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SPA Biennial 2021: Interrogating Inequalities

6-10 April, 2021, 12:00-17:00 Eastern time

This year’s SPA 2021 Biennial will take place online. Adjusting to this format, we have spread the conference out a little with fewer events per day.

The programme/timetable is now up online, so members of the SPA, panel organizers, paper presenters and all those interested in Pyschological Anthropology are encouraged to register to attend the conference at early-bird dates. Rates will rise on 16 March. Registration is done via the AAA website, so you will need to have/create an account there.


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.

The virtual platform (Shindig) – how does it work?

SPA2021 will use Shindig to deliver the conference. Unlike the platforms we now use everyday to communicate (Skype, Zoom, Meet, Teams etc), Shindig has been designed to recreate the feel of a conference: it has a ‘stage’ for presenters, while participants and presenters can still see the whole audience. Members of the audience can chat to one another even while a talk is going on (we know, naughty! :-)) both by text and in video. Videochats comprise up to six participants, making it possible to have fun coffee-break gaggles where people from one session can gather to discuss the papers just heard or those coming up. It is easy to find people via search and contact them for a chat, yet nobody is obliged to chat (the default privacy setting means you are free to ignore invitations to videochat). Asking questions can be done via group chat, raising a hand and being called to the stage or writing a question that can be ‘published’ for all to see.

To get acquainted with Shindig as either an attendee or presenter, please view our resources page here.

If you are a panel organizer, you are advised to view this resources page.

As SPA2021 will attract people from various timezones, we will need to address the question as to what would be the best way for people to present.

Virtual presentation options

The panel explorer and Shindig platform being used allow for the following form of presentation:

  • Live presentation
  • Live presentation with slides (saved as PDF), audio and video file playback
  • Pre-recorded presentation played back during the session
  • Pre-recorded presentation made available online in advance of the event and played back during the session.

The two last options are well-suited to those not wishing to compromise their sleeping hours to attend panels or those who worry that their internet connection would not allow for smooth live delivery. You can read more on the panel formats and presentation options on this resources page here.

Email any questions to: spa2021(at)nomadit.co.uk

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.

Manage your panel/edit your paper

Panel organizers can edit their paper/panel abstracts and manage their paper proposals by clicking here and then clicking on the panel title. Paper authors can edit their paper abstracts with the same link.

SPA has the “two roles per person, each role once” rule: participants can have two roles PLUS be an organizer of one session. So:-

  1. An organizer can only propose one session; this does not count against their two-role limit
  2. Giving a paper or being a roundtable participant each counts as one role
  3. You can do a roundtable and a paper and so have up to two roles
  4. But you can only have one paper, so you cannot have two papers for two roles
  5. You can give a paper in your own session, which then counts as one role.

The use of a new submissions portal (Cocoa) offered a fresh approach to paper and panel submission, which the SPA believes creates a more inclusive, global, and better-networked organization, reducing overlap in panel themes and allowing for more diverse groups of scholars to work together and meet new people. We hope it will make newcomers feel welcome.

The SPA strongly encourages 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. 

Accessibility (guidelines)

We request all convenors/presenters/delegates to read our accessibility guidelines for this conference.

Recording policy

The panels and plenaries will be recorded for delegate and public consumption, respectively. Read the full policy for the details, including how to opt out as a panel/paper.


Please email spa2021(at)nomadit.co.uk.