ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

'Anthropology is philosophy with the people in'
Location Room 12
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Alexander Badman-King (University of Exeter) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Anthropology is philosophy with the people in' (Ingold 1992, p.696)

This panel will invite contributors to discuss whether any true distinction can or should be drawn between anthropology and philosophy.

Long Abstract

This panel will invite contributors to discuss whether any true distinction can or should be drawn between anthropology and philosophy. If Ingold is correct in his claim that anthropology is philosophy with people in, what are we to make of the idea of philosophy without people in? Does the methodology of participant observation set anthropology aside or are the boundaries between this kind of lived investigation and the lives of those who investigate the questions of philosophy too blurry to make sense of? Far from taking an historical or etymological line of discussion, this panel invites contributors to explore the issues surrounding these disciplinary distinctions on the basis of the methods and insights which anthropology and philosophy offer. Does this division offer any real benefit or only obstacles to the insight which each seek?

Can the efforts of 'philosophy without people in' be taken seriously or does participant observation represent an overarching development in the history of philosophy? The activities of conceptual and linguistic analysis may seem a far cry from the reflections of the anthropologist in the field, but is this fieldwork different in kind or does it merely take another sort of 'way of life' as its focus? The division between anthropology and philosophy as it traditionally stands may rely upon questionable understandings of objectivity and specialist expertise. This panel will seek to address the question as to whether anthropology can or should consider itself a principle branch of philosophy and whether these kinds of distinctions even matter at all.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Specialists in Ways of Living and Thinking

Author: Alexander Badman-King (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will consider the possible dangers of detaching theory from lived reality and lived reality from theory. Should anthropologists and psychologists be 'judgemental' and should philosophers situate their theory in lived realities?

Long Abstract

Research in social science is expected to meet certain ethical expectations. Informed consent, no harm of any kind to the community/informant, empowerment of those being studied in relation to results of the research and its dissemination; the ASA offers comprehensive and detailed guidance in regards the good conduct of anthropologists. Those working on an autoethnography are placed in a less clear position. By all accounts their work needn't meet the same strictures of ethics committees and peer scrutiny. You don't need to worry about ethics if the subject is your own life. It will be argued that this division between two kinds of ethical approach to two different kinds of research reveals an antiquated and intellectually unsustainable position within contemporary anthropology. To imagine that anthropological research carries with it special ethical circumstances is to deny the very strength of participant observation and imagine the researcher as somehow special and set apart from their subject. It will be suggested that the dissolution of the boundary between insider and outsider is vital, not only to the conduct of participant observation but also for research in cognate academic disciplines, principally philosophy (and also psychology). At times, philosophers can be guilty of the opposite offence (all judgement and no living as opposed to all living and no judgement). Does the future of anthropology (as the better part of philosophy) lie in its integration of ethical judgement and the ultimate balancing act of insider and outsider?

Ethnography as Experimental Philosophy: A Place for (Some) Anthropology?

Author: Farbod Akhlaghi-Ghaffarokh (University of Reading)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I argue that some ethnography conducted in anthropology is correctly understood as 'experimental philosophy'. While this proposal demarcates a place for anthropology, I argue that this proposal reveals problems that some anthropology, as the conducting of ethnography, must face.

Long Abstract

The discipline of anthropology is one in an identity crisis. It is unclear what, if anything, is unique to anthropology regarding its questions of concern or its methodology. In this paper, I propose a resolution to this crisis. I argue that (at least some) anthropology, conducted through ethnography, is correctly understood as what is today called 'experimental philosophy'. On this view, a set of questions of concern for anthropology (such as the views and beliefs of a society or culture) are revealed, as are the methods of investigation appropriate to such questions (empirical investigation, subject questioning, and so on). It is also a consequence of the view argued for that some anthropology as ethnography is a 'branch' of the discipline of philosophy. However, I argue that, as some anthropology conducted as ethnography is correctly understood as experimental philosophy, anthropology of this kind is subject to the same limitations and objections that experimental philosophy is. In particular, while some anthropology as ethnography (and experimental philosophy) may reveal to us certain cultures and societies intuitions and beliefs, I argue such ethnographic data cannot answer a number of philosophical questions one may think such ethnographic data was relevant to.

Anthropology as Empirical Philosophy: a View from Finance

Author: Philip Grant (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Taking philosophical and anthropological explorations of contemporary financial markets as subject matter, it is argued that anthropology is an empirical philosophy as capable of giving a philosophical account of these practices as any other form of philosophical enquiry.

