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Purposeful Agency and Governance: A Bridgeable Gap


Venue & Date: University of Kent, Canterbury, U.K. Wed. 15th –Fri. 17th June 2016

Convenors: Giuliana B. Prato, Italo Pardo and Michael Fischer

With specific reference to urban settings and the dynamic interactions between cities and regions, this Conference aims to contribute to increasing our capacity to understand important processes of agency in a worldwide context marked by a growing gap between citizenship and governance.

The Conference will stimulate reflection on the interplay between personal morality and civic responsibility, and between value and action. Anthropologists, and ethnographers more generally, have demonstrated the moral and cultural complexity of individual action and the ways in which misplaced or instrumentally selective moralities in policy and in the production and enforcement of the law encourage exclusion and widen the gap between governance and the governed across the world. They have demonstrated the impact of rules and regulations inspired by concepts that are ambiguous, elusive, biased towards those in power, or badly defined or impossible to apply, thus compounding the perceived weak legitimacy of governance and the law in the broader society.

Ethnographic research has a unique contribution to make to our capacity to understand important processes of agency (individual and collective) and the ways in which agency is capable of influencing the system (Philip Abrams) and encouraging good governance that takes into account the needs and expectations of agency. Anthropological analysis of diverse ethnographies has brought to light the significance in people’s life and to society more broadly of a strong continuous interaction between the material and the non-material (Pardo). Parallel to this, new anthropological research over the past decade has focused on the properties of the ‘digital society’ with respect to how people experience external changes, how they organize themselves and, in turn, enact new change (Fischer). Governance, at various levels, is increasingly recognising the relevance of intangible resources.

We propose that it is important to document how governance is evolving and to understand the extent to which public policies might pose obstacles to agents’ full participation in society. Entrepreneurialism – intended in the broad sense of an agent’s capacity to evaluate and access available resources – makes one example of the many ways in which people may deal with these obstacles, motivating many simply to ‘work around’ them by becoming or remaining a part of ‘informal’ areas and relations; that is, identifying ‘gaps’ in policy and working within the gaps.

The conference welcomes ethnographically-based contributions that identify the main gaps and obstacles related to the development of purposeful agency and the normative changes needed to encourage, rather than frustrate, agency and good governance, intended as governance that promotes and makes the best of the local resources and styles of citizenship.

Abstracts of Proposed Papers, 250 words max, should be submitted by 1 March 2016

Panel Proposals must be submitted by 26 February 2016. Panel proposals must provide the following information: Panel title and abstract and the titles and abstracts of at least four papers.

All abstracts must be sent as a Word Document. Proposals also must include a short (100 word) bio including affiliation and relevant publications, as well as e-mail addresses of all known participants.

Please submit abstracts of Papers or Panels to the Convenors: i.pardo@kent.ac.uk: g.b.prato@kent.ac.uk; m.d.fischer@kent.ac.uk

Selected papers will be considered for publication in a Special Volume of the Series Palgrave Studies in Urban Anthropology and in the peer-reviewed journal Urbanities (http://www.anthrojournal-urbanities.com/)