The Futures of Culture

Hosted by Stellenbosch University, South Africa

3 -6 September 2011


During apartheid, anthropology taught at Afrikaans universities, volkekunde, supported a racist polity through teaching essentialist, biological and evolutionist notions of culture. Such social evolutionist notions of human difference were what anthropologist Franz Boas wrote against when he referred to habituated knowledge and tradition in his notion of the culture concept. In South African liberation struggle discourse, racial and cultural classifications were understood to be socially and politically constituted. Now, here in southern Africa as well as elsewhere in the world, 'culture' is often again used to mean innate, unconscious drives – so it is sometimes used as an alibi for misogyny, sometimes as an alibi for race-hatred. Contributing to a popular tendency to redefine both race and culture as biological, genetic scientists tell us that culture can be found in human DNA. Where do we, who study humans past and present, stand in relation to the tradition of a culture concept? Do we write against a notion of culture, presenting our work in terms of 'community', income-group, language-group, race, class, citizenship? What are the futures of 'culture' as a category to think with? How does a focus on questions of class, materialities and political economy influence or challenge the ways in which we engage with the culture concept? And we wonder what the future of anthropology, and other disciplines in which sociality is considered (such as the social sciences more generally, English Literature, Film and Media studies, Race, Gender and Queer Studies, Disability Studies, African Studies, Cultural Studies, Heritage Studies, Archaeology and History) would look like without a notion of culture. Call for abstracts 2011

The keynote was given by Prof. Akhil Gupta - anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Prof. Achille Mbembe tellenbosch - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology and Prof. Charles Piot - African & African American Studies and Women's Studies at Duke University.

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