The ambiguous objects of hospitality: material ethics, houses and dangerous guests

Giovanni da Col (SOAS)
Matei Candea (University of Cambridge)
Michael Herzfeld
Wills G32; Arch & Anth LT2
Start time:
8 April, 2009 at 14:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

By foregrounding the materiality of hospitality, this panel reconsiders classic themes in the anthropology of hospitality such as the inherent ambivalence of the guest-host relation and the tendency of hospitality practices to replicate across scale.

Long abstract:

Our panel invites both archaeologists and anthropologists to reconsider the notion of hospitality in their research. As a key social form for mediating relations with a potentially dangerous 'Other', hospitality is central to making ethics visible in many socio-cultural settings. Hospitality is enabled not just by symbolic structures of reciprocity and patronage but by the physical transaction of things and the situated inhabitation/exploitation of places. By focusing on the materiality of hospitality, this panel revisits: Ambivalence: from the mundane (houses, thresholds, mining sites) to the extraordinary (gemstones, ghosts, poison) the objects of hospitality are always 'objectiles', object-events which threaten to collapse into their opposites and elicit magical or paranoid responses: food may turn into poison, homes into prisons, mines or archaeological sites into graves, ores into cursed wealth and guests into parasites. How can anthropologists track and theorise such moments of transformation? What of acts of hospitality which turn people themselves into things, usable, exploitable assets, indexes of other intentionalities? Scale: If houses, as Levi-Strauss argued, are topological entities which can unite theoretically incompatible principles of relatedness, what happens when the language of hospitality connects houses to 'containing' entities on other scales, villages, nations, or 'homelands', when guests and hosts come to stand for collective entities, immigrant communities, miners plumbing the entrails of the land, armies, corporations and states. How are such scale shifts managed and how are connections made between entities which have their own distinct materialities? Is hospitality, thus extended, a holographic metaphor, or a reconfigured assemblage?