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300099 Agency: Anthropological Approaches (S) (SoSe 2019)

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Agency gained particular popularity in anthropology through the emergence of social movements during the 1960s and 1970s that required new empirical and theoretical reflections in order to understand and explicate social and cultural transformation, for which structuralist and functionalist theories were rather ill suited. In these earlier writings, agency was often used synonymously with resistance, which not only led to confusion as to what counts as defiance but also reduced human action to the binary logic of dominance and subordination. Another stream of writing – influenced by feminist theory – connected human action to the concepts of self-realization and autonomy. Because of this, other forms of action—wherein free and rational will played little to no role—were either ignored or considered as passive and irrational. Both of these understandings of agency have come under close scrutiny and critique in recent anthropological writings. Thereby, many authors stress that agency cannot be used synonymously with resistance, since there is a range of actions through which humans do not attempt to challenge established power positions but rather act based on different motivations. Resistance in this sense is just one possible type of action. Also, the connection between agency and autonomy is now thought to be the outcome of specific historical conditions of the Western philosophical tradition and has been proved to be less essential in other social and cultural contexts.
What is then agency and how can it be defined? Saba Mahmood, in her influential work titled “Politics of Piety” (2006), proposes that instead of hooking agency to one pre-established definition, one should pay attention to the different modalities and concepts of action evolving in particular historical and cultural settings. Context - as Mahmood is stressing - is important, because it constitutes not only change, but also the means through which transformation is possible (65).
In this seminar we aim to trace the different conceptualizations of agency throughout the anthropological literature. This approach will help us to follow epistemological shifts, which influenced the scientific debates concerned about the relationship between individuals and social structure, action and power.

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Termine (Kalendersicht )

Rhythmus Tag Uhrzeit Ort Zeitraum  
wöchentlich Mi 12:00-14:00 X-E0-226 01.04.2019-12.07.2019
nicht am: 12.06.19

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