The Art of Capture

Hidden Jokes and the Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in Southwest China

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 King’s College London katherine.swancutt@kcl.ac.uk
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Abstract

Anthropology has, among its many accomplishments, become a ‘hyper-reflexive’ discipline that is mastered by anthropologists and their fieldwork friends. Today’s China offers an especially revealing lens onto anthropological reflexivity as it reintroduces animism among ethnic minorities and mobilizes a cosmological-cum-ecological ethos, replete with soul-searching and planet-saving behaviors. This article presents ethnography on the Nuosu of Southwest China, who use the ‘art of capture’ to reinvent local animistic ideas and the Chinese ‘ideology of animism’. In dialogue with a Nuosu ethnologist, rural Nuosu villagers, and a Nuosu anthropologist, I propose that ‘hidden’ knowledge and jokes underpin the expositions of native scholars, who interlace their academic work with local rituals. In this way, Nuosu academics, foreign anthropologists, and villagers all partake in the reinvention of Nuosu animism.

Contributor Notes

Katherine Swancutt is a Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London. She is the author of Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination (2012). Her main area of interest is Inner Asia, and she has conducted fieldwork among Buryat Mongols, Deed Mongols, and, more recently, the Nuosu of Southwest China. A major theme running through her work has been the rise of innovative religious practices, especially among animistic or shamanic groups. Currently, she is taking her work in several related directions that reveal the links between imagination and ethno-theology in China, from the study of fame and the production of ethnographic dreams to the internationalization of indigenous peoples through native and foreign scholarship.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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