Paper Abstracts

Abstracts for Keynote Presentations:

Keynote 1: Asif Agha, Professor, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania: “Pecuniary media and participation frameworks from Cowries to Bitcoin”

What role do forms of money play in social life? What variety of things do people do with varieties of money in societies around the world? How are activities involving money differentiated into registers of money-conduct in specific times and places? How do sociocentric regularities of money-conduct get linked to participation frameworks of social interaction, and to attendant logics of participation or exclusion? It has long been understood that money is intimately linked to varied forms of discursive semiosis (whether oral, written, numerical, algorithmic, customary, or law-based; whether manifest as fiscal policy, computer code, or common sense) through which distinct forms of money are created and endowed with distinct use characteristics; that specific forms of money are readily linked to (or appropriated by) group-specific interests or ideologies; and that differences in types of money-conduct readily differentiate social roles and relationships among persons and groups in social history. Yet the role of discursive semiosis in the existence and use of money is not well understood, a lacuna that links most descriptions of “money” to voicing structures (or discursive positionalities) that are not grasped for what they are by those who offer such descriptions (e.g., “speaking like the State” without knowing it). The paper shows that if we understand the role of discursive semiosis in the social life of money, we are able to ethnographically answer the questions posed at the beginning of this abstract. Doing so reveals that most of the participatory logics that define money-conduct are highly non-salient to those who engage in such conduct. Characterizing them enables us to study the relationship between facts of participation and beliefs about participation in large-scale social practices of many kinds, including ones whose salient self-descriptions formulate them as unrelated to money.


Keynote 2: Celia Lury, Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick: “People Like You: shifters as figures of speech”

With the dual aim of exploring how digital culture provides a new distribution environment for shifters and showing how shifters distribute speech in digital culture, I consider slogans such as ‘Not in our name’, ‘Je suis Charlie’, ‘MeToo’ and ‘People Like You’. In all cases, the shifter is a pronoun – ‘our’, ‘je’, ‘me’ and ‘you’, and in all cases the analysis focuses on how conceptual personae emerge in cultures of participation, paying special attention to the kinds of speech such figures can occasion.


Abstracts for Panel Presentations:

Panel 1: Institutions and the Regimentation of Participation

Chair: Don Klick, Distinguished University Professor, Anthropology, Uppsala University

E. Summerson Carr, Associate Professor, Social Service Administration, University of Chicago: “Lay Participation and the Rhetorical Production of (In)expertise”

The enactment of expertise frequently relies upon would-be experts’ ability to establish hierarchical relationships with laypeople, as well as with relevant objects of knowledge.  Institutions stabilize these relationships not simply by organizing certain things into experts’ purview, but also by organizing certain people out of the ability to interact with, evaluate, and know those things.  In such cases, the projection of expertise hinges on laypeople’s relative passivity in the knowledge production process.  This can hold true—and perhaps particularly so—when the object of expertise is the laity itself.

In light of the aforementioned tendencies, laypeople—and especially laypeople accustomed to participatory democratic ideals—sometimes dismiss expertise as elitist and irrelevant.  In the United States, for instance, there is a long history of public mistrust of (select) forms of expertise, with which experts must grapple in order to survive.   Drawing on my ethnographic engagement with American behavioral therapists, who are intent on democratizing relationships with clients and laypeople, this paper explores the relationship between the dynamics of expertise and the politics of participation.

The behaviorists I study explicitly disavow expertise, framing clients as co-participants, or “partners,” in the therapeutic process.  In American psychotherapies, the idealization of clinical participation is hardly novel, paralleling discourses of political participation. (Think: the father of American self-psychology once compared his clients to Freedom Riders).  However, the (in)experts I engage are especially intriguing in their development and deployment of a complex set of rhetorical devices, which are designed to funnel expert claims through the voices of their client co-participants.  Focusing on how “participation” is rhetorically achieved in this case, I highlight ways that (expert) power and knowledge can be at once kept and given away.


Elina I. Hartikainen, Core Fellow, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies: “Making Participatory Democracy: The discursive and Interactional Construction of Afro-Brazilian Religious Participation in Brazilian Politics”

In the early 2000s, Brazil was as a global leader in experiments with participatory democracy. From participatory budgeting to participatory policy making, Brazilians were invited to participate in the process of political decision-making on all levels of government. A driving idea behind these efforts was a concern with mobilizing civil society into a form of active citizenship. The success of these experiments then depended on the participation of “representatives of civil society.” This category was taken to refer especially to those who were understood to have been marginalized from political process, such as the poor and youth. In the city of Salvador, practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé — a group that had long been celebrated for their preservation of what was understood to be an authentically African form of religiosity but that had nonetheless remained politically marginalized – were a key target.

