EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world
Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006
The world strikes back
Location Wills 3.32
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 14:00
The 'world' exports to Europe all sorts of cultural goods, sometimes after having received and adapted them. What are they, and what reactions result from this form of cultural diffusion?
In the processes of exchange between Europe and 'the rest of the world', is the latter only a 'recipient', as worded in the presentation of EASA's 2006 conference? Being a 'partner', is it only passive? The consequences of the movements of people and certain goods have, of course, been studied but, as was stressed by Signe Howell in her 1995 article, 'Whose knowledge and whose power?', we have paid less attention to the fact that the 'world' also exports to Europe, which adapts them, all kinds of cultural products: heterogeneous manners of conceiving the universe, organising it and acting in it. It is not of course a matter of denying that the exchange is unequal, but the cultural trickle into Europe is obviously rising. Does it take place only in unessential cultural domains or affect them only superficially? Why are some of them more favourable than others to these fluxes? Why and exactly how, for instance, certain forms of religion, healing, food, arts, techniques of the body, etc., and not others? What underlies European parascience's eagerness towards foreign notions and systems? The workshop would therefore welcome ethnographic contributions focused upon European receptions of such immaterial 'goods', including cases of exogenous adaptations of some of its own cultural exports. How, for instance, do consumers, companies, NGOs and governments deal with the current backlash by 'Indigenous Peoples', through the use of typically Euro-American legal instruments, against cultural or bio-piracy? Is there any specificity to the way Europe relates to the culturally exotic, when compared to other 'First World' universes which may comprise within their own borders indigenous groups perceived as socio-culturally alien? Are some patterns revealed through comparison between apparently unrelated cases? Would a revised notion of 'diffusion' be of any use here?
Ethnomathematics: deconstructing a paradox
Europe exported towards the rest of the world the scientific knowledge elaborated in the West. In this movement of one-sided expansion, mathematics was presented and stood out as an exclusive creation of Western civilization. Against the "primitivism" of ethnologists and the "eurocentrism" of historians and scientists, a movement developed these last twenty years on the margin or in the trail of decolonization and globalization which called itself "Ethnomathematics". Its aim is to promote and to illustrate by examples borrowed from many different cultures the idea that mathematics exists elsewhere, outside the spheres of direct influence of the West. But this "ethnomathematics" rests on a paradox : on one side, it is postulated that very different cultures produced, each for their own account, modes of mathematical knowledge elaborated according to standards which differ from the European scientific tradition but on the other hand "ethnomathematicians" try hard to find in germ in each of these "other" modes of knowledge the main discoveries of the West : principles of geometry in some product of traditional weaving or traditional pottery, an illustration of sophisticated calculations in some native kinship system or an application of the theory of fractals in the architecture of African villages. This is possible only using another paradox: these "native" modes of knowledge are identified as separate modes of knowledge (according, paradoxically, to a "western" view of knowledge...) despite the fact that they are embedded in practice or a product of the general functioning of symbolic thought. "Ethnomathematics" was, first of all, an educational movement in favour of "equity" between cultures. But its theorization is meant for the usage of the West or at least the academic institutions of western type wherever they are, and it appeals to anthropology as a discipline. Here, then, reappears the debate on science and "ethnosciences", knowledge and "pensée sauvage", which certainly concerns even our "scientific" culture. The communication will concentrate on this latter point.
Has Japan put Europe in its place?
This proposal is to present a paper about some of the ways in which Japan has "struck back" since the huge influx of European influence which opened up a relatively closed country in the middle of the 19th century through to the presently popular Japanese entertainment systems sweeping through Europe. By tracing a few cases through time, the plan is to discuss the exchange of ideas that underpinned some material manifestations of apparent "copying" that eventually became improvement and innovation, startling Europeans into recognising a shift in power and knowledge that took them by surprise. It will address some examples of divergent ideas that underpin notions of borrowing and replicating in Japan and Europe, and propose ways in which Japan is contributing to and perhaps modifying so-called global knowledge -- as manifest in several other places -- by instigating shifts in practices that may have started out in Europe. Examples could be drawn from all of the conveners' proposed themes of religion, healing, food, arts and techniques of the body, but an eventual focus will be likely to draw most on the author's recent interest in cultural display.
The swing of the pendulum: radiesthesia, Europe and the world
Water-dowsing (which later became known also as "radiesthesia") was first elaborated in XVth century Europe. The process of its subsequent worldwide diffusion is also well documented, especially during the colonial period. Ethnohistorical data clearly shows that there was no similar practice whatsoever anywhere in the world before the arrival of Europeans. However, many present-day theorists and practitioners of radiesthesia are striving to give it exotic origins. Most notions they import are in fact of European origin. However, in the process, they combine their already highly heterogeneous divination system with various systems of divination and healing from several other regions of the world, producing even more complex practices. An ethnographic look at this evolution provides a standpoint on the way European parascientists are often fascinated by foreign systems and how they partially integrate them in their own activities.