WTF?! – A personal account of the Anthropological Students’ Symposium 2014 at Vienna – by Salome Heyn

“What the f***?!” – The title of this year’s Anthropological Students’ Symposium at Vienna brought to my mind first of all the reaction I most regularly get after having revealed my subject of study. At second sight though, there is more to it. It sheds light on the differing names and definitions of Anthropology in German-speaking areas, but it also hints at the constant drive to question so called “truths” and to challenge anthropological “traditions” themselves. For the organizers, anthropology students from Vienna, “KSA – WTF?!” (KSA=Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie=Cultural and Social Anthropology) depicts the common problem of defining anthropology, the wide range of anthropological approaches and the array of job possibilities for anthropologists.

Hence no wonder the program, made up of lectures, workshops, artistic performances and film screenings, featured a myriad of different themes, ranging from concepts of personhood, love and capitalism, spaces of remembrance, fashion and clothing as markers of identity, dance, theatre, music, urban festivals, anthropological self-critique, visual methods, forms of anthropological engagement to the question “What to do after studying anthropology?”. Centrepiece of the Symposium was the eponymous workshop in which participants took the opportunity to think about possibilities and problems in anthropology past, present and future and to bring in their own ideas of what anthropology is and should be.

The official part of the Symposium was accompanied by a supporting program, consisting not only of spontaneous discussions at the coffee stand or debates during lunch breaks, but also of a Critical Campus-Tour, an alternative City-Tour as well as narrated visits of the Weltmuseum Wien.

 

What became very evident to me during these four days was a strong wish of anthropology students to reflect on and criticize anthropological works in order to come to a more precise definition of what anthropology and its impact is:

Do the differing names (Cultural and Social Anthropology vs. Anthropology vs. (European) Ethnology) really make a difference?

Is Anthropology merely a way of thinking, a particular discourse? Or maybe a “transdiscipline”?

If other disciplines apply “our” method of participant observation, is that good or bad?

These are just some of the questions risen in regard to the contemporary characteristics of anthropology. Yet, participants also looked back:

Do the various anthropological institutions deal with their past, for example during colonial or NS-times? If so, how?

Last but not least, questions were also future-oriented:

Is political activism of anthropologists legitimate? Is it always already inherent in anthropological work?

Do we risk producing new dogmata when deconstructing other dogmata?

 

To summarize, the Anthropological Students’ Symposium 2014 at Vienna served as a networking platform in which participants got to extend their anthropological scope as well as to bring in their own ideas. It thus provided promising insights into what the upcoming generation of anthropologists does and wants.

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