EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W003)

Crises, crossings and other worlds: exploring the invisible, the liminal and the virtual

Location Rye Hall Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota) email
Rane Willerslev (Ethnographic Collections, Moesgaard Museum) email
Bruce Kapferer (UCL / University of Bergen) email
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Long Abstract

Human beings in diverse times and places have conceived of an other world (or worlds) existing in parallel with the world of the living and involved in a variety of interchanges with it. Such other worlds have been variously identified with the abode of the dead, of animals, gods, spirits or demons or with the liminal phases of ritual (described by Turner and others), when everyday categories and norms are suspended and where hybrid and metamorphic beings emerge to participate in the performative re-making of reality. Such instances of passage between worlds have often been associated with moments of crisis or transformation, whether in the life of an individual (e.g. the transition form youth to adulthood) or of society as a whole, as in culturally demarcated occasions when spirits or the returning dead are allowed to roam freely among the living. Participants are invited to consider what it would mean to consider such multiple worlds and the relationships between them not simply as sets of culturally bounded beliefs but as legitimate objects of anthropological inquiry. What challenges does a conception of reality as doubled or multiple pose to our familiar protocols of description and analysis? Does the anthropological exploration of other worlds have anything to learn from Western philosophical concepts such as the 'invisible' (Merleau-Ponty), the 'Imaginary' (Lacan) or the 'virtual' (Bergson, Deleuze)? Might the ethnographic and comparative study of interactions between multiple worlds offer a unique and valuable resource for understanding and responding imaginatively to contemporary crises and transformations?

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Other worlds close to home: ethological methodology as a holding in abeyance

Author: Matei Candea (University of Cambridge)  email
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Long Abstract

What if a robust multiplicity of worlds lay in the very heartland of Euro-American (mono)naturalism: amongst scientists studying animal behaviour? A strange suggestion given that behavioural biologists are more likely to feature in anthropological arguments as objectivist, mononaturalist straw men. At most, anthropologists might seek allies at the empathetic end of the spectrum of ethology, amongst field primatologists and others who explicitly compare themselves to ethnographers, entering into the social worlds of non-human animals. But this comparison rests on an outdated account of anthropology as cultural immersion. Instead, this paper provocatively argues that the true counterparts of contemporary anthropologists are to be found near the other end of the ethological spectrum. Field biologists who are explicitly skeptical of anthropomorphism and who carefully set up procedures for detached interspecies relations share with recent anthropology a self-imposed suspension of the desire to fully explicate the other, to verify the other's possible world.

Contact crises: shamanic explorations of virtual and possible worlds

Author: Anne-Marie Colpron (Université de Montréal)  email
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Long Abstract

The Shipibo-Conibo, an indigenous population of the Western Amazon, have the single word nete to refer to the notions of "world", "life" and "day". Rather than designating a concrete, definite and cartographic reality as in the Western perspective, their concept of "world" seems linked to temporality, movement and experience. "Worlds" are multiple, constantly reshaped through events and encounters and open to possibilities. As mediators par excellence, shamans intensify their social relationships among different "worlds", seeking to remold events for the advantage of their own group. Western contact is interpreted in this realm of extended "worlds", therefore increased encounters with Western representatives has intensified shamanic mediations. This paper explores how Shipibo-Conibo's shamanic conceptualization of multiple "worlds" transcends categorizations of real/imaginary, visible/invisible. It examines the Shipibo-Conibo's ways of experiencing life and Western contact through their own understanding of virtual and possible "worlds".

Wild protection: magical animals in stories of war and terror

Author: Jean Langford (University of Minnesota)  email
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Long Abstract

Among the figures of animality evoked in narratives of war or state terror are the "beast" who perpetrates brutal acts of violence and the debased creature who is subjected, like livestock, to captivity, forced labor or slaughter. Yet a third figure of animality appears in the stories of animistically inclined emigrants who survived war and terror in Laos or Cambodia: the wild animal as transmigrated ancestor or capriciously sympathetic spirit who offers a powerful if unpredictable source of protection when the civil order itself has undergone a terrifying metamorphosis. What possibilities do animals cum spirits offer for rewriting the biopolitical story about humanity and animality that prevails in much contemporary social analysis? What do these para-animals offer to those who are threatened with a social violence unrestrained by law and "humanitarian" ethics? What is it about extremes of human violence that prompt magical animals to emerge and speak?

