CALL FOR PAPERS – AAA 2012: Imagined Crossings: Ethnographic reflections on new idioms of connection and the re-imagination of boundaries


Imagined Crossings: Ethnographic reflections on new idioms of connection and the re-imagination of boundaries

Idioms of “connection”, “networks”, and “flows” have become powerful metaphors in multiple socio-cultural contexts in both quotidian and academic life (see Barry 2001, Leitner 2012, Mattelart 1999, 2000, Riles 2000,and Strathern 1996). These categories are of methodological and analytical concern to anthropologists, but are also “native” categories of relating for many of our informants. Connecting disparate points in a social field is often represented as a seemingly self-evident value of democratic and liberal ideologies; the perceived ability of “networks” to transcend structural boundaries in social, political, economic and geographic spaces being but one chief example. This panel asks what this implies for our understanding of social life in a world increasingly portrayed as more “connected”; a world in which technologies, social relations, economic institutions and ideologies are increasingly portrayed as boundless and uncontainable. Taking these idioms primarily as emic categories, this panel seeks to explain the significance of “connection” for understanding social relations and personhood in a “connected” world.

This panel seeks papers that share an approach to idioms of connection as emic categories and which contribute to an ethnographic understanding of what is sometimes assumed to be a single global movement towards the creation, recognition and exploitation of connections in economic, sociotechnical and geopolitical spaces. (e.g. Castells 2000, Benkler 2006, Grewal 2008).  Providing a more nuanced view of these idioms as cultural constructions enables us to ask how imaginations of “networks”, “connectedness” and boundary crossing both: a) shape local actors’ experiences of their social and cultural worlds, and b)  shape those actors’ social and cultural responses to imagined crossings.

Some questions that such papers might address:

  • How do these idioms of connection (e.g. social networks) challenge anthropologists’ methodological and analytical practices? How might this affect what anthropologists can say? Are our informants’ social models pre-empting our own?
  • What value (economic, social, political…) do connections carry for our informants, and which values (ethical, moral, cultural…), do they connect?
  • How do people constitute connections as “resources” and “flows” in different imaginations of connection?
  • Which actors can be connected and which cannot?
  • Which actors can travel across borders traversed by connections and which cannot?
  • What kinds of spaces are joined in these crossings?
  • What new boundaries  are elided by connections?
  • What new boundaries might these connections create?
  • How are different idioms of connection contested or co-opted?
  • How do connections construct social lives and personhood?
  • How do different imaginations of connection challenge existing anthropological understandings of reciprocity, gift/commodity societies, kinship, hierarchy…?

CFP: Please submit a 250 word paper abstract to David Leitner ( ) and ( ) by April 2, 2012.  Accepted papers will be notified by 7 April and must have current membership in the AAA and have registered and paid for the 2012 meetings BEFORE April 15, 2012.


Barry, Andrew

2001 Political machines : governing a technological society. London: Athlone.

Benkler, Yochai

2006 The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.

Castells, Manuel

2000 The rise of the network society / Manuel Castells: Blackwell Publishers.

Grewal, David Singh

2008 Network power : the social dynamics of globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Leitner, David S.

2012 “Evoking Ignorance: Abstraction and Anonymity in Social Networking’s Ideals of Reciprocity”. In Anthropology of Ignorance. J. Mair, A. Kelly and C. High, eds. London: Palgrave pp. 87-118.

Mattelart, Armand

1999 Mapping Modernity: Utopia and communications networks. In Mappings. D.E. Cosgrove, ed. Pp. 169-192. Critical views. London: Reaktion Books.

2000 Networking the world, 1794-2000. Minneapolis, Mn. ; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Riles, Annelise

2000 The Network Inside Out. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Strathern, Marilyn

1996 Cutting the Network. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2(3):517-535.