Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2018

Anthropologies and Aftermaths: Thinking, Narrating, and Writing Disturbances

Associate Professor Catherine Fennell, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, USA

Course dates: 30 July - 3 August 2018

Application procedures

Main disciplines: Anthropology,
Sociology, History

Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants

Course overview / learning outcome
From passing industrial orders and financial collapses to increasingly weird weather, anthropologists have become preoccupied with events or processes that our interlocutors register as discrete and intense systemic disturbances. These would be events or processes understood to severely unsettle, even utterly destroy, given, anticipated, or promised life worlds. Leaving aside the question of whether or not such understandings are unprecedented or even warranted, this course considers how anthropologists might attend to our interlocutors' efforts to inhabit the remainders of discrete seeming disturbances. We will be especially interested in thinking, writing, and narrating the stretches of time, space, and things that pile around disturbances. It proposes to route that consideration through the concept metaphor of  "the aftermath." This course will be of interest especially for students of anthropology, history, and sociology eager to develop tools and strategies for analyzing and writing about contemporary uncertainty.

"Aftermath" most often refers to the consequences of a disastrous event. Yet its etymological roots suggest something far less calamitous: the growth that immediately follows the mowing of grass or some other crop. This growth is not so much new as it is an extension or intensification of whatever had been already cultivated in place. Unlike the romantic charge of "the ruin" or the redemptive charge of "afterlife," "the aftermath" challenges us to keep destruction and continuity in constant tension. It pushes us to engage the practicalities, impossibilities, enticements, and mourning that comes with navigating the remainders of a disturbance. Our work with "aftermath" will frame several larger questions: How might the concept's assertion of a direct and continuous relationship between destruction and durability challenge us to develop analytical approaches appropriate for an age characterized by anxieties and excitements surrounding unsettled futures? How might thinking with the aftermath, specifically, with how it foregrounds the social and material remainders of disturbed systems, refine our approaches to temporality, materiality, embodiment, emplacement, and other meaningful dimensions of social life? Finally, how might anthropologists experiment with a range of representational strategies to capture and effectively convey the lived experiences of inhabiting aftermaths and their remainders?

The seminar's structure mimics the work that young anthropologists and more broadly, young historians and ethnographers have ahead of them: developing and refining appropriate conceptual frameworks, and learning to write with these frameworks in ways that animate empirical materials (to be) gathered in "the field" or "the archive." To model possibilities, we will devote every morning to broad conceptual framings, and every afternoon to fairly recent texts selected to help us imagine the possibilities of our own analysis and writing. Our texts will span several disciplines and even genres, and take up cases that include "natural" and "man made" disasters, political turmoil, toxicity, waste, and industrial decay.

Seminar Expectations and Assignments
I have organized this seminar around engaged lecturing and collegial discussion, as both are critical to the work of gaining facility and experimenting with ideas. Students will come to each session prepared to contribute in two ways. First, I expect students to have read assigned material so that they can engage key ideas presented in the lecture component of each session. Second, I expect students to prepare two to three questions for each session that will advance collective discussion. Students should not worry if they are less familiar with this kind of instructional format. I will give them ample opportunity and strategies to practice and I will invite them to develop discussion questions that directly engage their own research interests. The last day will include a chance for students to informally present ideas for their final assignment, an essay of 6,000 - 8,000 words.

Course books

  • Alexich, S. 2017. The Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Bataille, Georges. 1989 [1967] The Accursed Share. New York: Zone Books.
  • Limpert, M. 2010. In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Koselleck, R. 1985. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Scott, D. 2014. Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice. Durham: Duke University Press.

Any edition of the above books is acceptable. They are all available through online booksellers. All other reading assignments will be made available as pdf files. Film screenings will be arranged.


July 30: Rupture, Revisited

Session 1 - Readings

  • Sahlins, M. 1985. Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, selections.
  • Trouillot, M. 1995. "The Power in the Story," in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Books, 1-30.
  • Ricoer, P. 1980. "Narrative Time," Critical Inquiry. 7(1): 169-190.
  • Benjamin, W. 1969. "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. New York, Shocken Books.

Session 2 - Readings:

  • Roitman, J. 2015. Anti-Crisis. Durham: Duke University Press, selections.
  • Sharpe, C. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press, 1-62.
  • Masco, J. 2017. "The Crisis in Crisis," Current Anthropology. 58(15): 65-76.

