Titles & Abstracts

When Books Strike Back: Academic Written Production between “Us” and “Them” in Russia

Dmitry V. Arzyutov, University of Aberdeen/Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St Petersburg

 My paper focuses on the social life (Appadurai 1988) of anthropological books within academic and indigenous communities. I base my analysis on the STS approach (Jasanoff 2004). It shows how the production of anthropological written texts turns into a “subject” of indigenous knowledge. These texts conjoin anthropologists and their field co-operators. I analyse the series “Peoples and cultures” published since 1999 by the Moscow-based Institute of anthropology and ethnology together with Russian local research institutes. On the one hand, this series presents Soviet ethnographic “grid of knowledge” which is based on a strict model of description of peoples/ethnic groups such as ethnic origin, clothes, food and dwellings of these peoples. On the other hand, this series comprises the “local voices” of indigenous communities. The different regional administrations of Russia use these books for identity governance. The series consists of many volumes. Several volumes are entitled with the name of alleged ethnic groups, for example “The Yakuts” or “The Ingushes”.

The book, “The Yakuts”, was published in (2012) and the national intellectuals organized a festival around this event in Moscow. The book became synonymous with ethnicity (see Turnbull 2000 on relations between cartographers and maps). This shift of the book from Academy to local community refers to the Jack Goody’s idea on “the power of written tradition”, or even “power of books” (2000).

Books strike back (Latour 2000) from the “field” to “the field”, once they have passed through the “grid of knowledge” of anthropologists/ethnographers. It puts “the field” into the place, into the laboratory place in particular since the origin of this word from the “laboratory science”. Most of all these books play an important role within the national policy in modern Russia (see Putin 2014).


Realising the Witch in Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan

Richard Baxstrom, University of Edinburgh

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922) stands as a singular film within the history of cinema. Christensen’s “visual thesis” is relatively straightforward: in light of innovations in psychoanalysis and the human and biological sciences, the appearance of witchcraft in Europe during the late Medieval and early modern periods was actually due to undiagnosed manifestations of clinical hysteria and nervous illness. Lacking the scientific knowledge of the present age (ideas that were only just becoming realized during Christensen’s time), the spectacular symptoms of hysteria (often identified in women) were attributed at the time to the power of Satan and the dangers of being in league with him. Deftly weaving contemporary scientific analysis and evidence and powerfully staged historical scenes of satanic initiation, possession, and persecution, Häxan creatively blends spectacle and argument to express a coherently humanist call to re-evaluate both the understanding of witchcraft in European history and the contemporary treatment of “hysterics” and the mentally ill.

In order to place Häxan in its proper context, in this presentation I will take up an argument originally offered by Jonathan Strauss (2012) regarding the notion of the irrational as a privileged space in medical discourses in France in the nineteenth century. Strauss argues that the role of irrationality and “nonsense” was that of a “legitimizing force” for medicine in that “the very incomprehensibility of the mad created a mysterious and extra-social language that the rising medical profession could adapt to its own purposes.” Building upon Strauss’s argument that the mastery of the irrational in the medical sciences was an essential ground legitimizing the expertise they purported to offer, I will demonstrate that a similarly privileged space was claimed by the human sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through a purported ability to understand the seeming “nonsense” of “the native” or “the Other”. Provocatively, the contours of this privileged, shared space is in retrospect more apparent in creative works straddling the line between art and science rather than in works presented as either purely “scientific” or wholly “fictional”. My analysis of Häxan, a notorious, genre-bending, excessive cinematic account of the witch in 16th century Europe, will therefore serve to illustrate these broader points regarding our own relation to invisible things we nevertheless ‘know’ to be there.

Note: While this material will be presented by Richard Baxstrom, the work from which it is drawn, Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible (Fordham University Press, forthcoming 2015), is co-authored by Baxstrom and Todd Meyers (Wayne State University, USA).


