Moving scales and scales of movement: cosmologies of borders and crossings

Publication date: May 14, 2012 02:56 PM

Start: Jun 12, 2012 09:00 AM
End: Jun 13, 2012 06:00 PM

Location: DFSR, UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW


A graduate workshop organised by the UCL Anthropology CROC (Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture) Research Group.

Inspired by the 2012 AAA annual meeting theme “Borders and Crossings”, this workshop will explore crossings that do not take place solely “across time, space, embodied differences, language and culture” but also across scales. How, we ask, might ethnographic instances of movement (e.g. of people, spirits, concepts) be conceived in relation to different forms of scale (e.g. regimes of value, geo-political orders, ontological frames of reference)?

Scale itself is a slippery concept. Its uses in anthropology range from the literal (e.g. in ethnomathematics, looking at scales as different frames of measurement) to the highly metaphorical, using the term to connote any order that may provide a frame of reference for evaluating or making sense of things (e.g. in speaking of ‘economy’ or ‘politics’ as different scales against which the significance of an action might be gauged). Making virtue of this vague specificity, this workshop starts with the idea that what makes the notion of scale distinctive (compared, for instance, to notions of culture, discourse, or cosmology) is its peculiar fusion of the qualitative with the quantitative (see also Strathern 2004). Scales, we take it, may be conceived as qualitatively differentiated, but their job is, in some sense, also to measure, gauge or even quantify things.

The question of movement, we suggest, brings this dual aspect of scales into focus. Movements that might easily be imagined in quantitative terms (e.g. migration as a transition across geographical space), may also involve a qualitative translation between different ontological regimes (e.g. migrants’ imagining their crossing to Europe in theological terms as a perilous passage into heaven – Pandolfo 2007). Conversely, movements between qualitatively distinct frames of reference may also involve irreducibly quantitative elements (e.g. systems of divination that apportion cosmological value on the basis of complex quantitative algorithms – Holbraad 2009).

The workshop will bring together research students and academic staff in whose work questions of movement and scaling creatively intersect, at the level of ethnography, analysis or methodology. The workshop will address themes including:

  • Migration, trade and other forms of geopolitical movement
  • Biographical careers and personal transitions
  • Movements between cosmological orders and dimensions
  • Processes and techniques of measurement, calibration and commensuration
  • Incommensurability and its effects on movement
  • Forms of movement as devices for scaling or its transgression
  • Scale and movement in anthropological practice and method

Workshop format

This will be a work-in-progress occasion. Instead of presenting formal papers, participants are asked to pre-circulate short extracts from their work (parts of PhD chapters, draft articles, etc.) and then speak to them, in the event, in relation to the workshop themes. The pre-circulated items should not exceed 3-4,000 words and ideally should include ethnographic materials. Students and staff will present their work, and discuss each others’, on an equal basis (same time for all, no formal discussants, etc.).

Workshop practicalities

The workshop will take place at the Department of Anthropology at UCL Tuesday the 12th and Wednesday the 13th of June. A student-led event, it is organised by the Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture Research Group (CROC). While participants will include a number of students and staff from CROC, the event is open to all UCL students and staff wishing to present (up to a total of 25 participants, including guests from beyond UCL). Building on relationships formed with members of anthropology departments in Scandinavia in last year’s Contemporary Cosmologies workshop, part of the aim of the meeting is to deepen links with departments in Norway and Denmark in particular, which currently are among the most dynamic in Europe. Hence the workshop brings together graduate students and staff members from the anthropology departments of UCL, LSE, Goldsmiths, Cambridge, Bergen, Aarhus and Copenhagen. Participants include Allen Abramson, Jo Cook, Annelin Eriksen, Martin Holbraad, Bruce Kapferer, Morten Nielsen, Morten Pedersen, Knut Rio, Michael Scott, Marilyn Strathern and Brit Winthereik.

The workshop is funded by the UCL Anthropology Reading Group and Research Fund.

Workshop registration is now closed.

For further information about the workshop, please contact Alice Elliot  a.elliot@ucl.ac.uk