Annual Meeting 2014

SEG Jahrestagung 2014: Social Anthropology and Global Transformations

Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Museum der Kulturen Basel, and Center for African Studies, University of Basel

Political, economic, ecological, cultural and social transformations are both incentives to and consequences of change in social agency. Increased physical mobility, global connectivity through internet and telecommunication, and access to more or different knowledge and consumer goods worldwide alter ways of being in the world, people’s self-understandings and imaginations of how they can and want to situate themselves in the world. The rapid spread of social media like Facebook and YouTube even to places which are thought to lay outside of the 'digital communality’ opened up new ways of imagining and living sociality as well as new ways of political mobilisation. Many contemporary processes of cultural creativity and expressions constitute novel processes of subjectification and self-stylization (cf. Moore 2011). At the same time, however, the apparent new opportunities and networks also involve and create cleavages and dissociations as well as inequalities.

In view of these dynamics, transitions and new research fields, social anthropologists face many new questions. Do we need to include virtual life worlds into the already complex, often multilocal research practices and how do we methodologically capture them? How can ethnographic museums deal with these virtual life worlds and with objects which are tangible material manifestations of complex global encounters? What can Social Anthropology contribute beyond concepts of differentiation to understand such new cultural (re-)configurations?
Almost 125 years ago the Commission for the Ethnographic Collection at the 'Museum der Stadt Basel' was established, 100 years ago the first lecture in Social Anthropology took place at the University of Basel, and 50 years ago the Institute of Social Anthropology was founded. These major milestones in the history of Social Anthropology in Basel invite to reflect about how university institutes and ethnographic museums adapt to and negotiate these empirical and institutional transformations. How have ethnographic museums transformed over time and how should they display these processes? How have teaching and research changed in university institutes in the last decades? Moreover, the annual conference of SEG/SES in Neuenburg in the year 2009 applied the topic “Transformations. Social Relations, Knowledge, Policy”: Five years after this event, how do we reconsider and review its findings?