Studying Up and Down: Researching Asian Fragrance Culture in a Transnational Context

Sidney C. H. Cheung, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Fragrant materials are precious substances as they are widely used in religious ceremonies, medicine, perfume, treatment oil, etc. in various countries, and the extensive use of agarwood should not be overlooked, especially it is used for Japanese kodo (incense ceremony), the revival of Chinese incense ritual, and the extracted perfume oil in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the production and consumption of agarwood is intertwined with the socio-cultural relations and various kinds of knowledge, and it will be a good challenge to study the relevant transnational social network from an anthropological perspective. In particular, for some countries, history of incense tradition are so rich that researchers are required to have high level language and social skills in order to acquire information from people in upper class such as incense master, collectors and major traders; while in some countries, research participate in farming and cultivation practices in order to understand the primary production with depth. I have at least ten countries for my research plan in which I have different ways of access including languages, living experiences, exchangeable knowledge, and local contacts, etc., and my approach will be extremely different between countries like Hong Kong/Japan (where I have more access) and Indonesia/Thailand (where I do not have research experience). This paper seeks to examine how an anthropological perspective should be taken when one is studying both up and down for a transnational as well as global research project, and hope the transnational context of fragrance culture will serve as a show case of this kind.


Crafting anthropology otherwise: Alterity in a continuous world and what performance anthropology could bring to the mix

Caroline Gatt, University of Aberdeen

At the heart of the anthropological project there still seems to be a persistent tension between the diversity of human experience and its universality. In recent decades there has been a growing awareness of the ease with which attention to human diversity may actually have a homogenising effect. By focusing on alterity there is the risk of exoticising others, or on the other hand of incorporating otherness into self, co-opting difference into the fold. What I aim for is an anthropology otherwise, that is an anthropology that is located within “forms of life that are at odds with dominant, and dominating, modes of life” (Povinelli 2011).

In my current work I am working in collaboration with a theatre practitioner, Ang Gey Pin. We are exploring what making performance anthropology could be. Working in collaboration with artists, or anyone else for that matter, changes the dynamic away from a logic of instrumentality, where the field and relationships in the field are primarily the source of ‘data’ for subsequent academic elaboration, to a focus on mutual learning. The key here is that it is worth considering that what anthropologists produce during so-called fieldwork is more important than the texts we subsequently write (Das 2010).

I argue that theatre and performance are ideally suited to an experiment in anthropology otherwise, since the defining characteristics of the craft of theatre are reflexivity and the subjunctive mode (Turner 1985, Schechner 1985). Crafting anthropology otherwise by means of theatre has the potential to bring other ways of knowing on par with otherwise mentalistic scholarship, at least within anthropological experiments.


Assessing the autonomous ‘They’ through time: alterity and archaeology of ancient Peru

George Lau, University of East Anglia

Unlike anthropology, archaeology has seen little explicit critical discussion about how it works to make their ‘Other’, whether that be past ‘cultures’, ‘styles’ or ‘peoples’. This obtains despite the fact that most Western-trained archaeologists are enmeshed within scholarly traditions in which alterity has been salient topic for some three decades (esp socio-cultural anthropology, but also history, art history, colonial & subaltern studies, etc.). Archaeological interpretations in the Andes, in fact, rely on ethnographic comparison, especially of ‘Lo andino’ (enduring patterns and features that distinguish the Andes from other regions), in creating an autonomous and insular ‘They,’ frequently over millennia. It is clear, though, that ancient Andean groups did quite of bit of recognising Others of their own, looking outside their own worlds — largely seen through visual imagery of social relations between them (for them, ‘us’) and a motley assortment of other beings. It is suggested that our look at how Others looked at Others will be enhanced by complementing ‘Lo andino’ with understandings of alterity process among lowland South Amerindian groups.


Affinities and Alterities of Anthropology

Mahmut Mutman, Istanbul Şehir University, Turkey

In the Order of Things, Michel Foucault has famously argued that, being neither the oldest nor the most constant problem, “man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand and at the edge of the sea” (387). Curiously enough, Foucault’s critique of modernity’s “anthropological sleep” did not include two critical counter-sciences, psychoanalysis and ethnology, which, to him, appeared to move in the opposite direction and undermine the Man of philosophical anthropology. Although ethnology (or anthropology) assumes “the historical sovereignty of European thought” (379), it seemed to be incompatible with theoretical humanism in its demonstration of other ways of living, feeling and thinking.

