2 Apr 2012 - 4 Apr 2012 All day CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


A conference in honour of Caroline Humphrey


Dr James Laidlaw (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr Barbara Bodenhorn (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr Martin Holbraad (Anthropology, UCL)


Conference summary



This conference is being held to celebrate the work of Caroline Humphrey DBE, the recently-retired Rausing Professor of Collaborative Anthropology in the University of Cambridge.

In her most recent work, Humphrey has been developing a theoretical account of the constitution of human subjects, engaging with works by philosophers and political theorists, in essays on topics such as freedom, ethical responsibility, creativity, and decision. She has been concerned to show how acting subjects (including 'collective' subjects) emerge, differently in different contexts, and in so doing to be sensitive not only to social and historical variety, but also to the particular circumstances of cataclysmic social change (such as, but not limited to, both the advent and the collapse of socialism). In the midst of transformations in which the cultural and institutional reference-points which many theorists would look towards to explain the possibility of coherent agency are in fact dramatically and often brutally stripped away, how do we explain how subjects are constituted? This conference will consider how circumstances of radical and cataclysmic social change pose a distinctive challenge to the theorisation of the human subject.

Relevant recent works by Caroline Humphrey, with which speakers are asked to engage:


  • (2003) ‘Stalin and the Blue Elephant: Paranoia and Complicity in Post-Communist Metahistories’, in Harry G. West and Todd Sanders (eds.) Transparency and Conspiracy: Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order. Durham: Duke University Press: 175-203.
  • (2005) ‘Regret as a Political Intervention: An Essay on the Historical Anthropology of the Early Mongols’, Past and Present, 186: 3-45.
  • (2007) ‘Alternative Freedoms’. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 151: 1-10.
  • (2008) ‘The “Creative Bureaucrat”: Conflicts in the Production of Soviet Communist Party Discourse’. Inner Asia, 10: 5-36.
  • (2008) ‘Reassembling Individual Subjects: Events and Decisions in Troubled Times’. Anthropological Theory, 8: 357-380.









Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), Social Anthropology Division, Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit and King's College, all at the University of Cambridge.


Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


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