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Anthropology Colloquium: Danilyn Rutherford

Friday, September 7, 2018 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

McGraw Hall, 165
740-750 University Ave, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

"The Sovereignty of Vulnerability"


The Sovereignty of Vulnerability

Danilyn Rutherford, University of California, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

In The Beast and the Sovereign, the late Jacques Derrida asked a remarkable question: What if sovereignty and vulnerability went hand in hand?   What if the other others – the ones beyond the pale of citizenship and even humanity – were actually the rulers of the realm? Authority is only authority to the extent it demands recognition, as Derrida saw, a dynamic that undermines every claim to supreme and absolute power.  This dynamic can place the vulnerable in an unexpected position of power.  In this paper, I explore two very different episodes in which sovereignty of vulnerability becomes evident.  One comes from the archives of Dutch colonialism and the weapons demonstrations through which Dutch officials sought to extend the reach of the colonial state.  Instead of performances of potency, these demonstrations devolved into performances of vulnerability, with the most benighted inhabitants of the colonial Indies, the so-called Stone Age Papuans, appearing in the guise of sovereign power.  The other comes from my new ethnographic work on speech therapy and the communities of sign use that emerge around non-verbal people.   Here as well, I consider scenes where the indicators of recognition are idiosyncratic and fleeting and the participants who seem to have the most power and authority turn out to have the least control over their signs.  The violence associated with claims to sovereignty may stem from the sovereignty of vulnerability – a possibility that could well leave us wondering whether sovereignty is ever what it seems.  


This event is co-sponsored by Southeast Asia Program.  Thank you.

Danilyn Rutherford is President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.

Danilyn Rutherford received her bachelor’s degree in biology and history from Stanford University in 1983 and her doctorate in anthropology, with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies, from Cornell University in 1997. She briefly taught at Goldsmiths College in London, before joining the University of Chicago, where she was on the faculty of anthropology from 1998 to 2009. In 2009, she joined the department of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Rutherford is a past president of the Society for Cultural Anthropology and has served on the executive committee of the Pacific Rim Fellowship Committee, on the board of the Papuan Resource Center, as principle investigator within a Carnegie Foundation/East West Center project on internal conflicts in Asia, and as a reviewer for the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Indonesia, Ethnos, Hau, Cornell University Press, and Duke University Press. She is a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies. Before joining academia, she worked as an English teacher in Central Java with Volunteers in Asia and as associate director of a non-profit, the International Development Exchange.

Rutherford is the author of three books on West Papua, where she has conducted the bulk of her research: Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier, Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua, and the forthcoming Living on the Stone Age: Reflections on the Origins of a Colonial Fantasy.

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Anthropology, Southeast Asia Program

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Liz Kirk

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Danilyn Rutherford

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Wenner Gren Foundation

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Rusbel Ortiz Dicelis

Rusbel Ortiz Dicelis left a positive review 9/7/2018

I learned so much¡¡ It was great

Nida Kirmani

Nida Kirmani left a positive review 9/7/2018

Thought provoking!