This paper examines Candomblé practitioners’ recruitment to and participation in these government efforts at participatory democracy. I ask: how was Candomblé practitioners’ political participation in Brazilian participatory democracy made? Through what discursive and interactional practices was their participation constructed, and what political effects did these practices have? With this analysis I call attention to (1) the participatory frameworks that are projected by and that undergird calls to participatory democracy and (2) the forms of discursive and interactional footing they demand and enable.


Irina Piippo, Postdoctoral Researcher, Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki: “Your language or mine? – Politics of Participation in Immigrant Integration Training Classrooms”

In educational contexts, especially those that involve students with immigrant background, participation is nowadays a central organizing value. From classroom pedagogics to active forms of citizenship, participation is seen as the key to involvement and integration. Moreover, often the two are discursively intertwined so that certain kinds of participatory pedagogical practices are seen to better enhance students’ participation in the society and labor market. Currently, especially translingual pedagogies are making their way into the classrooms bringing students’ first languages more tightly as a part of ratified semiotic means for language socialization. The ideal of translanguaging not only acknowledges multilingualism as a normal societal state of affairs but also embraces the idea that borders between languages are ideological and need not be necessarily upheld in interactional situations.

My paper explores the politics of participation in immigrant integration training classrooms in Helsinki metropolitan area against this background of changing pedagogical ideals. By drawing examples from my fieldwork in adult literacy training classrooms, I discuss the complex dynamics by which different languages are rendered visible and invisible in the school context, and forms of participation through those languages desirable or undesirable. My examples illustrate, how the everyday practices that regiment language use are fueled by practical concerns, deep-rooted norms of classroom conduct, and multiple and partly contradictory pedagogical ideologies that all in their own way value participation.


Panel 2: Scales of Participation and Community (Un)Belonging

Chair: Anssi Peräkylä, Professor, Sociology, University of Helsinki

Lynnette  Arnold, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University, & Hilary Parsons Dick, Associate Professor, Historical and Political Studies, Arcadia University: “From Distant Brother to Dangerous Animal: A Transnational Participation Framework of Migrant Interpellation”

The social scientific interrogation of “participation” highlights its connection to the lessening of nation-state responsibility for social problems, which is a core feature of neoliberal regimes. This diminution emerges in dialogue with the production of imaginaries that interpellate individuals to participate in the nation by calling them to find the causes of social problems within themselves. Although such neoliberal imaginaries of participation are central to the global political economy, existing scholarship has concentrated on how they unfold within individual nation-states. In contrast, this paper focuses on the transnational construction of neoliberal imaginaries, examining how Salvadoran migrants are hailed to participate in the nation-state inside and across El Salvador and the United States. In both countries, there are long discursive histories that construct migrants as gendered and racialized characterological figures, from heroic “distant brothers” who lovingly care for their Salvadoran homeland to corrupting “animalistic criminals” who endanger the social fabric of the United States. While these positionings seem oppositional, they in fact work in tandem within a multiscalar transnational participation framework. Our paper elucidates the (re)production of this framework through the analysis of state-endorsed discourses about Salvadoran migrants in El Salvador and the U.S., showing that they articulate calls to participation that coopt migrants to the political economic interests of the state by positioning them as exceptional subjects, whether revered or demonized. Our analysis uses and scales up Goffman’s classical formulation of the participation framework to understand the processes of call and response that undergird interpellation. We trace how such calls and responses emerge not only in elite discourses of migration, but also in how migrants and non-migrant kin take up, reformulate, and resist such discourses. Through this, we show that talk and writing about migrants is a key site where the politics of participation is imagined and enacted.


Maria Khachaturyan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Helsinki University Humanities Programme, University of Helsinki: “Knowing is belonging: recognitional deixis and emergence of common ground in religious conversion”

The paper explores the situated usage of recognitional deixis, a prominent feature of the religious register of the Catholic community of Mano, Guinea. By recognitional deixis is understood marking of referents as known and recognizable by the interlocutors (Himmelmann 1996), or belonging to the common ground of the interlocutors (Clark 1992). While deictic markers are known to be intrinsically tied to context and their usage is known to reflect a specific speaker-hearer-object configuration (Hanks 1990), I suggest reversing the indexical relationship and claim that instead of indexing contextual relationships (context presupposition), deictic markers rather project them in a performative fashion (context creation, Silverstein 1976; “switching” or “breakthrough”, Friedreich 1972).

