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The Elementary Economies of Dechenwa Life

Fortune, Vitality, and the Mountain in Sino-Tibetan Borderlands

Giovanni da Col

This article presents some images and conceptual structures surrounding notions of fortune and luck among Dechen Tibetans in southwest China and reflects on the strategies for negotiating the integrity of persons and other 'social containers'. First, it analyzes the problem in separating the multifarious manifestations of fortune connected to the well-being and vitality of persons and households. Secondly, it examines the ethnographic concepts arising from the interface between fortune and sovereignty by illustrating the cosmological imagination surrounding contemporary state rituals focused on the cult of Mt. Khawa Karpo. Finally, musing on the relation between vitality, containership, and alterity, the article highlights how tracing the flows of fortune problematizes the divide between interiority and exteriority, or the question of where the outside and the inside of a being or a society begin.

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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.

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Fortune in the Wind

An Impersonal Subjectivity

Caroline Humphrey and Hürelbaatar Ujeed

For Mongols, fortune is not just acquired or lost accidentally. Rituals are held to create an upsurge of fortune, to beckon, absorb, contain, and act upon it. This article focuses on two kinds of fortune-sülde (potency) and hiimori (vitality)-and the ritualized means to restore these qualities that otherwise become depleted of their own accord. It is argued that these ideas of fortune are ways of linking subjects to cosmological forces 'out there'. The paradox is that, by binding fortune into their bodies in an attempt to garner invincibility, bravery, and energy, people resonate to pulses that glide among, and fly beyond, their other constitutive physical bodily elements. Such occasions when sülde and hiimori are in play call into being a certain kind of person who seems to be rendered, at least for a moment, at one with the void.

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Motsamai Molefe

In this article, I motivate for the view that the best account of the foundations of morality in the African tradition should be grounded on some relevant spiritual property – a view that I call 'ethical supernaturalism'. In contrast to this position, the literature has been dominated by humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics, which typically is accompanied by a direct rejection of 'ethical supernaturalism' and a veiled rejection of non-naturalism (Gyekye 1995: 129–43; Metz 2007: 328; Wiredu 1992: 194–6). Here primarily, by appeal to methods of analytic philosophy, which privileges analysis and (moral) argumentation, I set out to challenge and repudiate humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics; I leave it for a future project to develop a fully fledged African spiritual meta-ethical theory.

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The Dangers of Excess

Accumulating and Dispersing Fortune in Mongolia

Rebecca Empson

This article explores practices concerned with the accumulation of fortune in present-day Mongolia. By contrasting practices associated with the accumulation of animal herds, children, and immovable property, we see how some are viewed as morally commendable while others are considered morally suspect. It is suggested that when people accumulate too much fortune, misfortune strikes, thereby ensuring the redistribution and release of fortune. By examining the different ways in which fortune and wealth may be released, harnessed, or contained, more general ideas about new ways of accumulating wealth and the dangers of excess in the market economy emerge.

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Post-war Blood

Sacrifice, Anti-sacrifice, and the Rearticulations of Conflict in Sri Lanka

Neena Mahadev

Since 2009, in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war, certain contingents of Sinhala Buddhists have lodged attacks against religious minorities, whom they censure for committing violence against animals in accordance with the dictates of their gods. Considering these interventions against sacrifice in spaces of shared Hindu and Buddhist religiosity, this article examines the economies of derogation, violence, and scapegoating in post-war Sri Lanka. Within Sinhala Buddhism, sacrifice is considered bio-morally impure yet politically efficacious, whereas meritorious Buddhist discipleship is sacrificial only in aspirational, bloodless terms. Nevertheless, both practices fall within the spectrum of Sinhala Buddhist religious life. Majoritarian imperatives concerning postwar blood impinge upon marginal sites of shared religiosity—spaces where the blood of animals is spilled and, ironically, where political potency can be substantively shored up. The article examines the siting of sacrifice and the purifying majoritarian interventions against it, as Buddhists strive to assert sovereignty over religious others.

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Before and After Ghostcatching

Animation, Primitivism, and the Choreography of Vitality

Heather Warren-Crow

whose suppression [artists] viewed as having cut off a necessary vitality”—gathers together several lines of thinking about otherness as a function of development (2013: 59). Non-white, non-Western, tribal, and indigenous peoples as well as women

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Uncanny History

Temporal Topology in the Post-Ottoman World

Charles Stewart

interpreted the refrain pháei, pháei (eat! eat!) as anxious hospitality, but it possibly stems from a basic worry about food itself. Currently, the affective resonances of the Greek present give this past new vitality. It is very different from the Jackie

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Giovanni da Col and Caroline Humphrey

This special issue and its following companion issue (Social Analysis 56, no. 2) are concerned with the ways in which fortune, luck, and chance are conceived in a range of different societies and how these concepts are employed to negotiate the contingencies and uncertainties of everyday life. More specifically, the articles included in these special issues show how, by juxtaposing different cultural images and positions, any engagement with these concepts in local cosmologies and systems of thought lead different societies to imaginatively formulate novel worldviews and to creatively rearrange preconceived notions and categories of relatedness and vitality. Taken together, the contributions to these special issues describe societies peopled by agents who seek to (re)connect with the ultimate sources of vitality and potentiality and to appropriate them in order to reconfigure their notions of prosperity and efficacy.

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Joseph Long

This research report gives an ethnographic account of libations and ritual offerings in the shamanic culture of contemporary Western Buriats. Common ritual motifs are identified between libations in everyday practice, annual rites at the family hearth, and large-scale tailgan rituals. It is suggested that such practices mediate reciprocity between neighbors and reconstitute obligations of mutual help within kin groups. Finally, it is proposed that the vitality of the ritual complex today lies in its fundamental articulation of the principles of reciprocity and belonging in the context of rapid out-migration from the region and the atomization of kin groups.