Writing nature: human variation as biosocial becoming
Gísli Pálsson (University of Iceland)
Paper short abstract:
Immanuel Kant, a key figure in the European Enlightenment, the author of Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View and arguably the first lecturer in anthropology, distinguished between physiological and pragmatic knowledge: “Physiological knowledge of the human being concerns the investigation of what nature makes of the human being; pragmatic, the investigation of what he as a free-acting being makes of himself” (Kant 2006: 3). In Ingold’s view, such a distinction has fatefully marked anthropological knowledge ever since the Enlightenment, separating culture and biology. Recently, however, the notions of “biology” and “the body” have been radically socialized and, at the same time, “society” has been thoroughly embodied and materialized. Where does this leave the central anthropological issue of “human variation”? I suggest it is pertinent to rethink variation, fusing “social” and “natural” fields of scholarship. In such a project, however, variation should not be seen as the mapping of essences and states of being but of relations and becoming. It makes sense, I argue, for the purpose of capturing the moment of becoming in the flux of human life, to speak of human variation as a moving “biosocial present” (analogous, perhaps, to the “ethnographic present”), continually situated in a dynamic context. This is not just an academic, anthropological exercise, it has profound implications for the understanding of health and well-being – for meaningful post-Enlightenment biopolitics.
Paper long abstract:
Human / Nature