Anthropology’s affinity with its place of birth cannot be arbitrarily dissociated from its endless theorization and description of others and otherness. With the increasing inclusion of non-Westerners in the community of anthropologists however, it seems as if we approach a certain threshold, at least a potential one, which has to do with provincializing Europe on the one hand, and questioning the very affinities and alterities of anthropology on the other. Especially the latter has to do with going beyond the legitimate otherness of the other culture and searching for differences within a culture, as much recent work in anthropology has shown. I would like to argue that, if we want to advance interrogation along these lines, we need to pose the question of the event or opening which institutes the discipline of anthropology, rather than assuming its identity in the presence of its collectivity, however pluralized this collectivity seems to be.


Anthropology at the Dawn of Apartheid: Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski’s South African Engagements, 1919-1940

Isak Niehaus, Brunel University

My presentation presents an historical account of the manner in which Alfred Radcliffe-Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski engaged with authorities in pre-apartheid South Africa. These encounters are insightful, not only because they were the most prominent British anthropologists of their generation, but also because of the high political stakes involved. Arguments about human difference had special salience in a country where the ‘native question’ assumed cardinal importance, and where government pursued harsh racial and ethnic discrimination. During his tenure at the University of Cape Town from 1921 to 1926, Radcliffe-Brown was committed to the scientific study of social structure, and to the ‘sympathetic understanding’ of indigenous people, rather than to solutions to specific problems. He recognized the integrated nature of South African society and worked as activist of a Native Welfare Society. Since 1929, Malinowski mentored several South African scholars, and in 1934 visited the country as keynote speaker at a prominent conference on educational issues. His romantic vision of different cultures, defense of the color bar, and recommendations on practical affairs of governance, appealed to the proponents of racial segregation. In my presentation, I elaborate on these contrasts. I also reflect on the relevance of their strategies to current dilemmas, particularly in negotiating who we are, or should strive to be, in our dealings with government and big business.


Towards an Ecumenical Anthropology

João de Pina-Cabral, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

The growth of Anthropology as an academic discipline in the 19th century was founded on Darwin’s major challenge to post-Christian principles of human exceptionalism. The process of erosion of these ideals, however, continued at a regular pace throughout the 20th century. In this paper, I argue that today we are at risk of being misled by the high yields we derived from our fascination with exploring “other” times, “other” worlds, “other” knowledges. The world is an ecumene, a dwelling space of intercommunicating humans. Thus, the need to study the human condition imposes itself, even if we attribute “agency” to things and thus reject the strict boundaries imposed by humanism, or by vitalism; or even if we dissolve the boundaries between human and world. The notion of Anthropology as an ongoing critical effort to understand all humans undertaken for the sake of all humans (past, present and future) will continue to be the basic background assumption of our disciplinary undertaking. The radical relativism that has developed in our discipline over the past two decades, however, relies on two primary tenets: on the one hand, a proprietorial view of “knowledge” as collectively owned, that identifies “science”, and more particularly “Anthropology” with Westerness; on the other hand, a post-colonial injunction that denies “moral superiority” to any one “knowledge” over other “knowledges”. This, however, has a peculiar but unavoidable corollary: if “ours” is Western science, then “others” have “other sciences” that are just as valid. That being the case, then, there are as many “Anthropologies” as there are worlds! Note that what is at stake is not just that Anthropology (or world) will be plural in its manifestations (which is an observable fact), but that there are self-contained, separate, numerable “Anthropologies” (as many as there are “worlds”). In one foul sweep, non-Western (or at least a-Western) anthropologists are simply pushed out of Anthropology and the imperial hegemony of the Western “we” is perversely re-installed. The limitation of history to human cognition has to be abandoned for good. This article calls for an ecumenical anthropology, one that grapples pluralism without abdicating from monism; one that rejects the cogito and sees world as the starting point. Instead of taking recourse to the culturalist model of separate and unitary worlds, we adopt an ecumenist posture, that sees collective projects of scientific understanding as being constituted in the occupation of world and that opens up the path for wider and wider dialogues, broader and broader ecumenes.


