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Ontography and Alterity

Defining Anthropological Truth

Martin Holbraad

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?

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Narratives of the Invisible

Autobiography, Kinship, and Alterity in Native Amazonia

Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Marc Brightman

life is characterized by a shift in the management of alterity, whereby other people—for example, distant affines, other Amerindians, and other types of people such as Maroons ( mekoro ) 5 and urban people ( pananakiri , or palasisi in Wayana

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Johannes Fabian

These comments—made originally in my role as discussant for the panel in Ljubljana—address the recent history of the question of world anthropologies and identify three issues for further critical debate: (1) hegemonic claims concerning our discipline (including the issue of hegemony within our discipline), (2) the difference between power and authority, and (3) reasons that alterity continues to be a crucial concept in post-colonial anthropology.

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Lisette Josephides

Cosmopolitanism as the existential condition of humanity refers to the view that human beings are both transcendent and social. This is argued through another pair of concepts, commonality and difference. If humans are moral, it is because they recognise each other as sharing a basic ontology. But this morality is expressed in the sort of regard that separates ‘me’ from ‘you’. Two aspects of difference are elaborated: foreignness feared as alien but also found in oneself, and alterity as irreducibly other. How can these differences keep us both individual and social?

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Glossolalia and Linguistic Alterity

The Ontology of Ineffable Speech

Evandro Bonfim

This article proposes a revised definition of glossolalia based on the ritual value of incomprehensible speech, which allows for an approach to meaning emergence in non-human languages and the issue of extreme linguistic alterity. The main social and acoustic features associated with glossolalia will be presented through the case study of a Christian charismatic community in Brazil (the Canção Nova), showing us how linguistic evidence supports different notions of Christian personhood and an iconic-based communication between human and divine beings.

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Simone Toji


This is a story about the disturbed perception of an elderly person of Polish origin who is living through the effects of dementia. Throughout his discontinuous flashes of consciousness, the text plays with senses of alterity and the invisibility of different groups who lived or are still living in Bom Retiro, a neighborhood in the city of São Paulo. The story refers symbolically to a sense of “discovery” of new migration patterns in the city when south-south migration flows became prominent. The existence of different groups of nationalities is also represented in the narrative by the characters’ use of terms borrowed from various languages. While Polish is recovered by the main character in order to explore a sense of belonging, words in Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese are appropriated by him and other figures to establish a certain degree of alterity in relation to the migrants who are native speakers of these three languages.

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'Seeing’ Papua New Guinea

Making Order and Disorder through a Petroleum Project

Steffen Dalsgaard

This article contributes to debates about how capitalist corporations ‘see’, and how they concurrently relate to the places where they are located. It argues that an analytical focus on ‘seeing’ illuminates how internal organization and outward relation making are tied together in complex ways. Even so, corporations of the extractive industries in particular cannot be assumed to encompass a single coherent view. The empirical case is a critical examination of how a gas project employed strict health, safety, and security measures to generate order when encountering alterity in an unfamiliar environment in Papua New Guinea. It reveals how the project was organized around two conflicting ways of seeing its host country—trying to separate itself from it while simultaneously having to engage and provide benefits for it.

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Teaching National Identity and Alterity

Nineteenth Century American Primary School Geography Textbooks

Bahar Gürsel

accentuating the “alterity of other nations”; such definitions also typically contain what Wendy Bokhorst-Heng has called an “‘us’ versus ‘them’ component”—a distinction between “who we are” and “who we are not.” 2 In this quest for nation building by defining

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Yu Luo, Tim Oakes, and Louisa Schein

What makes for an imaginary of remoteness that in turn produces economic yield? This article explores the interplay of remoteness and connectivity in Guizhou, a Chinese province that has long been constructed as rugged, lacking in civilisation, inaccessible and effectively immune to control. Situated in China's southwest, largely populated by minority peoples, the province has been iconic of the ‘remote’ across centuries of Chinese history, despite the region having no international border. In this article, an American anthropologist, an anthropologist from Guizhou and an American geographer interrogate the shifting valences of remoteness during and since the period of Mao. We interrogate Guizhou's remoteness as simultaneously derogated and celebrated and consider the emergence of a ‘post‐alteric imaginary’ reflecting contemporary realignments of state–populace, urban–rural and Han–minority. Infrastructure development is read alongside tourism development as we probe the synergy between national imaginaries that distance Guizhou and local strategies of self‐fashioning and branding.

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Sabrina Melenotte

Since 1994, the Zapatista political autonomy project has been claiming that “another world is possible”. This experience has influenced many intellectuals of contemporary radical social movements who see in the indigenous organization a new political alter-native. I will first explore some of the current theories on Zapatism and the crossing of some of authors into anarchist thought. The second part of the article draws on an ethnography conducted in the municipality of Chenalhó, in the highlands of Chiapas, to emphasize some of the everyday practices inside the self-proclaimed “autonomous municipality” of Polhó. As opposed to irenic theories on Zapatism, this article describes a peculiar process of autonomy and brings out some contradictions between the political discourse and the day-to-day practices of the autonomous power, focusing on three specific points linked to economic and political constraints in a context of political violence: the economic dependency on humanitarian aid and the “bureaucratic habitus”; the new “autonomous” leadership it involved, between “good government” and “good management”; and the internal divisions due to the return of some displaced members and the exit of international aid.