link is

As always you can find us . . .

. . . on the web at
. . . on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as @anthofpolicy

Key contacts
– Eric Cheng for the listserv at: [email protected] or [email protected]
– David Haines for the web at: [email protected]
– Georgia Hartman for Instagram at: [email protected]
– Judi Pajo and Ted Powers for ASAP columns in AN at: [email protected] and [email protected]
– Jason Scott for Facebook and Twitter at: [email protected]
– Paul Stubbs for the ASAP program at the 2018 AAA in San Jose: [email protected]