Comment on cosmopolitan politesse

Goodness, justice, civil society

in Journal of Legal Anthropology
Don Gardner Australian National University

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This comment focuses less on the three hopes expressed in Nigel Rapport's title than on the conception of individuality and its relation to the aspirations of the social sciences that underpins his case for cosmopolitan politesse. First, I want to say that Nigel Rapport's industry is astonishing. He reads widely, across many genres, and has written a great deal aimed at persuading us of two things: that the social sciences suffer from fundamental shortcomings, and that they are implicated, if not complicit, in communitarianism and other worrying tendencies of our age. Possibly social anthropology's most ardent, resilient and ‘poetic’ reformer, he offers us here a digest of one of his many publications concerned with establishing the central importance to anthropology – and to the possibility of a decent world – of what his friend, Michael Jackson, calls ‘the human microsphere’. Because of Rapport's many different journeys through this microsphere, it is not possible here to cover more than a little of the terrain.1

Contributor Notes

Don Gardner ( began ethnographic fieldwork among Mian-speakers of the Telefomin region of Papua New Guinea in 1975. He has worked on a range of topics, from kinship and ritual to demography and malariometry. His theoretical interests focus on the anthropology of religion and social theory, especially the intentionality of social action and its relation to the explanation of human social life and its trajectories. Now retired, he worked for thirty years at the Australian National University, but he has also held positions at universities in Sydney, Heidelberg and, more recently, the University of Lucerne.

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  • Beer, B. and D. Gardner (2015), ‘Friendship, Anthropology of’, in James D. Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed., vol. 9 (Oxford: Elsevier), 425431.

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  • Demian, M., et al (2010), ‘Forum: “Community” at the expense of “kinship” in British courtsJournal of Legal Anthropology 1, no. 2: 230246.

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  • Gardner, D. (2000), ‘Social life as a DIY project’, Australian Journal of Anthropology 11: 5977.

  • Gardner, D. (2010), ‘The scope of “meaning” and the avoidance of sylleptical reason: A plea for some modest distinctions’, Ethnos 75, no. 3: 346375.

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  • Geertz, C. (1973), The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books).

  • Geertz, C. (1986), ‘The uses of diversity’, Michigan Quarterly Review 25, no. 1: 105122.

  • Geertz, C. (2005), ‘Commentary’, in R. Shweder and B. Good (eds), Clifford Geertz by His Colleagues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 108-124.

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  • Kluckhohn, C. and H. Murray (1948), Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture (New York: Knopf).

  • Laidlaw, J. (2014), The Subject of Virtue: An Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

  • Rapport, N. (1997), Transcendent Individual (London: Routledge).

  • Rapport, N. (2000), ‘Celebrating and advocating the personalisation of the world: A reply to Don Gardner’, Australian Journal of Anthropology 11: 223233.

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  • Rapport, N. (2003), I am Dynamite: An Alternative Anthropology of Power (London: Routledge).

  • Rapport, N. (2012), Anyone: The Cosmopolitan Subject of Anthropology (Oxford: Berghahn Books).

  • Rapport, N. (2014), Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge).

  • Rapport, N. (2017), ‘Writing a cosmopolitan anthropology in recognition of anyone’, in M. Nielsen and N. Rapport (eds), The Composition of Anthropology: How Anthropological Texts Are Written (London: Routledge), 105121.

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  • Rorty, R. (1983), ‘Postmodernist bourgeois liberalism’, Journal of Philosophy 80: 583589.

  • Rorty, R. (1986), ‘On ethnocentrism: A reply to Clifford Geertz’, Michigan Quarterly Review 25, no. 3: 525534.


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