Introduction: An Otherwise Anthropology

From the Series: An Otherwise Anthropology

A Luta Continua (The Struggle Continues). Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg.
Photo by Laura McTighe. A Luta Continua (The Struggle Continues). Constitutional Court of South Africa, Johannesburg.

The otherwise in all its plentitude vibrates afar off and near, here but also, and, there.
—Ashon T. Crawley, “Stayed | Freedom | Hallelujah

In recent years, the concept of the otherwise has been tracking across anthropology to name and frame political potentialities that are still emerging. Often drawing on phenomenological and continental theoretical lineages, anthropologists of the otherwise have worked to glimpse that which has been prefigured but not formed; to speculate possibilities beyond our dystopic present; or to hold and open a place for relations or actions that don’t quite fit into liberal understandings of politics. However, in other fields, such as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, postcolonial, queer, and gender studies, the otherwise has been understood and felt to enjoin scholars to an enduring struggle for liberation. Within these fields, and their firm foundations in social movements, the otherwise summons simultaneously the forms of life that have been able to persist despite constant and lethal forms of surveillance, as well as the possibility for, even the necessity of, abolishing the current order and living into radical transformations of worlds.

As the contributors to this collection have found, these liberatory commitments can (and already do) have palpable and challenging effects when smuggled into the space of ethnographic inquiry. Indeed, that is the point. We are women, femmes, and nonbinary people; Black, Indigenous, people of color, and white accomplices. As junior scholars, we have aligned ourselves with emancipatory, decriminalizing, life-affirming social projects that have unapologetically transformative demands. For the last four years, we have been asking one another and our co-thinkers on the ground: What kind of anthropology can contribute to this deep and enduring practice of otherwise world building? It is through this sustained work that we have learned that we must get closer and work harder than merely glimpsing otherwise political potentialities, lest we become complicit in perpetuating the same forms of colonial violence of sight, surveillance, and voyeurism under and amid that which existing otherwise worlds have fought to persist. Working harder means opening ourselves, as well as our embodied and institutionalized ways of doing anthropology, to the possibility of conversion and to being transformed in the process (Jackson 2005).

Together, we call for a move from the anthropological study of the otherwise to an Otherwise Anthropology. We focus our labors constructively towards experimenting with and modeling how theories of “otherwise possibilities” (Crawley 2016, 2) call us into different forms of being together in our field sites, communities, and institutions: work that is tactile, iterative, relational, and involving. Our work begins from and proceeds through a critical hapticality borne of longstanding and transformative commitments to liberatory projects: to “feel that what is to come is here” in the words of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013, 98). We align ourselves with anthropologists who are unapologetic in showing up in their field and writing in the fullness of their own being (Simpson 2014; Cox 2015; Shange 2016), whose fugitive stance is borne of the ethnographer’s ever-situated embodiment (Berry et al. 2017) and of our commitment to reciprocal and redistributive relations of effort and scholarship (Rosas 2018). We swim in the wide wake of decolonizing methodologies (Smith 2012; Sharpe 2016) as we reckon with and rework the power relations we, however inadvertently, inherit when we become anthropologists; we also own the contemporary complicities (Cacho 2012; Gomberg-Muñoz 2018) that demand we work harder to build otherwise worlds alongside. We extend approaches that seek to disclose possibility through hermeneutic interpretation by working to pursue those possibilities alongside (Povinelli 2002; Zigon 2019). In so doing, this Otherwise Anthropology takes to heart Deborah A. Thomas’s (2011) claim that reparative (M4BL 2019) thinking (and doing) is the key in which to enact today’s engaged anthropological ethics, building together, day after day, in the spaces of our most intimate fieldwork and institutional relations.

In the provocations that follow, diverse in regional focus and content, we develop a set of epistemological tools and ethical stances for building and doing an Otherwise Anthropology. These texts push us to refuse scholarship that studies violence in ways that rehearse and further entrench the norms of racialized terror; they also demand that we begin to repair these from the relations of anthropological praxis itself. These texts are attuned to concerns like, What are the ethico-methodological principles that ground this Otherwise Anthropology? What elements and tactics do we use with our interlocutors, comrades, and colleagues to not only document what is, but to actively build together what could be? And how does this skin-in-the-game pursuit transform the discipline? The transformations of an Otherwise Anthropology are accountable to the needs, demands, and world-building visions of the otherwise projects to which we are accountable. Co-thinking necessitates co-authorship, and of texts that vary in genres beyond the published research manuscript; the siphoning of grant resources into otherwise projects; and the generation of a category beyond the critical/applied binary that mixes radical theory with grassroots relevance, and swaps instrumentality for liberation. We write for many reasons: to make sense, to document, to write something more into being. What would happen if we were up front with each other and our institutions about these relations and stakes, and worked from this intimate space of involvement?

“Together we must move like waves,” activist-author adrienne maree brown (2017, 16) beckons. We offer these Otherwise Anthropology essays in this spirit, as an emergent and tactical toolkit—to show up for the discipline’s debts, and to conjure the words, modes, and methods for moving in concert to shape change and change worlds.


Berry, Maya J., Claudia Chávez Argüelles, Shanya Cordis, Sarah Ihmoud, and Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada. 2017. “Toward a Fugitive Anthropology: Gender, Race, and Violence in the Field.” Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 4: 537–65.

brown, adrianne maree. 2017. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico: AK Press.

Cacho, Lisa Marie. 2012. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York: New York University Press.

Crawley, Ashon T. 2016. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press.

Cox, Aimee Meredith. 2015. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Gomberg‐Muñoz, Ruth. 2018. “The Complicit Anthropologist.” Journal for the Anthropology of North America 21, no. 1: 36–37.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.

Jackson, John L., Jr. 2005. Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

M4BL. 2019. “Reparations Now Tool Kit.”

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2002. The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Rosas, Gilberto. 2018. “Fugitive Work: On the Criminal Possibilities of Anthropology.” Hot Spots, Fieldsights, September 26.

Shange, Savannah. 2016. “Unapologetically Black?Anthropology News 57, no. 7: e64–66.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd edition. London: Zed Books.

Thomas, Deborah A. 2011. Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Zigon, Jarrett. 2019. War on People: Drug User Politics and a New Ethics of Community. Oakland: University of California Press.