In recent years, the concept of the otherwise has been tracking across anthropology to frame political potentialities that are emerging, often drawing on phenomenological and continental theoretical lineages. However, in other fields, especially those founded in social movements, such as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, postcolonial, queer, and gender studies, the otherwise has been understood to enjoin scholars to an enduring struggle for liberation. Within these fields, the otherwise summons the forms of life that have persisted despite constant and lethal surveillance; it brings forth the possibility for, even the necessity of, abolishing the current order and radically transforming our worlds. These liberatory commitments can (and already do) have palpable and challenging effects when smuggled into the space of ethnographic inquiry. Indeed, that is the point.

We call for a move from the anthropological study of the otherwise to an Otherwise Anthropology

Since 2014, Laura McTighe and Megan Raschig have been gathering scholars of emergent activist movements and spaces into an ongoing conversation on the otherwise as a theoretical and methodological nest for understanding and supporting localized world-making initiatives. The contributors to this project are women, femmes, and nonbinary people; Black, Indigenous, people of color, and white accomplices. As junior scholars, we have aligned ourselves with emancipatory, decriminalizing, life-affirming social projects that have unapologetically transformative demands. Together, we have been asking one another and our co-thinkers on the ground: What kind of anthropology can contribute to this deep and enduring practice of otherwise world building?

We hold the otherwise as an invitation and an incitement to the development of an accomplice anthropology that throws in with the struggles it studies. Nothing else could be more necessary than an engagement with (ac)complicity in contemporary North America and elsewhere.

The first public compendium of our work, “An Otherwise Anthropology,” was published as part of Cultural Anthropology‘s Theorizing the Contemporary in 2019. This collection unites key co-thinkers and collaborators from an array of public gatherings of the project, including ‘Horizons of an Otherwise’ (AAA 2016), ‘Racialized Terror, Persistence and the Otherwise’ (AAA 2017), ‘Polyphonies of Repair’ (CASCA-CUBA 2018), ‘Making Ex-centric Meaning’ (AAA 2018), and ‘Emergent Expertise’ (SfAA 2019).