(P029)

The individual in anthropology: a future paradigm in anthropology?

Location 301 B
Date and Start Time 16 May, 2014 at 13:30

Convenors

Isabelle Jabiot (Université Nanterre Paris Ouest la Défense) email
Jan Patrick Heiss (University of Zurich) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Individuals, who are at the base of the anthropological research, seem to deserve more attention in anthropology than they have received so far. This panel wants to explore the theoretical, methodological, empirical and epistemological implications of the study of individuals in anthropology.

Long Abstract

Anthropological research rests on the anthropologist's interactions with individual persons. Similarly, research findings presuppose the existence of individuals. Yet, as the anthropologist's major focus usually lies on society and/or culture, the individuals somehow disappear from the foreground of anthropological studies. They rather serve to exemplify general patterns, serve to provide anectodes or figure prominently in field-tales. In these accounts, they are rather reduced to some selected aspects of their lives and personalities. Despite some attention payed to individuals in anthropology (Des Chène 1998, Piette 2011, Rapport 1997, Lahire 2004, Miller 2009, Massard-Vicent et al 2011, Heiss 2011), the theme of the individual thus seems to be far from being exhausted and to deserve to be explored better. This panel wants to provide a forum for these efforts.

Contributions from any geographical area, any sub-field of anthropology or any theoretical approachs are welcome. The papers may address theoretical or epistemological questions, deal with methodological issues or present empirical research results. They might, for instance, deal with everyday life, life-histories, the relationship between individual and society, forms of existence, ontography or phenomenography, etc. However, contributors are also invited to explore if their research results might contribute to the question of what a proper conception of individuals for anthropology might be. Taking up the conference theme, we would also like to invite the contributors to explore what an anthropology of individuals might have to offer for other themes or fields in anthropology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Interpersonal relationships and possibilities of understanding in the field

Author: Sara Merdian (Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg)  email

Short Abstract

In the Turkish Muslim context communication between researcher and informants are shaped by the negative views the media distribute about Muslims. This complicates research with Muslims on a personal level.

Long Abstract

My paper basically deals with my experiences in a field study with a group of Muslim students in Turkey. In the Turkish Muslim context interaction between researcher and informants can be more difficult than one would expect. The negative views the media or Westernised people hold about Muslims in general deter Muslims from contributing to research projects that focus on their views and perceptions as Muslims. They are not only aware of the fact that any research might depict distorted views on them, but also feel that the asymmetrical relationship between a "secular" researcher and a "Muslim" informant is awkward. This awkwardness has never explicitly been articulated in my research, but produced barriers in my communication with informants. The fact that our communication was anything but flawless led me to question whether there was any possibility of understanding at all, if not on a more individual level on which one could build a basis of trust. The question that I would want to deal with thus is concerned with building trust between researchers and informant. How can trust be established between researcher and informant? Can mistrust be overcome on a more personal level? How can conflicts be addressed in research? What role does the researcher's personality play in such situations?

Individuals in the anthropology of Japan

Author: Lynne Nakano (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the treatment of individuals in the anthropology of Japan, and considers the future of individuals in Japan anthropology. This paper considers examples in which individuals were successfully integrated into anthropological writing about Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the treatment of individuals in the anthropology of Japan, and considers the future of individuals in Japan anthropology. Perhaps because of the influence of the early ethnography of the Japanese village, Suyemura, written by John Embree, followed by Ruth Benedict's cultural and personality approach with its emphasis on patterns of behavior, individuals are relatively scarce in anthropological writing about Japan. Moreover, Japan is often caught up in larger debates about what it means and symbolizes as the first Asian society to achieve and embody particular milestones such as economic success, a postmodern society, and an aging society. These issues draw attention to structural conditions and historical processes in which individuals play an insignificant part. This paper considers examples in which individuals were successfully integrated into anthropological writing about Japan and considers what made these efforts successful. The paper argues that individuals emerge in anthropological writing when the writer wishes to draw the reader into the feelings, angst, or suffering of the people described, and considers the advantages and disadvantages of such writing strategies. The paper also addresses difficulties faced by the speaker in incorporating individuals in her own writing and reflects on the future of individuals in Japan anthropology.

