Key Notes

These are the abstracts from the lectures of this year’s key notes speakers which will be also OPEN TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC:

Molly Andrews is Professor of Political Psychology, and Co-director of the Centre for Narrative Research ( at the University of East London. Her research interests include political narratives, the psychological basis of political commitment, political identity, and patriotism and intergenerational dialogue. Her books include Lifetimes of Commitment: Aging, Politics, Psychology Shaping History: Narratives of Political Change (both Cambridge University Press), and Narrative Imagination and Everyday Life (Oxford University Press). She serves on the Editorial Board of five journals which are published in four countries, and her publications have appeared in Chinese, German, Swedish, Spanish, Czech, and German.

>> Activist Lives Over Time

The collective political memory of a community – its struggles, how they were fought, and the contested meaning of what those battles represent – is constantly in flux. One moment of acute political change – the East German ‘bloodless revolution’ of 1989 – serves as the focus point of this paper, as key political actors who helped to create the unrest look back on their political involvement at that time As people look back on their own political engagement, do they see this as something which is integrated into the self they later became, or is their activism constructed as being tied to a very particular moment in their own development? Do they link their protest(s) with political struggles of the past? Of the present? Can one extrapolate from the narratives of political activists to speculate on the development of social movements more generally?

>> The Narrative Architecture of Political Forgiveness

Although there is widespread agreement with the argument that Hannah Arendt made more than half a century ago, that forgiveness is ‘one of the human faculties that make social change possible’, beyond this, there is little consensus of what it means. Applying a narrative structure to this discussion, there is a lack of clarity around questions of who, what, where, when, and why to forgive. This paper will explore the politics of forgiveness in East Germany, where these issues have been hotly contested for more than twenty-five years. The data examined here suggest that the fraught process of forgiveness embodies not consensus but contest, as people disagree on key questions such who has the right to forgive whom, for what, how long the window for the opportunity of forgiveness stays open, and even why these questions matter, not only for individuals but for the whole of society.


Jason De León is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. He directs the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term anthropological study of clandestine migration between Mexico and the United States that uses a combination of ethnographic, visual, archaeological, and forensic approaches to understand this violent social process. He has published numerous academic articles and his work with the UMP has been featured in a variety of popular media outlets. Jason was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013 and was the Weatherhead Resident Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the 2013-2014 academic year. He was awarded the 2016 Margaret Mead Award for his book “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail” (featuring photos by Michael Wells). He is also on the Academic Board for the Institute for Field Research, a nonprofit organization operating over 42 field schools in 25 countries across the globe.

>> The Land of Open Graves: Necroviolence and the Politics of Migrant Death in the Arizona Desert

Since the mid-1990s’, the U.S. federal government has relied on a border enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.”Using various security infrastructure and techniques of surveillance, this strategy funnels undocumented migrants towards remote and rugged terrain such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona with the hope that mountains ranges, extreme temperatures, and other “natural” obstacles will deter people from unauthorized entry. Hundreds of people perish annually while undertaking this dangerous activity. Since 2009, the Undocumented Migration Project has used a combination of forensic, archaeological, and ethnographic approaches to understand the various forms of violence that characterize the social process of clandestine migration. In this presentation I focus on what happens to the bodies of migrants who die in the desert. Drawing on the archaeological concept of taphonomy (i.e., the various post-mortem processes that impact biological remains), I argue that the way that bodies decompose in this environment is a form of hidden political violence that has deep ideological roots. Using ethnographic data from New York and Ecuador, I focus on the families of people who have lost loved ones in desert and demonstrate how the post-mortem destruction of migrant corpses creates devastating forms of long-lasting trauma.

>> Soldiers and Kings: Violence, Representation, and Photoethnographic Practice in the Context of Human Smuggling Across Mexico

Since 2015 I have been involved in an analog photoethnographic project
focused on documenting the daily lives of Honduran smugglers who
profit from transporting undocumented migrants across Mexico. In this talk I
discuss the relationship between transnational gangs and the human
smuggling industry and outline the complicated role that photography
plays as a field method and data source in this violent and ethically challenging ethnographic context.