This article holds that deeply entrenched assumptions about the nature, provenance, and value of truth can be brought into view and examined critically when set against the backdrop of a radically different set of concepts and practices that are associated with truth seeking in contemporary Afro-Cuban divination. Drawing briefly on an ethnographic analysis of the ways in which Cuban cult practitioners use oracles, the article seeks to formulate a radically alternative concept of truth. This viewpoint eschews common premises about the role of 'representation' in the pursuit of truth in favor of a notion of truth as 'conceptual redefinition'. If the ethnography of divination in Cuba forces the analyst radically to reformulate the concept of truth, what effect might this new approach have on the project of anthropology itself?
Defining Anthropological Truth
Currencies of Poverty in Post-Soviet Cuba
Based on ethnographic research in Havana over the past two decades, this article examines how Cubans’ experience of poverty, or ‘need’, is linked to the increasing dollarization of the Cuban economy. Dollars, I argue, are not just the emblem of a new moral disorder, but also its main catalyst, inasmuch as they expand the realm of ‘need’, as defined by a socialist paradigm of consumption rooted in the era before the introduction of the dollar, by stripping it of its (socialist) moral essence through acts of quantitative commensuration. This account of Cubans’ experience of poverty since the end of the Soviet era, I suggest, provides more general insights about the power of the money form itself as a catalyst of moral transformation.
Having now completely ‘transitioned’ from the previous editorial team, this issue of Social Analysis is the first for which I am more or less fully responsible. Instead of a more elaborate ‘letter from the editor’ to mark the occasion, I gave an interview to the staff at Berghahn, our publishers, for their online blog. Better than a more formal letter, I hope, the interview, which follows, conveys the spirit in which I approach my editorship of the journal and gives an idea of the new directions in which I wish to take it in the future.
Interview with Martin Holbraad on Becoming Editor of Social Analysis
How did it come about that you became editor of Social Analysis?
It was Bruce Kapferer and his legendary powers of persuasion! Bruce set the journal up in 1979 with the intention, as he explained to me recently, of taking forward the anthropological agenda of the Manchester School: socio-political analysis based on the detailed ethnography of practice aiming to intervene critically in the big issues of the day. Since that time, the journal has grown a lot, but without losing its somewhat homespun quality, which is one of the things I most like about it. In fact, one of the best moves Bruce made, after eventually shifting the center of gravity of the journal away from Australia and joining forces with you guys at Berghahn, was to pass the editorship to my predecessors—a dynamic editorial team based at Bergen in Norway, comprising Bjørn Bertelsen, Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, Knut Rio, and Olaf Smedal, along with their editorial assistant Nora Haukali.
This issue includes our First Book Symposium, a new feature for Social Analysis that replaces the book reviews section we have had for a number of years. In each regular issue of the journal, we shall be devoting this feature to a single book written by a first-time author, which in one way or another develops new potentials for anthropological analysis (this being the core intellectual mission of our journal). The book will be subjected to sustained critique by relevant scholars, to which the author will then respond. We hope that this more focused approach will allow for a deeper engagement with emerging currents of analysis than what the shorter book review format allows, providing also a platform for books by scholars who are not already established and well known.
Experimenting with the many potentials of anthropological analysis—that shifting interface between the empirical and the conceptual, the space and perhaps the time between ethnography and theory—is at the heart of our journal’s intellectual mission. Our aim is to publish articles that display a spirit of analytical exploration by dealing in fresh ways with their empirical materials and showing in the action of their analytical treatment new paths for anthropological thinking to pursue. Alongside full-length research articles, in this issue we inaugurate Think Pieces in Analytics, a forum devoted to slightly shorter and more speculative texts, in which particular aspects of the scope, process, or aims of anthropological analysis are explored for their own sake. Mirroring the ambiguous and shifting character of both the concept and the practice of analysis, we give free rein to contributors to broach matters of methodology, theoretical approach, research ethics and politics, interdisciplinary interface, and institutional infrastructure, as long as their bearing on questions of analytical practice in anthropology is identified.
A Comment on Franklin and Napier
Commenting on two articles that have appealed to the notion of 'recursivity' to articulate new directions for anthropological thinking, this piece seeks to clarify the scope of a recursive turn in contemporary anthropology, distinguishing it from elements of recursivity that have always been present in the discipline's epistemic procedures.
Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture (translated by Janet Lloyd). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 488, 2013.
Allen Abramson and Martin Holbraad
How far is the ethnographic study of 'cosmologies' relevant to contemporary anthropology, and how might it illuminate understandings of the contemporary world? In this article we argue for a renewed anthropological interest in matters cosmological by seeking to disentangle the study of cosmology from the concomitants with which it was associated in earlier periods of anthropological research. In particular, we argue that an orientation toward cosmology continues to be of prime importance to the discipline insofar as it can be freed from its associations with holism and exoticism. The shift from 'high modernity' (in which orientations toward cosmos are variously constrained and circumscribed) to the flattening effects of the 'fluid' modernity of neoliberalism, we argue, has tended to thrust concerns with cosmic orders and dynamics back onto the forefront of people's lives. We end the article with a series of programmatic observations of how anthropologists might respond to these shifts, both ethnographically and analytically.
Between Theory, Ethnography, and Method
Martin Holbraad, Sarah Green, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Veena Das, Nurit Bird-David, Eduardo Kohn, Ghassan Hage, Laura Bear, Hannah Knox and Bruce Kapferer
Recent years in anthropology have seen a noticeable trend, moving from debates about theory to a concern with method. So while some generations ago we would tend to identify ourselves as anthropologists with reference to particular theoretical paradigms—for example, Marxism, (post-)structuralism, cognitivism, cultural materialism, interpretivism—these days our tendency is to align ourselves, often eclectically, with proposals conceived as methodological: entanglements, assemblages, ontologies, technologies of description, epistemic partnerships, problematizations, collaborative anthropology, the art of noticing, and so on.