The 40th Annual Meeting of the Society for Economic Anthropology
Convenience as a Driver of Social Economies

April 30 and May 1, 2020 (Online)

Registration: Click here to register.

Conference Program: click here to download

Please join us for as much of the conference as you can, from the comfort of your home, with a simple click of an email link! All SEA members are welcome and encouraged to attend and, as always, to provide useful feedback to our presenters. All participants must register, but it is FREE!

Conference cancellation notice: March 12, 2020

The Executive Board of the Society for Economic Anthropology has voted to cancel our Spring Conference “Economies of Convenience” at the University of Notre Dame (Apr30-May3). Despite this disappointing news, please read on for some promising contingency plans.

While the extent and severity of COVID19 in the United States is still uncertain, we feel that the most responsible thing to do is to practice the precautionary principle — in the interest of our community, our families, and society at large. We also understand that many who were registered for the conference are now facing university-wide travel restrictions.

The executive board would like to extend our sincere and heartfelt thanks to Rahul Oka (chair), Samantha Zepponi, and Reiti Gengo – this year’s program and local organizing committee. The University of Notre Dame has hosted the SEA in the past, with great hospitality and generosity. It is a shame that we won’t get to enjoy their warm welcome this year, but we hope that we’ll find ourselves back in South Bend in the future.

Please note that the AAA will refund all conference registration fees within the next two weeks. We also understand that many airlines are allowing for reservations to be cancelled and rebooked within 12 months without penalty. Please feel free to use this letter in support of that request.

In lieu of the spring conference we will be 1) hosting a smaller virtual meeting and 2) proposing a AAA roundtable on “economies of convenience”.

  1. The virtual meeting will take place on April 30 and/or May 1 (details are still in the works, more info to come). The virtual meeting program will be narrower in scope— including presentations of the on-theme, full-length papers accepted for the SEA spring meeting and submitted for consideration in the “Economies of Convenience” special issue of Economic Anthropology. As per SEA tradition, we will ensure there is ample time to discuss each paper! For those of you whose papers were accepted as part of this year’s SEA Spring Meeting Program, please look for a second email (coming soon) with more detail. In brief, the email will include an invitation for you to submit your paper to Economic Anthropology. All who submit can elect to be included in the virtual program as a means to foster discussion on the theme, gather feedback from colleagues, and ensure progress on the special issue. Please notify Rahul Oka via email ( no later than MARCH 20TH if you plan to submit so that you can be included in the virtual program. Full length papers will be due to Rahul by APRIL 28TH (please note this is a hard deadline given the late date of this year’s meeting relative to EA’s publication schedule).
  2. We also invite spring meeting presenters to participate in a roundtable discussion about convenience at AAA2020. If you are interested in participating, please send Cindy Isenhour ( and Rahul Oka ( an email no later than MARCH 20TH. Once we know who is interested, we will provide more detail.

In closing, I include a note from Rahul Oka, Program Chair, which encourages us to think further about the theme of convenience, from the perspective of the COVID19 Global Pandemic and SEA’s cancellation.

“While this cancellation is sad and inconvenient for the SEA, the outbreak and its socio-economic and political aftershocks ricocheting across the world brings to light the precarity of an immense, globally-networked economy based on the consumption of services and goods designed to make everyone’s life more efficient, enjoyable, functional, AND “convenient.” If there is any consolation for the fear and loss of life to the virus, we have also seen the dramatic impact of decreased human activity (an inconvenience for some, a tragedy for many) on the environment in the span of just a month. The world will be different after this, in ways that we cannot yet predict. Ironically, this crisis is the time when economists have seemed to recognize that social interaction is the central underlying driver for economies. From the Washington Post, in the words of Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank: “The wheels of the economy can’t continue to turn as fast if the whole country avoids social interaction and tries to live online through the Internet. With less store traffic, merchants may have to actually cut prices instead of raising them.” – Rahul Oka 2020 SEA Program Chair (March 11, 2020)

Stay well everyone.

With my very best regards,
Cindy Isenhour (SEA President 2019-2021)



Theme: Convenience

Tentative Title: Convenience as a Driver, Mediator, and Moderator of Social Economies

April 30- May 2, 2020
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana

Co-Chairs: Rahul C. Oka (University of Notre Dame), Samantha Zepponi (University of Notre Dame), and Rieti Gengo (University of Notre Dame).

