Forthcoming Panel at the American Anthropological Association’s 2016 Meeting

Transections: Image, Object, World (Friday 18th of November, 8am-9.45 am)

To transect is to cut across transversely. The term ‘transection’ is employed ecologically and medically to describe processes of intersection into the environment or body, wherein a crossways divide is employed to reveal parts of land of body-tissue in relation, these becoming objects of study across transecting cuts that reveal interconnections. Transections are also diagrams, lines (of thought) and, arguably, flights of fancy drawn across surfaces. As analytical devices, they refer to knowledge practices and ways of being that cut across domains of knowledge and experience to transversely reconfigure analytical forms, subjects, objects and relations. This panel critically reimagines the potential of transecting analytics – and the images, objects and worlds that they elicit – to become an effective locus of critique.

Focusing in on lived and imagined relations between analytic objects and ways of thinking and knowing, each paper opens up longstanding transectional categories such as temporality, bodies, sexual politics, location and scale through key conceptual devices that perform, challenge and extend them. Thinking through the political, moral and physical effects of analysis, the panel undoes traditional ways of thinking key processes of abstraction, desire, transmission, fragmentation and contagion. Through the figure of ‘the transect’, the panel aims to open up questions concerning ethnography at the points of intersections of context and the imaginary; immersement and abstraction; the life-world and the subjective. These intersections might be imagined as transect forms or fictions – necessary as domain terms for analysis but nonetheless always on the edges of experience, not things but fluid processes. Transectional engagements therefore necessitate thinking in these terms, compelling attention to theories and engagements as they move through social actors and places at the ontological and political limits of ‘self-projects’. The panel explores how analytic devices such as fragments, cuts, viruses and transmissions construct relations and bring into experience particular contexts not only ‘discovering’ pre-existing correspondences along regulatory regimes of evidence and discovery, but shaping practices and processes between the routinized and the unexpected and opening up the spatio-temporalities of analysis as key sites where political claims are advanced and negotiated. (342).


  1. Silvia Posocco (Birkbeck, University of London)


Short abstract

Drawing on a long-term trajectory of anthropological research in Guatemala, this paper explores the transectional properties of fragments such as shreds of paper, human remains and DNA sequences, as relational material figurations of histories and experiences of violence, conflict and genocide.

Long abstract

What is the relation between a transnational adoption file and an exhumation file produced in the forensic exhumation of a mass grave? What is the status of these artifacts and of the transecting sense of proximity or distance between them? Shreds of paper, human remains, and DNA sequences are offered as evidence and measure of histories of violence, conflict, dispossession, and genocide, as these are refracted in fragments, remnants, debris, and ruins (Gordillo 2014, Navaro-Yashin 2013, Posocco 2015). Bones and documents are loci of relations that elicit scattering forms of description, analysis, theorizing and accounting (Nelson 2015). They are concrete relational figurations through which multiple and shifting connections and disconnections brought on by violence are experienced, embodied, enacted and imagined. Drawing on long-term anthropological research in Guatemala, this paper explores the transectional properties of fragments as relational material figurations of histories and experiences of violence, conflict and genocide. The paper proposes to hold the ethnographer’s analytical attention onto the place of fragments in the making of relational shifts in scale, form and ontological status. The paper asks: how are fragments entangled in performative, worlding and transformative (Kockelman 2013) reconfigurations such as those connected to shifts from adoption file to exhumation file, body to paper, personhood to the inorganic, and from archive replete with files, subjects and relations to empty building? What is the status of shifts in scale, form and image? What is the place of ethnography’s committed to tracking, figuring and conjuring up relations in these dynamics?

Agamben, G. (1998), Remnants of Auschwitz, Zone Books.

Ferrándiz, F. and Robben, A. C. G. M. (Eds) (2015) Necropolitics: Mass Graves and Exhumations in the Age of Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Gordillo, G. (2014) Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction, Duke University Press.

Kockelman, P. (2013) ‘The Anthropology of an Equation: Sieving Spam, Algorithmic Agents, and Ontologies in Transformation’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3(3):33-61.

Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2013) The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geographies in a Postwar Polity, Duke University Press.

Nelson, D. (2015) Who Counts? The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide, Duke University Press.


  1. EJ Gonzalez-Polledo (University of Sheffield)


Short abstract

This paper explores trans art as an experiment in living, to show how, through haptic exploration, as a method and a compositional interface, trans- imagines existence at the edge of abstraction.

Long abstract

In the work of the artist Helio Oiticica, trans-objects are appropriations of the structure of quotidian objects based on a search of perceptual concretion which ‘tak[e] on a generative role as a phenomenological, experiential entity’ (Small 2016:163), shuttling ‘between viewer and maker just as they move between the categories of work of art and ready made thing’ (ibid:175). This paper explores transobjects in the context of trans arts practice, exploring how they enact new hypotheses and propositions, imagining life through and against deterministic cultural and gender frameworks. In the making of transobjects, relations within art practice matter as much as those that surround artworks. As compositional interfaces, transobjects stage creative relations between culture, identity and imagination, implicating technologies, materialities, tropes, methods, and publics in the performance of meaning, actively construing and subverting relations between knowledge and power.

