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An Encyclopedia of Political Forms

The Dawn of Everything According to Graeber and Wengrow

Rémi Hadad and Matthew Carey

In the preface to his Second Discourse, on the origin of inequality and whether or not it could be justified by natural law, Rousseau cast a disapproving eye over the ample contemporary literature on the topic: “Among the most serious writers, one can hardly find two who are of the same opinion on this point. Without speaking of the ancient philosophers, who seem to have tried their best to contradict each other on the most fundamental principles” (Rousseau 1992 [1755]: 13). In The Dawn of Everything (2021), the anthropologist David Graeber and the archaeologist David Wengrow breathe new life into this classical polemical tradition. They begin by criticizing the current fashion for essays that appeal to the immemorial past to justify their frequently banal and conservative analysis of the present. Steven Pinker, Yuval Harari, Robin Dunbar, Jared Diamond, Walter Scheidel, Francis Fukuyama, and Ian Morris are explicitly named as so many variations on the liberal mystification of social evolution. Graeber and Wengrow's self-proclaimed “new history of humanity,” however, runs the risk of leaving the reader with the same disappointment the author of the Second Discourse expressed over the proliferation of unwarranted stances. It is worthwhile, therefore, stating very clearly, and from the start, what separates this particular text from its peers.

Open access

Toward an Epidemiology of Ritual Chants

Pierre Déléage

Translator : Translated by Matthew Carey

Abstract

This article develops an epidemiological approach to the analysis of ritual discourse, comparing three distinct genres of Amazonian ritual chants: Wayana, Sharanahua, and Ingarikó. The aim is not to identify the inherent properties of chants, nor to establish ideal types of ritual context (initiation, shamanism, prophetism), but to analyze the different factors affecting the stabilization of the heterogeneous elements of ritual traditions. First, I identify the different procedures (order transfer, parallelism, intersemioticity, and inscription) that stabilize content. Then, assuming that the spread of ritual chants depends on an institutional apparatus, I explore the chants’ rules of distribution and the types of legitimizing authority involved. Finally, I show how the combined analysis of these different factors offers us a new way of understanding ritual innovation.

Open access

“The Mathematics of Man” by Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Susanne Küchler, and Matthew Carey

Claude Lévi-Strauss's essay “Les mathématiques de l'homme,” originally published in 1956, is the least known of all his publications. It is also arguably his most prescient, capturing the enduring possibilities and latent pitfalls in anthropology's relationship with mathematics that have continued to beset the discipline to the present day. The aim of presenting a new translation of this essay is to prompt reflections on the changing landscape of research on and teaching of anthropology, which is still as tangled up with the philosophy and practice of mathematics as it was then.