'Grounding': when multiple ontologies meet material facts

Coll Hutchison (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Laur Kiik (Oxford University)
Coll Hutchinson, Laur Kiik
Start time:
1 August, 2014 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Anthropology's 'ontological turn' has tended to idealise indigenous ontologies. However, all ontologies are grounded in and emerge from specific contexts and are thus imperfect. This panel explores how to take seriously both the plurality of ontologies and the reality of singular material facts.

Long abstract:

What happens when ontologies and material facts meet? 'The ontological turn' has again brought to focus radical cultural differences - how people with different ontological theories live in all but, totally different universes. However, this literature has tended to reify, romanticise or idealise indigenous ontologies. It often does so to reaffirm an anthropocentric anti-realism in juxtaposition to natural sciences and their assumption of a singular material reality. Few attempts have been made to consider the encounters and disjunctures between different ontologies and a singular material reality, beyond, for example, critiquing science-based interventions into societies for being ignorant or dismissive of alternative ontologies. Similarly, natural sciences have rarely engaged the potential of 'other' ontologies for reconceptualising political, social, economic and ecological relations. This panel proposes that the key to move past these attitudes is to 'ground' ontologies, through emphasising the contexts (historical, geographical, ecological, social) from which they have emerged. All ontologies - indigenous, subaltern, popular, scientific - are necessarily incomplete, dependent on their scale (spatial and temporal), and invested with politics, power and religions. The central problem for this panel is thus: how, as social or natural scientists, to take seriously both the plurality of ontologies as well as singular material facts? This central question may arise from a variety of research topics, such as encounters of indigenous or other popular ontologies with facts/'facts' from biomedicine, conservation biology, climate science, archaeology, or behavioral and evolutionary sciences, and any other situation where material facts and ontologies meet.