Economies of Abandonment

Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism

Economies of Abandonment

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 1 table, 6 figures Published: November 2011

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory

In Economies of Abandonment, Elizabeth A. Povinelli explores how late liberal imaginaries of tense, eventfulness, and ethical substance make the global distribution of life and death, hope and harm, and endurance and exhaustion not merely sensible but also just. She presents new ways of conceptualizing formations of power in late liberalism—the shape that liberal governmentality has taken as it has responded to a series of legitimacy crises in the wake of anticolonial and new social movements and, more recently, the “clash of civilizations” after September 11. Based on longstanding ethnographic work in Australia and the United States, as well as critical readings of legal, academic, and activist texts, Povinelli examines how alternative social worlds and projects generate new possibilities of life in the context of ordinary and extraordinary acts of neglect and surveillance. She focuses particularly on social projects that have not yet achieved a concrete existence but persist at the threshold of possible existence. By addressing the question of the endurance, let alone the survival, of alternative forms of life, Povinelli opens new ethical and political questions.


“Povinelli approaches liberal imaginary visions of tense, eventfulness, and ethics through an inspiring study of current social and political theory. Economies of Abandonment makes a profound statement on the dynamics of the concept of belonging within a world of social difference plagued by the irregularities of liberal policy. The reader of this book is taken on an unexpected journey of different case studies (real, imagined, and textual) and theoretical and philosophical frameworks which set the scene for a thought provoking discussion of social difference, alternate social worlds and liberal politics.” — Marco Ceccarelli, Limina

Economies of Abandonment impresses, to be sure, because of Povinelli’s penetrating analyses and intellectual sweep, but even more so because of her conscience, political passion and willingness to persevere.” — Kenneth M. George, Interventions

“Situated between the ‘eventful’ tenses of settler governance and anthropological imaginaries, Povinelli continues to trace out how we might produce positive sociographies of those whom settler states encounter, scrutinize and abandon.” — Timothy Neale, Postcolonial Studies

"Economies of Abandonment is extremely thought provoking, insightful and rich in ideas. It rewards, if not demands, re-reading." — Geoff Buchanan, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

“Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s book is ambitious and original. It reflects her extraordinary ability to move from high theoretical discussions of philosophical concepts, to broad perspectives on late liberalism, to precise accounts of political and legal controversies, as well as public conversations on sex, drugs, religion, ecology, and other matters. Her argument in Economies of Abandonment is impressive in its breadth and depth. The book will provide an important contribution to future critical discussions, not only in anthropology but much more broadly.” — Éric Fassin, École Normale Supérieure

Economies of Abandonment is an erudite book that unravels crucial linkages between the transformed character of liberal policies in our present and the shattered lives of those who live under its ever-expanding shadow. It will be widely read and appreciated for its thoughtful and provocative arguments.” — Saba Mahmood, University of California, Berkeley


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth A. Povinelli is Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University. She is the author of The Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality and The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism, both also published by Duke University Press, as well as Labor’s Lot: The Power, History, and Culture of Aboriginal Action.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction. The Child in the Broom Closet 1

1. The Part That Has No Part 47

2. The Brackets of Recognition 75

3. Road Kill: Ethical Substance, Exhaustion, Endurance 101

4. Events of Abandonment 131

5. After Good and Evil, Whither Sacrificial Love? 163

Conclusion. Negative Critique, Positive Sociographies 187

Notes 193

Bibliography 211

Index 225
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5084-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5066-8
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