February 18, 2011, 1:30pm
"Popular Culture and Alternate Histories" Conference: Voices from Beyond the Security State in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
Location: Room 245, Huntsman Hall (3730 Walnut Street)

Presenters: Manan Ahmed, Freie Universitet Berlin; Kamran Asdar Ali, University of Texas at Austin; James Caron, University of Pennsylvania; Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University; Jamal Elias, University of Pennsylvania; Jo-Ann Gross, The College of New Jersey; Elizabeth Kolsky, Villanova University; Morgan Liu, Ohio State University; Rubab Qureshi, University of Pennsylvania; Lutz Rzehak, Hamboldt University; Saadia Toor, The College of Staten Island

One of the casualties of globalized warfare and economic regimes, and domestic repression in South and Central Asia has been plurality in historical narrative. Elite- and state-centric concerns of security and geopolitics can monopolize and homogenize genres of discussion about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and neighboring countries in public discourse – to the extent that other types of accounts appear increasingly rare.

However, in the regions themselves as well as transnationally, alternative narratives have been mediated through the writing of genealogies and other forms of hybrid, participative history-creating; through popular songs and poems; through devotional literature performed in ritual contexts; through popular visual arts; and through semi-formalized or casual genres of face-to-face interaction, among other strategies. Cumulatively, such forms of communications have had the power to articulate alternate, if not autonomous, public domains. 

This conference will bring scholars from various disciplines into dialog, to engage self-told, grassroots histories – histories that circulate outside traditional “mass media”, and whose points of reference often radically diverge from, confront, or undermine commonplace narratives of this region that focus on the security state.

The conference will be accompanied by dinner and a reading of a new play by Rick Mitchell (Dept. of English, California State University, Northridge), as well as a discussion with the playwright. “Shadow Anthropology,” from Mitchell’s anthology *Disaster Capitalism* (U. Chicago Press, 2011), interrogates the transnational constitution (and everyday undermining) of security state narratives. In this satire set in contemporary Afghanistan, a cast including an opium-loving American mercenary; a Puerto Rican anthropologist embedded with the Army’s Human Terrain Systems program; a regional warlord; a family of local farmers; and various bawdy puppets all struggle to control not only the land, but the narrative as well.

RSVP for all events is required by February 14, to Raili Roy (railiroy@sas.upenn.edu) or David Mekelburg (david.mekelburg@gmail.com)

The South Asia Center, the Middle East Center, Theater Arts Program at Penn, 12 Gates Gallery