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David Graeber

Terms such as 'fate' and 'luck' are ways of talking about the ambiguities and antinomies of temporal existence that all humans, even social theorists, have to confront in one form or another. Concepts that include mana, śakti, baraka, and orenda might best be considered as grappling with the exact same paradoxes. Nor should we assume that social scientific approaches are necessarily more sophisticated. Current discourse on 'performativity', for instance, seems in certain ways rather crude when compared to the Malagasy concept of hasina (usually translated as 'sacred power'), which takes on the same dilemma—what I call the 'paradox of performativity'—in a far more nuanced way.

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More than Luck

Australian Protest in a Social Movement Society

Ben Hightower and Scott East

This introduction begins by challenging a common narrative formed in relation to Australia—that it is a “lucky country.” This “exceptionalist” view of Australia is also evidenced in national legal frameworks relating to human rights. Drawing on histories of Australian politics, it is argued that social justice stems not from luck or an exceptional legislative system, but from various forms of social contestation. Especially since the global protests of 2011, more scholars are considering the organization, impacts, and practices of social movements that occur on a global scale. Despite the evolution of globalized protest, this collection is informed by Connell’s southern theory (2007), which identifies the unequal geopolitics of knowledge. The articles in this issue provide a diverse range of case studies that can inform protest practices and evidence the vitality of dissent in Australia. Activist knowledges and a quest for collaborative approaches to protest are the two elements that run throughout this issue of Contention.

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When Good Luck Is Bad Fortune

Between Too Little and Too Much Hunting Success in Siberia

Ludek Broz and Rane Willerslev

Two indigenous Siberian groups-the Yukaghirs and the Telengits-share rather similar ideas about success in hunting as an elusive and highly precarious tension between too little and too much luck. In the catalogue of semiotics, it corresponds to the homonym whereby one sound/spelling is the manifestation of two words with different meanings. The result, as we shall show, is that any lucky hunter always inhabits the alternative possibility of his own failure. In this sense, good luck in hunting might at any point be exposed as bad fortune.

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The Three Duties of Good Fortune

'Luck' as a Relational Process among Hunting Peoples of the Siberian Forest in Pre-Soviet Times

Roberte N. Hamayon

This article is based on data from pre-Soviet Siberia, mainly, the West Buryat and Tungus Evenk groups. As a product that cannot be produced, game is an ideal example of something that requires 'luck'. Far from being passively received, luck requires an active behavior and implies controlled interactions with various types of agencies of the natural environment and within society. Luck is the outcome of a multirelational process that starts with multiple precautionary measures, continues with fostering, and ends with sharing practices. This action results, paradoxically, in challenging both equality and differentiation, social redistribution and individual responsibility. Throughout this process, luck is associated with meat and vital force (as a substance) and with love, play, and wealth (as a value).

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Peter Gow and Margherita Margiotti

In this article, the authors explore the meanings of fortune among two peoples of Greater Amazonia. Luck, chance, and destiny play little role in the ethnographic record of this extensive region, and it is worth asking why this should be so. Two ethnographic cases are presented—the Kuna of Panama and the indigenous people of the Bajo Urubamba River in Peruvian Amazonia. The first describes what the ethnographer finds instead of elaborated discourses of luck and destiny in the Kuna conception of the person, while the second examines why the people of the Bajo Urubamba do not make use of such notions, which they are aware of from neighboring Andean people. The article concludes by looking at wider correlates of the Greater Amazonian concept of luck and the person in forms of social transmission and subsistence choices.

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Beneficial Bonds

Luck and the Lived Experience of Relatedness in Contemporary Japan

Inge Daniels

This article explores the Japanese notion of luck as a relational mode of action that encapsulates a complex understanding about self, society, and cosmos. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered in 30 urban homes in the Kansai region (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara) in 2003, I aim to demonstrate how, by engaging in a range of material practices, people create beneficial connections with spirits, people, and places to protect the home from malevolent influences and to ensure the happiness and well-being of its occupants. It will be argued that this protective system can be maintained only through both the relentless 'labor of luck' performed by married women as 'moral persons' and the persistent circulation of luck between religious institutions, commercial businesses, and homes.

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Carl Knight

David Miller has objected to the cosmopolitan argument that it is arbitrary and hence unfair to treat individuals differently on account of things for which they are not responsible. Such a view seems to require, implausibly, that individuals be treated identically even where (unchosen) needs differ. The objection is, however, inapplicable where the focus of cosmopolitan concern is arbitrary disadvantage rather than arbitrary treatment. This 'unfair disadvantage argument' supports a form of global luck egalitarianism. Miller also objects that cosmopolitanism is unable to accommodate special obligations generated by national membership. Cosmopolitanism can, however, accommodate many special obligations to compatriots. Those which it cannot accommodate are only morally compelling if we assume what the objection claims to prove - that cosmopolitanism is mistaken. Cosmopolitanism construed as global luck egalitarianism is therefore able to withstand both of Miller's objections, and has significant independent appeal on account of the unfair disadvantage argument.

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Mirjam Lücking

Whereas the word is that the congregations of the official Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church are shrinking and few people take part in the services, a clear increase can be seen in the area of popular esotericism and spirituality. In the double sense, the question arises here as to the relationship of 'word' and 'deed'. How do our traditions respond to the challenge to our ability to act in relation to the individual's search for spirituality and to responsibility for society? Anthropological ways of seeing modernity, secularisation and Christianity (1) indicate theories regarding developments in religion and Christianity, and these are illustrated by empirical examples of a spiritual society (2). This is discussed in terms of what it can mean to take on responsibility (3), and what the relationship is between this and piety's end in itself.

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Afterword

The Lottery of Babylon, or, the Logic of Happenstance in Melanesia and Beyond

Roy Wagner

Are such things as luck, chance, and fortune 'given' or original proper ties of the natural order of things, or are they perverse consequences of some misguided attempt to find out whether they exist or not? Does God play dice, or do the dice merely play God? How is that a sense of supernatural power, which often accompanies 'uncannily' good luck, is discovered, known about, or activated in a society that may not have precise equivalents for our ideas of chance and fortune? This article cites examples drawn from Mesopotamian notions of creation, from the Daribi of interior Papua and the Barok of New Ireland, that explain how this process might unfold. Luck and fortune have to do with any kind of strategy that destroys the opposition, most often through the underdetermination of thought.

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Introduction

Natural Philosophies of Fortune—Luck, Vitality, and Uncontrolled Relatedness

Giovanni da Col

Despite the resurgence of interdisciplinary interest in concepts of fortune, luck, and chance, anthropology has failed to engage with the social imagination of these concepts and their incorporation into quotidian moralities and decisions. This essay, which introduces the first of two special issues on this topic, will first present different conceptions and uses of notions of luck and chance and their relation with moral ontologies and notions of skeptical efficacy. By focusing on the interface between cosmology, economics, and human relatedness—that is, cosmoeconomics—this introduction shall then highlight how idioms of luck and fortune foreground a social topology that explicates how innate conceptions of vitality and 'mystical' influence, deemed to be of uncertain and uncontrolled nature, are nonetheless able to connect humans and non-humans, organisms and material entities.