Although much of our contemporary lives are built around what is convenient for us, ‘convenience’ – as a driver of innovation and development within human societies – has not been a subject of much anthropological analysis. The focus has rather been on ways in which different societies view and seek greater efficiency/efficacy, ease, necessity/need, expedience, comparative advantage, and adaptability in their relationships with the socio-material and political-economic surroundings. ‘Convenience’ is common to all of these factors and thus begs the question of its role in the story of human evolution. In this scenario, innovations and ‘progress,’ and their consequences are outcomes of humans trying to increase the level of convenience in their duties, tasks and routines in both small incremental innovations and modifications, as well as large inventive leaps driven by desire for a short cut, a quick fix, an easy solution, a.k.a. what is convenient.

Along this line of thought, we propose further unpacking the role played by convenience in past and present social economies. What is the relationship between convenience and necessity, efficiency, expedience, comparative advantage, and adaptability? How do people in small scale societies understand and operationalize convenience? Can we identify and differentiate the role of convenience in past technological developments? What is the impact of convenience in past and contemporary consumption patterns? How do producers and manufacturers understand and incorporate convenience into their products?

The discussions would also focus on the intended and unintended effects of convenience as a multi-faceted complex phenomenon. Seemingly benign, it is possible that the unfolding and numerous unintended consequences of the drive for convenience become sinister or even malevolent. For example, as pointed out by Foucault, the medicalization of the body within modern nation states, with documentation, archiving, and controlled sharing of individual medical histories, is simultaneously a) a convenient efficient means for delivery of good medical and public health, and b) an emergently convenient and efficient means by which the state and institutions exercise power over the body-politic. The evolution of the smart phone is another example. Starting from its initial function of wireless communication, cell phones have added many applications to their platform, for texting, email, and games, followed by web-browsing, etc., until it has become a necessity across the world. In the process, increasing research worries about the ‘dumbing down of smart phone-users,’ impacts on social structure, individual psycho-social and physical health, and cognitive functions. Other researchers worry about the impact of demand of the convenience of the world at your finger-tips on environmental and human landscapes: extraction of cobalt and coltan, the use of plastics, the disposal of toxic waste within areas occupied by vulnerable groups. Convenience can hence be a very powerful force for social, economic, political, and ideological amalgamation, aggregation, and centralization, or for division, segregation, and dispersal.

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Suggested Paper Topics

As such then, convenience covers a multitude of human behaviors, developments, and transgressions, that would be ideal for discussion at the SEA. We welcome empirically-grounded papers and posters on topics that explore but are not limited to the following questions:

  • Convenience as a behavioral complex, positive and negative impacts of the role of convenience in decision making at individual and group levels.
  • Non-moral aspects of convenience, going beyond moral arguments against convenience; role of convenience in different socio-economic and political systems: capitalism, communism, socialism, authoritarianism?
  • How convenience for the wealthy/elites, mainstream/dominant groups might be inconvenience for the poor/non-elite/minority groups, and vice versa; how power dynamics influence the outcomes of these tensions?
  • Analysis of outcomes of convenience on particular societies, past and present. This may include impacts of convenience-driven decision making in archaic, administered, and market economies; in non or pre-state societies, including foraging and pastoral groups (how does convenience drive agreements and/or conflict over sharing foraging or pastoral or agricultural commons – land, water, flora, fauna, minerals).

Different papers could explore the role of convenience in:

  • The emergence and reinforcement of division of labor and specialization,
  • The growth of exchange, trade, and the middleperson/broker, and the ‘convenience’ fee.
  • Determining various forms of producer, labor, consumer, and trader pricing and surplus formation.
  • Pathways for transhumance, migration, asylum and refugee seeking
  • Fast food vs the rise of slow food (food studies, nutrition, public health)
  • Fordist modes of production and the American production-sales-consumption paradigm of the early 20th century where convenience is the product and efficiency is the pitch. (Industrial studies, consumption, STS).
  • Health and medical choices by all stakeholders, where pills and surgical procedures are often seen as a more convenient solutions to heath issues than lifestyle changes, even though they may be less efficient or efficacious in the long term, e.g. the preponderance of bypass surgery in the US, the growing rate of medically unnecessary C-sections across the world, etc. (Biological and Medical Anthropology).
  • Ideas driving political and economic development, e.g. drive towards self-reliance as a convenient way for decision makers to shift the responsibility of development/progress onto the shoulders of the vulnerable or the marginalized
  • The consumption of one-time use products or environmentally/socially harmfully products (plastic, coltan, cobalt, strip mining products, fracking products) and the impacts of convenience driving the difficulty in changing consumption patterns (Environmental, labor, ecological anthropology)
  • The impact of convenience on building tourism infrastructure and its impacts on local and regional socio-economic and environmental systems
  • The convenience of location, costs, and other factors in the emergence of global supply chains and distribution networks
  • Convenience as a driving factor in settlement choice, intra-site distribution of resources and services (archaeology, economic and social geography)
  • The convenience of low rent informal settlements (slums) and their costly vulnerability to socio-ecological disasters and catastrophes.
  • Convenience intersecting with different forms of capital in the formation and reinforcement of inequality
  • Convenience driving the interplay of science, technology, and values

