Accepted Paper:

Life in flux: temporalizing cosmology in rural China   


Charlotte Bruckermann (University of Bergen, Norway)

Paper short abstract:

Chinese cosmology constitutes life as a movement of efficacious forces within a dynamic environment. The rural Chinese family house brings these processes to life by spatalizing three interwoven temporalities: the human life course, anthropomorphous divinities and cosmic agency.

Paper long abstract:

Chinese cosmology begins from the assumption that human, spiritual and material forces exist in a continuous state of flux. The salient concern of practices aiming to influence and channel these life forces do not focus on their characteristics as animate or inanimate, material or immaterial, living or non-living. Instead, practices engaging with cosmological forces concentrate on their efficacy as agents within their dynamic environment. Tracing these cosmological life forces provides insight into Ingold's (2000) definition of life as what is going on in a 'generative field'. Ritual and everyday practices within the house emplace efficacious forces through three spatialised temporalities. The most internalized spaces of the home constitute the female realm for heating and cooking. These intimate spaces also house the nurturing and transformative forces of life and death. The female interior of the home exemplifies the mutable qualities of qi as an energetic life force. The main ceremonial room of the house accommodates the spirit altar and ancestral tablets within a formalized male domain. This central room situates anthropomorphic divinities and the eternal patriline. In the courtyard villagers process and store their agricultural harvests and worship the sun, moon, stars and earth. The courtyard positions the nexus of the agricultural and domestic sphere within seasonal circularity and cosmic agency beyond gendered sociality. By emplacing these three temporalities, the rural northern Chinese house reveals how time and space order the fluctuating life forces of local cosmology.

Panel P02
Whirls of organisms: forms and movements of life