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Liana Chua

This article centers on the somatic modes through which ghosts, spirits, and other unseen beings are apprehended as felt experiences by the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Malaysian Borneo. Such experiences reveal a local epistemology of supernatural encounters that associates vision with normality and its suspension with both sensory and social liminality. The second half of the article explores how this model has been extended to contemporary Bidayuh Christianity, thus rendering God, Jesus, and other personages viscerally real in people's lives. Drawing on the ethnography and recent developments in the anthropology of religion, I argue that these 'soul encounters' hold important theoretical and methodological lessons for anthropologists, pushing us to reshape our conceptions of belief, as well as our approaches to the study of ostensibly intangible religious phenomena.

Open access

Selfies and Self-Fictions

Calibrating Co-presence in and of ‘the Field’

Liana Chua

Abstract

Through what fictions do anthropologists become co-present in ‘the field’? And what happens when ‘the field’ becomes co-present in anthropologists’ lives? In this article, I reflexively contrast two experiences of fieldwork connectedness: first, the changes to my interactions with Bidayuh villagers in rural Borneo since 2003, and, second, my recent engagement with the social media-scape of orangutan conservation. Both examples shed light on the methodological and ethical questions about the self-fictions through which anthropologists create our presence in the field—and how those fields assert their presence beyond our research projects. Recent technological developments, I suggest, thus underscore fundamental questions of how to calibrate fieldwork relations and where to locate the boundaries and openings of the anthropological self—a process that we cannot entirely control.

Open access

Witnessing the Unseen

Extinction, Spirits, and Anthropological Responsibility

Liana Chua

Abstract

This article draws on two research projects – one on orangutan conservation, and the other on religious change among indigenous Bidayuh communities – to reflect on the relations, technologies and processes involved in producing witnesses and witness-able truths. I compare two forms of witnessing: visualizations of environmental crisis and orangutan extinction, and modes of encountering invisible entities among Bidayuhs. Both involve the challenge of making the unseen visible or apprehensible and thus addressable. But whereas the first entails a crisis-laden visual imaginary that turns witnessing into a form of human stewardship over the environment, the second involves a more relational encounter involving mutual adjustment and responsivity to obligations and commitments. I suggest that this latter mode of witnessing invites us to reimagine both the crisis logic of environmental visualizations and ideals and practices of anthropological witnessing.

Open access

Liana Chua and Omri Grinberg

Abstract

This introduction sets the scene for the special issue through an overview of extant anthropological approaches to witnessing and a discussion of the collection's three main themes: truths, technologies and transformations. It lays the groundwork for a distinctly anthropological approach to witnessing in three ways. First, by drawing together disparate ethnographic takes on witnessing, it expands the anthropological analysis of witnessing beyond its conventional foci (e.g. legal or media settings). Second, it makes a case for attending not only to witnessing's semantics and subjectivities but also to its structural, relational, performative and material dimensions. Finally, it puts ethnographic analyses of witnessing in dialogue with reflexive discussions of anthropological witnessing, asking what each can bring to the other. In a ‘post-truth’ moment, when our interlocutors are producing their own testimonies and representations, it is vital to rethink what it means for anthropologists to (bear) witness – and who/what we do it for.