Auto-anthropology as an anthropology of the individual: a proposal

Author: Ichiro Numazaki  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes “auto-anthropology” as a viable method of studying the individual anthropologically. I shall examine several autobiographical studies by anthropologists and argue that anthropologically informed personal stories make a genuine contribution to the anthropology of the individual.

Long Abstract

This paper proposes "auto-anthropology" as a viable method of studying the individual anthropologically. By reflexively examining one's own life history in its cultural and social contexts "from inside" those contexts, "auto-anthropology" can illuminate a peculiar way of life in the form of anthropologically informed personal story. I shall examine classics such as Paul Radin's Crashing Thunder and Oscar Lewis's Children of Sanchez as well as more recent reflexive autobiographies by anthropologists, and proposes that these "auto-anthropological" works should be read not as case illustrations of larger culture but as genuine attempts at the anthropological study of the individual. The individual and his or her "way of life" revealed and told through his or her own words and concepts may be or ought to be the most important "subject" of anthropology in the post-postmodernist/post-poststructuralist era. It is no longer possible to confidently speak of "culture" or "society" not only because of deconstructionist critiques of such concepts but because of the ever flowing and ever diversifying worlds in this age of globalization. The individual may be the only tangible thread that we can grasp in the ocean of de-territorialized and globalized cultures and their bits and pieces. The individual may well be the last locus of anthropological study of the ever increasing and complicating "ways of life" in the world today. Finally, I shall propose that every anthropologist should attempt at "auto-anthropological" story-telling of his or her own life.

Visible and invisible beings among individuals to the everyday life (Chefchaouen, Rif Westerner - Morocco)

Author: Isabelle Jabiot (Université Nanterre Paris Ouest la Défense)  email

Short Abstract

This communication is a methodological and theoretical reflection on the question of the existence of the visibles and invisibles beings based on daily individual follow-up.

Long Abstract

This communication is a methodological and theoretical reflection on the question of the existence of the visible and invisibles beings based on daily individual follow-up. I question the notion of "ontology" from the human beings point of view on animals, god, djinns, devils and angels in the small town of Chefchaouen in Morocco. The proposals of ontological schemas of P. Descola are confronted here to a methodological ontisme defined by A. Piette. Indeed, the passage of the schema to the individual in situation is problematic. The ontological schemas do not resist the ontography of the human beings. The contributions of an approach by the individual have at the same time a methodological and theoretical impact. By considering the individual both in the everyday nature of the situations following one another and the prism of the trajectories of shaping life, it is then possible to accentuate an experienced and observed reality without losing the attention on the commitment that theses individuals have from one situation to another in front of other humans, visible and invisible beings.

Character driven ethnographic film in the study of social persons in urban Cameroon

Author: Trond Waage (University of Tromsø)  email

Short Abstract

Character driven ethnographic filmmaking in concrete social situations is argued for as a strategy grasping processes of identity management in urban Cameroon. The collaborative aspect of filmmaking joined with living images concreteness, opens for a dynamic sensorial urban anthropology.

Long Abstract

Inspired by classical ethnographic work like 'Street Corner Society', have I been following young illiterate men that have met in Ngaoundéré after migrating from the Central African Republic. In urban Ngaoundéré are they trying to make a living, economically funded on transporting water. Following these young men and their female connections with my video camera, I aim at exploring construction of social persons through everyday life activities.

Several current works on social processes in Urban Africa describes a generation of youth where 'Hope is Cut' (Mains 2013) or youth as 'Stuck' (Sommer 2012). These monographs are based on ethnographic records of individual social carriers detached from the social situations where identities are developed. It is work that: '… have not been able to take much epistemological advantage of our participatory activities," (Devareaux1995).

Being able to grasp and situate sensorial expressions and intricate meaning loaded identity management processes in urban life we have to explore social situations over time. Situations are visual. Filmmaking gives the anthropologist a role to participate and opens for collaboration. In this paper will I argue for character driven ethnographic film approach, exploring social modalities in urban Cameroon. I find urban life characterised by constant twist and turns, and a great variation in individual carriers despites originating from similar social categories. Collaborative character driven ethnographic filmmaking projects opens for an urban anthropology, taking epistemological advantage of concrete and shared audio-visual information studying person's identities.

The study of individuals and the interaction of social fields

Author: Jan Patrick Heiss (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

I argue that a study of individuals is needed if we try to understand how different social fields (e.g. religion + economic behaviour) interact. I apply this idea to a Hausa peasant's life and the relations his life has to the structures of peasant societies and to the local variety of Islam.

