News and Events

Visit of Professors Jean and John Comaroff POSTPONED TO MAY 2012 (See new dates below)

The Departments of Classics and Ancient History, and Anthropology, are hosting a visit by Professors Jean and John Comaroff in May 2012. The visit is also sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the China Studies Centre, and the Schools of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, and Social and Political Sciences. Professor Jean Comaroff is Bernard E. & Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. She has undertaken research in Southern Africa and Great Britain, and has written extensively on topics of colonialism, globalisation, and capitalist modernities. Professor John Comaroff is Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. He has undertaken research with the Tswana people of Southern Africa, on topics related to Christianity, witchcraft, political culture and colonialism. During their visit to Sydney, they will offer a Masterclass for postgraduate students, and present a seminar and public lecture.

The Seminar, to which all interested persons are invited, will be held on the 3rd May 2012, 3pm – 5pm in the Mills Bldg Seminar Room 148, and is titled Divine Detection: Crime and the Metaphysics of Disorder. There will be an opportunity to meet with the visitors at drinks after the seminar in the adjacent common room.

For further details contact Dr. Julia Kindt, Department of Classics and Ancient History,

Full details:

Public Lecture: The Great Hall, University of Sydney, Wednesday 9th May 2012, 6 – 8pm
Reflections on Cultural Identity:
Ethnicity, Intellectual Property, and the Commodification of Collective Being

The politics of cultural identity, far from receding with the modernity, appears to have taken on new force in the wake of the cold war – especially with the triumphal rise of neoliberal capitalism on a global scale. This has yielded many efforts to explain the continued salience of ethnicity in a "new" world order that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was widely predicted to dissolve difference in the face of global flows of people, objects, currencies, signs, styles, desires. Less attention, however, has been paid to a subtle shift in the nature of ethnicity: its commodification. This lecture is devoted to showing that, increasingly, ethnic groups across the planet are beginning to act like corporations that own a "natural" copyright to their "culture" and "cultural products" – framed in terms, also, of heritage and indigenous knowledge – which they protect, often by recourse to the law, and on which they capitalize in much the same way as do incorporated businesses in the private sector. Why is this occurring? What are its political, economic, social, and ethical consequences? How is it transforming the nature of ethnicity and citizenship in the nation-state? And what are its theoretical implications for understanding such foundational social science concepts as culture and identity? It is these questions, finally, that Ethnicity, Inc. is addressed.

Seminar: Mills Building Seminar Room 148 (enter via Lower Ground Floor), 3 – 5 pm, Thursday 3rd May 2012
Divine Detection: Crime and the Metaphysics of Disorder

Conceptions of crime are inseparable from conceptions of truth. They are integral, too, to modern modes of producing knowledge – and to the very idea of society as a normative order. Durkheim, after all, saw crime as the negative imprint of the law, a vision linked to the rise of the modernist understanding of detection. This was a form of investigation that no less a sociologist than Sherlock Holmes would term the art of “reasoning backwards,” of arriving at the hidden authorship of illegal acts by deciphering the signature they left in the world. But if modern understandings of law, order, and truth rest on the belief that human interaction – even at its most transgressive – can be made sense of in retrospect, even used in the service of social order, what are we to make of situations in which that faith conspicuously wavers? In which ordinary signs have been occulted, and the drama of crime and punishment no longer seems capable of producing an authoritative, ordered reality? An exercise in “criminal anthropology,” this lecture investigates the metaphysics of disorder so palpable in the popular culture of contemporary South Africa, and elsewhere, seeking to decipher the forensic fetishes it conjures in its wake.

Masterclass: (20-25 graduate students, invitation only) CCANESSA Room, Madsen Building, University of Sydney, TO BE ADVISED
Reading the World from the Global South: How Europe is Evolving toward Africa

“The Global South” has become a shorthand for the world of non-European, postcolonial peoples. Synonymous with uncertain development, unorthodox economies, failed states, and nations fraught with corruption, poverty, incivility, and strife, it is that half of the world about which the “Global North” spins theories. Rarely is it seen as a source of theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the northern hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, ethnic conflict, and other crisis, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? How? In what measure? This seminar takes on these questions, In particular, it asks how we might understand the world anew with theory developed in the south, giving an ironic twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Anthropology for Native Title Workshop

Anthropologies of Change
Theoretical and Methodological Challenges

A Workshop for Native Title Anthropologists
Thursday 25 – Friday 26 August 2011
Marjorie Oldfield Lecture Theatre, University of Sydney

Click here for more detail

Upcoming Book Launch

Diane Austin-Broos Book Cover "A Different Inequality"

“A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate About Remote Aboriginal Australia” by Diane Austin-Broos.

