A Response to Nigel Rapport’s ‘Cosmopolitan Politesse’
This is an exercise in the re-making of knowledge. Stimulated by certain recent writings on bodily activity, the author returns to a section of an earlier work (in The Gender of the Gi, Strathern 1988) that had felt incomplete at the time of writing, as well as to some ethnographic material from Melanesia that she thought she knew. The new context deflects attention away from some original preoccupations onto the manner in which two anthropologists and a philosopher ascribe agency to persons.
Universities offer environments apparently favourable to open-ended and exploratory research, especially when interdisciplinarity is embraced as an aim. But this is not always quite the invitation it seems. Under the aegis of accountability, a bureaucratic form of interdisciplinarity is reframing the ways society is imagined and drawn into the scientific enterprise. Some problems for Social Anthropology are sketched briefly.
This is an excellent project. Making an anniversary out of the publication of The Invention of Culture (IOC) allows an interesting cross-section of scholars to set down, briefly, the effect which they think the work has had, and still has. Yet in one sense this is a self-defeating exercise: as some of the authors point out (Dalton and Stassinos) Wagner never stays in the same frame twice. A formula in his world view must always be in the past tense, for once a position is formulated, it has done its job. So in his own unfolding oeuvre, the ‘effect’ of IOC is located (refashioned) ‘elsewhere.’ Indeed, several of these papers find it necessary to draw from other parts of his work (Dalton, Murray and Stassinos). In another sense, what emerges from these essays is the prescience of Wagner’s work; the fact, for example, that IOC seemed to anticipate some of the melting pots into which the study of culture was to fall and its continuing vitality.
This stimulating collection puts agriculture into current conversations on the Anthropocene. In particular it relates, as an effect of the impetus toward defining responsibility, the contemporary sense of urgency that makes “us” find new reasons for thinking of humankind as a whole. The articles carefully unpick this holism, both in terms of people’s varying relations to the circumstances of cultivation or marketing and in terms of populations being divided through offsetting or knowledge-distribution strategies. It is a small extrapolation to observe that the same must be true of the particularity of crops: no more than persons can they be lumped together.
Its author ever hopeful of abandoning nature-culture or nature-society, this brief sketch is an attempt to understand some part of the dyad. It fishes among materials on biological relatedness, ideas about reproduction, and configurations of kinship that might amount to a naturalist cosmology, detectable among other things in the problems it generates. There is nothing new in apprehending how much of society was already ‘in’ the nature that came to be distinguished from it. However, the anthropologist’s net has its own gauge, and thus the argument at once depends on historical niceties and disregards them. What gets caught in the mesh flung over this huge area are certain issues concerning identity and individuality. These demand a closer inquiry into the character of the relations being supposed, the matter with which the article opens.
A Discussion with Marilyn Strathern
Samantha Page and Marilyn Strathern
Ibrahim G. Aoude, Sandra Bamford, Mark T. Berger, Doug Dalton, Allen Feldman, Jonathan Friedman, John Gledhill, Richard Handler, Keith Hart, Michael Humphrey, Dan Jorgensen, Bruce Kapferer, Clive Kessler, Leif Manger, David A. B. Murray, Joel Robbins, Michael Rowlands, Marshall Sahlins, Elizabeth Stassinos, Marilyn Strathern, Karen Sykes, and Souchou Yao
Notes on contributors