Anthropological relationships as appropriations and investments: ASA-sponsored panel in honour of Marilyn Strathern
(P17)
Location A
Date and Time 9th December, 2008 at 10:30

Convenor

Lisette Josephides (Queen's University Belfast) l.josephides@qub.ac.uk
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Short Abstract

Marilyn Strathern's work intertwines several themes that are central concerns in anthropology and beyond. This panel will 'invest' in Strathern's work by probing what it has produced and what has produced it but also diverged from it, thus delineating a history of theoretical and ethnographic developments in anthropology and interdisciplinarity.

Long Abstract

Marilyn Strathern has said that she has little faith in genealogies. Rather, she imagines her own work as 'contextualized and recontextualized by others'. In this panel the contextualization will be done from several perspectives: vis-à-vis the studied people in the field, in relation to knowledge production and academia, and in relationships with fellow anthropologists - becoming, in Strathern's own words, something that carries forward under its own steam and looks ahead. The panel aims to honour Strathern with contributions from scholars who have worked with her, or on themes connected with her work, and developed aspects of anthropological or general scholarly theory touching on and extending her work. Strathern's work intertwines several themes that are central concerns in anthropology and beyond: the creation/production of gender and society, kinship and relatedness, persons and things, technology and personhood, the new reproductive technologies and bioethics, intellectual property rights, comparative issues of knowledge, interdisciplinarity, audit and accountability. The aim of the panel is not to review Strathern's work but to probe what her work has produced as well as what has produced it and then perhaps diverged from it; thus the papers will also delineate a history of theoretical and ethnographic developments in anthropology and interdisciplinarity. Taking Strathern's work as a point of departure, contributors will show how the inspiration taken from her is developing in different directions, sideways as well forwards. Strathern herself has argued that there is nothing lineal about the transmission of ideas. Knowledge exchange is about the creativity of relationships.

Chair: Lisette Josephides
Discussant: Nigel Rapport

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Recontextualizing anthropological knowledge

Author: Lisette Josephides (Queen's University Belfast) l.josephides@qub.ac.uk

Short Abstract

Starting from the epistemological question of how and what we can know and the ethical question of knowing through relationships, I consider how ethnography can escape its own referential impossibility through an examination of understanding through partial connections and through appropriation as a transformation of the self.

Abstract

My paper is concerned with epistemology (how do we know and what can we know) and ethics (knowing through relationships). Starting from evaluations of theorisations of ethnographic writing as a form of knowledge, I examine some key antinomies, such as the diachronic view of ethnographic comparison as cumulative knowledge versus the synchronic feel of fieldwork, Malinowski’s dictum of arriving at an objective truth by understanding another’s objective knowledge (‘the native’s point of view’), and knowing through relationships, which calls for an ethical stance. In response to the question of how ethnography can escape its own referential impossibility, Strathern resorts to the cyborg analogy of understanding through partial connections. My paper will compare this approach to the hermeneutical circle of understanding through appropriation as a transformation of the self, and discuss knowledge exchange as the creativity of relationships. Finally, I consider the relevance of the Heideggerian Dasein in understanding the role of the ethnography in the production of knowledge.

'Conjuring Up' Strathernograms Through Performativity

Author: Silvia Posocco (Birkbeck, University of London) s.posocco@bbk.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This paper conjures up a realignment of theories or performativity through a Strathernian imaginary and evokes trajectories of theoretical and ethnographic engagement that partially re-connect anthropology to interdisciplinary fields of gender theorising.

Abstract

In this paper, I draw on the work of Marilyn Strathern on the ethnography of relations and anthropological knowledge practices, with a view to extend Strathernian insights and theorize the pre-theoretical commitments of inquiries into the study of categories such as 'gender' and 'secrecy'. My aim is to do so specifically in relation to theories of performativity, to both disentangle multiple genealogies of performativity at play in contemporary debates and evoke a realignment of theories of performativity through a Strathernian imaginary. To say, as Strathern does, that our accounts 'conjure up' their own objects, entails acknowledging the pre-theoretical commitments of anti-foundational epistemologies marked by performativity, whilst conjuring up trajectories of theoretical and ethnographic engagement that partially re-connect anthropology to interdisciplinary fields of gender theorising.

The apologetics of an apology and an apologia

Author: Andrew Moutu (National University of Ireland) amoutu@gmail.com

Short Abstract

In expressing her gratitude towards the generosity of hospitable Melanesians to the intrusive inquisitiveness of countless anthropologists, Strathern ends her acknowledgements in The Gender of the Gift in the following way. “It is not they who need this book or who would need to write one like it. But if any should care to read it, I hope the present tense and the use of ‘we’ to mean ‘we Westerners’ will prove not too much of an irritant…. Indeed, the work can be read both as an apology and an apologia for a language and a culture that does not make that particular possibility of central concern to the way it imagines itself”. If The Gender of the Gift is “both an apology and an apologia”, this paper embraces such a moral and epistemological gesture by responding to it with an apologetic commentary that comes from a Melanesian scholar who not only has the “care to read it” but also appreciates the irritation that comes from being a student of a language of description and analysis that works within the confines of its own terms of debate and discourse.

