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AAA 2020

November 18-22
St. Louis, Missouri


See open CPFs for panels and roundtables below.


Submission Deadline: April 17, 2020

Organizers: Ted Powers (University of Iowa) + Jeremy Rayner (Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales)

The emergence of a new global pandemic has produced wide-ranging effects that require scholarly attention. Accordingly, this panel addresses the emergent novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's global contours, the wide-ranging transformations that it heralds, the policy dynamics that have unfolded alongside it, and the politics of truth and accountability that it implies for anthropologists, the public, and those leading responses to the pandemic. 

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, we invite papers that address a diverse range of themes:

  • The Political and Moral Economy of Containment and Treatment: The biosecurity measures that have been implemented in response to COVID-19--in particular, an unprecedented global wave of quarantine--have created widespread hardship and exacerbated existing social inequalities. How have the burdens associated with containment policy been apportioned along the lines of race, class, age demographics, and health status? How have the risks and dangers of the virus been constructed discursively, and incorporated into practice, in policy and in everyday life?

  • The Value of Life and Systemic Violence: the expected economic and political consequences of the pandemic and its containment have ignited debates over who is worth saving, at what cost, and to whom. How have these debates – and policies enacted in response to them – reflected historical claims to belonging in distinct ethnographic settings? More specifically, how have narratives around the virus been shaped by, and contributed to, longstanding social dynamics associated with colonial, racist, patriarchal, and class-based violence? On the other hand, what kinds of possibilities can we identify in collective decisions to prioritize the protection of lives? 

  • Debt and Obligation: How have responses to the pandemic been shaped by existing policies of debt and obligation? From the constraints imposed by international financial institutions and bond markets on public finances to the indebtedness of firms and households, broader dynamics of power inform the various kinds of long-term obligations that connect people to each other and provide the context for care, abandonment, and contagion. How have these broader social processes informed the intimacies and labor associated with care work, broadly defined? 

  • Sovereignty, Biopolitics, Necropolitics, and Bare Life: the centrality of policies of surveillance and control to containment efforts has provoked renewed debate about the purpose and limits of the sovereign state and central concepts from recent critical theory. How can anthropological research on the course of the pandemic and lived experience of distinct forms of control and of solidarity "from below" contribute to reevaluating these critical understandings of power? 

  • Quarantine, Representation, and Ethnography: the conditions associated with widespread quarantine policy present challenges for responsibility and for truth, in research and in politics. Prohibition on circulation has made traditional social movement strategies to represent grievances from below by using "the streets" impossible, and often frustrated more individual solutions as well. The significance of internet connection has increased even further. At the same time, traditional ethnographic strategies have been rendered largely impossible. Under these conditions, how do we responsibly manage our relationship to the representation of the truth?

We invite papers that address these themes in a diverse range of ethnographic settings. We are particularly interested in accounts that engage with these questions in both the ethnographic present and across historical time in order to trace processes of continuity and disjuncture relative to modalities of power and policy processes, broadly defined. 

The deadline for the submission of abstracts for review is Friday April 17th. Please send paper abstracts to both Jeremy Rayner ( and Theodore Powers (


Submission Deadline: Monday, March 30

Organizers: Fayana Richards (University of Memphis) + Aaron Seaman (University of Iowa)

Social disconnection has emerged as a particular form of precarity, the logical endgame of an individualizing neoliberal trajectory exposed, in particular, by the COVID-19 pandemic. Older adults around the world often have been disproportionately subject to this disconnection; although, we would argue, this is a phenomenon individuals face across the lifecourse. Yet, even as inertia pushes toward isolation, inherent interdependencies and the futures they make possible are revealed. In this panel, we present ethnographic research from across the life course to document sustained and novel forms of social disconnection being experienced and to draw insights about imaginaries made possible by embracing our interdependence.

