ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P79)

The best of 'Ideas in Movement': papers from the RAI Postgraduate Conference

Location Quincentenary Building, Seminar Room
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) email
Donald Lyon (The University of Aberdeen) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

This panel gathers some of the best papers from the 2013 RAI Postgraduate Conference, held at the University of Aberdeen, entitled ‘Ideas in Movement’. These papers address the paradox that in our disciplinary questioning, even as new ideas supplant the old, perennial tensions continue to resurface.

Long Abstract

In order to showcase the cutting edge of new anthropological research, a selection of the best papers from the 2013 RAI Postgraduate Conference, held at the University of Aberdeen, have been assembled in this panel. Entitled ‘Ideas in Movement: Addressing Tensions in Anthropology’, the conference discussed the historical emergence of ideas in Anthropology through an analysis of past and present tensions within the discipline. Today, confronted with a world that appears more dynamic than ever, anthropologists are questioning some of the discipline’s most fundamental conceptions, arguing from different and often contradictory perspectives. Yet as new ideas break off from old ones, they still bear an uncanny resemblance to their antecedents. Even as anthropologists bury the in past trying to move beyond old tensions, these tensions continually resurface in different forms. But what does it mean to overcome old tensions? Do we ever really move beyond them? Are there alternatives to simply pushing against them? Among many, we might highlight tensions between the real and the imaginary, the fluid and the static, discourse and perception, nature and culture, purity and hybridity, the visible and invisible, ethnography and anthropology, discovery and construction, and so on. Moving away from naïve dualisms and their dissolution, the papers included in this panel were invited to contribute theoretical and ethnographic discussions that could engage with both emerging and historical tensions.

Discussant: Tim Ingold

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

When the spirit speaks: anthropology from within alternative knowledge systems

Author: Jamie Barnes (University of Sussex)  email

Summary

This paper asks what an anthropology from within ‘alternative knowledge’ systems – in this case non-secular – could actually look like. Positioned in a world in which the “Spirit Speaks” the author proposes moving beyond the secularist roots of the discipline towards more nuanced, and engaged, ethnographic explorations and representations of other worlds.

Long Abstract

However much the secularist bias within anthropology has been brought into question (Evans-Pritchard 1962; Stewart 2001; Kapferer 2001), those who practise anthropology whilst at the same time explicitly living in non-secularist ontologies are few and far between (the exceptions include Favret-Saada 1980; Stoller 1987; West 2007).  Does this reveal an inherent tension within the anthropological domain itself?  What would an anthropology from within an “alternative knowledge system” (Jordan 1997:56) actually look like?  And is such an anthropology even possible within this current epistemological moment?  This paper argues that it is not only possible but entirely necessary, since an anthropology from within ‘alternative’ ontologies not only offers a deeper respect for the lived worlds of research participants (Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2007), but also has the potential to enliven the anthropological field itself.

Drawing both upon eighteen months of anthropological fieldwork in Greece and Albania and fourteen years of living and working amongst Christian spiritual communities in the Balkans, I seek to move beyond mere justification into the beginnings of just such an ethnographic exploration of “another world” (Santayana 1982 [1905]).  In considering a world in which “the Spirit speaks” what are the theoretical lenses most appropriate for effectively observing and understanding this world?  Can these lenses be found within the already existing anthropological domain?  And if lenses from within other social domains are equally efficacious, what is the effect – authoritatively – of employing these lenses within anthropology?  This paper argues that such work may produce further tensions, but ones that are nonetheless necessary for the continued vitality of a discipline which has always sought to engage seriously with the worlds of others.

Coexistence and difference in a medical convention

Author: Theodoros Kyriakides (University of Manchester)  email

Summary

I begin by briefly providing some information on thalassaemia. I then describe my experience in a thalassaemia conference which took place in Cyprus last October. I pay particular attention to an encounter I had with a patient. I proceed by connecting my findings to a conceptual discussion of relationality. I conclude by addressing political, organizational and ethnographic ramifications.

Long Abstract

Thalassaemia is the most common recessive blood disorder worldwide, and has especially high prevalence in countries around the Mediterranean basin. Traditional understandings of biosociality favour collectivity, uniformity and commonality over individuality, variation and difference. This paper will side with the latter triplet by asserting that each thalassaemia patient is implicated in a unique relational arrangement. In return, such varying relationality overflows to affect aspects of expertise, care and treatment. Since they are differentiated by their relations, then of interest is how individuals, albeit these diverging relational arrangements, socialize and coexist. Making use of ethnographic research conducted in a thalassaemia conference in Cyprus this past October, and matching this with the theoretical insight of Marilyn Strathern and Gilles Deleuze on the partiality and exteriority of relations respectively, I propose a conception of biosociality operating according to the coexistence of multiple varying individual relational arrangements. In analyzing how these differing circumstances interact, I gesture at the tensions such processes of socialization create: tensions between the collective and the individual, between multiplicity and singularity, and between that which makes itself visible to the ethnographic eye and that which does not. I conclude by exploring political, organizational and ethnographic deliberations such conceptions of relationality, and by derivation sociality, entertain.

Jumping into and off the flow

Author: Emilio G. Berrocal  email

Summary

By analysing Hip-Hop MC's awareness of "flow", intended as the rhyming skill of the rapper, the paper reflects on Socrates' famous statement ("I know that I know nothing") to indicate a move anthropology can claim to exit from the margins of the public debate.