Abstract

In expressing her gratitude over the generosity of hospitable Melanesians to the intrusive inquisitiveness of countless anthropologists, Strathern ends her acknowledgements in The Gender of the Gift in the following way. "It is not they who need this book or who would need to write one like it. But if any should care to read it, I hope the present tense and the use of 'we' to mean 'we Westerners' will prove not too much of an irritant…. Indeed, the work can be read both as an apology and an apologia for a language and a culture that does not make that particular possibility of central concern to the way it imagines itself". If The Gender of the Gift is "both an apology and an apologia", this paper embraces such a moral and epistemological gesture by responding to it with an apologetic commentary that comes from a Melanesian scholar who not only has the "care to read it" but also appreciates the irritation that comes from being a student of a language of description and analysis that works within the confines of its own terms of debate and discourse. Because The Gender of the Gift distinguishes two types of socialities oriented around interpretation (commodity) and evaluation (gift), the term apologetics is used here advisedly as a commentary on the logic of recursiveness and the aesthetic decomposition of forms.

The sacredness of the gift: Personal partibility and sacrifice in Melanesian Christianity

Author: Mark Mosko (Australian National University) mark.mosko@anu.edu.au

Short Abstract

In this paper, I substitute classic Durkheimian notions of sacred and profane as enacted in North Mekeo (PNG) and Judeo-Christian acts of sacrifice for Marilyn Strathern’s (1988) treatment of personal partibility in gendered terms of same- and cross-sex relations, thereby extending the New Melanesian Ethnography to situations of social change.

Abstract

It could be argued that Marilyn Strathern's The Gender of the Gift (1988), rightly credited as the foundational work of the New Melanesian Ethnography, has left unconvinced those scholars who are less interested in gender than other dimensions of Melanesian sociality and also who are primarily concerned with processes of change. In this paper, I seek to extend Strathern's treatment of personal partibility beyond their strictly gendered aspects to additional dimensions of personhood and sociality and also to the dynamics of social transformation. Accordingly, first, I retreat from Strathern's focus on same- and cross-sex aspects of persons/relations in favor of the classic Durkheimian distinction of the sacred and the profane as explored in anthropological treatises on sacrifice, beginning with Hubert and Mauss (1964). Sacrificial rites, I argue, dwell on the dividuality of persons and the transactability of their detached sacred and profane parts to an extent exceeding that which is noted in Mauss's The Gift (1967) or Gregory's Gifts and Commodities (1982). In this instance, I juxtapose 'traditional' North Mekeo chiefly rituals of mortuary and installation sacrifice and Old and New Testament narratives and Christian rituals of prayer, the confession of sin, the singing of praise, and charismatic possession of Holy Spirit which have been introduced by missionaries. These materials illustrate, second, the further suitability the New Melanesian Ethnography perspective, reconfigured around sacrificial transactions over sacred and profane, to explain processes of change and transformation.

Selves and Intersubjectivity: Relationality in Psychoanalysis and Strathern's theory of sociality

Author: Claudia Gross (University of Auckland) c.gross@auckland.ac.nz

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore parallels and fruitful congruencies between contemporary theories of relational psychoanalysis and Marilyn Strathern’s theory of sociality and personhood in Melanesia. Theories of relational psychoanalysis enable an extension of Strathern’s approach to address intersubjectivity and the self, the integrated and relationally constituted self.

Abstract

In this paper I explore parallels and fruitful congruencies between contemporary theories of relational psychoanalysis and Marilyn Strathern's theory of sociality and personhood in Melanesia. Both theoretical positions are concerned with relationality and a conceptualisation of 'object', albeit one is concerned with the intrapsychic world and the other with social life.

Theories of relational psychoanalysis enable an extension of Strathern's approach to address intersubjectivity and the self, the integrated and relationally constituted self. The extension also facilitates the theorising of social systems operating not through the circulation of wealth objects and substance but through the mutual elicitation of non-substantial relatedness and sentiment.

In this meeting, relationality emerges as a fundamental of human being rather than as a cultural particular

Dividual Places on Vanua Lava, Vanuatu

Author: Sabine Hess (University of Heidelberg) shess345@yahoo.de

Short Abstract

This paper approaches the concept of place through the lens of Marylin Strathern’s notion of the dividual. If Melanesian persons can be described as dividuals, and if land is as crucial to a persons identity as literature on Melanesia suggests, then do not places also have this dividual quality?

Abstract

This paper approaches the concept of place through the lens of Marylin Strathern's notion of the dividual. If Melanesian persons can be described as dividuals, and if land is as crucial to a persons identity as literature on Melanesia suggests, then do not places also have this dividual quality? Thinking of relations to land - and especially ways of inheriting 'rights' to land, - in a dividual framework offers new perspectives on issues and disputes about land transmission. But land is not just inherited for subsistence. The passing on of knowledge about places is equally important. Places, especially magic sites, have agency, and like people have the ability to permeate a person causing them to be dangerous to some, or attractive to others. What a place can do, who will know or be affected, lies at the heart of Strathern's suggestion that cause and agency can be split. Permeability and dividuality go together for persons and for places.