Anthropology as History: A Rough Guide to the Archive (restudying the work of Adrian Mayer, F.G. Bailey, and David Pocock)

Edward Simpson, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Abstract coming soon!


The Savage Noble: Alterity and Aristocracy in Anthropology

David Sneath, University of Cambridge

Ulrich Beck uses the term ‘zombie-categories’ for concepts that he sees as sociologically alive but empirically dead. I adapt his terminology to discuss social theory that has remained active in our analytical strategies long after its formal demise. Anthropology emerged in the era of colonial evolutionist social theory that assumed fundamental difference between civilized and primitive society.  By the mid-twentieth century the orthodox view was that pre-state societies formed tribes, organised ‘from below’ by kinship relations, rather than ‘from above’ by the administrative structures characteristic of states. By the end of the century most of this theory had been critiqued and abandoned. Evolutionism had been largely rejected as a triumphalist colonial narrative and the central notion of kinship structure had collapsed. But the legacy of this thought remained, reproduced in the separate theoretical repertoires applied to Our (‘modern/state’) social forms and Theirs (tribal/non-state). Partly, this reflected the continuing popularity of using the anthropological subject as an exotic alternative to ‘our thought’. But partly it reflects a reluctance to offer alternative interpretive frameworks for the foundational texts of the discipline. In this paper I re-examine Malinowski’s Trobriand and Evans-Pritchard’s Nuer ethnographies. I argue that the intellectual concerns of anthropology at that time led both authors to produce models of kinship society, selectively exoticizing and normalizing aspects of the ‘societies’ they represented. In doing so they helped steer the discipline away from making use of aristocracy as a comparative analytical frame that could include Africa, Melanesia and Europe in a single frame. As a political category, aristocracy may help us to destabilize classical notions of ‘society’ as a form of human collectivity, entangled as it is with nationalist thought, and to sensitize us to the ways in which the ethnographic object was produced, and how it might be deconstructed.


Finding the “We” in Oceania: Anthropology and Pacific Islanders Revisited

Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

In 1975, the Tongan anthropologist/philosopher Epeli Hau‘ofa published “Anthropology and Pacific Islanders,” a critical reflection on the gulf between disciplinary practices and Indigenous projects in the postcolonial Pacific. Straddling multiple identities as a “native anthropologist,” he noted that “the longer that we, as outsiders, monopolise the research in the region, the stronger will be the feelings against us, and the more difficult will be our task of extricating our discipline from the taint of imperialism and exploitation.” This essay was later included as the first chapter of We are the Ocean, a collection of Hau‘ofa’s academic and creative works published shortly before his untimely passing in 2009. By then Hau‘ofa had become known for his writings on Oceania as a place of expansive possibility, a vision he articulated precisely as he was shedding his identity as an anthropologist. This essay seeks to pay homage to Hau‘ofa by reassessing the shifting relations between Oceanians and anthropology, with particular focus on the ways that a new generation of Indigenous anthropologists are wrestling with the multiple intellectual, cultural, and political genealogies in an effort to unsettle any stable notions of a “we” in Oceanic anthropology.


Pandemic movements and communicating in anthropology: fleeting images, floating wreckages and claimed territories

Wazir Jahan Karim, Academy of Socio-Economic Research and Analysis, Malaysia

This paper discusses how the globalising of disciplines in the social and economic sciences has called for anthropologists to influence and contribute to the text of popular debates on pandemic movements of democratic reform, gender commoditisation or empowerment, labour movements and various other social phenomena that are now familiar topics in public and social media.   This requires some repositioning of the role of the anthropologist as an autonomous ‘cultural interpreter’. Reflexive analysis which positions the writer or interpreter of the text as an ‘interested party’ and often with conflicting roles and interest, offers a narrow niche in global readership, increasingly dependent on swashbuckler journalism and popular conspiracy theories. Visions of breaking news of political invasions, mass death sentences of street protesters on global networks and ‘the catch of the day’ food eaten and uploaded on face book with a barrage of ‘twitterati’ information on ‘what I did today’ rules the subjective world of cultural communication. A point of concern is the growing marginality of post-modern anthropology (Marcus and Fischer 1986, 1999) and the reflexive anthropologist (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992; Caplan, Bell and Karim 2004) in the new era of pandemic systems of knowledge production, often limited by insufficient data and information but spread through contagion by the new globalistics of connectivity among people in similar social environments.

