Elizabeth A. Povinelli

Keynote Speaker

Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology
Columbia University




My writing has focused on developing a critical theory of late liberalism that would support an anthropology of the otherwise. My first two books examine the governance of the otherwise in late liberal settler colonies from the perspective of the politics of recognition. My last two books examined the same from the perspective of intimacy, embodiment, and narrative form. My ethnographic analysis is animated by a critical engagement with the traditions of American pragmatism and continental immanent theory.



Elizabeth Povinelli presenting her paper @ Disorder Symposium at the University of Sydney. Photo by A.N.


Might Be Something (Again):

Order, disorder and the quasi-event


As the organizers of the Symposium note, anthropology, and social theory more generally, has been enthralled with the dialectical between order and disorder, and the debate about whether ‘Society’ and ‘Culture’ imposes an order onto the natural disorder of human and nonhuman nature; or whether this disorder is interior to any and every social and cultural order itself.

What exactly is this ‘disorder’ that stands estranged from Society and Culture or is secreted into its very heart? Is the opposition between homogeneity and heterogeneity, between composition and decomposition, and between Self and Other, equivalent to the opposition of order and disorder? Is an immanent potentiality within or without every given distribution of order and disorder? And at what level of eventfulness does disorder make its name known?

Using the content and context of a film series written and performed by the Karrabing Indigenous Corporation, this talk teases out the stakes of differentiating the longstanding Anthropological obsession with social and cultural order and disorders—whether stitched together through descent models, symbolic structures and deconstructions, or the reciprocity of the gift—from an attention to the immanent order of quasi-event where the opposition between order and disorder itself falls apart. Quasi-events are quotidian forms of corrosion, unremarkable in the singular, which nonetheless test the limit-load of endurance. What does Anthropology have to contribute at the point where nothing quite is or quite isn’t?