Decolonial Engagement Workshop
Exploring the Intersections of
Engaged and Decolonial Anthropology
June 10 -12, 2023
Ascona, Ticino, Switzerland
Centre for Studies of Society and Culture Ascona
Contact: Doris Bacalzo & Peter Larsen
This workshop seeks to deepen our understanding of the intersection between engaged anthropology and the postcolonial and decolonizing turn in anthropology. While anthropology has historically been linked with colonialism and imperial interests, it has also generated critical thinking, reflexivity, and new forms of engagement among practitioners in different parts of the world. If “decolonization is not a metaphor” (Tuck & Yang 2012), how can anthropology take this a step further through critical reflexivity in wider acts of engagement?
The Interface Commission of the Swiss Anthropological Association encourages critical reflexivity around the conceptual and methodological premises of anthropology both within and beyond academia. To advance anthropology as a transformative discipline, as elaborated in the 2022 Tsantsa Special Issue on “Repositioning Engaged Anthropology” (Larsen et al. 2022), we posit that transcending divisive dichotomies entails recognition and analytical understanding of institutional, infrastructural, and ideological interconnections of persisting inequities. This includes addressing persistent forms of colonialism across multiple fields of practice and the coloniality of power.
What then does the reinvigorated decolonial critical gaze mean for engaged anthropological practice? What are relevant decolonial insights raised in the context of engagement and societal transformation? An examination of the ontological and epistemic underpinnings of anthropological practice through the encompassing lens of decolonization raises new questions, challenges and possibilities for both knowledge production and practice. It allows us to learn from, rethink and transform how anthropologists engage with social issues such as racism, sexism, inequalities, and unfettered economic systems that foster further divisions, disconnectedness, and catastrophic impacts on the earth’s ecosystem and environment.
Avoiding to reduce “decolonization” to a mere category of empirical investigation that comes and goes, the workshop revisits colonialism in its many forms of contemporary social fields from development thinking, everyday politics, academia, and human rights. Forging systemic transformation across spaces and scales (locally, regionally, and globally) is undeniably not an easy path; engagements are never simple, straightforward, nor decolonial per se. This workshop is part of the Interface Commission’s initiative to start assembling insights from a sample of decolonizing engagements. It highlights the strength of rising above disciplinary boundaries and the false dichotomies across our constructed “disciplinal foci” and “objects” of research. In the many expressions and objects of decolonization, we draw back on an engaged anthropology that checks power imbalances and inequalities and “brings new terrains of empirical, theoretical and conceptual relevance” (Larsen et al. 2022, 9) to the process of unknotting the intricacies of colonialisms and rooting out coloniality. The recent surge and proliferation of discussions on decolonization across many disciplines may indicate that its fuller study is yet to be met. This workshop is a critical contribution towards exposing the insights from existing and future implications of decolonial engagements.
Larsen, P. B., Bacalzo, D., Naef, P. J., Elif Tibet, E., Baracchini, L., & Riva, S. (2022). Repositioning engaged anthropology. Tsantsa-journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association, 27, 4-15.
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Tabula Rasa, (38), 61-111.
 The journal is now renamed Swiss Journal of Sociocultural Anthropology.