Viral anthropology: humanity and divine parasitism among Dechen Tibetans

Author: Giovanni da Col (SOAS)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will explore the conceptualization of worlds and alterities which threatens to contaminate and dissolve the same notion of humanity. It will begin with the anthropological problem posed by the mysterious Dechen Tibetans' accounts about poisoners 'inhabited' by a poison-god (dug lha) and killing guests or even their own kin by parasitising upon their vitality and fortune until their death, happening months or years after the contamination. Drawing on Wagner's analogic kinship, Serres' pre-eminence of parasitism in the logic of exchange, and Levi-Strauss' late interest in topology in his Petite Mythologiques, the paper will show how the phenomena cannot be accounted as a mere witchcraft or sorcery 'belief' and take SERIOUSLY the Dechen Tibetans' statement that 'the poisoner and the poison-god share one vitality'. Exploring the aetiology, symptomatology and logic of exchange between the poisoner, the poison-god and their victims the paper will problematize the relationship between humanity and non-humanity and explore the onto-ethologies, intercorporealities, Umwelts and overlapping spheres of exchange where subjects and objects are not bounded entities occupying a place, nor sites of imaginary extensions, but determined topologically according to the vital flows they generate and draw upon. The paper will end by proposing the relevance of topological and viral/parasitic models for the anthropological analysis of 'other' worlds and reflect on how all great dichotomies like essence vs. appearance and mind vs. body points to the problematic relationship between interiority and exteriority, between what is considered to be the 'inside' and the 'outside' of something.

Antithesis without thesis: virtuality and its negation in Maputo, Mozambique

Author: Morten Nielsen (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

Since Gilles Deleuze, 'virtuality' has been understood as a reserve of po-tentialities from which social life is actualised as series of becomings. In this paper, I extend our analytical understanding of virtuality by examining social life as its actualised negation. I build my argument on ethnographic data from Mozambique. In an attempt to leap into a socialist future, the ruling Frelimo party created the 'New Man' after Independence in 1975 as a figure devoted to the revolution. As immoral antithesis, a cartoon figure, 'Xiconhoca', was created to represent all that impeded the realisation of a socialist utopia. Whereas the'New Man' soon succumbed to the forces of neo-liberalism, 'Xiconhoca' still surfaces as antithesis to shattered collecti-ve imaginaries, thus indexing what it is not rather than what it is. Based on an analysis of the 'Xiconhoca', this paper suggests that parallel worlds might co-exist as mutual negations and that social life is actualised through the distance (or void) which exists between them.

To Hel and back: transversality and difference in accounts of otherworld journeys

Author: Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)  email
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Long Abstract

Folklore and mythology often tell of journeys between the world of the living and an "other" world (or worlds), variously portrayed as the abode of, for example, gods, spirits, animals or the dead. Such other worlds are both distinct from the everyday world (e.g. time passes more slowly) and yet, under certain circumstances, accessible from it. Hence, the transit between worlds often takes the form of a physical journey, involving the traversing of large distances by land or water, aerial flight or a descent into the depths of the sea or earth. Drawing mainly on European sources, this paper uses the dynamics and physical topography of otherworld journeys to ask whether accounts of a plurality of non-identical but (potentially) intercommunicating worlds can usefully be understood through a conception of reality as simultaneously one and multiple and whether the mythopoeic imagination plays a distinctive role in articulating such a conception.

(Re:)Image-ining possession: digital media and the crisis of ritual frameworks

Author: Sasha Rubel (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales/Aarhus)  email
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Long Abstract

Motivated by the current crisis in visual and ritual anthropology that necessitates a rethinking and re-image-ining of available conceptual and practical frameworks, I will articulate the ways in which the acts of filming, of montage, and of "watching" film play a critical role in the reinvestigation of traditional notions of ritual in light of the possibilities inherent in new technology and video art. Using experimental film work, an ontology of "filming/filmed ritual" will be proposed to articulate the ways in which "video work" can be used to articulate the simultaneity of multiple worlds and notions of the invisible, the liminal, and the virtual. Parallels will be drawn between Deleuze's time-image/movement-image and altered consciousness as lived in states of "possession" and the ways in which these states can be communicated filmically while suggesting how the non-visible and other sensual dimensions of ritual practice can be made visible through filmically articulated absence.

Difference and repetition in Hindu worship

Author: Soumhya Venkatesan (Manchester University)  email
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Long Abstract

Hindus conceive simultaneously of their gods as one and as many. While it is generally acknowledged that the god Shiva, for instance, is a singular concept that transcends human understanding, Shiva is nevertheless emplaced and made manifest in a multitude of temples in each of which he has a distinct identity and story. Worshippers relate intimately to an emplaced god, but this does not prevent their seeking out the god in other places and other forms. This paper seeks to explore the simultaneous transcendence and immanence, singularity and multiplicity of the gods through the Deleuzian concepts of difference and repetition and connection and forgetting. It brings Deleuze in conversation with empirical research in contemporary south India.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.