Futures and Ruins: A Workshop on Crisis and Possibility

March 25 – 26, 2016

Duke University

Department of Cultural Anthropology

Crisis is increasingly articulated as either a globalizing thread of shared consciousness (Masco 2015), or a constructed object of analysis that lacks theoretical specificity (Roitman 2013). Still, from certain perspectives, the contemporary moment does seem to be increasingly conditioned by unsustainable economic, ecological, and political processes that are infused with violence on many registers. Many social theorists have deployed concepts such as “necropolitics,” “precarity,” and “crisis” to capture the stifling aspects of contexts that appear to be determined by a sense of uncertainty, decay, and ruination. At the same time, others are announcing the reemergence of collective dreamworlds, hope, and utopian ambitions from places that, until very recently, were presented as classic examples of economic, ecological, and political crises. Eschatology, the Anthropocene, and impossible situations inhabit a global space-time that is also labeled the ascendant “African,” “Asian,” and “Southern” century. Is it possible to account for the coeval feeling of pending global ecological and economic disaster, and the emergence of unbridled optimism, retro-futurism, and new discussions of the “good life” in a single discussion? What methodologies may we explore to think through the temporalities of crisis, the conditions from which crises emerge as well as the practices that orient ruined worlds towards aspirational futures?

For more information, visit http://sites.duke.edu/futuresruins/

A lecture by Paja Faudree

Monday, April 18, 2016
Friedl Building, Room 225

More details will be announced soon

RESCHEDULED from February 15

Love of Plants: Comparative Botany and Local Worlds of Healing
A Lecture by Judith Farquhar and Lili Lai

Monday, March 21, 2016
Friedl Building

Herbalist healers in Southwest China talk enthusiastically about climbing into the mountains to gather medicinal plants.  Their love of local herbal medicines has much in common with botanizing in history and in many parts of the world.  This talk considers love of plants as both a global and a local phenomenon and as an occasion for sometimes conflictual encournters in China.

Judith Farquhar is Max Palevsky Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Her previous work has focused on traditional medicine and everyday health in China.  She is currently co-authoring, with Lili Lai of Peking University, a book tentatively entitled Gathering Medicines in the Mountains: Nation, Body and Knowldege in China's Ethnic South.

Lili Lai is an Associate Professor in Anthropology in the Institute of Medical Humanities at Peking University.  She received her PhD in cultural Anthropology from UNC-CH in 2009.

Being “No Less of a Person”: Intimacy, Disability, and the Limits of Life After War

A lecture by Zoë Wool

Monday, March 7, 2016
Friedl Building, Room 225

This talk addresses the intimate dependencies through which the lives of injured U.S. soldiers are remade and sustained in the aftermath of war violence.  Thinking through questions of gendered personhood, sociality, and disability, I suggest that the heteronormative narrowing of the good life after war—and the normative form of the body that ought to live it—narrows the horizon of what counts as life at all. 

Zoë H. Wool is assistant professor of anthropology at Rice University, and author of After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed (Duke UP, 2015).

For more information, please contact Maria Maschauer at

An Anthropology of Creative Process
A lecture by Anand Pandian

This talk presents elements of a book forthcoming this winter from Duke University Press, Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation. Based on close fieldwork with Tamil filmmakers, artists, musicians, and craftsmen in the south Indian movie studios of “Kollywood,” the book examines how ordinary moments become elements of a cinematic world. The project pursues the sensory richness of cinematic experience, the challenge of thinking with the visceral power of sound and image, and the adventure of a writing true to these sensations. 

Anand Pandian teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His books include Ayya’s Accounts: A Ledger of Hope in Modern India (2014) and Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (2009).

Monday, November 9, 2015
Friedl Building, Room 225

Cultural Anthropology is pleased to present

The Crisis in Crisis
A lecture by Joseph Masco

Monday, September 21, 2015 
Friedl Building, Room 225

This paper interrogates the current over-deterimination of “crisis" in American media and political cultures.  It compares the two existential dangers our our times — nuclear crisis and climate crisis — and analyzes current U.S. policy proposals which extend rather than eliminate these ultimate forms of danger.  Thus, it considers the historical terms whereby “crisis” has become a counter-revolutionary force in American Society, a means of preserving infrastructures of violence rather generating transformational processes.  In doing so, the paper explores the affective logics and political sensibilities necessary for mobilizing alternative collective futures today.  

