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The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures: “Breaking Spells”

Friday, April 15, 2016
4:00 AM
Rackham Assembly Hall, 4th Floor Rackham

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


“Breaking Spells”

There are people who police divisions between art vs. life, the enchanted vs. routine—among what are called interactional frames. To break frames or to contest them—stepping out of character, deconstructing the rules--can challenge claims not only about what constitutes reality and fantasy, but also about social hierarchies (who can claim the podium, or drop the curtain?). Yet, such breaks can also perform and animate authority. This talk investigates events of frame rupture that are complicated by hierarchies among Moscow teachers and acting students, Urals prisoners and guards, Russian TV psychics and their American, European or local skeptics—among experts and those who find themselves reduced to bumpkins or pawns, treated as if they do not know, or have yet to learn to distinguish frames, to discern “what is going on here?” In exploring the politics of breaking frame, we ask how aesthetics of estrangement intersect the politics of communicative contact.


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.”