Accepted Paper:

Stories and cosmologies: anthropology as comparative metaphysics  

Author:

Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the historical situation of anthropology (as simultaneously a Western project and one concerned with the evocation of non-Western life-worlds) as a potential starting point for the contemporary re-imagining of analytic vocabularies, research strategies and modes of writing.

Paper long abstract:

This paper argues for the need to move beyond recent critiques of anthropological knowledge by taking the historical situation of anthropology as a potential site for the contemporary re-imagining of analytic vocabularies, research strategies and modes of writing. Such an undertaking, it will be suggested, is facilitated by anthropology's singular and often paradoxical relationship to the history of what has come to be called "modernity." On the one hand, the emergence of anthropology as a discipline appears inextricably tied to that history, including European colonial expansion. On the other, anthropology's engagement with other, non-Western life-worlds has produced a compendious archive of other possibilities for being-in and knowing the world. The paper seeks to pursue the contemporary implications of this in-between status for researching and writing about the present. It proposes that the people traditionally studied by anthropologists, along with their cosmologies, origin-myths, rituals and magical practices, be engaged not as so much fodder for the project of social scientific explanation (i.e. to be rendered intelligible in terms familiar to a Western academic readership), but rather as interlocutors capable of informing a renewed practice of anthropological inquiry and writing. Such an anthropology would be simultaneously realist, comparative and creative in orientation, concerned with engaging and documenting the contemporary world and attentive to the more elusive registers of virtuality, possibility and becoming. In particular, the paper considers understandings of materiality and transformation as a point of interface between the ethnographic record and current projects for the reshaping of anthropological discourse.

Panel IW02
Writing anthropology: genres and cultural translation