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On Visual Coherence and Visual Excess

Writing, Diagrams, and Anthropological Form

Matei Candea

This article reflects on the power and dangers of diagrams as a mode of anthropological exposition, comparing this particular form of non-text to the brief dalliance of mid-century anthropology with algebraic and logical formulae. It has been claimed that diagrams, like formulae, are clearer, simpler, or less deceptive than textual argument. By contrast, this article argues that diagrams are just as slippery and tricky as words, but that images and words slip and slide in different ways. Holding both diagrams and words together when building an argument enables not only a specific kind of rigor, but also moments of unexpected theoretical invention. This technique of holding together contrasting heuristics scales up as a productive epistemic device for anthropology more broadly.

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Different Species, One Theory

Reflections on Anthropomorphism and Anthropological Comparison

Matei Candea

This article compares recent anthropological accounts of animist and perspectivist ontologies with evolutionary explanations of animal behaviour in contemporary behavioural ecology. It argues that some unexpected echoes between these two very different ways of encountering non-humans raise a set of fascinating issues both ethnographic and theoretical. On the ethnographic side, thinking of behavioural ecology as akin to a 'naturalist perspectivism' illuminates some of the complex ways in which the discipline deals with worries about anthropomorphic projection. On the theoretical side, the comparison raises some questions about the ease with which us/them contrasts associated with the recent 'ontological turn' in anthropology find themselves echoing contrasts internal to Western philosophical and scientific debate. The resulting problem of mirroring (the concern that 'others' may be called upon to play the role of an anti-'us', rather than encountered on their own terms) is in turn considered as an analogue of the scientific problem of 'anthropomorphism', and some potential responses to both are considered.

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Internal Others

Ethnographies of Naturalism

Matei Candea and Lys Alcayna-Stevens

'Naturalism' is invoked with increasing frequency by anthropologists as a distinctively Western ontology which posits a shared unitary nature, upon which are overlain multiple 'cultures', 'perspectives', or 'worldviews'. But where, if at all, is this ontology to be found? Anthropologists working outside Europe and America have in various ways been urging colleagues to challenge 'our' naturalism in order to be able to take seriously alternative ethnographic realities. In the meantime, anthropologists and STS scholars who study European or American settings ethnographically have increasingly been arguing that 'we' were never (quite) naturalist to begin with. This double move shores 'naturalism' up as a conceptual object, but renders it ethnographically elusive, a perpetually receding horizon invoked in accounts of something else. This introduction explores this paradox and presents the subsequent articles' various experiments with what might seem an impossible task: the ethnography of naturalism itself.