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2017 Daphne Berdahl Memorial Lecture

Time’s Challenges: Abrupt transitions and future imaginings
August 9, 2017



 Picture of Dame Marilyn Strathern, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University
Dame Marilyn Strathern, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University

Stimulated by Daphne Berdahl’s account of an East German village being precipitated into a new world -- a world that also recovered some of the village’s earlier past -- this lecture is about abrupt transitions.  What is happening when they are re-invented in the future?  What is happening when a radical break with one kind of past is also recalled as looking forward to a moment when aspects of another kind of past might finally come into their own?  The lecture revisits a country where – like socialism -- many have seen colonialism come and go in a lifetime.  People’s aspirations for the future, raising questions about the nature of such breaks and about the kinds of temporalities being engaged, throw out some challenges as to how we might envisage time in the process.  The questions take us into some unusual fields.  They also take us beyond the particular circumstances to ponder on what we take for granted in the changes all around us, on ideas of generation and creativity, and on whether talk of different ontologies is going to be helpful.

Marilyn Strathern is a social anthropologist whose initial and indelible training was in Papua New Guinea. Latterly she has been involved in the UK with anthropological approaches to the new reproductive technologies, intellectual property, audit cultures and interdisciplinarity. Now retired from the Cambridge Department of Social Anthropology, she is (honorary) life president of the Association of Social Anthropologists.  Strathern is currently working on issues in the conceptualisation of relations, some of which was sketched out in her 2005 book, Kinship, law and the unexpected: relatives are often a surprise.