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Professor Elizabeth Povinelli

IAS Fellow at St Mary's College, February - March 2023

Headshot of Prof E PovinelliElizabeth A. Povinelli has a BA in Philosophy from St John’s College, Santa Fe, NM and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Yale University. She is the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University where she served as Chair and Director, respectively. She is a founding member of the Karrabing Film Collective, an internationally lauded film, arts and lands based media group in the Indigenous lands of the north western coast of the Northern Territory of Australia. Their films have received numerous prizes including the 2015 Visible Prize, the Eye Prize from the Eye Film Museum, Amsterdam, and the MIFF Cinema Nova Award for Best Short Fiction.  

Professor Povinelli is a critical theorist of settler liberalism and her work has evolved over thirty-five years of collaborative work with her Indigenous colleagues in the coastal Australian north. Her early work addressed how settler liberalism, in the form of cultural recognition, functioned to control and constrain Indigenous modes of belonging to the human and more-than-human world from the point of view of her Indigenous colleagues at Belyuen (Labor’s Lot University of Chicago Press, 1993 and The Cunning of Recognition (Duke University Press, 2002)). Her work then moved to understand the relationship between Australian modes of settler governance and liberal forms in elsewhere (The Empire of Love, (Duke University Press, 2006) and The Economies of Abandonment (Duke University Press, 2011)). Her attention has more recently turned to the collapse of late liberalism in the wake of geontology, her term of the governance of existence through the separations of Life and Nonlife (Geontologies (Duke University Press, 2016) and Between Gaia and Ground (Duke University Press,  2021)).

Professor Povinelli is also a filmmaker and artist. With the Karrabing Film Collective, she has made eight films shown in multiple venues including the Tate Modern, London; MoMA PS1, New York; the Serpentine, London; and the TKTKTKTK. She has created The Inheritance (2021) with her long-time collaborator Thomas Bartlett based on her graphic memoir The Inheritance (Duke University Press, 2021).  

Professor Povinelli is currently working on three major projects. The first is the creation of an Art Residency for Ancestors with her Karrabing colleagues. This project examines the relationship between human and more-than-human made rock and reef ecologies in the context of oceanic warming. The second is an examination of the differential incorporation of the Povinelli Simonaz clan from Val Rendena, Trentino, Italy and the Nunggudi and Mudi clans from Karrabing coastal regions of the Northern Territory, Australia into colonial modernity. The third project is an illustrated fiction work tentatively titled, Alice Henry, and the Chronicle of the Fall of the Western Plateau.

Professor Povinelli has received numerous grants,  invited lectures, and named appointments for her work, most recently Core Lecturer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Afield Fellowship Prize; Regna Darnell Distinguished Lecture; Alliance Professor, Sorbonne-Université Paris 1; Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities; Northrop Frye Visiting Professor, Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto; and the Lionell Trilling Prize for Geontologies.

For her IAS Fellowship, she will be continuing her work with the Karrabing Film Collective, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, and the Northern Territory Department of Heritage to reconceptualize the relationship between the human and more-than-human construction of the now fragile Karrabing coastal region. Specifically, this work will focus on the relationship between centuries old rock fish weirs at an ecological sensitive coastal region and Karrabing ancestral coastal beings, especially several reef-based ancestors in the shadow of extractive industries, warming rises and rising tides. 

Professor Povinelli will also contribute to the IAS major project Opportunities in Pollution, which seeks to understand the emergent relations between human and non-human species in the polluted landscape of North East England.


IAS Seminar - 24 March 2023 - 1.00 - 2.00pm.  IAS Seminar Room, Cosin's Hall, Institute of Advanced Study
Late Liberalism of Toxicity - metaphor or matter-forth
Registration is essential. Details here

IAS Public Lecture - 07 March 2023, 5.30 - 6.30pm, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College, Durham University
The Shaping of Things: precolonial rock fishtraps and the more-than-human ancestral present in Karrabing Indigenous Australia
Further information here

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