Upcoming Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures

Fall 2023      Panopto recording of 2023 lecture

 Wednesday, November 1, 2023

7 p.m., Sloan Auditorium, 101 Goergen Hall


Deborah A. Thomas
R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology
University of Pennsylvania

How do we imagine (and recognize) forms of collective world-building outside of but in relation to the juridical structures that govern modern Western political and social life?  Many of us have tried, with varying degrees of success, to write about the affective dimensions of self-determination and autonomy.  The difficulty of capturing for the page the feeling of sovereignty is a demonstration of the limitations of the evidentiary modes necessitated by juridical sovereignty.  It makes apparent our own investment in a certain kind of legibility, even as we seek to write against this toward an alternative mode of knowing and being in the world.  In this lecture, I will limn the forms of evidence observers (and participants) have mobilized toward the potentiality of “getting free,” paying particular attention to how that evidence is written on or communicated through the body (both individual and collective).  I do this in order to glean insights into the forms of inheritance that have shaped contemporary conceptualizations of personhood and political life on post-but-still-colonial terrain.  By asking these questions from the vantage point of the Caribbean, I draw our attention to an older generation of Caribbean scholars who already knew that the contradictions facing people around the world would not be transcended by aspiring to control of the state.  Their offering of repetition, recursivity, and relation – rather than linearity, teleology, and hierarchy – as the grounds for the “wretched” to rethink political possibilities informs my own interest in surrender.  Surrender, I will argue, is a way to envision a mode of relational sovereignty unanchored to a state and untethered to masculinist notions of revolution and humanness; it is constituted through iterative practice that is future-oriented yet enacted in the day to day, and it is therefore grounded in decolonial love and accountability.