Bruce M. Knauft

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar


Crisis and Culture in a Post-9/11 World

Stunned by the shocking events of September 11, 2001, Americans were immediately infused with the sense that “everything had changed.” Yet as Bruce Knauft charts the response of the United States to this crisis against the background of geopolitical history and the context of cultures around the world, he suggests that, in fact, much is the same.

“On the one hand, many things did change: our sense of being invulnerable, our perceptions of Bush and of radical Islam being an enemy, for instance. That’s the public cultural story and it has a powerful and important reality. On the other hand, the United States has been an imperial power for a long time using various ways to influence other countries to get its way,” Knauft observes. “In the wake of 9/11, the United States has projected a local crisis to a global scale. This event has become a mandate for the global deployment of political and military force, making the construction and dissemination of crisis of central importance to the United States.”

In Culture and Crisis in a Post-9/11 World, Knauft uses the “effect and illusion” of 9/11 to examine “how lines of geopolitical division, opposition, and crisis are culturally formulated, and how these divisions are influenced, willingly or unwillingly, by global forces, national agendas, and popular responses.” By tracking how other areas of the world have responded to and been affected by 9/11—including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Mexico, and areas of Africa—Knauft will illustrate “how a relatively small event on a world historical scale—the death of approximately 3,000 people in the U.S. on September 11, 2001—has spawned geopolitical realignment backed by military force.”

A distinctively anthropological perspective on this issue seems particularly important, Knauft contends, “to complement the culturally narrower viewpoint of many political scientists, policy makers, and global analysts, on the one hand, and the less scholarly accounts of many journalists and mass media pundits, on the other. At larger issue is how ideologies of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ are re-negotiated, complicated, or resisted in a post 9/11 world.”

Affiliation at time of award:
Samuel C. Dobbs Professor, Department of Anthropology, Emory University

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