ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment



Location Chrystal Macmillan Building, Seminar Room 5
Date and Start Time 20 June, 2014 at 09:00


Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh) email
Rebecca Rotter (University of Edinburgh) email
Mail All Convenors


Regeneration implies changeability and an idealised state to which one wishes to return (or improve upon) in the future. How might an anthropological approach to regeneration illuminate the human will to improve natural, human, spiritual, sacred, cultural or social phenomena?

Long Abstract

Pat Barker's 1991 novel Regeneration is a fictional account of the recuperation of shell-shocked WWI soldiers at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh under the care of the anthropologist (and ethnologist, psychiatrist, and neurologist) WHR Rivers. Taking our inspiration from the novel's themes of trauma, injury, and healing, this panel examines anthropological approaches to regeneration. The concept of regeneration implies optimism through striving for improvement: rebirth, restoration, reformation, regrowth, reproduction, reconstitution, revival, recreation, and renaissance. It has been applied in relation to individual, sacred, social, cultural, and natural phenomena: human spirit, moral character, bodily parts, living conditions, architectural features, and plant species. The process of regeneration implies changeability and an idealised past state to which one wishes to return (or improve upon) in the future. How might an anthropological approach to regeneration illuminate the human will to improve: to uplift the human spirit, moral character, or social conditions; to repair damaged bodily organs or tissues; to restore degraded natural environments; or to revive communities through cultural heritage practices? And how might approaches to regeneration differ depending on whether these phenomena are considered 'natural', 'human', 'cultural', or 'social'? We invite papers on topics including (but not restricted to) death and the regeneration of life, spiritual rebirth, regenerative medicine, restoration ecology, sustainable development, cultural heritage, and urban regeneration.

Chair: Jacob Copeman
Discussant: Thomas Yarrow

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The ghost in the machine: prostheses, phantoms, and futures unknown

Author: Kate Milosavljevic (University of Edinburgh)  email


Prosthetising invokes the promise of endless regeneration in a biotechnical future; the self unleashed from its corporeal constraints. Prostheses may have become fertile metaphoric territory, but how do these imagined futures capture the realities of patients undergoing prosthetic rehabilitation?

Long Abstract

Rehabilitation following amputation places a premium on the aesthetics and kinesthetics of the upright and bipedal body. Prosthetists and patients alike speak of seamless integration of the inorganic into the body schema. Ironically, this is accomplished through a process of compartmentalizing, reducing the body to a series of parts that can be replaced by technological components. This creates a market of various limbs, the qualities of which may at first appear to surpass the limits of the human body. However, the ability of patients to make use of such devices is contingent on both their specific biology post amputation, and the economic resources that they, and their health workers are able to access. Using ethnographic fieldwork conducted with physicians, prosthetists and patients in an inpatient prosthetic rehabilitation centre in Serbia, I argue that the rehabilitation of bodies and of the state itself share desires to achieve a state of 'normalcy'. The phantom residues of a previous life (and limb) continue to influence the trajectories of patients, as they struggle toward a universal norm. In knowing that they will fall short of this ideal, many aim for an acceptable deviation from this. This is renegotiated each time a current limb no longer aligns with the kind of citizen a patient imagines themselves as being, and is thus never a complete integration of the technological into the biological. This constantly regenerated prosthetic citizen, constrained by economies, national politics and trade relations therefore problematizes the promise of a technological future with infinite possibilities.

'It's alright, let me feel it': regeneration and relating to the self in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

Author: Joanna Cook (UCL)  email


Through an ethnographic consideration of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), this paper explores the implications of theorizing healing in terms of regeneration and release.

Long Abstract

Through an ethnographic consideration of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), this paper explores the implications of theorizing healing in terms of regeneration and release. MBCT was designed to treat recovered recurrent depressive patients. It is based on a cognitive-behavioural model of depressive relapse. Inherent to the treatment model is a focus on learning, on the capacity for change and on the potential development of a healthy relationship with herself on part of the practitioner. At the same time, however, it rests on an Innateist model of development: that, although positive emotional states are often hidden by clinging or aversion, the original or pure nature of mind is one of mindful awareness and wisdom. Is the cultivation of mindfulness in MBCT a return to an idealized state? What changes are required in subjective experience for this to be achieved? And what implications might this hold for how we understand health, illness and healing?

Plants and gardens: a source of sensual memory, a therapeutic resource and an instrument of public health policy

Author: Anne Jepson (University of Edinburgh)  email


How are plants and gardens a resource for continuity and kinship ties in times of extreme stress such as forced migration; age/dementia related moves from home, mental illness and other social/life-course discontinuities?

Long Abstract

An interest in our sensual experience of the world is relatively new in the social sciences. It challenges existing theories of experience and representation, and recognises the fundamental place of the senses in mediation between the self and environment, object and idea, and place and memory.

My paper will explore the therapeutic and social significance of plants, gardens, soil and landscape; how our sensory and bodily experience of them is bound with our experience of kin and relationships, our memory, our rooting practices, and our connection and reconnection with home and place.

