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The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures: “Enchanting Static”

Friday, February 19, 2016
12:00 AM
Rackham Assembly Hall, 4th Floor Rackham

The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures - Winter 2016 - “Communication and Enchantment” 

 “Enchanting Static”

Phatic infrastructures form where hallways, streets, wires intersect human networks.  Like channels, they hinder certain communications while affording others. They mediate how people come to know—and not to know--about the lives of others. In their varied material and social configurations, they afford contrasts among means to see and then to unsee, for instance, material rupture or social injustice. This talk addresses the uses to which such contrasts are put.  It does so by critically addressing accounts of socialist states (and of Russia before and after the USSR) through tropes of deliberately blocked contact, such as masking and deception, proposing instead to contrast and connect tangles of phatic infrastructures. The United States and the USSR alike built walls, jammed frequencies, and spun advertising or propaganda. They both cut phatic channels and made static through similar institutions, but they did so differently. Specific differences, gone unacknowledged, came to enchant respective myths of American freedom and Soviet equality. Meanwhile, what happens when people try to make sense of their own and others’ efforts to read the static?


Alaina Lemon is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and serves as Director of the Interdepartmental Doctorate Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan.  She received the PhD in Anthropology in 1996 from the University of Chicago, and has conducted archival and ethnographic fieldwork in Russia since 1988.  Her research asks how aesthetic and communicative techniques relate to political and social struggles.  She has conducted research in Romani villages and in Russian theaters, backstage and in directing schools, on film sets, and with journalists and press analysts, as well as in kitchens and in front of television sets, or on the Moscow Metro.  Her first book, Between Two Fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism (Duke, 2000) received in 2001 the AAASS Wayne S. Vucinich Book Award, and the AAASS Heldt Book prize.  Recent publications include “MetroDogs: the Heart in the Machine,” (2015); “Touching the Gap: Social Qualia and Cold War Contact,” (2013); and “The Emotional Lives of Moscow Things,” (2009). A forthcoming book, Technologies of Intuition tracks ways that Cold War anxieties about mental influence and excessive contact continue to alternate with utopian dreams of communion.

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The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures are a series of open public lectures on a work in progress, concurrent with a special course for advanced students to work closely with a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology on a topic in which the instructor has an intensive current interest. As the description written by Professor Roy “Skip” Rappaport in 1976 states, “…it offers the opportunity for other students and faculty to hear a colleague in an extended discussion of their own work.”