In the study in question dealing with marking of common ground by recognitional deixis what gets projected is a presupposition of shared knowledge. Although, minimally, such projection could be accounted for in terms of presupposition accommodation (Lewis 1979), the argument could be pushed further. Indeed, because of the dialogic orientation of recognitional deixis, as a consequence of presupposition projection the speaker and the addressees emerge as knowledge-sharing co-insiders (Yurchak 2006). This, in turn, contributes to a performative creation of a community of co-insiders, similar to Anderson’s imagined communities (see also Silverstein 2003) – a religious community sharing religious knowledge (Asad 1993).

Performative emergence of community in speech, non-speech activities and metalinguistic reflections of these activities co-constitute one another. As a result, the speaker and the addressees emerge as co-participants. The paper, focusing on a specific case, provides tools for analysis of an understudied, but yet widespread grammatical category of recognitional deixis which can be helpful for scholars interested in how frameworks of co-participation emerge in discourse.


Hanna Lantto, Postdoctoral Researcher, Foreign Languages and Translation Studies, University of Eastern Finland: “Participation and personal investment in reclaiming an ethnic label”

This paper examines the challenges that an emphasis on participation and personal investment in reclaiming a Basque identity creates for non-native speakers of Basque. Euskalduna, the Basque word for both Basque and Basque speaker translates as “the one who has the Basque language.” The Basque revitalization movement has tried to argue that euskalduna is an inclusive ethnic identity practiced through language acquisition and involvement in the Basque-language culture. The onus is, thus, on the individual, who has to take active participatory measures to reclaim their Basqueness.

However, non-native Basque speakers struggle with issues of legitimacy and a new folklinguistic term, euskaldun berriak, ‘new Basque speakers’ has emerged to separate them from those who are perceived as authentic Basques. Euskara batua, the linguistic variety used by new Basque speakers has also been labelled as artificial and unfit for informal use. Some speakers actively seek to overcome the perceived inauthenticity. Even though language planning is often associated with governments and formal institutions, new language forms can be consciously created at the local level by groups and individuals. I focus on the language practices of a friend group that has created their own version of colloquial Basque using a combination of features from Spanish, Basque dialects, and archaic Basque. Yet even the very local practices of bottom-up language planning are often restricted to the linguistically aware elites. The members of the group are educated young adults, and many of them have a background in studies and professions that involve language and communication. Most new speakers of Basque do not have access to the linguistic capital that is required to create local colloquial registers. The lack of multilingual awareness and linguistic confidence blocks them from participating in the speech community and thereby from reclaiming their identity as euskalduna.


Panel 3: The Participatory Logics of Mass Media

Chair: Sirpa Tenhunen, Professor, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki

Asif Agha, Professor, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania: TBA


Andrew Graan, University Lecturer, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki: “Mere Attention: On Mass Publicity and the Politics of Participation”

In his classic essay on “Publics and Counterpublics,” Michael Warner argues that “publics are constituted through mere attention” (2002:60), which can range from simply overhearing some form of public address to what he describes as “active uptake.” But, what exactly is attention? What kind of subject and psychology does the concept presuppose? What kinds of varieties does it admit? What kind(s) of social relations and power relations does it reflect and construct? This paper takes up these questions, drawing on ethnographic research on a large-scale, nation-branding project that was undertaken in the Republic of Macedonia, as well as on recent theories of the “attention economy.” In working to historicize and to concretize ethnographically the concept of attention, the paper elaborates political economic conditions that are often erased in theories of media participation and the public sphere.


Sahana Udupa, Professor, Media Anthropology, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich: “Gaming the system: Participatory logics of right-wing voluntary work online”

While doing fieldwork among the online supporters for Hindu nationalism in India, I was struck by the intriguing discrepancy between the politeness shown during in-person interviews and the unabashed rudeness they would display online.  Typically, those who agreed to meet me would welcome me gracefully – keep the door from slamming, pull out the chair, order the tea and even offer to hold the audio recorder in the hand to cut down the noise –  while speaking with conviction about their political mission.  On Twitter, at around the same time, they would hurl abusive tweets and choicest swearwords at the “pseudoliberals” and “commies”, together participating in a culture of cantankerous confrontations. New media scholarship has largely understood this as a process of disinhibition, deindividuation and lowered evaluative cues enabled by disembodied interactions and affordances of anonymity online. In this paper, I make an effort to go beyond these explanations, by defamiliarizing such conversations on two counts: first, the face-to-face interview setting where right-wing volunteers  might be interested in gaming my impressions of them, and second, the online interactional contexts where “gaming” enters a complex networked spacetime. Do they signal a new participatory logic that is especially conducive for the exclusionary discourses of the right-wing?


