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The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures: “Bureaucratic Mesmerism”

Friday, March 11, 2016
5:00 AM
Rackham Assembly Hall, 4th Floor Rackham

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


“Bureaucratic Mesmerism”

This lecture begins with a sense of enchantment associated with moments when people face demands to show tickets, papers, credentials, to prove legitimacy. Rather than focusing on exclusions, as other work has done so well, it follows people who exploit and extend bureaucratic situations to create glamour, to focus attention and capture interest. Next, it compares such situations to stagings of phatic energy--demonstrations of paranormal telepathy, or of theatrical empathy. Both unfold in spaces that previous theorists have tried to define as “liminal”; this talk instead shows how people labor to reduce multiple and embedded relations to ever more local points and synapses. The aim is to theorize how individualist and dyadic ideologies of communication are produced—and how they are, less often (at least in the US and in Russia), undermined. These strains of mesmerism have as much to do with making bureaucracies as they do with making art.


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.”