Long Abstract

If we construe generalised statements about a society, we work with a wide variety of people. As a corollary of that, we cannot study them closely. If we study, however, individuals, we can spend more time on studying them. We unfold their being and show its complexity in a way a study striving for general insights cannot. For some research questions, such an approach seems desirable. This is the case if we want to understand how different social fields interact. A short glimpse at Weber's Protestant ethic serves to illustrate that. Weber related inner states and ways of action of members of different religions to their religious doctrines and duties. Yet, in the Protestant ethic he did not relate his findings to the social structures the believers were embedded in. He could thus not control if the behaviour of the believers were due to religion only or to other features of society as well. A study of a smaller number of 'field-subjects' enables us to relate the findings to a wider variety of factors. In other words, if a wide variety of explanatory models refers to a certain phenomenon, we have to reduce the number of samples to which we apply the explanatory models. A holistic approach, so one might argue, might, therefore, sometimes demand the study of individuals. I try to make this point by relating some features of the life of a Hausa peasant (Niger) to the structures of peasant societies and to the local variety of Islam.

Taking instituted desires seriously: toward an anthropology of individual

Authors: Heung-wah Wong (The University of Hong Kong)  email
Hoi Yan Yau (Lingnan University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how individual Hong Kong women develop a unique relation with Boy Love Comics, a special genre of Japanese comics. We shall show how individual Hong Kong women’s desires made them identify with Boy Love Comics in a unique fashion.

Long Abstract

This paper examines how individual Hong Kong women develop a unique relation with Boy Love Comics, a special genre of Japanese comics. We shall show how individual Hong Kong women's desires made them identify with Boy Love Comics in a unique fashion. The stories of these individual Hong Kong women will testify one important point: while these women attach the same cultural meaning to Boy Love Comics, each of them tend to develop a unique relation with the genre. But all this is only to lay the background for a more ambitious project: to explain how individual behavior is ordered but not prescribed by culture. The very fact that they simultaneously conform to, and deviate from, the local meaning of Boy Love Comics implies that human behaviors are both idiosyncratic and cultural. If human behaviors can be both idiosyncratic and cultural, it suggests that either utilitarian or cultural explanation of human behaviors is insufficient. We argue in this paper that the social nature of individual desires is the ontological source of idiosyncratic human behaviors because this paper will show that individual desires toward Boy Love Comics are instituted by the biographical experience and family structure of each individual which is cultural and thus arbitrarily. We therefore call for an anthropology of individual that can take the socially instituted individual desires seriously.

The "dividual" in anthropology: Lateral development of "personhood"

Authors: Yoko Taguchi (Kyoto University/JSPS)  email
Moe Nakazora (Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences/Kyoto University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores “dividual” personhood, focusing on Indian and Melanesian anthropology. While the concept of dividual is considered the counterpart of the Western bounded individual, this paper examines the development of the idea through a comparison of two non-Western conceptual areas.

Long Abstract

To deepen anthropological understandings of "individual" persons, this paper considers the "dividual" nature of the person characterized in contradiction to the Western bounded individual. Focusing on the anthropological works on India and Melanesia that elaborated an understanding of dividual personhood, this paper aims to explore (and broaden) one of the main queries of this panel: a proper conception of individuals for anthropology.

Marilyn Strathern and other Melanesianist anthropologists popularized the concept of the "partible" person, arguing that Melanesian persons are composed out of relations. In claiming this, they referred not only to the "indigenous theory" of Melanesian people but also to the studies of Indian personhood and castes developed by scholars including McKim Marriott and Valentine Daniel. They argued that Indian dividual personhood is dependent on the constant transactions and material influences of "substance-codes" (blood, food, knowledge, etc.) with other persons, deities, and the natural environment.

Previous research has noted the differences between these two areas; while Melanesian persons are internally divided and partible, South Indian persons are internally whole but fluid with permeable bodily boundaries. However, the conceptual interactions and borrowings of analytical terms between the two areas must be further examined. By following how the notion of the "dividual" made its way from India to Melanesia, later being "extracted" back to India, this paper attempts to develop an analytical framework to evoke new understandings of personhood not through a comparison between the West and a non-Western society but through a lateral comparison of non-Western societies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.