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Introduction

Natural Philosophies of Fortune—Luck, Vitality, and Uncontrolled Relatedness

Giovanni da Col

Despite the resurgence of interdisciplinary interest in concepts of fortune, luck, and chance, anthropology has failed to engage with the social imagination of these concepts and their incorporation into quotidian moralities and decisions. This essay, which introduces the first of two special issues on this topic, will first present different conceptions and uses of notions of luck and chance and their relation with moral ontologies and notions of skeptical efficacy. By focusing on the interface between cosmology, economics, and human relatedness—that is, cosmoeconomics—this introduction shall then highlight how idioms of luck and fortune foreground a social topology that explicates how innate conceptions of vitality and 'mystical' influence, deemed to be of uncertain and uncontrolled nature, are nonetheless able to connect humans and non-humans, organisms and material entities.

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The Elementary Economies of Dechenwa Life

Fortune, Vitality, and the Mountain in Sino-Tibetan Borderlands

Giovanni da Col

This article presents some images and conceptual structures surrounding notions of fortune and luck among Dechen Tibetans in southwest China and reflects on the strategies for negotiating the integrity of persons and other 'social containers'. First, it analyzes the problem in separating the multifarious manifestations of fortune connected to the well-being and vitality of persons and households. Secondly, it examines the ethnographic concepts arising from the interface between fortune and sovereignty by illustrating the cosmological imagination surrounding contemporary state rituals focused on the cult of Mt. Khawa Karpo. Finally, musing on the relation between vitality, containership, and alterity, the article highlights how tracing the flows of fortune problematizes the divide between interiority and exteriority, or the question of where the outside and the inside of a being or a society begin.

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Giovanni da Col and Caroline Humphrey

This special issue and its following companion issue (Social Analysis 56, no. 2) are concerned with the ways in which fortune, luck, and chance are conceived in a range of different societies and how these concepts are employed to negotiate the contingencies and uncertainties of everyday life. More specifically, the articles included in these special issues show how, by juxtaposing different cultural images and positions, any engagement with these concepts in local cosmologies and systems of thought lead different societies to imaginatively formulate novel worldviews and to creatively rearrange preconceived notions and categories of relatedness and vitality. Taken together, the contributions to these special issues describe societies peopled by agents who seek to (re)connect with the ultimate sources of vitality and potentiality and to appropriate them in order to reconfigure their notions of prosperity and efficacy.

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Giovanni da Col and Caroline Humphrey

As with the preceding companion issue (Social Analysis 56, no. 1), this special issue is concerned with the ways in which fortune, luck, and chance are conceived in a range of different societies and how these concepts are employed to negotiate the contingencies and uncertainties of everyday life. Taken together, the articles gathered in this second collection deal with human attempts to project their desire for mastering uncertainties about the future while solving the moral predicaments of fortune’s proportions and their management in everyday life. Ranging from Melanesian and Greek gamblers to online gamers and Siberian hunters, from lay Chinese mathematicians of fate to young Mongolians, the ethnographies in this special issue reveal the creative potentials of practical matrixes for calculating luck and mobilizing diverse ‘technologies of anticipation’ of the future. A few of the articles present rites to invoke fortune, gambling, or games as practices to master contingency and as generative fields of agentive creativity and subjectivity.

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Introduction

Subjects of Luck—Contingency, Morality, and the Anticipation of Everyday Life

Giovanni da Col and Caroline Humphrey

This introduction illustrates the modalities in which different societies imagine the tension between the impersonal and individual- ized aspects of fortune and fate. After briefly discussing the role of contingency, fortune, and gambling in the formation of subjectivities, we outline how different societies confront the moral conundrums arising from fortune's unequal distribution in the world. We highlight how luck orientations presentify the future by the deployment of what we name 'technologies of anticipation'. Luck and fortune can be seen as conceptual techniques for short-circuiting temporal subjectivities by creating a crack in time-a space of 'compossibility'-where events deemed to be fatal and inevitable become negotiable. We conclude with a reflection on dice, randomness, and acts of gambling in which not merely subjectivities but the fate or fortune of larger social aggrega- tions-including the cosmos-is deemed at stake.