Skip to content


The Problem with Context

Friday, April 14, 2023, 9:00am–5:00pm
Saturday, April 15, 2023, 9:00am–12:00pm

Foster 107

Always contextualize! Always historicize! Aren’t these imperatives the very first commandments of responsible social analysis? This workshop is dedicated to reflecting on and writing through the limits of contextualization. How, for example, does the demand always to contextualize sit with the unconscious? With the emergent? With the evental? Can secular protocols of interpretive contextualization be adequate to theological experience? Or human contexts to the nonhuman?

Building on the conversations begun during the Patiencies and Passivities workshop in 2022, we will be considering the problem with, in, and of context by discussing a set of pre-circulated writings.

This workshop is organized by Naisargi N. Dave (University of Toronto) and William T. S. Mazzarella (University of Chicago), and presenters include Ned Dostaler (University of California, Berkeley), Amy McLachlan (University of Chicago), Hoon Song (University of Minnesota), and Lisa Stevenson (McGill University).

Please note that this workshop is now fully booked. If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please send a short bio to Anna Searle Jones

Naisargi N. Davé is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Queer Activism in India and of the forthcoming, Indifference: On the Praxis of Interspecies Being. 

Ned Dostaler is a student of anthropology and psychoanalysis. He is, currently, occupied with reading, writing, and living in relation to the question: how and why does a problem come into being? Thinking with and about sand, in Chennai—and, also, why he has been drawn to thinking with and about sand, in Chennai—is one of the contexts in which he is inhabiting this question. In doing so, he draws upon a range of scholarship, including critical theory and object relations.

William T. S. Mazzarella is Neukom Family Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College at the University of Chicago. He is also Associate Faculty in the University of Chicago Divinity School and a Faculty Fellow of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory. His books include Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India (Duke, 2003), Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity (Duke, 2013), The Mana of Mass Society (Chicago, 2017), and, with Eric Santner and Aaron Schuster, Sovereignty, Inc: Three Inquiries in Politics and Enjoyment (Chicago, 2020).

Amy Leia McLachlan is a medical and environmental anthropologist whose work considers the ethics, politics, and transformative potential of relations to and through plant life. Her research since 2006 with Uitoto communities of the Colombian Amazon traces the history of extractive botanical economies as vectors of radically conflicting dreams about livable futures. Her book project, The World for Now: Curing and Cosmopoesis in a Migrant Amazon, draws on apprenticeship with Uitoto migrant curers, rainforest cultivators, and urban conjurers to consider what it means to continue projects of world-making as the conditions of that making are continuously undone. She is currently a Researcher at the Field Museum.

Hoon Song teaches Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is the author of Pigeon Trouble: Bestiary Biopolitics in a Deindustrialized America (U. Penn Press, 2010), and is currently engaged in two projects: Co-editor (with John Lie and Lisa Min), North Korea Seen and Unseen (U. California, Berkeley Press; Forthcoming); Author, Incompossible North Korea (Fordham U. Press; In Process).

Lisa Stevenson is an Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. Stevenson’s work attempts to trace and describe imagistic forms of thought in the everyday worlds of people in situations of violence. Her book Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic (University of California Press, 2014) won the 2015 Victor Turner Book Prize and the 2020 Staley Prize. Stevenson’s work in filmmaking includes a short film Into Unknown Parts, which debuted at the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival, and a Mellon New Directions Fellowship.