Within anthropological scholarship, there has been long-standing interest in the relationship between aging and sociality (or its absence) resulting in various forms of social disconnection and isolation. Anthropologists have worked to articulate the dimensions of social disconnection by describing and distinguishing between not just loneliness, but social isolation, solitude, and marginality (Biehl, 2005; Lamb, 2008; Coleman, 2014; Mikkelson, 2016; Danely, 2019). This literature provides insightful commentary on social processes and relationships and highlights the interdependent nature of social disconnection.

This panel investigates various forms of social disconnection with the intention to highlight the fact we understand disconnection in relation to the (imagined) body politic. In doing so, we maintain that different relationships to sociality (e.g., loneliness, solitude, social distancing) are not mutually exclusive, but instead are dynamic and simultaneous. Alongside these relationships, this panel explores the affective, relational, technological, social, and political-economic dimensions of social disconnection. How do institutions construct and organize solitude and other forms of social disconnection? What kinds of work does social disconnection do for our current political economic configurations? Under which conditions do forms of social disconnection emerge, shift and/or circulate across different contexts? How is social disconnection experienced and understood across the life course? What forms of solitude(s) emerge within social relationships? In light of the spread of COVID-19, how do loneliness and solitude(s) emerge as the new form of sociality/belonging and social organization?

We are looking to add 2 additional papers to our panel, and thus, invite ethnographic submissions that consider the following topics, but are not limited to: 

  • social disconnection across the life course

  • intersection of technology and social disconnection 

  • encounters of loneliness, solitude and social isolation in intimate and non-intimate relations 

  • navigating the healthcare system and social disconnection 

  • how institutions and policies create socially-disconnected subjects 

  • social disconnection as a form of sociality 

  • considerations of solitude, loneliness and social distancing amidst outbreaks/epidemics/pandemics (eg Ebola, SARS, Covid19)  

Interested panelists should submit their paper title, abstract (no more than 250 words), affiliation, and contact information to Fayana Richards ( and Aaron Seaman ( by March 30. Decisions regarding abstract submission will be circulated by April 3.


Contact Steven Sampson

Organizer: Steven Sampson (Lund University) 

When bureaucratic functionaries or factions within government choose to undercut the agendas of political leaders, some of us call it ‘the resistance’ (to Trump), while Trump supporters have called this behaviour ‘disloyalty’, ‘corruption’ , whistleblowing or ‘sabotage’. The most common reaction by Trump loyalists to identify this opposition to political interference or bad policy is to label these officials them as part of ‘the deep state’. ‘Deep state’ is a pejorative now invoked by certain American media (no one admits to being a member). For those opposed to the Trump regime, the ‘deep state’ accusations are just another in a line of conspiracy theories.  But in fact, the term has a longer history in the US: it was formerly known as the ‘military-industrial complex’, and has parallels with Janine Wedel’s ‘shadow elite’ , i.e., flexible, unaccountable policy advisors and think tanks.

Moreover, there are ‘deep states’ as well as deep state rhetoric in many other parts of the world, most notably Turkey, or in Romania where the term ‘parallel state’ is used to describe the anti-corruption prosecution against political elites using secret-police like methods of  surveillance. One could argue that the former socialist state apparatus were in fact run by a deep state, consisting of the ruling communist party apparatus and its security organs, to which the formal administrative state was subordinate. This communist party deep state was the real state. In this ‘real state’ conception of deep state, one could argue that in the U.S. the real state is the financial/bureaucratic elite, together with powerful corporations and their interest groups, who effectively govern, and without the consent of the governed. The deep state may therefore range from a conspiratorial pejorative to a clandestine apparatus exercising power. The deep state may thus have various factions, sometimes at odds with each other.

