Departmental Seminars

Anthropology Department Seminars at the University of Sydney

Seminars: Thursdays 3:00–5:00 p.m.
Seminar Room 148, R. C. Mills Building, Level 1, A26

About the seminars and other department events

The anthropology department at the University of Sydney holds regular seminars for staff, students, visiting anthropologists and colleagues from related fields to exchange ideas and discuss new research. On most Thursdays from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. during the teaching term, an invited speaker presents their work in a seminar, followed by discussion, then usually a light reception and dinner.

For futher information, please contact Terry Woronov, convenor of the symposium.

Semester 1, 2015

Thursday 12 March 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Professor Tamara Jacka
Australian National University
Title: "Village self-government and representation in southwest China"
Abstract: According to recent law, villages in China are “self-governed” by villager committees, whose members are elected by villagers and held accountable to villager assemblies and representative assemblies. Previous studies have focused on the legal institutions of self-government, assuming that, if allowed to operate properly, these will enhance both direct villager participation in governance and the representation of villager interests. In contrast, this paper focuses on local understandings and ideals about political roles and relationships, as constructed and enacted through everyday political claims and practices. The paper draws on recent, qualitative research in four villages in Yunnan, southwest China. During this research, we discovered that neither cadres nor villagers used the word “represent” to characterise the role – or even the ideal role – of members of village government. Furthermore, villagers could not explain what villager representatives do or what “representative” in the title “villager representative” means. This leads us to ask, “How do locals conceive the work-roles and responsibilities of village cadres, and cadres’ relationship with villagers? Is the unfamiliarity with the word “represent” merely a linguistic issue, or does it point to a different conception of the cadre-villager relationship? In addressing these questions, this paper aims both to enrich our understanding of village self-government in China and to contribute to theorising about political representation.

Tamara Jacka is Professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU. Her research interests are in socio-political change and gender relations in contemporary China. Her recent publications include Contemporary China: Society and Social Change (co-authored with Andrew Kipnis and Sally Sargeson, Cambridge Uni. Press, 2013), Women, Gender and Development in Rural China (co-edited with Sally Sargeson, Edward Elgar, 2011), and Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration and Social Change (M.E Sharpe, 2006; Winner of Francis Hsu prize for Best Book in East Asian Anthropology, 2007).

Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 19 March 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Dr Neil Maclean
University of Sydney
Title: In praise of things: autism, interest and humanity
Abstract: Two recent critiques of the history of the contemporary diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder” (DSM V) (Evans 2013, Hollin 2014) have suggested that the combination of a shift from clinical to epidemiological methodologies, along with the increasing salience of cognitive psychology perspectives on sociality, have come at a cost: the marginalisation of the fantasy life of autistic people; the salience of the interpersonal as the reference point for judging what is valuable and functional in human life. The famous ‘Sally-Anne’ child theory of mind experiment remains a key point of reference in such critical perspectives on the diagnosis ( In this paper I link an examination of that experiment to two other models of cognitive and social development that revolve around a three-cornered relationship between two persons and an object: joint attention and pretend play. I use this discussion to raise three questions.
  1. Has the specificity of objects, often recognised as key to the imagination of autistic people, been evacuated in the emphasis on sociality, intention and meta-representation that dominates analyses based on these models?
  2. Is this new form of the autism diagnosis a bellweather for a more general quality of the 20th century social theory in which the specificity of the object disappears in the face of an abstracted sociality?
  3. Returning to the specific circumstances of autistic people what would it mean to start asking questions about relationships to objects in the context of a development into adulthood, as opposed to the early childhood perspective that dominates the framing of autism?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 26 March 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Dr Robin Rodd
James Cook University
Title: Political memory, moral economy and the dialectic of citizenship: The cases of Uruguay, Argentina and Australia
Abstract: This presentation inquires into the relationship between citizenship and the politics of memory relating to state violence. I discuss sites commemorating state violence in Uruguay, Argentina and Australia to explore the ways that these sites reflect and reproduce different moral economies relating to citizenship and the memory of violence. Post-dictatorship Argentina has seen a flowering of public debate, and a vertically and horizontally expansive human rights architecture, develop around a generation of reckoning with genocide. Uruguay has been criticised for choosing impunity over the pursuit of justice relating to dictatorship crimes, but has had three referendums concerning truth and reconciliation. In both cases, there have been public forums spanning governmental and non-governmental organisations, institutional and grassroots approaches. Australia has no recent history of dictatorship or genocide, but off-shores violence through migration and foreign policy. Australia’s war memorials, however, do not accommodate Australia’s post-WW2 military history. This creates a disjuncture between a time when the memorialisation of state violence is part of a story about collective goods – democracy, national identity, freedom – and the present when questions of legitimacy and justice relating to state violence are excluded from sites of memory and public debate. Each of the three cases – Uruguay, Argentina and Australia - raises specific issues about possibilities for democratization or dedemocratization. I argue that dictatorship memory, in spite of being partially co-opted by commercial or political interests, is better than no memory at all. A lack of memory in the context of meaningless ongoing off-shored violence stalls what Balibar refers to as the dialectic of citizenship, producing an atemporal, amoral, state of democracy.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 16 April 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Dr Melissa Demian
Australian National University
Title: The Magic of the Court
Abstract: Papua New Guinea’s Sorcery Act was repealed by its Parliament in 2013, in response to a sensational series of sorcery-related killings and widespread sentiment among the legal profession that the Act was no longer fit for purpose. In particular, the Act’s provision that fear of sorcery could be used as a defence in murder cases was felt to be out of step with the times. No legislation has yet been enacted to replace it. At the level of the National and District Courts, this legal vacuum is largely unproblematic as sorcery-related cases rarely make it that far “up” the country’s legal hierarchy. It is instead the Village Courts which remain at the front line of dealing with sorcery accusations and other cases more obliquely to do with concerns about sorcery. These courts, already operating in an almost total absence of state oversight, are now thoroughly on their own when it comes to dealing with cases acknowledged by many Village Court magistrates as by far the most difficult type brought to them. In this paper I consider a matched set of conundrums. The first is practical: how do Village Courts deal with sorcery-related cases in the absence of any legal framework for them to do so? The obvious answer would seem to be that they must invent sorcery law on the hoof, as it were, which leads to the second and more theoretical conundrum: when the state has declared its disinterest in dealing with an issue of pressing concern to most Papua New Guineans, how does the humble Village Court gather to itself the authority of the state in the face of such disinterest?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 23 April 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Professor Nick Enfield
University of Sydney
Title: Everyday ritual in the residential world: House plans and their social meanings among the Kri of upland central Laos
Abstract: In this paper I discuss current field work with speakers of Kri, a Vietic language of Eastern Central Laos. Kri speakers live high in the watershed of a tributary of the Nam Theun River, where a massive hydroelectric dam project has recently been completed. The field work is centred around descriptive linguistics and ethnography of this group. In this presentation I discuss the social semiotics of Kri houses in relation to local orientations to up-down riverine geography, on the one hand, and in-out kinship inclusion, on the other. These axes provide for a simple but powerful set of principles that ritually constrain both informal and formal behaviour, and that regiment local interpretations of that behaviour, affecting both power and accountability at micro levels. The study is framed within a broader program of comparative research on human sociality from an enchronic perspective.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 30 April 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Dr Åse Ottosson
University of Sydney
Title: "Anti-social’ behaviour, lived security and indigenous-settler forms of belonging in Alice Springs town"
Abstract: Regional service towns in settler nations such as Australia are especially rich, but often overlooked, urban settings for exploring how forms of difference and relations among indigenous and non-indigenous people from a diversity of backgrounds are reorganised and transformed. Based on ongoing research in Alice Springs, Central Australia, this paper develops the analytical concepts of ‘belonging’ and ‘lived security’ in order to disentangle shared and divergent understandings and actions in relation to the hotly debated topic of ‘anti-social behaviour’ in town. I set out to problematise the more conventional approaches to indigenous and non-indigenous relations, division and action in terms of structural inequality, resistance/dominance and radical cultural difference, and the common research focus on indigenous experience. I suggest that to better understand the complexity of day-to-day life and changing relations in indigenous-settler settings we may be better served by attending to the broader range of differentiation put into play when people from a range of backgrounds and life orientations continue to co-produce understandings of themselves and others in shared places.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 21 May 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Professor Katherine Gibson
University of Western Sydney
Title: "Rethinking the Economy with Thick Description and Weak Theory"
Abstract: TBA
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]

Thursday 28 May 2015 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Professor Brett Neilson
University of Western Sydney
Title: SY3
Abstract: SY3 is Australia’s most densely connected data centre. Located in the inner Sydney suburb of Alexandria, this facility is run by the California-based firm Equinix which operates over 100 data centres across 32 cities worldwide. Otherwise known as server farms, data centres have become the nerve centres of the global economy. These vital infrastructures create new forms of power and competitive advantage through peering exchange agreements that enable the physical interconnection of separate, private electronic networks. Focusing on SY3, this paper asks what kind of research object a data centre is. Topics engaged include SY3’s positioning in wider urban and global spatial economies, the political and social realties encountered in the installation’s technical design and operations, the diverse clients and industries invested in the facility, the fibre optic networks to which SY3 connects and the economic significance of low latency communication. From this empirical base some tentative theoretical and methodological proposals about how to study data centres will emerge. In particular, I will ask how, aside from their technical and social dimensions, data centres like SY3 generate ambient conditions that become part of their political effect. Moreover, I will explore the importance of an approach that emphasizes the networked materiality of these infrastructures staying in touch with geopolitical and political economic analyses that take seriously the concept of capital.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]