Call for Papers 2017

Call for Papers

9th Annual McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Conference

Colour, Tint, Tone


Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy, Georges Seurat, 1888

McGill University

Friday, 31 March 2017

This conference calls us to view colours in a different light: to consider how colours code culture; to reflect on the intersections of race and space, perception and technology, aesthetics and politics. How do the visual and the imaginary shape realities? How does colour form and inform space, time? This conference calls us to explore colour as vivid lens for anthropological thinking.

Race and place: Between 1934 and 1968, the US Federal Housing Administration (FHA) produced colourcoded maps of neighborhoods in order to grade and spatialize its assessment of the economic risks of granting mortgages. This practice came to be known as “redlining,” and though the Fair Housing Act of 1968 declared the practice illegal on the basis of racial discrimination, the effects of redlining on the layout, and diversity of present-day American cities continue to magnetize public debate (Coates 2014; Badger 2015). A recent project has archived the FHA’s colour-coding key, which represented neighbourhoods at the lowest end of its scale in a surprising combination of colour and grammatical tense: yellow is written in the present progressive and used to describe areas thought of as precariously constructed and “lacking homogeneity.” Red is written using the present perfect and used to describe areas “in which the things… taking place in the Yellow neighborhoods, have already happened” (Madrigal 2014). Colours are mapped onto geography and grammar; tracing exclusionary lines around economics, ethnicity and modern American living.

Perception and technology: When the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York, introduced Kodachrome colour film in the 1930s, they introduced to the public a technological vision of the world that was sensitive to red, green and blue (RGB) mixes of colour. The RGB colour model sacrifices visible shades of chartreuse (yellow-green) and magenta so that we can see more shades of blue. As colour film rose in popularity, with Kodachrome at the top, a correlative decline of the colour chartreuse could be observed in northeastern American seascape painting (Stilgoe 2004). In Russian, the colour blue is two-fold: a thing is either ‘light blue’ or ‘dark blue,’ never just ‘blue.’ Consequently, when tested in laboratory settings, Russian-only speakers see more shades of blue than English-only speakers. Further, this link to blue expands into mapping of places and people. Whether it first came from the blue lights of public transportation, or the blue line of the Moscow metro, the word for “gay” in Russian is “light blue”–colouring people and places in a gendered, sexualized light.

Aesthetics and politics, religion and nature: ‘Green’ in Western discourse has come to symbolize the environmental movement. Greenpeace is one of the world’s largest environmental networks, while Green political parties exist around the world, most abundantly in Europe and the Americas. In greenwashing, the colour comes to stand for a marketable aesthetic code rather than a coherent politics. Meanwhile, following the controversial 2009 election, the meaning of the colour in the Iranian Green Movement revealed itself through religious rather than environmental associations. In Iran, green has long been a religious symbol, and was deployed in part to frame an opposition movement within the bounds of acceptable political behaviour. Green wristbands, “once a talisman for the terminally-ill seeking mercy” (Kazemi 2016), became a ubiquitous symbol of political movement.

This year’s conference aims to provide a space to collectively think about and reflect upon such themes. While submitted papers are welcome to expand upon these themes in creative and unanticipated ways, in the spirit of promoting a generative and lively conversation, we pose a series of questions and themes to begin a productive conversation:

• How do particular places come to be coloured? How do spaces mediate interactions? To what extent do places and spaces embody a history?

• In what ways does race colour collective action in your community, your field site, your life? How does colour draw lines of exclusion or inclusion, of race, gender and sexuality?

• How does the past influence colourful imaginaries or imaginings of colour today? How might we think about what is ongoing and historical about the realities of colour?

• How does language colour art? How does technology shape our senses, perceptions, and bodies?

• To what extent does anthropology engage with the colourful? In what ways does sensory ethnography’s play of the senses allow us to envision the world differently? How does the articulation of colour, history, time and materiality appear in archaeology? How is the history of these disciplines coloured in relation to race, coloniality and imperialism?

Submit your short abstracts (250 words) to by January 27, 2017. Please include your name, university affiliation (if one is held), and contact information. You will be notified of the reception of your abstract, and invitations will be distributed by early February, 2017.

Invited participants should prepare 15-minute papers or films for presentation. Attendees are additionally invited to join us for a welcome reception the evening of Thursday, March 30th, and a participatory workshop the morning of Saturday, April 1. Feel free to use the provided email to contact us with any questions. Additional information and updates can be found at:

Works Cited:

Badger, Emily. 2015. “Redlining: still a thing.” Washington Post.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi 2014 “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic Monthly, July. Washington D.C.: Atlantic Media.

Kazemi, A. V. 2016. “Appropriating the Past: The Green Movement in Iran.” Global Dialogue 6(4).

Madrigal, Alexis C. 2014 “The Racist Housing Policy that Made Your Neighborhood.” The Atlantic Monthly, July. Washington D.C.: Atlantic Media.

Stilgoe, John R. 2004. Shallow Water Dictionary: a grounding in estuary English. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.