This roundtable takes the deep state seriously. It attempts to go beyond the conspiratorial polemics about the ‘deep state’ as articulated by certain US Media organs. It discusses the potential viability of this concept for anthropological analysis. Several questions arise if we consider taking the deep state concept seriously: first, to what extent can
bureaucratic/administrative functionaries (the Ukraine experts who so testified so eloquently during the House impeachment hearings) undercut or subvert the agendas and policies of political leaders? Were they indeed ‘deep state’ representatives? This is an old question in political science about the relative autonomy of the bureaucracy versus the political sphere; it is clearly relevant for the anthropology of policy and political anthropology generally. Second, how should we study this kind of bureaucratic subversion or resistance as part of our interest in the anthropology of the state? Third, what kinds of
policies have been developed to either facilitate/nurture or combat the ‘deep state’? Are deep states not imminent in all state formations? What exactly is ‘deep’ about the deep state? Would it be valid to rename ‘deep state’ and call it a faction, clique or parallel political network? This leads to other empirical questions: how do we know ‘resistance’ when we see it? What is the difference between the shadow elites, the military-industrial-security complex, and the whistleblowing diplomats from the State Department who testified in Congress? In other words, can there be deep states that are good or bad? Is deepness always a bad thing? How can bureaucracies be manipulated or used by politicians who are in power, and out of power? And how do bureaucracies from the shadow elite use and manipulate politicians? What are the ties between conspiracy theories – launched either from below, from the media, or from the state apparatus itself – and the deep state? Finally, are there local deep states in the communities or organizations we study that might make this concept a useful empirical starting point? Perhaps Trump was right about a deep state conspiracy against him, for perhaps it depends on how we define ‘state’. The project of this roundtable is to use the ‘deep state’ concept as a window to studying relations and conflicts between bureaucratic and political actors. The anthropology of policy is about the relationship between power-holders and power-implementers, including the bureaucracy. If we are to make an anthropology of bureaucracy and of the state, perhaps the deep state can be a convenient comparative window.

If you would like to participate in this roundtable, please contact Steven Sampson at


Contact Aaron Thornburg, ASAP

Organizers: Aaron Thornburg (Eastern Oregon University) + Amber Reed,
(Southern Oregon University)

It has been over two decades since Cris Shore and Susan Wright (1997) argued for the inclusion of policy into the domain of anthropology. For much of that time, however, policy has been investigated from the top down, “in terms of studying powerful actors at the top of the policy chain and less in terms of the powerless, especially with regard to the policy change they produce” (Però 2011, 244). In their introduction to their later collected work, Policy Worlds, Shore and Wright suggest that a number of the contributions, “demonstrate how people do understand the way policies seek to interpellate them as subjects and actively contest these constructions to project their role in society” (2011, 18). Relatedly, the interdisciplinary field of Participatory Action Research has asked how critical ethnography that involves participants might attend to issues of power and inequality (Hemment 2007). Here we seek to explore the possibilities of, and issues involved with, using participatory research methods to inform the anthropology of policy from the bottom up. Which participatory methods are useful for illuminating the effects of policy on the people with whom we work? How do projects that involve participants in research design differ from those that do not? How might participatory methods need to be adapted when we work with particular groups of people (migrants, minorities, refugees, youths, etc.)? Are there particular considerations (ethical and otherwise) of which we must remain aware as we undertake policy-oriented participatory research? Are there ways in which the participatory research methods used might affect the story told? What are the best ways to distribute findings in order to effect policy change? These and other questions will be explored through examples of policy-oriented participatory

Please send a 250-word presentation abstract to Aaron Thornburg ( if you are interested in joining us in St. Louis.


Submission Deadline: Monday, March 23

Organizers: Eliza Williamson (Washington University) + Luisa Madrigal (Washington University)

"Development" as a paradigm has been both praised and contested. Its multiple meanings collide in a world that is constantly aiming towards "progress," and women and children have long been singled out as targets of interventions in its name. Stakeholders often view children and mothers -- and "the mother-baby dyad" -- as sites of potentiality for the development of nations, especially in the Global South, and health conditions affecting especially small children and/or childbearing women have become focus areas for interventions (Yates-Doerr 2015). Anthropological scholarship on kinship, reproduction, and child development has critically discussed the consequences of implicit assumptions about race, gender, and class have of development aspirations and efforts (i.e., Pentecost and Ross 2019 , but there are still many more questions to be asked regarding the impulse for and consequences of these development practices.

