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ASNA Conference 2023

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Theme: Rural Life in Times of Crisis: The Anthropology of Pain and Possibility

Panel Convenors: Leslie Bank and Kate Rice, HSRC-Walter Sisulu University and McGill University 

In South Africa today the rural landscapes of the former homelands are often regarded of the places of the greatest suffering and the least possibility. They have borne the brunt of the history and violence of colonialism/apartheid, migrant labour, poverty, and post-apartheid marginality -- and mostly recently the Covid pandemic. And yet in the context of the multiple crises of rolling blackouts, inadequate services, hunger, and illness, they remain places where people see hope, the hope for recovery, reinvestment, and renewal. 

This return to the rural is not unique to South Africa. Around the world, people are looking at the rural with new eyes. Here they see a landscape that offers a space for the possibility for rebuilding with a greater sense of belonging, meaning and long-term, off-the-grid sustainability -- for new forms of do-it-yourself ruralism and home-making that are incremental and enduring. But the load of colonialism, apartheid forced removals, HIV and Aids, GBV, pandemic death, and the legacies of violence still darken this landscape in South Africa, where hope for the future remains a flickering glimmer. 

So how is possibility and hope constituted in these places against the backdrop of crisis, pain and disaster? How exactly can women, families and communities forge ahead with the weight of history and disadvantages stacked on their shoulders? How do they emerge from a pandemic that has claimed so many lives and rendered them more vulnerable than before?  The panel focuses on the anthropology of possibility by thinking from places of everyday encounter through to what it would take to rebuild the world from the mundane, from the site of the everyday lives and experience.  

In such places of trauma and poverty, rebuilding and recovery comes in small steps, in tiny acts of hope and mutuality that might or might not produce greater possibility. Some of the steps follow well-trodden paths, while others break new ground, yet others offer little more than a search for hope. The anthropology of possibility covers a spectrum that starts with the mere tactics of coping, surviving, and re-anchoring, but can extend to fully blown strategies for rebuilding and amplified possibility. In the latter instances, women, families, and communities innovate, transform, and extend. They create new norms and practices that embrace the co-production of alternative forms of knowledge, life, and science – what we might be called ‘peoples science’.
The papers in this panel reflect on various aspects of coping, recovery, pain and possibility from fieldwork sites in the rural Eastern Cape. They explore everyday meanings and expressions of hope and future possibility in times of crisis.

Panel 1: Rural Assemblies and Possibility. Download below.

Panel 2: Medical Matters: The Pains and Impacts of the Pandemic. Download below.

Panel 3: Moral Economies and State Policy in Practice. Download below. 

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