Towards an 'Anthropology of Joy': Taking 'Performatives' Seriously

Dr Veronique Benei
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The notion of “performative” elaborated in linguistics by J.L. Austin in the late 1950s has acquired prominence in the humanities and social sciences, especially in anthropology. Drawing on this notion, this paper seeks to explore new avenues for anthropological research.

Over the past decades, a large body of work in anthropology has concentrated on social and political violence and its aftermath. Numerous studies have critically documented situations and experiences of genocide, pain, trauma and suffering. In so doing, they have developed sophisticated theoretical approaches whilst reinstating human dignity and offering insights into individual and collective agency. Yet, if anthropologists are to take the notion of performativity seriously, they should also envisage the unintended discursive effects of such approaches, both for the future of the discipline and for the people whom they “study”. For, if the above mentioned studies have filled a tremendous theoretical and ethnographic gap, they have also unwittingly confined social actors to self-images of sorrow and despair, thereby precluding the possibility for the development of alternative, more hopeful and positive (re-)constructions, (re-)presentations and projections of the self. Lest anthropology become the repository of human desolation, it should now vitally seek to open up alternative spaces, theoretical, methodological and ethnographic allowing for social actors to reconstruct a positive sense of self.

In this paper, by choosing to focus on positive dimensions of social experiences –even in situations of trauma–, I wish to tentatively explore the possibilities and modalities of an “anthropology of joy”.

Keywords: Anthropology, Performative, Pain, Trauma, Suffering, Joy
Stream: Language, Linguistics, Knowledge, Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
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Dr Veronique Benei

Singh Visiting Lecturer, Yale Center for International and Area Studies
South Asia Council
Yale University, Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Veronique Benei is Senior Research Fellow in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Laboratoire d'Anthropologie des Institutions et des Organisations Sociales, Paris) and at the London School of Economics where she has taught since 1997. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in India on marriage, education and nationalism. I authored "La dot en Inde : un fléau social? Socio-anthropologie du mariage au Maharashtra" (1996) and co-edited several volumes, amongst which "The everyday state and society in modern India" (2000), "At home in diaspora. South Asian scholars and the West" (2003), "Remapping Knowledge. The making of South Asian studies in India, Europe and America, 19th-20th centuries" (2005). Her most recent volume, "Manufacturing Citizenship: Education and nationalism in Europe, South Asia, China" was published by Routledge in 2005. She is currently finishing a book on schooling and the daily construction of national affects in western India. Related research interests include globalisation, modernity, citizenship, civil society, diaspora, epistemology of area studies. Recently, my main concern has been with an epistemology of anthropology, seeking to reflect on the possibility of new alternative trends. The presentation in this conference is based on this preliminary reflection.

Ref: H06P0392