3 Oct 2008 - 4 Oct 2008 All day Newnham College


A conference in honour of Marilyn Strathern. 

This conference is now full.  Please contact Michelle Maciejewska if you are interested in attending.

Programme and Registration
The provisional programme can be seen and downloaded by clicking on “Programme” on the right hand side of  this page. To book a place online please use the “Booking Link” . The standard fee is £30 and the reduced student fee is £15. 

'Interpretation', Marilyn Strathern writes in the 2004 preface to Partial Connections, 'must be a matter of refusing many meanings in order to focus on any'. Yet the reaction to excess entails a further insight: there are no discrete units of meaning that would organize the work of interpretation. The scope of Strathern's work is an example of how proliferating meanings (and interests) offer no fixed point of reference. Melanesian senses of the person open up a perspective on new reproductive technologies in the United Kingdom, just as the current regimes of academic auditing recall old questions about property. For the organization of a conference, as for the organization of data, the effect is liberating.


In so far as excess summons up relations, a conference organized in honour of Marilyn Strathern can focus on any one of her interests in order to evoke all of them. The organizers' interest in the interfaces between anthropological and legal knowledge seeks to engage a key question in Strathern's work: how do forms of knowledge come to appear as general or particular in their capacity to contribute to human understanding? Description at the heart of anthropological analysis no longer appears as a source of knowledge that is more particular than, for instance, the contentions of legal theory. Yet the effects of scaling on truth claims remain evident, not least in the persistence of global and local as the conventions by which the proportions of claims are judged. This conference asks, with reference to legal knowledge and practice, how anthropology resists such conventions in its contributions to contemporary debates inside and outside academia.


Modernist legal thinking, as Strathern has observed, at once opens up and closes down the capacity to envisage relations. While law and biotechnology, for example, appear compatible in a way that law and kinship do not, the anthropologist's challenge is often to keep in view the propensity of law to be many things at once. It can be a source of conceptual resources through which people define problems of ownership and rights, it can spur them to intervene in disputes, it gives grounds for advocacy, and so on. The instances of ethnography are accordingly diverse: humanitarianism; international organizations' involvement in 'conflict resolution'; 'law' in Melanesia; and ethics and research governance.


Some contributions to the conference will make their engagement with Strathern's work explicit; in others the intellectual debt may remain unstated. Common to all is the effort, central to Strathern's oeuvre, to accord equal weight to conceptual and interpersonal relations in the descriptions of social life.

Provisional Programme

3 October 2008

Keynote Address
Annelise Riles (Cornell University)

Transforming Law in Melanesia and Beyond
Chair: Eric Hirsch (Brunel University)

Melissa Demian (University of Kent)
Ira Bashkow (University of Virginia)
Sandra Bamford (University of Toronto)
James Leach (University of Aberdeen)

Obligations and Anthropology: Humanitarianism Beyond Human Rights
Chair: Wendy James (University of Oxford)

Harri Englund (University of Cambridge)
Erica Bornstein (University of Wisconsin)
Liisa Malkki (Stanford University)
Maja Petrovic-Steger (University of Cambridge)

4 October 2008

'Conflict Resolution' and the Auditing of Social Relations under International Law
Chair: Jane Cowan (Sussex University)

Yael Navaro-Yashin (University of Cambridge)
Andrew Barry (University of Oxford)
James Weiner (RSPAS, Australia National University)
Sari Wastell (Goldsmiths College, London)

Rights to Research?: Anthropology, Academia and the New Institutionalism
Chair: Georgina Born (University of Cambridge)

Monica Konrad (University of Cambridge)
Alberto Corsin-Jimenez (University of Manchester)
Debbora Battaglia (Mount Holyoke College)
Don Brenneis (UC Santa Cruz) 

Closing Session



This conference has been organised with support from the Department of Social Anthropology and CRASSH

For administrative enquiries contact mm405@cam.ac.uk

Information about accommodation and travel can be found at Information for Visitors and Visit Cambridge.


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Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk