ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Inner landscapes: ethnographies of interior dialogue, mood and imagination
Location Victoria Rooms G12
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 14:30


Andrew Irving (Manchester University)
Nigel Rapport (St. Andrews University)
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Short Abstract

Interior dialogue, mood, reverie and imagination are essential to everyday life, action and practice. Nevertheless, neither anthropology nor archaeology have a coherent theory of how interiority relates to public and social life, let alone an established methodology with which to to access people's inner worlds. Terrifying this...

Long Abstract

Interior dialogue, mood, reverie and imagination are essential features of human thinking and being and are integral to many types of everyday action and practice. Nevertheless, wariness about making claims about people's inner lives means they are often actively excluded from ethnographic accounts or alternatively their content and character is simply inferred from the surrounding social and material context. Consequently, anthropology finds itself without a coherent theory of how interiority relates to public and social life, let alone an established methodology with which to access interior states. However, unlike literary or artistic attempts to understand people's interior dialogues and imaginative worlds, an ethnographic approach presents various epistemological and methodological problems when attempting a truthful evocation of people's lived experiences. More specifically:

1. What is the relationship between inner experience and its expressive exteriority that is present to the eye, the ear and other sense organs that make the experience 'open' to anthropological documentation, classification and theorisation?

2. What counts as 'evidence' and what ontological status should we ascribe to inner dialogue, imaginative worlds, moods, urges, fleeting feelings, random thoughts, free association and emotional reverie without turning them into reified states or static properties?

3. How can we understand the ways that thinking incorporates exterior forms and people's surroundings continually elicit and provoke interior thoughts, emotions and sensations without over-determining the surrounding social, cultural and material environment?

4. Can archaeology or anthropology research and access people's trajectories of thought, emotion and imagination through existing methodologies or do we need to experiment with other ways of knowing and representation?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The limits of the world

Author: Andrew Irving (Manchester University)


This paper explores the thinking and being of people close to death and suggests that we can not only use artworks, such as painting, photography and sculpture, to begin speaking about people's embodied experiences of the world but as a material basis with which to critique social-scientific and phenomenological approaches to knowledge. In Merleau Ponty's analysis of painting he asserted that "although it is certain that a person's life does not explain his work, it is equally certain that the two are connected. The truth is that that work to be done called for that life", thereby suggesting a link between the materiality of art and the biography of the person that made it. If so then Is it possible to find traces of a people's lived experiences within the subject matter and materiality of art in the same way that we can see the sweep of the artist's elbow joint and wrist in the brushstrokes? And rather than engaging in the anthropology of art,how might we use art to address a series of anthropological questions about the perception of time, space and the body? This paper seeks to address such questions by highlighting the relation between the visible surfaces of art and the processes of artistic production by persons confronting their own mortality while living with a sick or unstable body.

From narrative to narrativus: stories and materiality

Author: Peter Collins (Durham University)


Binary oppositions are licentious - they flirt with our tendency towards analytical and interpretive closure. In this paper my aim is to explore the ways in which a narrative approach might facilitate an understanding of social life which need not rely on static oppositions such as inner/outer, self/other, micro/macro, reason/emotion. Narrative is the means by which we deal with the inchoate. If we are suspended in webs of significance then those webs are moved and motivated, plotted and plundered -- they are stories, told to, by and about ourselves and others. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in various places (in the North of England) and at various times (since 1990) I intend to illustrate, without recourse to sleight of hand, the ways in which narrative binds or bonds 'inner' and 'outer' lives in complex and infinitely subtle ways resulting in both process and product: the narrativus.

Encounters with (super-)natural: the role of visual imagination within symbolic significance of rock features

Author: Luboš Chroustovský (University of West Bohemia in Pilsen)


Some prehistoric activity areas include unusual, attractive rock features, which provoke the question about their role in the past living culture. In traditional cultures they are often percieved as (super-)natural living beings or their products, which can be called pseudoartefacts. When thinking about socially shared symbolic significance of such rocks, we can focus, among other things, on the ways in which they atracted attention, and came into contact and interaction with the consciousness of individuals . Primarily, I shall pay atention to visual imagination, inspired and stimulated by encountering atractive rock feature. Case study involved a menhir-shaped rock feature, situated within a recently discovered archaeological site, where Bronze Age bronze artefacts and rock-crystal fragment were deposited. There was a visual imagination survey realized, that brougth a set of drawings (graphical externalizations of inner images). Surprisingly, in a wide range of original drawings and interpretations, there can be found several structural aspects.

Artifacts of an inner landscape: making up an ethnographic mind

Author: Christopher Davis (SOAS)


Archaeology has long been used (by social anthropologists and others) as the privileged metaphor through which we can understand how fragmented memories can be brought to light and then forged into coherent knowledge. In this speculative paper I'd like to try to press matters further. By taking seriously certain ethnographic commonplaces (i.e., 'divination', 'magic'), I want to consider the limitations of the notion of 'inner' when applied to an understanding of 'mind'. What would happen if we were to think of 'mind' as comparable to an archaeological site?

In view of Levi-Strauss's centenary, it seems fitting to begin with his work of memory, Tristes Tropiques, and to move forward from there. Using the model of ethnology as so elegantly practiced by him, what I want to try to get at is the objectivity of subjectivity, so to speak. By this means I'd also like to ask whether it is possible for us to return to a/the classic role once played by anthropology in contemporary social life - that of showing how we might come to think 'otherwise'.

Express you'self: social dance as self expression

Author: Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton)


Excited, tired, happy, uncomfortable: does the body ever lie? This paper explores notions of self, and the possible disjuncture between self and self expression. Social dance is one means by which many individuals work towards a harmony between inner and outer lives. It is when dancing - a form of moving and being in the moment - or in the dance class that the inner being can be revealed as senses of consciousness and social self are arrested. This paper is an examination of social dancers when their guard is dropped, when they feel at particularly at home with themselves, when their reactions are potentially true to their selves. The suggestion here is that the inner landscape can thus be seen flitting across the dancer's face and read in the semiotics of their body movements.

Imagining prehistoric society: Acheulian man in the Levant

Author: Emanuel Marx (Tel Aviv University)


The Gesher Benot Ya'acov site in the Northern Jordan Valley (occupied between 0.85 and 0.75 Ma) yielded remains of numerous plants and mollusks, as well as large numbers of sophisticated Acheulian flint hand axes. These materials indicated that the hominids who occupied the site were mainly gatherers, and that they possessed advanced mental capacities.

This basic information led me to reconstruct the Acheulians' natural and social environment and to imaginatively transpose into it aspects of the lives of contemporary hunter gatherers. I tentatively conclude that among the Acheulians small corporate groups gathered food and engaged in other tasks , that they lived in bands in order to achieve food and social security, that men and women established temporary bonds to bear children who were then raised by the band, and that they invested three to four daily hours in the search for food and much more time in sociability.

In the paper I pose the question whether the methodology used is reliable and testable. I also ask why anthropologists have produced few imaginative reconstructions of prehistoric societies.

Thoughts at rest - the fixation of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Author: Nina Holm Vohnsen (Aarhus University)


Medically unexplained conditions have long been a playground of the culture determinists of social sciences, who have tried to unravel how patients with multiple and disturbing bodily sensations come to cast their illnesses in the language of a diagnosis as e.g. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The main arguments have been, either that people are so influenced by their social peers and that they simply swap symptoms or 'absorb them' when they encounter them in the TV, or that the patient play a passive role in the disgnostic process and take on what ever label the medical experts gives them. The "real" reason for their bodily distress is often explained as transference of something denied - here psychological distress - into something less stigmatised and culturally accepted - here physical symptoms. The main problem with these kind of explanations is, that they neglect people's own bodily experiences and cast as invalid the knowledge people have during their lives accumulated about themselves. Another problem is that these explanations do not bring us any closer to an empirically grounded understanding of the relation of individual conceptualization of bodily distress to the social and cultural context.

This paper argues that a peircean phenomenological and semiotic analysis of the person's own version of the diagnostic process offers this brigde between the individual internal struggle to make sense of a diffuse condition, and the social and cultural setting within which this struggle takes place. The paper builds on interivews with self-diagnosed sufferers of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

Nietzsche's night-time: an anthropological detective story

Author: Nigel Rapport (St. Andrews University)


'We commonly think of the external "physical world" as somehow separate from an internal "mental world"', Gregory Bateson observes; it would be truer to say, however, that '[t]he mental world --the mind, the world of information processing-- is not limited by the skin': there is a 'mental determinism' immanent in the universe of living creatures.

In this talk I argue for a reappraisal of the notion of evidence in human science which recognises the extent to which human physical reality may be an extension of individuals' consciousness of that reality, their purposive action and judgmental reaction in regard to it. There should be an ethical recognition in the notion of evidence: evidence compasses a kind of respect.

The weight of case-history in the talk is borne by Nietzsche's ambiguous breakdown and so-called 'night-time years'. The argument is an instantiation of what Kierkegaard defined as the personal nature of significant knowledge --faith, love-- and its objectivity in our physical experience.

One retains the aspiration towards scientific objectivity but recognises, too, the objectivity of subjectivity: that for living things there is an individuality to their embodied being-in-the-world which renders the truth about their lives personal. The highest aim of epistemology and of morality alike must be to provide testimony of this difficult species of truth.