Some recent popular works in the economics of convenience:

The Convenience Economy. CUNA Mutual Group: LINK

The Tyranny of Convenience by Tim Wu, Feb. 16, 2018. LINK

What Marketers can Learn from the Economy of Convenience, by Justin Gray, 2016. LINK

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Abstract Submissions

The SEA meetings provide a rare opportunity for a focused and coherent program of presentation, with time for critical discussion in a convivial intellectual setting. Papers are selected for a program that allows 20 minutes for presentation and 20 minutes for discussion in a single plenary session over two days; additional abstracts will be selected for the poster session. Each SEA annual meeting also produces a journal issue of Economic Anthropology dedicated to the conference theme. Submitting a paper for the plenary session represents a commitment that you wish to be considered for inclusion in this volume. We encourage archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, economists, sociologists, and scholars to submit abstracts.

Please note: the submission deadline of Wednesday, January 15, 2020 has been extended to January 31, 2020 (5 pm Eastern Time).

Please send your:
a) paper/poster details; and

b) proof of SEA conference registration (pdf of confirmation/receipt) by email to Rahul Oka: by January 31, 2020.

The submission details should include:

  • Title;
  • Author name/s, affiliation/s and contact information;
  • and abstract/precis of up to 500 words that includes information on research data/methodology.

Please indicate your preference for oral or poster presentation. Papers delivered at the plenary sessions should be on the conference theme. Posters can be on any topic within economic anthropology. Also please indicate on the abstract document whether, if your submission is not selected for oral paper presentation, you would be willing to do a poster. The deadline for paper/poster abstract submission is 5.00 pm, EST, January 31th, 2020. You will be notified by February 7th on the final decision regarding your submission.

The SEA has a limited amount of travel funding to support students and un/under-employed PhDs. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for one of these awards, evaluated based on the strength of the submitted abstract, by including “CONSIDER FOR TRAVEL AWARD” at the end of your abstract.

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Poster presentations:
At the annual conference, the SEA always welcomes posters on any topic in economic anthropology. Students and scholars whose work may not fit the central theme of the meeting are encouraged to submit a poster. The special poster session during the meeting is inclusive and a major event of the SEA conference.

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Registration and abstract submission are both now open; the deadline for abstract submission is January 31, 2020. Acceptance notifications will be sent out by February 7, 2020. Conference registration for non-presenters will remain open right up until the conference end date of May 2, 2020.

To register: Click this link to go to Section Meetings page of the AAA web site. Scroll down to the SEA Spring Meeting, and follow the prompts.

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Conference attendees traveling by air should fly into the South Bend International Airport (SBN), which is approximately 5 miles from the Notre Dame campus.

Lodging for conference attendees is available at the hotels listed below. Please note that the special reservation links for the Fairfield Inn & Suites and the Embassy Suites are only good until March 30, 2020.

Fairfield Inn and Suites, 1235 North Eddy Street, South Bend, IN (Marriott)
King – $124 per night
2 Queens – $134 per night

Ivy Court Inn and Suites, 1404 Ivy Court, South Bend, IN
To take advantage of the SEA room block, please call 574-277-6500 and mention the Society for Economic Anthropology when making your reservation.
King Suite – $135 per night
Double – $110 per night

Embassy Suites by Hilton, 1140 East Angela Blvd., South Bend, IN
Use the group name Society of Economic Anthropology when making your reservation. (This is already done for you on the reservation link above.)
King 1-Room Suite – $140
King 2-Room Suite – $150
Queen Double 2-Room Suite – $160

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