WORLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL UNION

CONGRESS 2024​

SELECTED PANEL

( pn13 )

Public authority in the polycrisis

Organizers

    Anna Macdonald

    United Kingdom

    University of East Anglia

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Grace Akello

    Uganda

    Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology, Gulu University

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Tim Allen

    United Kingdom

    London School of Economics and Political Science

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Melissa Parker

    UK

    London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

IUAES Affiliation: Anthropology, Public Policy and Development Practice

IUAES Affiliation: Anthropology of Pandemics

Keywords:

authority, power, governance, polycrisis

Abstract:

Humanity faces unprecedented existential threats. This is increasingly referred to as a ‘polycrisis’: ‘a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part’ (Tooze 2022). Accelerating access to digital technologies facilitates real time awareness of these risks, which range from the immediate shocks of pandemics, climate change induced disasters, conflicts, and forced population displacement to the subtler insidious harms of resource scarcities, democratic backslides, social polarisation and extreme inequalities. However, for marginalised groups and the various authorities that seek to govern them, the novelty of the polycrisis may appear odd. For such groups intersecting social, cultural, economic, and political inequalities, often stemming from colonial histories, have long given rise to diverse states of chronic insecurity, to the extent that ‘(poly)crisis-is-context’ (Vigh, 2008). There is much to be learned from these collective experiences of survival, and yet there is little evidence of such learning happening. Rather ‘polysolutions’ are now being proposed from the top-down. Mirroring hierarchies of scientific and financial knowledge, these range from ‘cross-sector risk preparedness’ (WEF, 2023); initiatives that seek to link the health of people, animals and ecosystems (WHO, 2022); proposals for global economic governance reforms (IDEAS, 2022), and the use of ‘AI for Social Good’, to anticipate and respond to crises (UN-ITU, 2022). While laudable in ambition and scope, these proposals may be counterproductive because they are largely based on prevailing assumptions and projections about the capacity and legitimacy of formal governance, and the ability of technology to provide solutions to these complex challenges. There is an urgent need to examine place-based experiences and on-the-ground authority dynamics in places where polycrisis has long been a chronic condition, to ensure that accelerating global, regional, national and local responses are not counter-productive. This panel will interrogate the ‘polycrisis’ both as a contested political term, and as a useful analytical category that draws attention to underlying causes of compounding crises and their differential effects across populations. We invite papers that investigate discourses on, and responses to, the polycrisis from the lived experiences of marginalised groups. These might address the following questions: How do multiple crises (e.g., epidemics/pandemics, environmental degradation, poverty, political violence) intersect in particular contexts? Which public authorities claim to address aspects of the polycrisis and how are these claims legitimised? Who is included and excluded from vital public goods and political participation as public authorities govern responses to crises; and how does this exacerbate, or mitigate, existing inequalities, particularly in relation to class, gender, race and ethnicity? How are digital technologies (including AI and social media) altering established patterns of public authority and social mobilisation? What are the logics of crisis that underpin the dominant polycrisi’ discourse? What do just transformations look like according to marginalised groups most affected by the polycrisis? What does the polycrisis mean for the future of democratic states and multilateral organisations promoting solutions to interlocking global challenges?