Call for Papers:  
A New Anthropology of Revolution

2014 AAA Annual Meeting
Washington, DC — December 3–7, 2014

Deadline for abstracts: March 31. (Submission by March 26 very much appreciated.)
Posted online at

Surveying the limited anthropological contribution to the study of political revolution, Bjørn Thomassen asked in a 2012 article, “Why are anthropologists so strikingly silent about political revolutions?” He used this absence to issue a clarion call: “the study of political revolutions ought to figure more prominently in both ethnography and anthropological theory.” Even as it was being described, this observed disconnect between anthropology and revolution was ending. Anthropologists have increasingly been on-the-scene in major upheavals including Latin American revolts against neoliberalism and regime-unseating protest movements from Argentina to Egypt to Thailand to Ukraine. Arguably, this new engagement with the experience and process of revolution is now bearing fruit. This panel is part of the process by which a new anthropology of revolution is being produced.

Anthropology offers several angles of insight into political revolution. Observers have called for an anthropological role for revolution around the cultural construction of politics, the ritualistic nature of revolutionary actions, and the lived experience of revolutionary events.  Both ethnographic engagement and a cultural approach to concepts like a popular mandate, democracy, and “the people” can help explain how political actors and actions produce revolution.  Some early anthropological attempts to theorize revolution extended the anthropology of other aspects of social life into heady moments of political transformation. The revolutionary experience was as an extension of religious feeling for Emile Durkheim and of liminality and communitas for Victor Turner.  Contributors to this panel may explore how anthropology can help reconceptualize the concept and process of revolution.

The late twentieth-century fracturing of the international left and criticism of grand narratives pushed attention away from revolution as an object of anthropological study. In the decades since, more anthropological attention has been paid to resistance and local political action than to societywide transformations. Nonetheless, serious examination of resistance, autonomy, the subaltern, and the domains and weapons of “the weak” offer a valuable new perspective. Panelists are invited to discuss how such approaches “from below” can offer insight into classical and contemporary forms of revolution.

Recent years have seen major political upheavals that expand quickly, involve enormous numbers of people, and rely less on armed violence as a means. These characteristics have allowed ethnographers, who carry out time-limited fieldwork with a limited capacity to risk their lives, to experience revolutionary changes and document dramatic events at a closer distance. Ethnographers are encouraged to use this panel to reflect on these experiences. How is new ethnographic engagement with disruptive politics and political turning points changing our view of revolution?

Is contemporary revolution a different social object than in previous decades? Is revolution undergoing a change in form and meaning as it becomes more approachable? What theoretical reflections emerge from a closer engagement between ethnographers and revolution? What is the place of ethnographic reportage in the swirling processes of communication through which on-the-ground events become a society-wide revolution and a worldwide spectacle?

Please send your title and abstract to Carwil Bjork-James via e-mail to c.bjork-james [at] Abstracts may be of any length, but panelists should prepare to submit an abstract of 250 words or less, and to register for the conference by April 10. Conference details are online at

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