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SPA Biennial 2021: Interrogating Inequalities

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

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

Given the demands of online engagement, we have decided to spread out the conference a bit and hold fewer events per day. We have also made some changes to the selection process.
New dates: Tue 6 April – Sat 10 April, 2021, 12:00-17:00 Eastern Time.

Key conference dates

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 are using a new submissions portal (Cocoa), which offers a fresh approach to paper and panel submission, pairs well with our conference platform (Shindig) and is overseen by our conference technical support team (NomadIT).  While user friendly, it means things will work differently this time around. Those who have participated in European anthropology conferences will have encountered a similar process before. We are excited to use this portal as it shakes up the submission process in a more democratic way. 

The SPA Biennial Committee believes this system will create a more inclusive, global, and better-networked organization. This process also allows for less overlap in panel themes 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, facilitating more overall participation, with less redundancy.

The submission process contains two phases: 1. Panel topic proposals (now concluded) and 2. Paper proposals.

Phase 1: Panel topic proposals (2 Sep – 18 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!

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

  1. Accepted panels are displayed on the site and the call for papers announced to SPA members and non-members. 
  2. Those interested in participating in the conference will read through the panel abstracts and find a panel that interests them. They then propose their paper abstracts to the panel of their choosing using the online form by 15 December

Panel organizers can edit their panel abstracts by clicking here and then clicking on the panel title.

Call for papers

Before you propose a paper, please read the theme above, the rules below, and then browse the list of panels here

How to propose a paper

  1. Find a panel/workshop/combined format you want to take part of
    Browse the list of panels here and find one suiting your work. If there isn’t one which fits your interests/research, submit a paper to the Sui Generis panel here. The Programme committee will later divide those proposals into topically linked sessions.
  2. Write your paper (abstract) proposal
    A paper proposal must consist of:
    • a paper/contribution title
    • the name/s and email address/es of author/s
    • a short abstract of fewer than 300 characters (= a brief summary of the long abstract)
    • a long abstract of fewer than 250 words
  3. All proposals must be made via the online form, not by email.
    There is a ‘propose paper’ button in the panel header and beneath the long abstract of each panel/workshop page. Find the panel you are interested in and click the proposal button to submit your proposal directly to that panel.
  4. Check that the proposal made it into the system.
    After submission, the proposing author and any co-authors listed will receive an automated email confirming receipt of submission. If you do not receive this email, please first check your spam filter, and then the Log in environment here (Cocoa) to see if your proposal is there. If it is, it simply means your confirmation email got spammed/lost; if it is not, you will need to re-submit, as for some reason the process was not completed. Co-authors cannot be subsequently added/removed nor can papers be withdrawn within Cocoa – for that, please email spa2021(at)nomadit.co.uk.

How many papers can you propose?

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.

What happens after the CFP has ended on 15 December?

Proposals will be marked as pending until the end of the Call. Panel organizers (not the conference committee but the actual panel organizers) will then be asked to make their decisions over the papers proposed to their panel by 15 January and to communicate those to the proposers, marking them up within the  Log in environment here (Cocoa). Papers which are neither accepted nor rejected, but marked for ‘transfer’, will be given the opportunity to be re-housed in another 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. 

What is Shindig and how can one participate in a panel on that platform?

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.

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.

  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: 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.


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 spa2021(at)nomadit.co.uk.