How should anthropologists think about and theorise the cultural perception of personhood in all its diversity?
Since the years of the European Enlightenment, the problem of characterising the person as an object of knowledge has dogged the philosophical, psychological and social sciences. In many respects, the methodological assumption of a universe of persons and intentional states has been assumed by the social sciences, and therefore anthropology, since Weber's formulation of verstehen. This is a problem both of cultural conception and psychological perception, and therefore often stands in the uncomfortable realm between psychology, anthropology, philosophy and, sometimes, even theology. In anthropology, considerable attention has classically been paid to problematizing the rational economic and moral individual that emerged from the Enlightenment as a basis for social and economic thinking, and - more in more recent decades - the tendency to "treat humanity as the deciding mark of personhood" (Dennett). And yet the place of the person and personhood as an object of knowledge and attention, and as the grounding of both our epistemology and methodology, remains under-examined and undecided. This panel thus asks: Is personhood a universal feature of human social and biological thought? Despite the apparent variety that exists in the ascription of personhood in the ethnographic record, does this constitute a single encompassing process of human cognition, a cultural multiplicity which - like "marriage" before it - conveniently comes under a single analytic rubric, or is - as some evolutionary psychology theorists would assert - personhood a standard universal, occasionally misconceived?
Weining Cheng (Academia Sinica)
Martin Mills (University of Aberdeen)