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CUSAS Masterclass: Dr Ruba Salih (SOAS)

When Nov 07, 2019
from 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Where Seminar room, The Mond Building, Free School Lane
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Masterclass: Dr Ruba Salih (SOAS)

What is anthropology for? Reflections from fields of protracted suffering

Under neoliberal imperatives, academic research and knowledge production is increasingly assessed against its ability to produce profit rather than critical thinking. On the one hand, having to justify its existence against market driven criteria of use-value, the neoliberal university demands that academics make an “impact” by, for example, engaging with and intervening in public debates, producing policy recommendations, finding solutions to contemporary challenges or even enhancing societal well-being.  On the other hand, universities strive to strip academic interventions of their political nature requiring a mandatory neutrality when it comes to contentious political issues. In British universities, it is through regulatory and disciplinary measures such as the Prevent Act that the pressure to make impact while remaining “neutral” is regulated.  Engaged scholars belonging to and writing on communities who have long suffered from violation of human rights for example, such is the case of many Palestinian academics, face a paradox. While their scholarship strives to make an “impact” it is depreciated under the rubric of “activism" and stigmatised as breaching academic canons.   I will suggest that disguised under seemingly liberal notions of ethics, freedom of speech and neutrality lies in fact a dangerous and decidedly political vision of what knowledge should look like and what it should be for, in contemporary academia. The presentation will then delve into what, in the face of these dissonant experiences, appear as particularly urgent questions for anthropologists working with communities living under protracted suffering and oppression:  What spaces are left for maintaining ethical stances towards the communities at risk we work with, in contemporary academia? What epistemological shifts are required to accommodate the multiple positions we inhabit as scholars who wish to be accountable to both their disciplines and their communities?

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