Panel 4: Rethinking Models of Participation

Chair: Johanna Sumiala, Associate Professor, Media and Communication Studies, University of Helsinki

Nico Carpentier, Professor, Media and Communication Studies, Informatics and Media, Uppsala University: “The discursive-material knot and participatory theory”

The presentation starts from the idea that the discursive and the material are entangled in a discursive-material knot. Even if many theoretical frameworks, including discourse theory and new materialist theory, support this idea, there is still a need for a more developed theorization of the material in its relationship to the discursive. The challenge is not to give up on the discourse-theoretical starting point -that all social phenomena and objects obtain their meaning(s) through discourse- while simultaneously constructing a non-hierarchical ontology that theorizes the knotted interactions of the discursive and the material as restless and contingent, sometimes incessantly changing shapes and sometimes being deeply sedimented.

It is this focus on Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory -without ignoring the critiques on discourse theory, oscillating between loyalty and disloyalty, in always respectful ways for their work- that makes the discursive-material knot project specific. This re-thinking is also aimed at expanding discourse theory, infusing (or infecting) it more with the material —through a dialogue with new materialism— using the mutation to feed further theorizations and empirical research.

In a second part, the talk will outline a theoretical framework that allows articulating participatory processes as engulfed in an assemblage of discourses and materials. Again, starting from the discourse-theoretical perspective, a series of structuring discourses and subject positions (the citizen, leader, owner and expert), crucial to participatory processes, will be discussed. This discourse-theoretical approach to participation will then be enriched by a (new) materialist approach, which scrutinizes the role of the material at the level of access, interaction and participation. These more theoretical reflections about participatory theory will be illustrated by a case study on the Cyprus Community Media Centre.


Ilana Gershon, Ruth N. Hall Professor, Anthropology, Indiana University: “Participating in the U.S. Job Market”

What kind of ideological expectations accompany the tasks of trying to participate in the job market?   Hiring is a ritual of double consciousness, it is both a gatekeeping exercise and a documentary ritual.   As a gatekeeping exercise, it is a moment in which designated representatives of a workplace evaluate who can join that particular community of practice.  It is a ritual to sort who can participate and who can not.  Yet it is simultaneously a documentary ritual in which applicants are presenting an interwoven genre repertoire whose elements are all intended to represent the job candidate as employable, which nowadays means representing the self as a business.  With this in mind, it is possible to analyze workshops for job-seekers as moments in which appropriate participation is openly discussed and regimented.  These workshops are continually urging vigilant, self-reflexive and disciplining engagement with the tasks of representing the self in putatively appropriate ways.  Similar to Urciuoli’s analysis of college marketing, the goal is to teach job seekers to appear ‘just distinct enough, in a range of fundamentally comparable’ genres to be noticed favorably in an applicant pool (Urciuoli 2014: 62).  Over time, what counts as a persuasive representation of an employable self has changed to accommodate shifts in capitalist ideology determining what constitutes an ideal worker.  Currently, these workshops offer guidance into how to transform all the various genres that job applicants must create into genres that can represent the self as the CEO of Me, Inc., an entrepreneurial self.  In this talk, I want to take the abstract category of participating in the labor market that economists use and explore what anthropological attention to this exercise as simultaneously a gatekeeping exercise and documentary ritual can reveal about what it means to engage with neoliberal logics practically.


Stef Spronck, Postdoctoral Researcher, Helsinki University Humanities Programme, University of Helsinki: “Grammatical participation: bridging the social and grammatical dimensions of language”

At two levels of linguistic analysis the interpretation of the term ‘participation’ as applied to language is relatively uncontroversial. At the macro-level, i.e. that of conversation, ‘participation’ refers to the real-world or imagined entities that shape a speech situation, typically the speaker, addressee(s) and bystander(s). At the micro-level of linguistic analysis, i.e. that of morphosyntax, ‘participation’ refers to the number and roles of constructional elements that participate in a clause, e.g. syntactic categories like subject, object and indirect object. There are no obvious connections between these two interpretations of linguistic participation, nor are there, in fact, current theoretical motivations that they should be related in any way. This, I argue, introduces a number of fundamental problems for the analysis of grammar in a social context.

In this talk I aim to substantiate two claims: (1) I suggest that, yes, the macro- and micro-levels of linguistic participation are intrinsically connected, and (2) neither of the two levels can be fully analysed from a linguistic perspective if we do not examine how the two are related.

In exploring these claims I build on influential accounts modelling the relation between participants and language structure, as in Goffman’s (1981) notion of ‘footing’ and Silverstein’s (1976) approach to indexicality. However, I propose that participation is even more relevant to understanding core linguistic phenomena than is commonly suggested in linguistic anthropology. Placing participation at the heart of grammatical analysis, I argue, allows us to account for linguistic data that under currently held assumptions in linguistic theory are unexpected or difficult to explain. And perhaps even more significantly, this step helps us to reconceptualise grammar as a system of truly social signs.