Joseph Masco is a professor of anthropology and science studies at The University of Chicago.  He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico, and most recently, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror

For more information, please contact Maria Maschauer at

Cultural Anthropology is pleased to present

Curricular Creativity:  Can Anthropology as Critical Practice Trump “the Department” as Institutional Fortress?
A lecture by Richard Handler

Monday, September 7, 2015 
Friedl Building, Room 225

Anthropologists as individual teachers are imaginative when it comes to creating new courses, but anthropologists organized into departments, the fundamental administrative unit of liberal arts institutions, are less creative when it comes to thinking about the curriculum as a whole.  Often, our desire to protect and promote anthropology as a discipline hinders our willingness to reinvent anthropological wisdom as a practice to sustain liberal-arts perspectives against instrumental approaches to education that are currently so seductive for students, parents, and administrators.  Yet our unwillingness to think anthropologically about the total curriculum confines us to an irrelevancy we bemoan. 

Richard Handler is a cultural anthropologist who has written on nationalism and the politics of culture, museums and the representation of history, anthropology and literature, and the history of Boasian anthropology.  He is currently Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Program in Global Studies at the University of Virginia. 

For more information, please contact Maria Maschauer at

In the news
Professor Ralph Litzinger

Plight of teen prompts education debate, protest in China

Sat, Dec 22 02:07 AM EST


Professor Ralph Litzinger is the recipient of the  DukeEngage Excellence in Mentoring Award (for Faculty/Staff Mentors of Independent Students)

The DukeEngage Excellence in Mentoring Award is presented to a faculty mentor or administrator who has demonstrated exceptional mentorship to DukeEngage Independent Project participants, and exceptional leadership and vision in promoting civic engagement within higher education.  Congratulations Ralph!

Dwayne Dixon Zine Collection Expands

Dwayne Dixon, a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Duke,  recently donated a treasure trove of new titles to his zine collection part of the Sallier Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.

The Center for African and African American Research
has been awarded a major NEH grant for the support of our John Hope Franklin Young Scholars Program.  Next year’s program will be called “Crafting Freedom,” concerning now African-American craftspeople managed to secure their own and their families’ manumission and make a living under the  oppressive circumstances of the antebellum South.

Hot Spot Issue of the Journal of Cultural Anthropology

CA professor Ralph Litzinger co-edits and contributes an essay on a
Hot Spot issue of the journal of Cultural Anthropology on the recent wave of self-immolations in Tibet. 


Professor Ralph Litzinger is the recipient of the DukeEngage Excellence in Mentoring Award (for Faculty/Staff Mentors of Independent Students)

The DukeEngage Excellence in Mentoring Award is presented to a faculty mentor or administrator who has demonstrated exceptional mentorship to DukeEngage Independent Project participants, and exceptional leadership and vision in promoting civic engagement within higher education. Congratulations Ralph!
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Faculty Profile: Charlie Piot

An Inspiring Generosity: Professor Piot's nominators are awed by his outstanding mentorship and repeatedly stress the impact it has had on their intellectual growth. Two nominators cite his reputation for exceptional mentoring as one of the most critical factors in their decisions to pursue graduate study at Duke. Read…
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Professor Litzinger interviewed

Professor Litzinger interviewed on the links between the Arab Spring and labor politics in the IT industry in China. The Arab Spring's Chinese roots... and future?
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Graduate Student Brian Goldstone

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Graduate Research: The Miraculous Life
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Graduate Student: Kristina Jacobson

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Graduate Research: On the Navajo Nation
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"Reflections of a Major Leaguer: A Conversation with Doug Glanville"

Thursday, March 15, 6 pm Pink Parlor, East Duke Duke Building

Doug Glanville played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. He
is now an ESPN baseball commentator as well as writing for the New York
Times and CNN.com.  He is the author of the recent book The Game From
Where I Stand," and lives in Raleigh with his wife and three children.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Cultural Anthropology, the Center for
African and African American Research, and the Franklin Humanities
Institute Working Group on Sport.


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