CFP: Coherence and Anthropological Knowledge | European Network for Psychological Anthropology (ENPA), Helsinki, 2-4 June 2020

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We are proposing the below panel for the 2020 conference of the European Network for Psychological Anthropology (ENPA) in Helsinki, 2nd-4th June. The panel will include five papers in total, of 20 minutes each. Abstract submissions should be up to 250 words. Please submit them to either Ivan Deschenaux  or William Matthews by 11.59pm on Friday 15th November. We will notify successful contributors by Friday 22nd November, to submit the full panel proposal by 30th November. Further information on the conference and general Call for Panels can be found here:

Coherence and Anthropological Knowledge

Humans do not typically hold coherent, stable beliefs, nor do they behave consistently through time and across contexts. Although anthropology generally recognises this fact, too little effort has been dedicated to studying incoherence systematically. Instead, anthropologists have tended to pay lip service to incoherence but continued to write as if stable and coherent mental states guide human behaviour. This panel suggests that conversely, coherence is the exception, and the assumption of coherence generates misleading theoretical claims. Anthropological theories rarely account, for example, for contradictions between intuitive and reflective beliefs, post-hoc rationalisation of judgements, the impact of mood and social context on behaviour, or the importance of inattention – all of which play a central role in human sociality. Ironically, this means that many theories in social anthropology lack an adequate conceptualisation of human behaviour.

A general model of the human mind and behaviour is necessary if anthropology is to be more than purely interpretive, but this model must at the very least accommodate the inconsistencies that ethnographers routinely encounter in the conduct of their research. Contributions to this panel are invited to explore the ways in which findings from the cognitive sciences regarding inconsistencies in thought and behaviour can inform anthropological theory, whilst also paying attention to how ethnography, decoupled from unfounded assumptions of coherence, can contribute to an understanding of such cognitive mechanisms ‘in the wild’. Is it plausible that anthropologists’ own cognitive predispositions, and the ethnographic method itself, promote a more coherent portrayal of human mental life than justified? If so, how may we overcome this limitation?

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