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.
A Response to Nigel Rapport's 'Cosmopolitan Politesse'
Open to the journal’s remit to consider how the legal may enter social constructions of persons or might change meaning in terms of everyday interpretations, I am enchanted by Nigel Rapport’s redescription of anthropological practice in this issue’s forum. Such practice, he suggests, is a scaled-up version of everyday human practice, at least in so far as ‘the common humanity of our research subjects becomes the basis of our being able to understand their . . . [diverse] difference[s]’. Like Anyone, anthropologists use generalised human means to judge local actions. Acting in this way (when it becomes an ethic) is a mark of the cosmopolitan politesse he would see as a potential vector of a Western, liberal, moral vision, with its sense of the realities of human life, a knowable ontological foundation, in which individuals flourish when they sustain their own personal and collective worlds. Such a vision also mobilises a certain capacity for justice embedded in the everyday. The relation between this philosophically conceived notion of justice and ‘the legal’ is left to the imagination. But Rapport has given us much to think about with respect to how one might find or redefine what is of legal concern beyond the public arena of the state and its bureaucracy, and thus in ‘other’ kinds of social space.
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.
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.
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.
A Discussion with Marilyn Strathern
Samantha Page and Marilyn Strathern
As part of my ‘impact editor’ role for Anthropology in Action I approached Professor Marilyn Strathern to seek her personal reflections on the impact agenda related to her own experiences working as head of department, at Manchester and Cambridge Universities, as member and then chair of two Research Assessment Exercise panels, her anthropological research in Papua New Guinea and her work on audit culture. I wanted to find out how Professor Strathern’s work has been engaged with policy and practice or has influenced it. I also discussed my own PhD research with Professor Strathern, including the challenges of being an early career researcher, as well as seeking advice about the best way to disseminate research findings to inform policy and to have ‘impact’.
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