 This panel examines "embodied development" (Sargent 2019) by critically examining the links between developing countries and developing bodies. We propose to interrogate the ways in which "big-D development" (Mosse 2013) is bound up with concerns about, and interventions on, developing bodies. How are children especially imagined to embody -- quite literally -- national and global narratives of "progress"? What is the role of kinship and care in bringing bodies into alignment with the goals of development? What are the gendered, raced, and classed implications of this care? Toward what horizons of "success" do notions of development strive, and away from what notions of "failure" (Zoanni 2018)? What modes of being in the world do such horizons of success and failure foreclose? What alternative notions of "success" emerge in everyday engagements with and in developing bodies? And how can anthropologists ethically engage children and caregivers in ways that highlight how they theorize their own worlds? This panel aspires to push us as anthropologists to interrogate interventions on developing bodies and the implications such intervention has for all of those involved.

Please send your proposed title and abstract (250 words max) by Monday, March 23 to Eliza Williamson ( and Luisa Madrigal ( Selected abstracts will be notified within a week after our deadline. Accepted panelist will be expected to submit their respective abstract to the AAA by Friday, April 8.


Contact Greg Feldman ASAP

Organizer: Greg Feldman (University of Windsor)

Liberal democracy is under threat in both the Global South and North from countries as different as the Philippines, Turkey and Brazil to India, Hungary and the United States. If Vladimir Putin is to be believed, then “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the overwhelming majority of the population” (Financial Times 27 June 2019). Rather than test this statement against local, ethnographic examples, this roundtable asks what conditions make such a statement seem reasonable, even if debatable, and what allows its political sentiment to gain momentum around the world?

This challenge to liberal democracy appears concurrently with many developments that resemble classic elements of the Twentieth century totalitarianism, including growing

  1. Reliance upon simplified narratives of history (along with increased dismissal of facts to the contrary);

  2. Hostility to migrants, refugees, racialized minorities, women, and people with alternative gender/sexual orientations (along with an increase in masculine nationalism);

  3. Contempt for parliamentary procedures and independent judiciaries (along with an increased acceptance of unconstrained executive authority);

  4. Contempt for political plurality (along with an increase in narrowly defined ideas of patriotism, religious piety, and social conduct);

  5. Contempt for respectful, civil discourse on the grounds that it precludes speaking truth to power (along with an increase in humiliating political rivals and those defined as “other”);

  6. Sentiments of “anti-elitism” (along with the rhetorical argument that “real people” are uneducated, rural, and traditional).

We can add from the Twenty-first century the role of social media in creating antagonistic political communities.

These trends pose challenges for the discipline because they demand explanations for similarities in diverse parts of the world whereas anthropology often prefers to emphasize differences. To paraphrase George Monbiot, what makes possible a shared culture of executive impunity in otherwise culturally different places? What allows a similar political sentiment to appear in countries with such different histories, positions in the global economy, and experiences with colonial and post-colonial power? One possible factor, though not a sole cause, is the global exportation of the European state form through colonization without which totalitarianism as a modern phenomenon would never have appeared, first in Europe then elsewhere. Yet paradoxically, totalitarian struggles both rely on the state to leverage power and disparage it as a corrupt, elitist, and bureaucratic edifice that impedes the people’s movement (however the people might be defined). Along with the state, then, perhaps the revolutionary European idea of the sovereign “people,” understood abstractly, who must face no constraints lest their freedom be diminished, plays a powerful rhetoric role.

