Keynote Speaker

Alisse Waterston:
Improvising Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Anthropological Perspectives

Alisse Waterston is Presidential Scholar and Professor Emerita of Anthropology, City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

In this keynote lecture, Alisse Waterston probes the idea of “improvisation” as it applies to: understanding the human struggle to survive amid harsh conditions (improvising life), ways anthropologists are breaking free from constraints of standardized methods and means of communicating knowledge (improvising liberty), and how engaged anthropologists may put knowledge to work in the effort to sustain the earth and the living things in it (improvising for the pursuit of happiness). Invoking aspects of her own work and that of other scholars, Waterston offers an anthropological perspective on a process captured by the action word “improvising,” creating something new from what is available.

A Constellation of Improvisations: Stories through Encounters

Keynote Discussion featuring Ana Chiritoiu, Tomas Cole, Thaïs Machado Borges and Nina Gren.

Moderated by Sverker Finnström

Anthropological work rests mostly on “encounters across difference” to borrow Anna Tsing’s formulation. These encounters however are less planned and more improvisational in the sense of how they are formed and how they are experienced, documented, narrated, and represented.

What does improvisation mean in relation to anthropologist’s engagement with the world? How does one work around the messiness of improvisation? How can anthropology work towards a constellation of methods, theories, and stories that can both capture and inspire encounters that could not be imagined otherwise.

The speakers in this plenary keynote discussion will present their view on the relation between improvisation and the stories they tell as anthropologists. They will discuss the limits and potentialities of thinking improvisation as methodology. Building on their experiences across a diverse set of contexts and engagements, they will revisit and imagine their previous and future works redefined by what can be thought as a constellation of improvisations.