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Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice

Beyond Representation and Meaning

Bruce Kapferer

Symbolic meaning and representational and reflexive perspectives remain dominant orientations in the analysis of ritual. While these must be crucial, this essay argues that a focus on the perceptual dynamics of rite, especially as these are located in ritual aesthetics, may expand an understanding of the force of rite. The discussion develops critically upon Victor Turner’s seminal work, suggesting ways in which ritual analyses may be redirected. The related concepts of dynamics and virtuality (distinguished from the cyber-technological kind) are developed, indicating that these may be critical for understanding how rites change or transform the situations to which they are directed. Ritual as a dynamic in virtuality that has no essential or necessary relation to the ordinary realities that surround it may, because of this fact, be greatly empowered as a force that can pragmatically intervene in ordinary realities.

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Foundation and Empire (with apologies to Isaac Asimov)

A Consideration of Hardt and Negri's Empire

Bruce Kapferer

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 2000), pp. 478.

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Introduction

Outside All Reason—Magic, Sorcery and Epistemology in Anthropology

Bruce Kapferer

Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are at the epistemological centre of anthropology. They embed matters at the heart of the definition of modern anthropology, and the critical issues that they raise are of enduring significance for the discipline. But the questions these phenomena highlight expand beyond mere disciplinary or scholastic interest. They point to matters of deep existential concern in a general quest for an understanding of the human forces engaged in the human construction of lived realities. Anthropology in the embracing Kantian sense is involved. The phenomena that are deemed to be magic and sorcery (including all that which such scholars as Durkheim (1915) and Mauss (1972) would include under the label ‘profane’) project towards the far shores of human possibility and potentiality. The human profundities to which they might lead are already there in the imagery and metaphors of thinkers, both abstract and concretely pragmatic, worldwide. Within European traditions the world of the magician and the sorcerer is routinely evoked to explore the continuing crisis that is faced by humankind, more recently, for example, in the works of Dante, Goethe and Nietzsche right through to the most contemporary philosophers and social commentators. The essays in these pages contend with some of the overarching existential issues towards which a concern with the magical must extend.

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Bruce Kapferer

The cosmologies implicated in sorcery practice are human-centric. Within them, human beings are at the heart of processes that are integral in the formation of their psychical, social and political universes. Sorcery fetishises human agency, often one which it magically enhances, as the key mediating factor affecting the course or direction of human life-chances. The fabulous character of so much sorcery practice, its transgressive and unbounded dimensions, a rich symbolism that appears to press towards and beyond the limits of the human imagination, is surely connected to the overpowering and totalising impetus that sorcery recognises in human agency and capacities. Sorcery is that magical additional force that unites with the intentional direction of human beings into their realities – a creative and destructive directionality. Such sorcery must needs affect the lives of others because of their co-presence, their ongoing involvement in each other’s life circumstances.

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Introduction

Old Permutations, New Formations? War, State, and Global Transgression

Bruce Kapferer

The very institution of the state is widely conceived of as inseparable from war. If it constitutes peace within the borders or order of its sovereignty, this very peace may be the condition for its potential for war with those other states and social formations outside it. Indeed, in different state systems their very internal order depended on predation beyond their borders. The one was the function of the other. Since ancient times it has been observed that the distribution of wealth within states, even the creation of what the Greeks recognized as democracy, was critically related to the perpetration of war. Hobbes’s royalist vision of the state within the context of England and Europe is consistent with that founding paradox of the state that I have outlined here. This is so despite his famous legitimation of the state as necessary for the overcoming of conflict and violence that was inherent in human being and especially in social processes otherwise not mediated through the institutions of the state. In other words, for Hobbes the state is an extension of fundamental human nature. The state is peace-making by virtue of its appropriation and monopolization of the wherewithal for violence. But this direction toward peace is a protective function organized to the benefit of the citizens of the state who surrender their capacity for violence to the state. Clausewitz’s celebrated recognition of war as an extension of politics expands on Hobbes making more explicit the paradox of the state. This paradox arises from the monopolization of violence, for it can lead to excessive violence demanding political constraint.

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The Aporia of Power

Crisis and the Emergence of the Corporate State

Bruce Kapferer

The argument focuses on the corporate state as an increasingly significant political assemblage that has enabled new configurations of power with related social effects. Here the discussion proceeds from Karl Polanyi's thesis in The Great Transformation. A critical idea that Polanyi pursued related to the state production of economism and individualism, which prepared the ground for the expansion of capital in its globalizing form. The essay develops this idea, indicating that the nationalist capitalism of the state led to a radical change in the political and social orders of states, gradually giving rise to the corporate state assemblage. The emphasis here is on the corporate state as a socio-political order that places radically distinct structural dynamics into impossible conjunction, leading to progressively disastrous social effects concerning poverty and the emergence of new configurations in which war and violence take specific shapes.

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Introduction

In the Event—Toward an Anthropology of Generic Moments

Bruce Kapferer

The exploration of events and situations has long been at the focus of anthropological ethnographic description. In common with many other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, this has been so in two main and frequently combined senses: (1) as exemplifications or illustrations, usually in the form of case studies, of more general ethnographic descriptive or theoretical assertions, or (2) as happenings or occasions, slices of life, that establish a conundrum or problematic that the presentation of an ethnography and its analysis will solve or otherwise explain. Most anthropological ethnographies offer examples or variations of the first. The second is relatively common, especially among historians, but perhaps the work of Clifford Geertz is the most celebrated example in anthropology. An outstanding instance is Geertz’s (1980) study Negara, which opens with the mass suicide of the Balinese court before the Dutch invaders. This event sets the stage for his exploration of the Balinese theatre state.

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Introduction

Oligarchic Corporations and New State Formations

Bruce Kapferer

Current configurations of global, imperial, and state power relate to formations of oligarchic control. A major feature of this is the command of political organizations and institutions by close-knit social groups (families or familial dynasties, groups of kin, closed associations, or tightly controlled interlinked networks of persons) for the purpose of the relatively exclusive control of economic resources and their distribution, these resources being vital to the existence of larger populations. For many theorists, the state, throughout history and in its numerous manifestations, was born in such processes and continues to be so. Moreover, the oppressive powers of state systems (e.g., the denial or constraining of human freedoms, the production of poverty and class inequalities) and the expansion of these in imperial form are a consequence of oligarchic forces.

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Bruce Kapferer

Gluckman and the Manchester School pioneered approaches in anthropology that are now commonplace. But they were interested in achieving generalizations of both a local and more global kind. Their central methodology was that of situational analysis and extended-case analysis, which are examined here as attempts to make anthropology, via its ethnographic field method, a scientific discipline that opened out to novel ideas and theories concerning the human condition. This essay critically assesses the thinking that underpinned the methodology of situational analysis and suggests some areas of redirection. The overall idea is to impart some sense of the spirit that motivated various aspects of the Manchester innovation, especially the politics that gave it some coherence, and the wider importance of its directions that are occasionally overlooked in reflections on the history of social anthropology.

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Bruce Kapferer

George Kingsley Garbett—Kingsley, to all his friends and colleagues—the Managing Editor of Social Analysis, was involved in the journal in different capacities since its foundation in 1980. He performed the editorial role for the longest period of time, guiding it through various changes of direction. His energy and inspiration are evident in the formation of thematic issues. He always took a keen intellectual interest in the contributions, and the mark of his thought is apparent in many of them.