This roundtable will have each participant delivering a prepared response to a question about contemporary totalitarian trends written by another participant. This approach moves the roundtable participants out of their ethnographic specializations so that they can apply their anthropological insights to basic questions about global political trends. Those questions will also prompt audience members to participate during the discussion period.

Please contact Greg Feldman ( if you are interested in participating. Please note that an active research agenda on this topic is not required, but rather a desire to engage with this multi-faceted phenomenon that cannot be put into a specialized box.


Contact David Haines, ASAP

Organizer: David Haines (George Mason University)

Much recent anthropological work has stressed how fundamental mobility is to the human condition. People move in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons. Even in the most sedentary societies there is often great mobility: young men move for trade and war and sometimes marriage; young women move for trade and marriage and sometimes war. In other societies movement is endemic and expanding. The conventional categorizes for all this mobility tend to distinguish mobility as temporary or permanent, but the truth often lies in between. There are also conventional categories for the reasons for mobility—particularly economic versus political—but once again the truth often lies in between. Human beings move in ways that blend different reasons for unpredictable duration, thus escaping the categories meant to constrain the meanings of their mobility. The complexities of migration are even more forbidding when we remember that mobility is not only an aspect of individual lives but of family and group lives both at the present and over the generations.

Human beings are adept—whether intentionally or not—at escaping the analytic categories aimed to entrap them. That is especially the case with mobility since those who move are moving not only through space but through different sets of analytic categories that are anchored in a range of political and cultural contexts. This makes human mobility a difficult but intriguing anthropological subject. It also presents a fundamental conundrum for an anthropology of policy. Do we simply analyze in an academic manner this intertwining of culture, politics, and policy? Or do we aim instead for more instrumental goals, a rational policy model that is more inclusive of the range and complexity of human mobility? Simply put, are we unpacking policy for analytic purposes or repacking it for instrumental ones?

The panelists in this session address this conundrum in various ways. The papers include a range of migrants and a range of contexts in which policy about the migrants is formulated, implemented, and assessed. The range of migrants may be great, but the range of the contexts may be even greater: from such traditional contexts of policy-making as national governments to the larger scale of international coordination on the one hand, and to the smaller, more localized scale at which policy is shaped into action.

If you think you have something that might fit here, please send a quick note to David Haines ( with a few sentences about what you are thinking you might do.


ASAP would like to work with you as you prepare an ASAP sponsored panel and/or event for AAA 2020. Our Program Committee can help you find discussants, apply for funding, and help organize. See below for more information, important dates, and CFPs for specific panels and roundtables. If you would like a CFP for a panel or roundtable you are organizing to be listed, please contact ASAP Communications Director, Georgia Hartman at



Do you have a policy-oriented panel or roundtable in mind for the AAA Meetings in St. Louis? ASAP can work with you to prepare and sponsor your panel. The ASAP Program Committee can comment on your abstract and make suggestions as to discussants you might consider. We are also happy to circulate your call for papers via our communication channels (listserv, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook). We are enthusiastic about any proposal related to policy and are particularly interested in proposals that bring in engaged researchers, policymakers, and community activists.

Please contact Diane O’Rourke ( with inquiries and/or suggestions.  Note in the subject line: ASAP 2020 Proposal



Are you interested in organizing a community-oriented event or mentoring session? ASAP is happy to help you in event planning, sponsorship, and in applying for funding and guest registration waivers from the AAA. Our ASAP Program Committee will work with you on organizing the details. Please contact us by March 5 if you have an interest in working with ASAP to apply for these funds. All applications must be through a section, such as ASAP.

Please contact Diane O’Rourke ( with inquiries and/or suggestions.  Note in the subject line: ASAP 2020 Proposal



April 1 - Deadline for registration fee waiver for non-AAA members
March 24 - Deadline for submission of Community Engagement Grant proposals
April 24 (3 pm ET) - Deadline to Start a New Submission
April 29 (3 pm ET) - Deadline to Complete all General CFP Submissions

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