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Knowledge, Morality, and Causality in a 'Luckless' Society

The Case of the Chewong in the Malaysian Rain Forest

Signe Howell

In the absence of concepts that correspond to those of chance, luck, or fortune, how do people account for seemingly random desirable or undesirable events that occur? In this article, an examination is made of the Chewong—a hunting, gathering, shifting, and cultivating group of people in the Malaysian rain forest—and their theory of causality. It is argued that cause is a universal category of human understanding, but that an understanding of cause cannot be separated from a wider examination of the ontology and cosmology in each case. Chewong maintain that the occurrence of specific events may be traced to the correct application of relevant knowledge, that is, knowledge predicated upon a mutuality between humans and a variety of nonhuman beings that guides daily interaction between them.

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Changes in Moral Values about the Family

Adoption Legislation in Norway and the US

Signe Howell

Legislation about personal behavior, such as family law, clearly manifests concerns about individual and relational rights and duties. With a focus on adoption laws in Norway and the US and on two international conventions (the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption), I examine different cultural values regarding childhood and parenthood, both historically and comparatively. Accompanying the recent growth of transnational adoption in Western Europe and North America, issues about what might constitute 'the best interest of the child' have become central in influential welfare circles of European countries that receive children in adoption and are reflected on a global level through the conventions.

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Battle of Cosmologies

The Catholic Church, Adat, and ‘Inculturation’ among Northern Lio, Indonesia

Signe Howell

Based on ethnography from Lio, Indonesia, I explore effects on values, categories, and practices that followed the introduction of Catholicism to the area. Hierarchy is treated both as a model of value, conveyed through asymmetrical relations, and as a system of social organization. Hierarchy is employed as a way to order elements of value, to include the social-political sphere of stratification, and as a conceptual tool to analyze the relationship between adat (cosmology) and the Catholic Church. In adat, hierarchical relations constitute a means of social and ritual organization and practice in which the whole is considered superior to the individual, while Catholicism is based on an ideology of egalitarianism. Unlike adat, which pervades every aspect of life, the Catholic religion in Lioland occupies only a delineated niche of religion.