Long Abstract

Recent ontological and ethical turns in anthropology follow the discipline's concern with epistemology, language, and rhetoric in the 1980s and 1990s, and politics has long been a central subject of anthropological enquiry. Is there anything left in the Euro-American philosophical tradition, of which anthropology is in any case an offshoot, that has been left unexamined by anthropologists? Are anthropology and its signature assemblage of methods, description, and analysis - ethnography - best described as 'empirical philosophy', to use Anne-Marie Mol and Michael Fischer's term? What does such a claim imply that the task of (non-empirical) philosophy might be? One way into these questions goes through the anthropological study of finance. An options trader turned philosopher, Elie Ayache, argues that while the social studies of finance offer important insights beyond the analysis provided by financial economics, only philosophy can attain the level of abstraction necessary to explore the truth of derivatives markets. Drawing on my own experiences as participant-observer in and of financial markets, I argue that this kind of claim obscures the empirical foundations of such philosophy and underplays the capacity of anthropology and other participant-observation based social science accounts to examine the truth of particular events, practices, and relationships. Anthropology - containing people, but also things, numbers, and techniques - should not be shy of ambition. It is as capable as philosophy itself of generating rigorous, empirically grounded philosophical insight with regard to finance, or any other contemporary practice.

The ontology of becoming: philosophical narratives from a cleric to an anthropologist

Authors: Simone Toji  email
Jefferson Correa (Greek Diaspora Orthodox Church)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the interweaving of anthropology and philosophy through particular persons who do not find shelter in collective concepts, such as ethnicity, nationality or society, and find in philosophical consideration a way to deal with their unusual trajectories.

Long Abstract

n researching how migrants in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, try new ways of life and create alternatives when facing unexpected situations, a Brazilian black priest, member of one of the Orthodox Greek churches in town, refers to his own particular trajectory of becoming something else he did not expect in terms of western philosophy.

When western philosophy is the ‘informant’´s model in a study conducted by an anthropologist, what happens to anthropology? Does philosophy come to be simply a discourse? Does anthropology miss its comparative landmark and turn out to be, then, a descriptive subject or an honest dialogue?

In common, philosophy and anthropology share at present the concern for creating models of thinking and living from people´s experiences. Anthropology has successfully approached philosophy considering different collective ways of being, such as indigenous cosmologies, as philosophy.

The paper explores other possibility of interweaving anthropology and philosophy, through particular individuals who do not find shelter in collective concepts, such as ethnicity, nationality or society, and find in philosophical consideration a way to deal with their unusual trajectories. Consequently, the paper suggests that this approximation between philosophy and anthropology, made by a particular person, searches for the ‘universalization’ of the person´s experience, namely the creation of an ontology.

Towards a New Metaphysics of Language and Power: Following P. and H. Clastres' Insights on the Guarani

Author: Renato Sztutman (USP)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to discuss P. and H. Clastres’ contribution to the debate on Guarani and other amerindian peoples metaphysics. It focuses on their analysis of the speech of Guarani shamans, who move between different verbal genres – myth telling, metaphorical chants and metaphysical discourses.

Long Abstract

In the 1970's Pierre and Hélène Clastres started an effective dialogue between Western and amerindian thought. For example, they elicit from Guarani shamans' speculations on the relation between humans and divinities a critique of the principle of non-contradiction, which founds the hegemonic metaphysics of Being. The echoes of such a defiance can be heard in both contemporary anthropology (Viveiros de Castro, Latour inter alia) and philosophy (Maniglier inter alia).

P. Clastres has searched a sort of Guarani variant of his idea of the "society against the State"; which was a metaphysical version of the sociological problem of amerindian leadership: the refusal of political power and the choice for non-subjection. The "counter-State" that P. Clastres found among Guarani peoples has to be taken as a "war machine" of thought (sensu Deleuze & Guattari). A similar claim is posited by H. Clastres who reflects on Guarani prophetism, comparing historical and ethnographical accounts.

Following both P. and H. Clastres, one could say that Guarani metaphysics goes through language (nhe'e in Guarani means both "speech" and "soul"), understood as a way to the humans to become divinities. Myth telling appears as the expression of divine words. Metaphorical chants reveal themselves as a way to communicate with divinities in a process of becoming. Finally, the authors glimpse in the exegesis of myths and chants the birth of a kind of "metaphysical discourse", which could be compared to the emergence of philosophy in Antique Greece. Note that such a discourse has important political corollaries.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.