Modernity and the Voice: Anthropological Histories from Beyond the Metropole

Short Seminar

April 22–23, 2008

Modernity and the Voice: Anthropological Histories from Beyond the MetropoleModernity and the Voice: Anthropological Histories from Beyond the MetropoleCo-chaired by Amanda Weidman, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College, and Charles Briggs, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, April 22-23, 2008.Modernity and the Voice: Anthropological Histories from Beyond the MetropoleCo-chaired by Amanda Weidman, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College, and Charles Briggs, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, April 22-23, 2008.

This short seminar examined the heavily debated subject of modernity through the considerably less theorized subject of voice. The six participants addressed several basic questions: How does voice as a category assume significance in modern social and political formations? What role does voice play in the emergence of the public sphere? How is it that, within modernity, voice can become a metaphor for both the individual and the collectivity?

In his paper “Can the Sovereign Speak?” Bernard Bates asserted that democracy cannot exist without orators because the orator embodies an original moment of voice-body unification that must then be repeatedly cited as a source by the press and other media. Webb Keane, in his paper “Freedom and Blasphemy: On Indonesian Press Bans and Danish Cartoons,” explored the idea that modernity entails a certain “moral narrative” in which people are freed from captivation by forms.

“Attending to the voice gives particular insight into the intimate, affective, and embodied dimensions of rule and political-cultural identity,” wrote the co-chairs in summarizing the seminar discussions. “The multiple senses in which we consider voice provide insight into the relationship between ideology (that which is articulated) and aesthetics (that which is not articulated but nevertheless structured). Practices and ideologies of voice create new modes of authority.... Discourses about the voice, with their implications for models of reception and circulation, allow us to explore the creation of publics as collectivities that are imagined into being.”

Charles Briggs, Chair Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley Voicing Race in News Coverage of Health
Amanda Weidman, Chair Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College Behind the Scenes: Playback Singing and Ideologies of Voice in South India
Bernard Bate Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Yale University Can the Sovereign Speak? Oratorical Embodiment and the Praxis of Self and Person in Tamil Political Practice
Miyako Inoue Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University Stenography and the Ventriloquistic Imagination of the Modern Japanese Subject in the Late Nineteenth Century
Webb Keane Director of Graduate Studies and Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan Freedom and Blasphemy: On Indonesian Press Bans and Danish Cartoons
Lisa Mitchell Assistant Professor, Department of South Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania Translating the Voice: Writing and the “Spoken" Telugu Controversy in Twentieth-Century Southern India

Sponsored by The Annenberg Foundation