WORLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL UNION

CONGRESS 2024​

SELECTED PANEL

( pn95 )

Between past and present: Creating anthropological knowledge of “recent” events

Organizers

    Sanghee Lee

    South Korea

    Yonsei University

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Simbarashe Nyuke

    Zimbabwe

    University of the Witwatersrand

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Ursula Probst

    Austria

    Freie Universität Berlin

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

Keywords:

knowledge production, recent histories, retrospective ethnography, memories, temporality

Abstract:

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused severe disruptions of the everyday lives of people worldwide. Particularly in the years 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic spread across the globe, events unfolded rapidly and often simultaneously on different levels. The entanglements of infection rates, virus mutations, interventions to limit exposures to the disease, as well as vaccination campaigns and availabilities at a later stage created an often chaotic and quickly changing situation. At the same time, these circumstances also complicated the possibilities for an immediate anthropological engagement with the sociocultural, political and economic consequences of the pandemic, as research methods had to be quickly adapted to the pandemic realities (Ennis-McMillan and Hedges 2020). A few years later, the pandemic condition as a global threat has been declared “over”, yet both the Sars-Cov-2 virus and the effects of pandemic interventions still linger, and the long-term social, economic and medical ramifications remain to be seen. Anthropological research can provide valuable insights on the aftermath of the pandemic, but engaging with these recent events can prove to be difficult (Xiang 2023): A longing for “going back to normal” can lead to a reluctance in talking about what had unfolded a few years or months prior, or authorities might be hesitant to engage with an assessment of the effects and effectiveness of pandemic interventions. Furthermore, the potentials of traumatic experiences demand particular care in engaging with communities who have been severely affected by the pandemic and/or its regulations, and subsequent crises might overshadow previous experiences and contribute to a sense of urgency in the here and now. In this panel, we therefore aim to discuss the challenges and potentials of researching the most recent past from an anthropological perspective. How can we engage with events considered past, but whose effects and implications are still very present? What are the methodological, ethical and epistemological implications of conducting research on experiences situated between memory and current everyday lives? While the Covid-19 pandemic inspired these questions, we do not understand them as limited to the pandemic experience. Rather, we aim to open up a broader discussion about anthropological engagement with events and processes which are neither fully in the present nor a matter of history (yet) (Pandian 2012, Vigh 2008, Valentine and Hassoun 2019). Therefore, we also invite submissions which engage with the question what “recent” can mean in different contexts and for whom. Who or what is included when we are talking about “recent” events and who might not be? What is lost or gained in terms of methods, epistemological, and ontological nature of anthropological knowledge through re-enacted or relieved versions of events/moments?