Session at the 16th EASA Biennial Conference: New anthropological horizons in and beyond Europe

How are decisions made around what goods should be public ? How are 'publics' constituted in urban contexts worldwide? This panel develops an anthropological approach to public goods that foregrounds the politics of value.

This panel seeks to connect insights from urban, moral and political anthropology to re-direct attention to public goods in urban contexts worldwide. In contrast to mainstream economic approaches to public goods that emphasize efficiency, non-excludability, and 'willingness-to-pay', an anthropological approach to public goods can reinvigorate the concept by foregrounding issues of value and valuation, the right to the city, and state-citizen relations. More fundamentally, an anthropological approach raises questions of how decisions are made around what goods should be public and of how 'publics' are constituted in the course of provisioning. We invite papers that examine the production, distribution and consumption of public goods in cities across the globe. The erosion, in various degrees across the North/South divide, of state-led development models in favour of participatory governance and market-led provisioning has opened up new modes of governance and public goods production, accompanied by new forms of inequality. These new forms of governance also include digitised governance or "smart city" projects that may contribute to unequal access, and raise issues of privacy and data commodification. In the context of the increasingly uneven or conditional provisioning of public goods, ethnographic approaches are well-suited to understanding how boundaries of inclusion and exclusion are drawn. We welcome papers that examine how struggles for public goods intersect or conflict with claims by states and other governance actors to act in the public interest. Such struggles include attempts at commoning to counter dispossession, decommodifying / publicizing activities normally deemed "private", and constructing alternative ethical projects.


  • Rivke Jaffe (University of Amsterdam)
  • Anne-Christine Trémon (Université de Lausanne)

Chair: Martijn Koster
Discussant: Brenda Chalfin