Relatedness, legality, and the heterogeneous ontologies of personhood among the Rukai of Taiwan
Weining Cheng (Academia Sinica)
Paper short abstract:
This paper proposes that the question of what post-enlightenment personhood looks like should be ethnographically constructed and then philosophically scrutinized, as the case of the Rukai shows that the nature of personhood is simultaneously an epistemological question and an ontological category.
Paper long abstract:
This paper focuses on the ethnography of how and why the Rukai, one indigenous peoples of Taiwan, give importance to verifying paternity. It also examines the duplex (Strathern 2005) between the legal categories of kinship as the world of abstraction, and local kinship as embodying practices of affect, in order to see how they are conducive to the heterogeneous ontologies of personhood. To make this point, I analyze the dialectic layers in the power of legal abstraction in kinship categories, the 'truth' of genetic evidence, and the reality of sedentary affect in everyday life. Indeed, I argue that the heterogeneous ontologies of personhood in modern Rukai kinship constructs are closely bound up with their cognizance of alterity as an indispensable part of their worlds. For them, an agent mimics ideas or aesthetics in order to capture the potency of alterity for the sake of self-transformation, thereby fashioning a heterogeneous ontology of the world. In other words, the nature of what counts as personhood or humanity is always contingent upon the dialectics between alterity and self as they engage in both the local community and in the (high) modernity embodied in legality. Seen from this view, the question of what post-enlightenment personhood looks like should be ethnographically constructed and then philosophically scrutinized, as the case of the Rukai shows that the nature of personhood is simultaneously an epistemological question and an ontological category.
Anthropology and the post-enlightenment person