Long Abstract

Against the mainstream assumption of his time - that relegated the popular world to primitive thought - Gramsci wrote that “any man is a philosopher”. Nadia Seremetakis has more recently argued that rural elderly people engage in sensory-driven meta-commentary while sipping coffee and “re-tasting” their day - exactly like Proust, informed by Bergson’s view on time and interiority, did with the madeleine. Does this not suggest than any person is rather an anthropologist of themselves? By analysing Hip-Hop MCs' awareness of “flow”, intended as the rhyming skill of the rapper, the paper will indicate a move anthropology can claim to exit from the margins of the public debate - dominated by the new Cartesianism of emerging neuro-science. This move means for anthropology to turn into a “possession of the people of the world” - as put by Dell Hymes in a different historical conjuncture – by establishing an alliance with the informants' performative self-awareness. Instead of a “turn”, the paper will call for a “jump” into the rapper’s realisation to flow in order to practice and imagine innovation.

The marriage between designers and craft makers

Author: Chih-I Lai (University College London)  email

Summary

The interactions between Taiwanese craft makers and designers during the process of bringing out the new bamboo designs in the Yii project revealed the tension and conflicts between them due to their different working patterns. This paper discussed their two major differences: firstly, Concept and conceptualisation; secondly, their ability and understanding of drawing.

Long Abstract

Bamboo, a traditional material that had recently gained increasing global popularity worldwide, is more than merely a green material but it also has added cultural material specificity for Taiwanese designers and craft makers. This paper will discuss the interactions and conflicts between the craft makers and designers during the process of bringing out the new designs. Their different working patterns and ‘thinking habitus’ created tension and conflict between these two groups of people. From the observation of their celebrative participations in the Yii project, this research noticed two major differences between them: firstly, the concept and conceptualisation; and secondly, their ability to draw and their understanding of drawings.

The first section of this paper discusses the ‘concept’, which reveals fundamental different ways of ‘thinking’ when people were trying to make things. Craft makers and designers were adapting different naming customs, languages, and ways of communication in the process of cooperatively giving birth to a new design. Drawings, as the ‘Manuscripts of Thoughts,’ documented and communicated thoughts when people were delivering a design especially before making. This paper will discuss how bamboo craft design provides a point around which to discuss the transformation, the impacts, and the conflicts of tradition, localness, vernacular designs, nostalgic memories, and the innovative elements which are all bound up within this material.

Walking knowledge: traversing from ethnographic details to universal patterns

Author: Shuhua Chen (University of St Andrews)  email

Summary

Based on an ethnographic account of a walk in Longtian village in south China, this paper attempts to address the tension between grounded ethnographic details and imagined universal patterns by exploring the concept of ‘walking knowledge’, in the sense of knowing details through experience within and across space and time.

Long Abstract

The tension between ethnographic details and universal patterns has long been a key debate in anthropological methodology. This paper attempts to address this tension by exploring the concept of ‘walking knowledge’, in the sense of knowing details through experience within and across space and time. Specifically, the paper begins with a detailed ethnographic account of a walk in Longtian village (in south China). Then it follows an analysis of how the process of experience in walking becomes a way of knowing and the ‘walking knowledge’ it gains from this very process. The paper ends with discussion of a possible implication of the ‘walking knowledge’ in mediating the tension between grounded ethnographic details and imagined universal patterns.

Sensations from the field: barefoot ethnography in the Sahara Desert

Author: Konstantina Isidoros (University of Oxford)  email

Summary

This paper revisits six years of ethnographic research in the Sahara Desert to experiment with the ‘writing back in’ of contextual sensations that are conventionally disregarded in the pursuit of science. It explores how ‘barefoot’ data may instead be rich in ethnographic significance.

Long Abstract

Deserts and nomads are places and people of timeworn clichés: vast and ‘empty quarters’, inhospitable and uninhabited, peripheral and insecure, mobile and unstable. These provide ample paradoxes and paradigms for discussions of ideas in movement and tensions. A chance reading of Ingold’s Being Alive (2011) in the Sahara Desert made me question how much of the ‘ephemeral stuff’ may be being written out of the ethnographic record. Likewise, the ethnographer may become progressively written out (‘unlived’) of their own ethnographic record. This paper experimentally reflects upon, and attempts to re-apply, the sense of going ‘barefoot’ (cf. Scheper-Hughes 1995; Rabinow 1996). Drawing on six years of ethnographic research in the Sahara Desert, I discover handwritten annotations in my original field notebooks that are discounted because they are not scientifically objective, but which record the sensory ephemera of desert phenomena around me. Importantly, these records are accompanied by the Saharan nomads’ own handwriting, drawings and stories which explicate their desert knowing, dwelling and moving. In another sense, my doctoral research has unfolded from everyday life lived on carpets laid over sand. Yet my thesis will be examined from an elevated seated position. Here lie tensions between the writing ‘up’ or ‘down’ of science; of the ethnographer going into the field-site barefoot and returning booted (or vice versa). Temporarily putting aside the conventionally accepted field data, I test if the disregarded contextual sensations can bring valuable ethnographic meaning in their own right.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.