The intangible wealth of partible persons

Author: Vanessa Lea (University of Campinas) vrlea@terra.com.br

Short Abstract

The immaterial wealth of the Central Brazilian Mẽbêngôkre is analyzed via

Strathern´s insights concerning the relational aspects of the person: a unique composite generated by a network of relationships. The detachability of names and prerogatives renders them fitting as extensions of persons.

Abstract

Strathern´s work, initially instrumental to me in de-essentializing gender and shedding new light on the public versus private dichotomy, also provides insights into the immaterial wealth of the Mẽbêngôkre of Central Brazil. This panel provides me with the opportunity to systematize how her writings help to forge a novel perspective on personal names and heritable prerogatives as partible aspects of the person. Strathern´s writings have dissolved the dichotomy between persons and things, and in the context of my research the insistence on not confusing adornments with ornaments is noteworthy. Names and adornments are extensions of persons as relational entities. They connect the living to the ancestors, generating individuals as composite, unique constellations, via the network of each person´s maternal and paternal relatives. The men circulate in marriage, returning their property to their natal houses, taking with them usufruct of their sisters´ names for their daughters. There are some uncanny, inverted analogies between Strathern´s material on the patrilineal Hageners and my reading of the matrilineal Mẽbêngôkre. The latter have an elaborate system of intangible property that is systematically lent out, returned, stolen and quarreled over. People have usufruct of wealth inherited from paternal relatives, enjoying dispositional rights only concerning the legacy of their matrilineal relatives. Strathern has emphasized the distinctive nuances of property, ownership and possession, but her writings have also enabled me to appreciate the usefulness of the notion of the properties of persons, in terms of the detachable and hence relational elements with which they are constituted.

Beyond Price, Value or Worth: Reflections on the theme of investment in 'No Money on Our Skins'

Author: Karen Sykes (University of Manchester) Karen.Sykes@manchester.ac.uk

Short Abstract

This paper considers why some social relationships amongst youth become valuable and are convertible into money, or not, by drawing on some insights into the questions as raised by Strathern's early work, 'No Money on Our Skins'.

Abstract

This paper considers one of Strathern's early monographs "No Money on Our Skins" that describes the social dilemma of Hagen youth as migrant workers in Port Moresby, and asks what insights can be drawn from that book for understanding how social relationships become valuable. The etymology of the word 'invest' shows that in the medieval era it referred to the symbolic transfer of the power of office to a specific individual, as when robing a bishop in the vestments of religious office. By the 16th century it meant the transformation of wealth from one form into another, as when people invested money in land and its ownership in processes of capital creation that continued for the last three centuries. It is only in the very last generation that contemporary processes of investment make social relationships themselves into valuables which may ensure specific forms of social life, are convertible into money, or not. In conclusion, I hesitate to suggest that whereas some relationships might be truly priceless, for the rest, 'there is mastercard'.

'Cutting the Network': Mobilisations of ethnicity/appropriations of power in multinational corporations

Author: Mitchell W Sedgwick (London School of Economics) mitchsedgwick@yahoo.co.uk

Short Abstract

In appreciation of the panel theme – honouring Marilyn Strathern’s work with regard to theoretical and ethnographic developments in anthropology and interdisciplinarity – this paper extends Strathern’s implicit critique of actor-network theory into anthropology-driven organizational studies of formal organizations: specifically, communication, authority, and the manipulation of culturally-bounded knowledge among and between Japanese and French engineers at a Japanese corporation in France.

Abstract

I understand formal organizations as core sites in the reproduction, and the magnification, of the modernity in which we continue to live. I suggest that a social relations-centred approach to analysis of formal organizations may direct us toward extremely subtle understandings of contemporary forms of 'globalization': an (apparently) vast arena that has tended to confound anthropology's conceptually strength in deciphering 'the local'. In this paper - detailing a failed test of a new consumer electronics product at a French subsidiary of a large, Japanese multinational corporation where I conducted research for 18 months - I take up the problem of accounting ethnographically for the globalization of organization. Specifically, I address communication, authority and the manipulation of culturally-bounded knowledge among and between Japanese and French engineers. I suggest that it is through unpacking problems such as these - and, indeed, through ethnographic practice - that core problematics in 'globalization' may in fact be unfolded.

In the paper I contrast the theoretical parameters of my understanding of 'organizing' with more traditional approaches, and extend the vocabulary of actor-network theory to organizational analysis. I argue, however, that neither traditional organizational analysis nor actor-network theory does sufficient work in explaining the social construction of organizations in light of - increasingly common - cross-cultural dynamics. I offer, instead, an extension of Strathern's notion of 'cutting the network' to more fully account for articulations of power and control within the exigencies of globalization, which are extensively expressed within and across organizational settings.