Framing transobjects as experiments in living, I argue, following Wilson and Sperber (2012), that these experiments may not only lead to differentiation at the individual level but also at the social level. They open up a ‘queer ecology’ (Morton 2010), an open-ended, haptic exploration that bridges the gap between art and life, imagining existence on the edge of abstraction.

Morton T. (2010) The Ecological Thought, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Small I. (2016) HéLio Oiticica: Folding the Frame, Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson D. and Sperber D. (2012) Meaning and Relevance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



  1. Elisabeth L. Engebretsen (University of Oslo)


Short abstract:

Drawing on long-term research on queer China and a new project on feminist materialities of waste practices and discard infrastructures in global South China, I explore the stakes and risks of the work of identifying what matters, as it relates to dissident desires and discard objects. The paper engages a transectional rethinking of key analytic devices including desire, pollution, dissolution, be(long)ing and sustainability.

Long abstract:

A common phrasing in post-millennial Chinese discourses on non-normative gender and/or sexual identity is wo bufen, meaning ‘I don’t differentiate’ or ‘I don’t separate’ [between two opposites: active/passive (men), feminine/masculine (women)]. The lack of discursive investment in applying rigid identity categories to dissenting desires and intimacies is seen as the mark of cosmopolitan, proper attachments to being a person of integrity and self-knowledge, unafraid of experimentation with otherness or crossing boundaries. This paper utilizes (bu)fen as a conceptual and empirical lens to ponder subjective and collective processes of demarcation, location and crossing in forging stable identifications and clear-cut distinctions. Drawing on long-term research on queer China and an emerging new project on the feminist materialities of waste practices and discard infrastructures, I explore the stakes and risks in identifying (what) matter(s) – in relation to dissident desires and discard objects. On this basis, I suggest that a queerly critical empirical theory attuned to unfolding concerns about global crisis and human survival, are crucial in order to thinking through desires, pollution, dissolution, be(long)ing and sustainability.

Engebretsen, Elisabeth L. 2014. Queer women in urban China: An ethnography. New York and London: Routledge.

Ingold, Tim. 2014. That’s enough about ethnography! HAU: Journal of ethnographic theory, vol. 4, no. 1.


  1. Paul Boyce (University of Sussex)

Worlding Chemo: Ethnography, Embodiment, Excess

 Short Abstract

This papers draws on my experience of undergoing chemotherapy some seventeen years ago. This period of treatment was coterminous with the commencement of my doctoral work, transecting an object and abject form of embodiment in and with an ethnographic imaginary.

Long Abstract

Halfway through a six-month course of chemotherapy, some years ago, the efficacy of the anti-sickness medications that I was taking was wearing thin. Toward the end of one particular treatment round my body rebelled into convulsions of vomiting spasms. I could not stop. Medical staff urgently proffered injections and pulled tubes. The thought came to me, like words typing themselves across my consciousness – ‘I have lost my humanity.’ Like a Speech Act the words seemed to call that thought into a moment of being. I sobbed, inhumanly.

I sometimes conceive of this experience, in retrospect, as moment of profound abjection, perhaps after Julia Kristeva’s (1982) evocation of the term as a breakdown between self/other, subject/object. Chemo had become me. Yet the same general ‘chemo-abject position’ that I evoke – stretched across months of less dramatic and less sickening treatment – offered a kind of jouissance also; a space outside of the strictures of performative, productive expectation. Complex treatment processes, medical jargon presented in metaphorical terms, and the sheer dramatic weight of a cancer diagnosis all coalesce as a part of the cancer ‘debris field,’  (Jain 2013), the navigating of which offers complex configurations for existential insight. I wonder about this field in this paper as a transecting ecology, where body and drugs, self and temporality cohere in uncanny configurations.

Against this background I reflect on my ethnographic work on sexual subjectivities and HIV in India, a project I was planning during chemotherapy. I consider how ethnographic and chemoterapeutic sensibilities may track across one another as coeval fields of debris, characterised by insistent memories, scattered and excessive signification.  Attended to fragments across fields of research and experience opens questions about the domain terms and object terrains of ethnographic imaginaries and the politics of evidencing precarious lives (Biehl 2012).

Biehl, j. (2012) Ethnography as Political Critque. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 4, p. 1209-1208

Jain, L (2013) Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us. California: University of California Press

Kristeva, J. (1982) Power of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press


  1. Discussant: Cymene Howe (Rice University)
  2. Discussant: Hadley Z Renkin (Central European University, Budapest)
  1. Discussion