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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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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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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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'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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Narratives of the Invisible

Autobiography, Kinship, and Alterity in Native Amazonia

Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Marc Brightman

Shamanic knowledge is based on an ambiguous commensality with invisible others. As a result, shamans oscillate constantly between spheres of intimacy, both visible and invisible. A place of power and transformation, the spirit world is rarely described by native interlocutors in an objective, detached way; rather, they depict it in terms of events and experiences. Instead of examining the formal qualities of accounts of the spirit world through analyses of ritual performance and shamanic quests, we focus on life histories as autobiographical accounts in order to explore what they reveal about the relationship between personal history (and indigenous historicity) and the spirit world. We introduce the term ‘double reflexivity’ to refer to processes by which narratives about the self are produced through relationships with alterity.

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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.

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Who Is Afraid of the Ontological Wolf?

Some Comments on an Ongoing Anthropological Debate

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

This article, which was delivered as the 2014 Annual Marilyn Strathern Lecture, outlines both some of the stimuli that led to the 'ontological turn' in anthropology and some of its implications. Ontology is outlined here by the author as an anti-epistemological and counter-cultural, philosophical war machine.

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Teaching National Identity and Alterity

Nineteenth Century American Primary School Geography Textbooks

Bahar Gürsel

The swift and profound transformations in technology and industry that the United States began to experience in the late 1800s manifested themselves in school textbooks, which presented different patterns of race, ethnicity, and otherness. They also displayed concepts like national identity, exceptionalism, and the superiority of Euro-American civilization. This article aims to demonstrate, via an analysis of two textbooks, how world geography was taught to children in primary schools in nineteenth century America. It shows that the development of American identity coincided with the emergence of the realm of the “other,” that is, with the intensification of racial attitudes and prejudices, some of which were to persist well into the twentieth century.

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Altered Landscapes and Filmic Environments

An Account from the 13th Asian Cinema Studies Society Conference

Tito R. Quiling Jr.

It’s just past 10:00 am on a humid Monday in Singapore, and the streets seemed to have settled after a workday rush. My walk from Arab Street to McNally Street was rather placid, punctuated by moments at intersections, and surrounded by people heading somewhere. Minutes later, I was looking up at the postmodern buildings of LASALLE College of the Arts—a panorama of reinforced concrete, glass, tiles, and steel gleaming under the morning sun. In cinema, spaces and landscapes are primary features. At times, the setting goes beyond the overarching narrative, as it conveys its own story. Given their impact, Stephen Heath (2016) infers that a process occurs in identifying spatial connections to the characters, since “organizing, guiding, sustaining and reestablishing the space are the factors that reveal this process.” The audience absorbs the familiar images or experiences onscreen. However, embodied objects of varying iterations contribute to how environments in films are concretized. On this note, one can ask: in what ways do filmic environments thus project narratives and discourses?

Open access

Securitization, alterity, and the state

Human (in)security on an Amazonian frontier

Marc Brightman and Vanessa Grotti

English abstract: Focusing on the region surrounding the Maroni River, which forms the border between Suriname and French Guiana, we examine how relations between different state and non-state social groups are articulated in terms of security. The region is characterised by multiple “borders” and frontiers of various kinds, the state boundary having the features of an interface or contact zone. Several key collectivities meet in this border zone: native Amazonians, tribal Maroon peoples, migrant Brazilian gold prospectors, and metropolitan French state functionaries. We explore the relationships between these different sets of actors and describe how their mutual encounters center on discourses of human and state security, thus challenging the commonly held view of the region as a stateless zone and showing that the “human security” of citizens from the perspective of the state may compete with locally salient ideas or ex- periences of well-being.

Spanish abstract: El artículo examina cómo se articulan las relaciones en términos de seguridad entre grupos estatales y no estatales en la región que rodea el Río Maroni (frontera entre la Guyana francesa y Surinam). La región se caracteriza por múltiples “límites” y tipos de fronteras, teniendo así la frontera Estatal características de una zona de contacto o de una interfaz. Importantes comunidades se encuentran en esta zona de frontera: Nativos del Amazonas, comunidades tribales del Maroni, buscadores de oro brasileños y funcionarios estatales franceses. Los autores exploran las relaciones entre estas diferentes redes de actores, y describen la manera en que sus mutuos encuentros se centran en discursos de seguridad humana y del Estado, desafiando así, el tradicional enfoque que sostiene la región como una zona sin Estado y mostrando que la “seguridad humana” desde la perspectiva del Estado puede competir con importantes ideas locales o con experiencias de bienestar.

French abstract: En se concentrant sur la région entourant le fleuve Maroni, qui forme la frontière entre le Suriname et la Guyane française, nous examinons comment les relations entre les différents groupes sociaux étatiques et non-étatiques sont articulées en termes de sécurité. La région est caractérisée par de multiples «frontières» et les frontières de toutes sortes, la frontière de l'État ayant les caractéristiques d'une interface ou zone de contact. De nombreuses et importantes collectivités se rencontrent dans cette zone frontalière: Indigènes d'Amazonie, la communauté tribale Maroon, les migrants brésiliens à la recherche de l'or et les fonctionnaires d'Etat de la France métropolitaine. Nous explorons les relations entre ces différents groupes d'acteurs, et décrivons la manière dont leurs rencontres mutuelles sont centrées sur les discours relatifs à la sécurité humaine et l'État, remettant ainsi en cause l'idée communément admise de la région en tant zone apatride et montrant par la même que la «sécurité humaine» des citoyens perçue du point de vue de l'État peut rivaliser avec des idées saillantes au niveau local ou des expériences relatives au bien-être.