CFP – Benevolence and Responsibility (SPA 2019)

Society for Psychological Anthropology 2019 Call for Papers

Benevolence and Responsibility: The Pastoral Paradox in Contemporary Institutions of Care

Organizer / Chair: Todd Ebling (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

Discussant: Paul Brodwin (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

In several lectures and essays, Foucault identified the “strangest” form of power in the Western world that he labelled “pastoral.” While anthropologists have found his idea useful in a variety of contexts, particularly in thinking about how the subjectivities of beneficiaries of care are fashioned by shepherding institutions (Fassin 2010; Garcia 2010), less explicit attention has been paid to a fundamental feature that Foucault called “the paradox of the shepherd,” i.e. that pastoral power is both individualizing and totalizing: as he put it, omnes et singulatim. This panel enquires into this paradox by exploring the ways contemporary institutions – both state and nonstate – individualize “the flock” through moral direction toward self-responsibility, self-sufficiency, and self-transformation, yet also totalize individuals through seemingly indiscriminate practices of benevolence, service, and care.

Vis-à-vis this theme, papers may engage but should not be limited to the following questions: How do therapeutic encounters produce both benevolence and responsibility and for whom? To what extent do discourses in psychiatry frame or produce moral selves as both passive recipients and responsible agents of care? In what instances and under what conditions do social workers provide services while placing responsibility on clients? How do humanitarian organizations choose to intervene and offer services yet demand responsibility of their program beneficiaries? How do neoliberal policies both support and undermine moral economies of care? Ultimately, we invite papers that focus on the individualizing and totalizing dimensions of contemporary pastoral institutions and encounters with the abnormal, the ill, the addicted, the client, and the confessor.

If you think you have a paper that would fit nicely with the session theme, please email an abstract to Todd Ebling at by November 19, 2018.