Debate: Anthropology needs to discard the distinction between life and non/life 
Alex Nading (University of Edinburgh)
Alumni Auditorium
Start time:
16 April, 2015 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

The motion: 'Anthropology needs to discard the distinction between life and non-life'.

Long Abstract

The motion: 'Anthropology needs to discard the distinction between life and non-life'.

This debate will question the distinction between life and non-life as a way to rethink key anthropological analytical constructs and categories. Prompted by recent ethnographies of climate change, oil speculation, mineral exploitation and emergent markets in renewable energies and resources (Wesklanys 2014; Empson 2013; Cross 2013), ecological transformation, natural disasters and pandemics (Caduff 2012; Kohn 2013; Simpson 2013), as well as theoretical advances in conceptualizing the moral economies of the anthropocene (Povinelli 2014; Bird-Rose 2013), the debate will explore the ethnographic salience of life—as a feature of biology—to probe the relationship between technologies, machines and the intimacies of the everyday; human interactions with environments at various levels of scale; virtual existence, artificial intelligence and digital afterlives; the living, not-yet born and the dead. The motion aims to capture the dramatic but also the more banal, subtle and lived aspects of this relationship in terms of the ways in which buildings, landscapes, and objects become embroiled in kinship, identity, relatedness, place, knowing, affect and community.

Confirmed speakers to-date include:

Professor Edward Simpson (SOAS). He is interested in the anthropology of boats, buildings, villages and roads in South Asia. Thematically, he has written about the anthropology of history, religion, mobility and catastrophe. Simpson is most interested in how abstract ideas are made to appear real in the lives of ordinary people. Most of his research has been conducted in Gujarat, western India, focused on the regions of Kutch (also spelled Kachchh and Cutch) and Saurashtra. Simpson is author of (2013) The political biography of an earthquake: Aftermath and amnesia in Gujarat, India. London: Hurst, and (2006) Muslim society and the western Indian Ocean: The seafarers of Kachchh. London: Routledge.

Dr Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (Manchester)

Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (Ph.D. 2006 McGill University, Montreal) is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Her research focuses on skilled manifestations of human curiosity, and her work on replicas, materiality, and imitation ties into a more general interest in the relations between people, their ‘things’, and the landscapes with which they engage, identify, or take issue. Kalshoven is the author of Crafting ‘the Indian’: Knowledge, Desire, and Play in Indianist Reenactment (Berghahn Books, 2012), an ethnographic study of a contemporary amateur practice in Europe predicated on expert emulation of Native American life worlds from the past. Her current research agenda centres on the imitation of nature that underpins the skilled practice of taxidermy, with a view to shedding light on evolving human – animal relatedness and on conceptions of the lifelike.

Jamie Cross (Edinburgh)

Jamie Cross is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Development at the University of Edinburgh. His current research explores the social and material politics of light, renewable energy and energy infrastructures in contexts of global poverty. His previous work has examined questions of work, exchange, and corporate ethics around sites of large scale industrialisation in India. He is the author of Dream Zones: Anticipating Capitalism and Development in India (Pluto Press, 2014).

Giovanni Da Col (Oslo).

Giovanni da Col is currently a Research Fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo; member of the ERC-KHAM project at CNRS-Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes; Chercheur invité at Musée du quai Branly, Paris. He has done fieldwork on conceptions of vitality, witchcraft and modes of deception in China’s official Shangri-la, and is currently conducting research on self-immolations and sacrifice among Tibetans in PRC and Naxi-Tibetan interfaces and rituals of life and prosperity. He is the Founder of HAU, Journal of Ethnographic Theory and HAU Books and the author of several peer-review articles and editor of a few collections, including three volumes on hospitality and fortune (2012 JRAI; Social Analysis-Berghahn); The Invisible State: Spirits and Environmental Worlds on China’s Frontiers (2015, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology-Routledge), Cosmoeconomics (under review); Anthropology and Life itself (with Bhrigupati Singh, Clara Han and Bob Desjarlais, forthcoming 2016). His monograph on negative kinship, poisoning and hospitality among Tibetans is under consideration with the University of Chicago Press.