When: Tuesday 16th August 6pm

Where: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe NSW 2037

Click here for more detail

Young Lives, Changing Times: Perspectives on Social Reproduction

In June 2011, the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology hosted a symposium titled “Young Lives, Changing Times: Perspectives on Social Reproduction”,

It was a lively and timely event. Over two days, early career researchers and senior scholars from six Australian and two US universities portrayed the diverse pathways of growing up in the contemporary world. The variety of disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, sociology, political science, cultural studies, geography) matched the variety of research locales and contexts. The speakers portrayed the lives of African migrant youth in Australia, the meaning of violence for young people in a Colombian barrio, ideologies of parenting in the US, the self-understandings of Aboriginal youth in remote Australian communities, the cultural logic in the ‘unruly’ behaviour of young males in Bougainville, the significance of schools as sites of cultural production, the moral encoding of childhood in the context of transnational adoptions, young Indonesians reworking ‘tradition’ as they become cosmopolitan, cultural identification and inventiveness on Easter Island, and legal and ideological constructions of sex work in the Phillipines.

The two keynote speakers, Professor Cindi Katz from the City University of New York and Associate Professor Gary Robinson from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, gave us different, but complementary, perspectives. Cindi’s presentation, “Accumulation, Excess, and Childhood: Towards a countertopography of risk and waste”, explored changes in the position of modern children as postindustrial states try to deal with economic crises. She is observing a disconcerting ‘trade off’: if not always directly, the well being of children in some parts of the world is achieved through the deprivation of children in others. Gary’s paper, entitled “The State, Cultural Competence and Child Development: Perspectives on intervention in the North of Australia”, described a parenting program that aims to improve the relationship between children and their caretakers in Tiwi families. The location of culture, he argued, cannot be simply found in a catalogue of traits or elements of reified traditions. Rather, in order to grasp cultural competence, we need to first look at the social and emotional dynamics of concretely lived relationships, especially between mothers and children. And further, the viability of any support program hinges on that – genuine relationships between program implementers and families. This reflects a cultural logic and practice that contrasts sharply with the Northern Territory Emergency Intervention.

Key themes that emerged across papers include suggestions that young people are mobilising elements of their cultural heritage in order to deal with profound contradictions in their lives. Some of these derive directly from global developments that are transforming domestic and market economies as well as images of a ‘good’ future. One of the consequences is the adjustment of parenting. American families from all class backgrounds, for instance, now seek to raise ‘flexibile’ children, both with a view to work and intimate social relationships. Equally important, there is evidence of resistance (political, cultural) and the grasping of new opportunities among young people in different parts of the world. However, social systems are not necessarily equipped to foster such creative self-assertion. A challenging task then is to safeguard spaces for recuperation and creativity in face of ever-increasing levels of interventions into children’s lives. Finally, the need for interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives was captured with this concluding question: by what conceptual and technical means can we capture the intersections between systemic forces and lived experience?

We aim to release the proceedings online towards the end of this year.

Gillian Cowlishaw and Ute Eickelkamp.

Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds Symposium

In March 2010 the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology hosted a symposium titled ‘Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds’. Now ten peer reviewed papers are available as an online publication on the symposium website

The symposium aimed to explore the role of anthropology as a discipline and of anthropologists in dealing with worlds’ ends. World endings of all kinds affect not only the cultural others who have been the traditional subjects of anthropological enquiry; they are part of the irreversible transformation of life worlds and ecologies everywhere. Anthropological perspectives on crisis, decline and endings challenge dubious generalizations based on familiar but parochial perceptions and experience. The papers here collected represent an initial, very modest, attempt to build on anthropological understandings of life worlds encountering irreversible transformation. Each tackles a specific domain while also, in different ways, wrestling with what is involved in reflecting upon that domain. Contributors were encouraged to present their ideas in an exploratory and open-ended way, and the published papers retain this character.

We invite everyone to access the full text papers and the abstracts on the website: