This special section explores the various ways in which states of certainty and doubt are generated and sustained, focusing on what we call the ‘infrastructures’ that undergird, enable or develop alongside them. The articles in this collection build on the growing literature on these topics, notably the very extensive recent work on doubt, uncertainty and opacity, and they extend it further by directing attention not to the consequences of these states or people’s responses to them, but instead to the various semiotic, material and social forms that make possible the assertion or recognition of certainty or doubt. We use the idea of ‘infrastructure’ as a heuristic device to explore these processes.
Infrastructures of Certainty and Doubt
Matthew Carey and Morten Axel Pedersen
Notes toward an Ethnography of Religious Belief and Doubt
Paul-François Tremlett and Fang-Long Shih
New Atheism is characterized by a binary logic that pits religion against science, belief against doubt, a pre-modern past against a modern present. It generates a temporal sensibility and attitude toward being modern that is a 'survival' of late-nineteenth-century anthropology, where religious belief and the past were bound together in opposition to science and the present. We analyze this binary logic and then, in response, present two ethnographic accounts—one from the Philippines, the other from Taiwan—to support our contention that religion is not just a matter of personal convictions. Rather, it is a public practice in which belief and doubt are constituted socially and dialogically.
Godless People, Doubt, and Atheism
Ruy Llera Blanes and Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic
In the introduction to this special issue, we set the agenda for researching the aspirations and practices of godless people who seek to thin out religion in their daily lives. We reflect on why processes of disengagement from religion have not been adequately researched in anthropology. Locating this issue's articles in the anthropological literature on doubt and atheism, we argue for the importance of a comparative investigation to analyze people's reluctance to pursue religion.
The Infrastructure of British Equestrian Horse/Human ‘Partnership’
Rosie Jones McVey
Horse care practices and equestrian pedagogy are being reconfigured within a contemporary ‘revolution’ in British horsemanship. This is both instigated by, and instigates, horse owners’ attitudes of responsible doubt and self-critique. At the same time, embodied conviction is honed, because the rider’s mindful body is foregrounded as an integral part of the communication channel between horse and human. In this article, responsible doubt and embodied conviction are shown to emerge from, and contribute to, different ways in which horse riders can cut the network in their endeavours to achieve ‘true partnership’ with their horses.
Bureaucracy, New Media and the Infrastructural Forms of Doubt
Michael Vine and Matthew Carey
Conspiratorial thought is one of the hallmarks of late modernity. This article focuses on the wealth of conspiracy theories that crystallized around chemtrails and the Californian drought to examine the genre more generally. It suggests that the particular constellation of certainty and doubt present in conspiracy arguments is a product of the fundamentally mimetic nature of conspiratorial thought, which espouses the contours of the infrastructural environment in which it emerges. In our case, this infrastructural environment is that of bureaucracy on the one hand and the architecture of the internet on the other. Each of these infrastructures helps to shape conspiratorial thought in a distinct manner, and the confluence of the two imparts to the genre its particular flavour.
Kevin W. Sweeney
Book Review of Malcolm Turvey, Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition
Mockery, Egalitarianism, and Uncertainty in Northeastern Namibia
The trickster has held a prominent place in the study of folklore, as much as it has been central to anthropological understandings of egalitarianism. In both, the trickster embodies an insoluble tension between the repressed, amoral desires of the individual and the moral demands of social life. This tension, so it goes, is visible in the ambiguity of the figure—a protean indeterminate being, neither good nor bad. Among the Jú|’hoànsi of northeastern Namibia, the trickster is similarly ambiguous. The figure conveys not a clash of values, but rather the doubt and uncertainty people feel toward those with whom they share resources, or about different ways of sharing and how they might relate to one another. This article approaches such uncertainty through a focus on the mocking phrase “you’re a trickster” and the moral discourses that accompany it.
There are many religious people in Britain at the moment who feel they have been stabbed in the back, then turned around and punched in the face. The attack from behind is because they feel they are pursuing a religious lifestyle that is largely caring and considerate, yet they have become associated with religious extremists whose murderous fanaticism has tainted all people of faith.
Beliefs acquired from authoritative sources and maintained over time, tend to achieve the status of truths. As a result, though there are many possible ways of interpreting historical data, consensus beliefs are so powerful a determinant of interpretive outcomes that new interpretations of historical evidence will tend to be rare. In addition, any evidence that conflicts radically with a belief that has achieved the status of a truth will logically be dismissed. Such, historically, has been the status of the Shakespeare authorship question. Since we know who wrote the Shakespeare canon, there is no apparent point to research.
Durkheim, Modernity and Doubts
Ivan Strenski, The New Durkheim. New Brunswick (NJ) and London: Rutgers University Press, 2006, pp. 376.