Accepted Paper:

Cosmopolitan reflexivity: towards a transmodal analysis of rituals  


Koenraad Stroeken (Ghent University)

Paper short abstract:

Reflexivity is not an evolved capacity. It is of the order of values: crosscutting body, mind, society. We therefore learn about it from rituals (of magic, initiation and spirit possession) differentiating relativist, imperialist and cosmopolitan forms of reflexivity.

Paper long abstract:

There is no way of telling reflexive from non-reflexive thought. I argue that reflexivity refers not to an evolved cognitive mode but to a particular organization of cognitive as much as social and bodily modes of being. Such code, defined as a visceral reality, requires a 'transmodal' analysis, in terms of values, not mechanisms. Comparing critical social theory to the Sukuma diviner's discourse, I show that reflexive meanings adopt an intrusive structure: transgression of institutionalized separations (e.g., between inside/ outside, between semantic domains, between historical moments, between moral values, between cultures). Reflexivity is enfleshed as pain, intersubjectively shared as crisis, and thought as subversive. The reflexive flow takes one of three forms: sustaining the intrusion, terminating it, or synchronizing with it. The first flow is ritualized in witchcraft discourse, the second in initiation, the third in spirit possession, also in greeting and joking, and in the majini spirits of muslim healers. We call the third form cosmopolitan. The paper pushes the exercise in cultural comparison a little further when dealing with the tension between imperialist and cosmopolitan types of Islam in Swahili Africa. We situate relativist reflexivity (incl Latour's symmetry) and its claim of a-moral purity (a position beyond good/ bad). Just when social scientists think to have learned from the mistakes of imperialism it seems they are advocating a form of reflexivity that sustains crisis - producing a pleasure of its own, but divisive and obstructing avenues to cosmopolitan reflexivity.

Panel W005
Reflecting on reflexivity in anthropology and social science