Any connectivity among a ‘community’ of anthropologists should attempt to transcend the powerlessness and uncertainty of current pandemic social environments and uncover the endemic factors which make them similar or different from one another. These endemic factors, if based in ‘good intent’ such as justice, equality or human rights are ideological materials for anthropologists to work on. Rawls In ‘A Theory of Justice’ (1971) explains justice as the fundamental concept which cements the order of society but the growing domination of the few power brokers who create pandemic movements of people or control assets and resources across the globe for their own rational optimisation cause endemic ideologies of this kind to weaken and buckle. A new visionary anthropology is required and one which can shake off the paralysis of analysis of the past and understand the endemic-pandemic antonyms which have created observable scenarios of people as ‘fleeting images, floating wreckage and claimed territories’. The ‘we’ in anthropology can be as concerned about ‘the big bad wolfs’ of New York as activists who ‘Occupied Wall Street’ or be as passionate about women’s empowerment as feminists who wrote against patriarchy or as provocative about the hopes and fallacies of democratic reform as International Studies experts on the Arab Spring (Globalizations 2011). Uncertainties in positioning the ‘self’ against this social epidemiology of antonyms ‘accelerates dysfunctional or unproductive choices among anthropologists.


Indigenous film and its anthropological ghosts

Gabriela Zamorano Villarreal, Centro de Estudios Antropológicos, El Colegio de Michoacán

During the last two decades, anthropological research has explained indigenous media as a turning point in the history of ethnographic film and as a challenge to conventional anthropological perspectives. Some of the characteristics that arguably distinguish indigenous media from anthropological practices are their emphasis on collective or collaborative authorship and their political positioning. Additionally, indigenous media are often celebrated for their ability to challenge the foundational relationship of anthropology with alterity because they are claimed to enable indigenous subjects to portray their realities “from within”. At the same time, indigenous media are much of an anthropological creation: they were initially envisioned by ethnographic filmmakers like Rouch and Macdougall; many indigenous media initiatives were created by anthropologists or within indigenista state projects; and much of the discursive and technical training is rooted in identity politics debates and their definition of indigenousness, which have been strongly informed by anthropological research. Yet, one of the expectations around indigenous media is to achieve full indigenous authorship, and in some ways to emancipate themselves from their anthropological or external roots. My paper examines the haunting presence of anthropology in shaping, naming and promoting indigenous film. This tense relationship of anthropology with one of its recent creations is useful to reflect about how anthropology seeks to redeem itself from authoritarian or alterizing practices in relation to a field of research. An analysis of the mutually constitutive relationship between indigenous media and anthropological research on this topic will be useful to engage the questions proposed by the “Who are ‘we’” workshop, such as issues of collaborative research, authority, political affinity, and the ways in which anthropologists are seen by their research subjects. I pay special attention to the predominant idea that indigenous films can overcome the challenge of generating “closer”, more akin, or less “alterizing” depictions of their realities. I suggest a twofold exploration of this question. On the one hand, I suggest that the political positioning from which mediamakers identify themselves and speak as indigenous peoples is informed by anthropological research. On the other hand, I propose that the celebratory take that anthropological studies make on indigenous film also relates to the anthropological dream of freeing the discipline from its alterizing roots. Yet, far from emancipating indigenous filmmakers from their anthropological ghosts, this effort may involve new, essentializing constructions of indigenous peoples as “Others”. The discussion is centered on two different cases of indigenous media within Latin America. While in Mexico there was a direct link of most indigenous media projects with anthropological initiatives hosted by the state within the Instituto Nacional Indigenista, indigenous film in Bolivia has been produced independently from the State, in coordination with national indigenous peasant confederations. Yet, both cases seem to be informed by the porous and mutually informing relationship between anthropological research and indigenous politics.


One thought on “Titles & Abstracts

  1. Pingback: The workshop: more details available! | who are 'we'?

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