Cultural Production under Late Capitalism, 1994

1994 Chicago

Cultural Production under Late Capitalism

May 13-15

Hilton Hotel and Towers 

Organized by Sherry Ortner

After a gap of almost four months since the last Anthropology Newsletter, it seems a bit deferred to provide a retrospective of the SCA’s Annual Spring Meeting, held in Chicago, May 13-15. The meeting, however, is the Section’s major public intellectual event of the year, and as such merits a brief recapitulation before I give an overview of the SCA’s offerings for the November 1994 AAA Meeting in Atlanta. An extraordinary degree of energy and thought goes into planning and orchestrating the SCA’s annual conference; Sherry Ortner bears the primary responsibility and credit for this year’s meeting and its theme of “Cultural Production under Late Capitalism.” The terms of that rubric came under question during the 2% days of the conference, both during the plenary sessions themselves and perhaps even more so during the afternoon workshops and the final discussion on Sunday. The SCA annual meeting tends to be rather small, which facilitates an intimate sort of exchange among participants. In addition to the six plenary speakers and four discussants-as well as the keynote address by eminent journalist Frances FitzGerald-two days of afternoon workshops allowed a focused engagement with the problematic of late capitalism and its relationship to culture and its production.

The first plenary session, entitled “The Circulation of Signs under Late Capitalism.” explicitly addressed the ways in which objects, soap operas, trademarks, commercials, and news reportage are disseminated and reconfigured through a range of mass-mediated and translocal contexts. Lila Abu-Lughod looked at Egyptian television soap operas and the portrayals of gendered modernity that are purveyed there, portrayals that are often rejected by the women who watch them from afar. Rosemary Coombe’s paper traced the slippery, politically charged trajectories of trademarks-trademarks as both the improbable signifiers of singularity and as the inevitable marks of mass mimesis-in contemporary advertising and everyday contexts in North America. And Ulf Hannerz, in exploring the intersection of anthropology and journalism, spoke of the compelling and often uncomfortably amusing similarities (and therefore differences) between the world of anthropologists and that of foreign correspondents. Thoughtfully discussed by Alma Gottlieb arid Dan Scgal. these papers provided the foundation for the second day’s plenary session. “Stories They Tell Themselves: Reconstructing ‘Culture(s)’ under Late Capitalism.” This session offered a series of studies of specific sites where narratives about culture, capitalism, and locale throw into question the larger narratives that might be implied by a category such as “late capitalism,” or “culture” itself. 

E Valentine Daniel’s title, "Cultivating Culture in a Cultivating Culture: The Case of an Indian Classical Dance,” reveals much about his paper. He worked to show the entangled realities of talk about culture and anything we might distinguish as “culture” outside those entanglements through his discussion of the objectification and class transposition of an Indian classical dance genre. Hugh Gusterson spoke of the rationality and the rationalizations about rationality given by scientists in his chilling ethnography of a nuclear weapons laboratory. And Sylvia Yanagisako questioned current assumptions about capitalism as translocal by her detailed examination of a family firm and its fantasies of continuity in northern Italy, as she also critiqued those versions of transnationalism that would imply that the role of the imagination is somehow amplified under late capitalism. The elegant commentaries by Michael Lambek and Stacy Pigg provided much to think about; the questions all the discussants raised were repeatedly reiterated during the last morning’s discussion--questions about the solidity of categories such as “late capitalism,” the efficacy of the culture concept, the role of the ethnographer, and the politics of anthropology itself. 

Finally, the keynote address by Frances FitzGerald reminded anthropologists how Reagan’s confused yet potent blend of utopian, millenarian, and fundamentalist Christian notions joined with secular technoscience to produce the apocalyptic fantasies of SDI. Together with the workshops (led by Joyce Canann, Don Donham, Julie Skurski, Lawrence Cohen. Lisa Rofel and Timothy Taylor), the lectures and comments presented a intense and critical engagement with a crucial set of concerns for cultural anthropology today. 

In keeping with this sort of engagement, Lila Abu-Lughod (1994 SCA Program Chair) has assembled a striking set of panels and symposia for the AAA Meeting in Atlanta. The SCA will present four invited sessions: The “Culture at Large” panel this year is on “Aesthetics/Anti-Aesthetics” and has been organized by Deboma Battaglia and Fred Myers. Richard Fox has orga- nized a panel called “Culture: Dislecation and Relocation,” which takes a critical look at “global flows” and their implications for theories of culture. “Alternative Modernities” is the theme of a short but innovative session organized by Vincanne Adams. Finally, the SCA is also sponsoring the third session of a mega-panel on cultural studies of science, technology and medicine, organized by Gary Downey, Joseph Dumit, Deborah Heath, and Sharon Traweek. This one is called “Theorizing Intervention: (Re)Imagining Technoscience.” The rest of the program will be put together from volunteered sessions and papers; please check the October newsletter for the complete program. 


Friday, May 13


Plenary Session: The Circulation of Signs under Late Capitalism

Lila Abu-Lughod (NYU)-The Objects of Soap Opera: Egyptian Television and the Cultural Politics of Modernity

Rosemary J Coombe (U Toronto)- Embodied Trademarks: Mimesis and Alterity on Commercial Frontiers

Ulf Hannerz (U Stockholm)-Trouble in the Global Village: The World According to Foreign Correspondents

Discussants: Alma Gottlieb (U Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). Dan Segal (Pitzer C)



The Cultural Production of Aging under Late Capitalism.

Organizer: Lawrence Cohen (UC-Berkeley).

Panelists: John Comaroff (U Chicago), Sharon Kaufman (UC-San Francisco). Andrea Sankar (Wayne State).

The Culture of Production under Late Capitalism.

Organizer: Don Donham (Emory).

Panelists: Nicole Polier (Yale), Bill Roseberry (New School).

The Cultural Production of “the Political” under Late Capitalism.

Organizer: Julie Skurski (U Michigan).

Panelists: Dipesh Chakrabarty (History, U Chicago), Kathy Hall (Chapin Hall, U Chicago), Claudio Lomnitz (NYU)  


Cash Bar 

Saturday, May 14


Plenary Session: Stories They Tell Thentselves: Reconstructing “Culrurels” under Late Capitalism

E Valentine Daniel (U Michigan)- Cultivating Culture in a Cultivating Culture: The Case of an Indian Classical Dance

Hugh Gusterson (MIT)-Modernity in Crisis at a Nuclear Weapons Laboratory

Sylvia Yanagisako (Stanford)-Culture and Capital: Producing the Ties That Bind in Italian Capitalism

Discussants: Michael Lambek (U Toronto), Stacy Leigh Pigg (Simon Fraser U) 


SCA Board Meeting



The Cultural Production of the Body under Late Capitalism.

Organizer: Joyce E Canaan (U Central England, Birmingham).

Panelists: Anne Allison (Duke), Louise Krasniewicz (UCLA), Maureen McNeil (Mt St Vincent U)

The Question of Culture in the Question of the Popular.

Organizer: Lisa Rofel (UC-Santa Cruz).

Panelists: Marilyn Ivy (UWashington), [Others TBA]

Music in a Transnational World.

Organizer: Timothy D Taylor (Music, Denison).

Panelists: Allen Feldman (Nat Dev Res Inst), Charles Keil (SUNY-Buffalo), Henry Kingsbury (Music, Brown), Deborah Wong (Music, U Pennsylvania) 


Keynote Address: SDI and the American Everyman.

Frances FirzGerald