The consequent usefulness in therapeutic terms of the elements of a garden can heightened in times of extreme stress such as forced migration, mental illness or age/dementia-related moves from home. Plants and gardens have a unique double aspect in such contexts: they are inherently ephemeral; they can easily be removed, but equally provide a means to establish 'roots', to embed things in the soil, but also figuratively. They require a relationship beyond the internalised experience of crisis - with soil, seeds, plants, but can recreate a familiar (positive) sensual experience, of nurturing, care, memory, taste and smell etc.

This paper will inform continuing research that addresses policy that states that interaction with outdoor environments is beneficial for well-being; social science research that demonstrates that sensual experience can mediate memory and experienced (internalised) disorder, and a literature on therapeutic horticulture that has not yet been linked.

Plants and their reproductive capacities, manipulated by people and cultural practices, parallel our kin relationships and the movement of migrants.

Rejuvenation, cultivation and nourishment: the regenerative potential of migrating plants in the lives of displaced Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK

Author: Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh)  email


This paper explores the regenerative roles of plants in the lives of migratory people – rejuvenation of the body, cultivation of an idealised past place, and nourishment of relationships – in the context of transplantation, use, and transmission of plant knowledge amongst dispersed Chagossians.

Long Abstract

What regenerative roles might plants play in the lives of migratory people, and what are the constraints on plant migration? Forcibly displaced Chagos islanders and their descendants are now dispersed between Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK. Many Chagossians have extensive botanical knowledge and expertise in the use of a wide range of medicinal plants from the Indian Ocean, usually learned from female experts, and which community elders seek to transmit to the younger generations born in exile. They have also transported plants, medicinal plant extracts, and plant-derived foodstuffs from Chagos and between Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK - on behalf of themselves or others - for transplantation, treatment, or consumption. This paper explores three interconnected roles played by botanical knowledge and medicinal plant use in the lives of these migratory people: the rejuvenation of bodies (nutrition and wellbeing), the cultivation of (links to) an idealised past place, and the nourishment of relationships (with family and/or healers). It also examines the environmental constraints on plant migration that challenge the capacity for plants to fulfil these roles. Our argument is that for the community in question, plants are a form of living heritage which possess a regenerative potential in the context of loss and suffering in exile, and ongoing geographical dispersal.

Regeneration, rewilding, repossession or reconciliation? Ecological restoration and the politics of decolonisation in Western Australia

Author: Yann Toussaint (University of Western Australia)  email


Following WWI and WWII Australia recruited ex-soldiers to ‘settle’ land with little regard for Indigenous traditional owners of that land nor for its fragile ecology. This paper examines the significance of recent attempts to ‘regenerate’ former farmland for settler-descendents, traditional owners and others.

Long Abstract

Following WWI and WWII the Western Australian government sought to rehabilitate former combatants from Britain and elsewhere by allocating land for farming. This 'soldier settlement' scheme aimed to clear 'a million acres a year' in order to boost the Australian economy and to rapidly increase the population with the goal of establishing 'a bold yeomanry' capable of defending the country in the event of future conflicts. This was done with little regard for the Indigenous traditional owners of the land nor for its fragile ecology. Within a generation much of this land was regarded as too marginal to cultivate; in some cases those advocating extensive revegetation were those very farmers who had been involved in land clearing. More recently, for many Australians, growing sympathy towards Indigenous Australians' prior claims to 'country' finds expression in what anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose has termed 'decolonisation'; a process of historical re-examination and social, cultural, political and ecological regeneration. Sensitive engagement with decolonisation may offer settler-descended Australians the potential to atone for environmental damage and Indigenous dispossession while simultaneously realizing a form of 'custodial belonging' akin to that of the Indigenous traditional owners of the land. Yet such discourses, often suggesting personal, spiritual or cultural renewal alongside ecological restoration, also risk reproducing ongoing processes of appropriation and dispossession. Building on non-representational theory and inquiries into 'performing nature' this paper draws on ethnographic research conducted in the south-west of Western Australia to examine the cultural dimensions and restorative potential of recent attempts to 'regenerate' former farmland.

Regeneration and the power of flows: walking small urban rivers in Scotland

Author: Jo Vergunst (University of Aberdeen)  email


This paper discusses regeneration in relation to the distinctive ecologies of small urban rivers in Scotland. It presents a project involving anthropology, environmental science and poetry, and looks at the opportunities such rivers offer for new urban forms and experiences in the future.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses regeneration in relation to the distinctive ecologies of small urban rivers in Scotland. Once a key part of industrial and pre-industrial economies through powering the mills that stood on their banks, they now offer a home for wildlife and an alternative urban geography to the formal grid patterns of streets. We present a small-scale and open-ended project involving anthropology, environmental science and poetry, centred on a series of collaborative walks along rivers in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. People we meet along the way often appreciate the opportunities for close-up contact with nature and the counterbalance to the rest of the urban environment that they provide. We also gain insight into the politics of land ownership and urban regeneration, and how cities at the same time rely on and struggle against the flows of water through them. Conceptually, we triangulate the phenomenal presence of these rivers with possibilities for new sustainable urban drainage systems and an exploration of their continuing value for cultural heritage. 'Regeneration' in this case speaks to the personal, the political and the ecological as the heritage of generating hydro-power intersects with opportunities for new urban forms and experiences in the future.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.