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2021 SPA Biennial: Interrogating Inequalities

6-10 April, 2021

We are thrilled to announce the Opening of the SPA 2021 Biennial Call for Submissions!  

Given the move to a fully virtual format, we have made some changes to the conference dates and selection process, so please read carefully,  Let us know if you have any questions (contact info below).

Given the demands of online engagement, we have decided to spread out the conference a bit and hold fewer events per day.
New dates: Tuesday 6 April – Saturday 10 April, 2021, 12:00-17:00 Eastern Time.

Key conference dates

Panel submission opens: 2 Sept 2020
Panel submission closes: 2 Oct 2020
Decisions on panels: 1 Nov 2020
Paper submission opens: 6 Nov 2020
Paper submission closes: 15 Dec 2020
Decisions on papers: 15 Jan 2021
Final decisions communicated: 15 Feb 2021


Questions about psychology and culture have characterized the field of anthropology from its inception, and have fundamentally shaped the discipline’s engagements with human differences.  Psychological Anthropology’s deep roots in the history and development of anthropology is both a strength and liability.  More than ever before, questions about whether we should “let anthropology burn” (Jobson 2020) have come to the fore, centering on whether a discipline so fundamentally rooted in the colonialist enterprise is even remotely redeemable; and if so, how.

In the context of these debates, psychological anthropologists have some extra work to do.  On the one hand, a major commitment of psychological anthropological work has been to interrogate the status quo and to destabilize categories of knowledge.  Yet, at the same time, this endeavor has been built on systems, structures, and modes of knowledge production that are deeply colonialist.  Some within anthropology and related disciplines have even suggested that the very premise of psychological or psychologically informed inquiry is hopelessly retrograde.  This has led in more recent decades to a disciplinary perception of psychological anthropology as theoretically, methodologically, and even ideologically conservative.

While many (if not all) of us would reject such characterizations, we must be willing to look unflinchingly at the possibility that there is something to this critique.  Our subdiscipline undeniably derives from forms of practice and knowledge-building that are often deeply problematic and that need radical revisioning.  We are called upon to do better, to push beyond conventional comfort zones.  Yet, at the same time, our subdiscipline also derives from forms of practice and knowledge-building that are deeply humanistic, respectful, and compassionate.  The question then becomes: how can we leverage the unique intellectual and human resources of our sub-discipline to move us forward into new ways of thinking, research, writing, and engagement? 

With the conference theme of Interrogating Inequalities, we encourage scholars to radically re-encounter their own data, methodologies, theoretical commitments, engagements with the anthropological canon, forms of writing and research dissemination, and the subdiscipline more broadly.  Our aim with this theme is to prompt participants to reflect not only on the colonial dimensions and decolonial possibilities of anthropological work, but also to radically reimagine what it means to be a psychological anthropologist in today’s world.

Submission and selection process

We have decided to use a new submissions portal (Cocoa), which offers a fresh, new format for paper and panel submission that pairs well with our conference platform (Shindig) and our conference technical support team (NomadIT).  All of this should be very user friendly, but it does mean things will work a bit differently this time around. Those of you who have participated in European anthropology conferences will have encountered a similar process before. We are excited about using this portal, as it shakes up the submission process in a way that is more democratic. 

The submission process contains two phases: 1. Panel topic proposals and 2. Paper proposals.

The SPA Biennial Committee believes this system will create a more inclusive, global, and better-networked organization. This process will also allow for less overlap in the themes of panels, and for more diverse groups of scholars to get to work together and to meet new people. We also hope it will make newcomers feel welcome. It facilitates more overall participation, with less redundancy.

Phase 1: Panel topic proposals (2 Sep – 2 Oct)

  1. A maximum of two individuals (a panel organizer and possible co-organizer if desired) come up with a panel idea in response to the main conference theme: Interrogating Inequalities.
    Note: You are just proposing a panel idea, NOT a coordinated group of papers and individual authors!
    All Panel proposals must be made via the online form by 2 October. 
    Panel proposals should consist of a panel title, a short description of <300 characters, and an abstract of 250 words.
    Please note that if a panel has two organizers, they should come from different institutions.
    On submission of the proposal, the convenors will receive notification emails, confirming receipt.
  2. Following the 2 October deadline for panel submissions, SPA’s Program Committee will select panels to accept. Panel organizers will be notified of their acceptance by 1 November.

Phase 2: Paper proposals (6 Nov – 15 Dec)

  1. On 6 November, the accepted panels will be displayed here on the site and the call for papers announced through various listserv and social media channels to SPA members as well as to non-members who may wish to participate. 
  2. Those interested in participating in the conference will read through the panel abstracts and find a panel that interests them. They will then propose their paper abstracts to the panel of their choosing using the online form by 15 December.  The site will give details on this paper proposal process in due course.

Selection and notification processes

  1. By 15 January the panel organizer(s) (not the conference committee but the actual panel organizers) will go through the abstracts they received and accept those they think fit best with their panel. Depending on the number of abstracts each panel receives, a panel may be allotted a double session.

Please note: we strongly encourage panel organizers to prioritize diversity and inclusivity across all dimensions when making their selections, including (but not limited to) academic affiliation, stage of academic career, geographic region of origin and/or interest, theoretical orientation, race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexuality. 

  1. Authors of papers that are not selected by the panels to which they proposed initially may have the opportunity to apply to other panels, or be included in the conference through other means still under development. Please stay tuned for further information. 
  2. Final decisions will be communicated to participants by 15 February, in time for them to prepare their presentations for the conference in early April.

Please let us know if you have any questions! Email: [email protected]

Presentation formats

SPA welcomes the submission of two primary panel formats:

  1. Traditional panels with five 15-minute papers per 90-minute session (leaving one required 15-minute slot for Q&A/ discussion).
  2. Roundtables: at a roundtable a group of scholars (no more than 5) would discuss themes/issues of general scholarly interest in front of (and subsequently with) an audience. While a roundtable can include short (5-10 min) provocations/presentations, the main idea is to create a lively debate, not to focus on any one presenter. In your roundtable proposal, you can list/name the participants in your long abstract, or you can leave the list open and take in ‘provocation/presentation’ proposals during the Call for Papers and choose five of those to be on the roundtable.

Details regarding other events including the  poster session, social events, and Lifetime Achievement Awards are forthcoming.


You do not need to register for the conference in order to submit a panel or paper proposal.  You will need to register in order to attend the virtual event, however.  Information on conference registration, including fees and deadlines, will be communicated in the near future. 


Please email [email protected]