Suggested reading:

  • Boym, S. 2001. "Hypochondria of the Heart: Nostalgia, History, and Memory" in The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, 3-74.

July 31: Futures Lost, Stayed and Scrambled

Session 3 - Readings:

  • Koselleck, R. 1985. Futures past: On the semantics of historical time. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, selections.
  • Scott, D. 2014. Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice. Durham: Duke University Press, selections.

Session 4 - Readings:

  • Appel, H. [forthcoming]. "Infrastructural Time," in The Promise of Infrastructure. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Munn, N. D. 2004. The 'becoming-past' of places: Spacetime and memory in 19th century, pre-civil war New York. Suomen Antropologi 29: 2-19.
  • Tambar, K. 2017. "The Uncanny Medium: Semiotic Opacity in the Wake of Genocide," Current Anthropology 58(6): 762-784.
  • Muir, S. n.d. "Monumental Corruption: Civic Life in an Age of Routinized Crisis."
  • Limpert, M. 2010. In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town. Stanford: Stanford University Press, selections.
  • Walley, C. and Boebel C. Exit Zero. [**screening to be arranged**]

August 1: Remainders: Ruination

Session 5 - Readings:

  • Simmel, G. 1958. "The Ruin." Hudson Review 11(3): 379-385.
  • Murphy, M. 2008. “Chemical Regimes of Living.” Environmental History 13 (4): 695-703.
  • Navaro-Yashin, Y. 2012. "Affective Spaces, Melancholic Objects: Ruination and the Production of Anthropological Knowledge," JRAI 15(1): 1-18.
  • Stoler, A.L. 2016. "Imperial Debris and Ruination," in Duress: Imperial Durabilities in our Times. Durham: Duke University Press, 336-379.

Session 6 - Readings:

  • Agard-Jones, V. 2014. "Spray." Somatosphere. http://somatosphere.net/2014/05/spray.html
  • Collier, S. 2011. Post Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 202 - 240.
  • Gordillo, G. 2014. Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction. Durham: Duke University Press, selections
  • Karrabing Film Collective. 2015. Windjarrameru (The Stealing C*nt$). [** screening to be arranged **]

August 2: Remainders: Exhilaration

Session 7 - Readings:

  • Bataille, Georges. 1989 [1967] The Accursed Share. New York: Zone Books, Pt. 1-2, 5.
  • Stoekl, Allan. 2007. "Bataille's Ethics," "Orgiastic Recycling," and "An Unknowable Future," in Bataille's Peak: Energy, Religion, Postsustainability. Minneapolis: University of       Minnesota Press, 32-59, 115-149, 180-205.
  • Stewart, K. 2011. "Atmospheric Attunements," Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 29(3): 381-383.

Session 8 - Readings:

  • Varda, Agnes. 2002. The Gleaners and I (les glaneurs et la glaneuse). New York: Zeitgeist Films. [** screening to be arranged**]
  • Cooper, Drea and Canepari, Zackery. 2011. "Cannonball," http://californiaisaplace.com/cali/cannonball/#cannonball
  • Edensor, Tim. 2005. Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics, Materiality. New York: Berg, 53-124.
  • Reno, Joshua. "Leaky Bodies" and "Going Shopping" in Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 22-57, 98-135.
  • Tsing, A. 2016. Mushroom at the End of the World, selections.
  • Choy, T. and Zee, J. 2015. "Condition—Suspension." Cultural Anthropology 30(2): 210-223.

August 3: Writing Disturbances

Session 9 - Reading

  • Sebald, W.G. 2004. The Natural History of Destruction, Modern Library Paperbacks, 3-104.

Session 10 - Readings

  • Alexich, S. 2017. Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future, Penguin, selections
  • Southwood, K. 2013. Falling to Earth, Europa Editions, selections
  • Robinson, K.S. 2017. New York 2140, Orbit Books, selections

The lecturer
Catherine Fennell is associate professor of Anthropology at Columbia University in the City of New York. Her work examines the social and material legacies of houses and housing in the late industrial urban United States.

Questions about this PhD course and the application procedures may be directed to Senior Executive Officer Tron Harald Torneby.

Tags: Summer School, Ethnography, History, Anthropology, PhD, Sociology
Published Nov. 16, 2017 8:37 AM - Last modified Feb. 5, 2018 9:35 AM