( pn30 )

Toward a Decentred Anthropology of Inquiry: Engaging with China, Reimagining Sociality


    Ellen R. Judd


    University of Manitoba

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Vesna Vucinic Neskovic


    University of Belgrade

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

WCAA Affiliation: WCAA Global Cultural Policies Task Force

IUAES Affiliation: Anthropology, Public Policy and Development Practice


inquiry, practice, China, sociality, ethnography


This panel will explore a route toward decentring, shifting the focus of anthropological knowledge away from its traditional Western perspective. It involves engaging with practices of knowledge creation in China in order to challenge and diversify the dominant Western critical approach to knowledge. It will depart from a perspective of knowledge as inquiry, understood to be knowing the world differently together as people bring it into being (Smith,1999). To be realized, inquiry is a practice that, however open, critical and innovative, is necessarily embedded in culturally specific modes of sociality and of agency, which requires that it be decentred beyond Western conceptions of sociality. China offers a rich instance of sustained and varied practices of inquiry, grounded in distinctive intellectual schools and characterized by contemporary innovation. The knowledge practices embedded in China’s programs and practices of social transformation and their recurrent processes of re-creation are an abundant storehouse of practical experience and critical engagement across a wide extent of issues and contexts. These encompass a wide spectrum ranging from intensely political matters like the extensive series of land reforms since the 1930s to equally central but differently inscribed relationships of marriage, family and relatedness and to significant and less prescribed matters such as rural-urban mobility, market activity and emerging forms of communication and expression. In very many of these processes of change, new circumstances or aspirations have required new and far-reaching practices of knowledge creation. It is especially significant that, concurrent with the important institutional roles of party and state, both emerged profoundly reliant on popular engagement and active support across a wide diversity of locations and situations, fundamentally requiring and becoming consciously as well as implicitly based on processes of local knowledge creation. Anthropology’s ethnographic orientation gives the potential to be able to see these processes of knowing the world differently together, to explore the sociality in which they are embedded and transformative and to rethink and decentre what constitutes anthropological knowledge. This is necessarily social, practical and specific, while sharing some culturally distinctive modes of institutionalizing knowledge and its creation in China. The panel will solicit and engage a range of knowledges in areas including land reform, family strategies, public health and health care, mobility and migration, cultural heritage, and open air exercises. It will explore how these studies can decentre anthropological knowledges.