At the intersection of Geography and Anthropology


“One of the defining features of the Anthropocene is that the world is changing in ways that compel species to move, and another is that it’s changing in ways that create barriers—roads, clear-cuts, cities—that prevent them from doing so.”

The powerful quote by environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book ‘The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History’, rightly sums up our world today. As the climate changes and the conflicts rage—the walls come up and the borders become tighter. The rich profit, the poor become poorer. Perhaps the inequalities have never been as stark as they are in the Anthropocene. Perhaps, we also haven’t had as many resources and the power to show our dissent and make way for change, until today.

While social media has become a potent tool for narratives that can actually steer on-ground and policy-level change, there is a strong ongoing discussion for academia to be more inclusive, intersectional and accessible. Fieldwork practices and ethnographies need to be re-imagined to be situated in larger socio-cultural contexts and need to include and empower indigenous communities to tell their own stories. A cohesive collaboration needs to happen between social sciences and pure sciences and its dialogues should be easily available for further deliberations.

Resonating this thought, the Royal Anthropological Institute is jointly organising a conference titled, ‘Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future’  with the Royal Geographical Society, with the British Academy, the British Museum and the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS. The four-day conference being held online from 14th-18th September aims to “explore existing dialogues and further conversations on a host of vital issues including the Anthropocene, definitions of ethnology, methodology and fieldwork, contemporary understanding, education and public awareness, and the place of our disciplines in the modern world.” The fundamental idea is to understand the intersectionalities and commonalities between geography and anthropology; two disciplines that have often been studied differently.

Conducted over 4-6 hours each day, the participants can choose from a number of different streams from activism to maps, borders to methodology etc. These streams have various panels under them. All panels and paper-presentations, including about 6 from SOAS, are being chaired by eminent scholars and professors. These panels situate the current happenings of the world at the intersections of anthropology and geography. Some of these include: ‘Identity and Territory in Conflict’ that ‘focuses on interdisciplinary work between geography and anthropology to better frame research on conflict and aid distribution’; Thinking Through Supply Chains: Knowing Asymmetries and (Un)known Associations that ‘brings together anthropologists and geographers to discuss approaches to global supply chains that focus attention on circulation, flows, and asymmetries of knowledge’; ‘Transatlantic museum mobilities: convergences of objects, people and ideas’ that ‘approaches the museum as a site of convergence, [and] considers practices of collection, knowledge production and dissemination’ and many more.

There are also several panels focusing on issues pertaining to particular regions being chaired by researchers and academics native to the region. Some of these include ‘Palaeoanthropology and Environmental Change in the central Rift Valley, Kenya: Kilombe and Baringo’ that ‘focuses on new explorations at Kilombe Mountain at the southern end of the basin, comparing its long term record with others in the region’; ‘Dalits and Social Mobility’ that ‘understands the colonial history and the rise of the Dalit Middle Class in India, and several more about the border and immigrant crisis in Europe’.

Apart from placing current affairs in larger academic contexts; panels such as ‘The Politics of Emotion across Anthropology and Geography’; ‘Watershed Ethnography’;  ‘Re-presenting Indigenous territorialities’ and more also unpack geography and anthropology as academic disciplines; debating on fieldwork practices, the white saviour complex and the politics of representation, its impact on local communities, and the psyche behind studying cultures. Each of these brings us a step closer to understanding the violence in the Anthropocene and how the issues linked to gender, climate change, conflict, mobility, capitalism, caste and race are all inter-connected.

The conference will also address the engagement of research produced through digital media, especially exploring geospatial mapping, and satellite photography. This will be in an attempt to employ the dialogues of the present to the future and to further ensure a more inter-connected and intersectional approach to academia in the coming years.

There are some concessions available to students and delegates from low-income countries. The conference is also looking for volunteers.

For more information about the conference and for registration, click here.

Devyani Nighoskar is a SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. Check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo

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