On Misfitness

Reflections in and out of Fashion

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
Restricted access


‘Misfits’ are proof positive that the anthropological chestnut of ‘the psychic unity of mankind’ glosses over the actual psychic disunity of the anthropic. The proof militates against rendering misfitness merely as a social construction even as it militates in favour of rendering it as a ‘polythetic class’, the unity of which is not based in the common features of all tokens of a given type but instead in their ‘family resemblance’. Members of the family include those who are deemed incompetent, but also those deemed best suited to specific social stations. Misfitness may also be sought and not merely ascribed. In every case, misfitness has an ethically ambiguous status – and so offers us a lesson of the systemic place of the ‘irritant’ within but also at the edge of and beyond the bounds of any current anthropology of ordinary ethics.

Contributor Notes

James D. Faubion is Radoslav Tsanoff Chair of Public Affairs, Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Affiliate in the Departments of English and Religious Studies at Rice University. Publications representative of his interests include Modern Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constructivism (Princeton, 1993); Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Volume 2: Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology and Volume 3: Power (The New Press, 1998, 2000, ed.); The Shadows and Lights of Waco: Millenarianism Today (Princeton, 2001); An Anthropology of Ethics (Cambridge, 2011); and Foucault Now (Polity, 2014, ed.).

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