Accepted Paper:

Address in the second person: a condition of life and anthropology  


Michael Carrithers (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropology, like human life, is grounded in the ability to attend to others, and to address them. Such address includes the ability to represent, to cultivate representations, and to imagine others. This ability is so powerful that we routinely found new projects spanning different worlds.

Paper long abstract:

In formal writing and talking we project the imaginations of the audience towards circumstances far distant from the place and moment of writing, reading, or speaking. This habit of thought in the third person creates a world of third person generic nouns ('women', 'Navajos', 'Germans', 'street children', 'anthropologists'), and so it goes. There is a specially poignant irony here for anthropologists, since we pride ourselves on a knowledge founded in second-person address to 'you', singular or plural. Second person address is a necessary, if sometimes forgotten, condition of anthropology, and indeed of life.

What are the conditions of second person address? The first is <i>representing</i>. Julian Bell captures the deep, mysterious, and pervasive character of representing in the originary saying: 'let <i>this</i> be <i>that</i>,' which sweeps together the plastic arts, speech, and indeed the forming of concepts. The second is <i>cultivating</i>: people not only represent, they also cultivate, and play, with styles and means of representing, not only from moment to moment, but from century to century. The third is <i>addressing</i>, which means that cultivated representations are given a direction and a force: representing always has addressees. Addressing entails not only representing something, but also imagining and attending to those addressed. So powerful is this faculty of addressing that it can reach across different styles of cultivation and create new bonds of attention and address, as people coordinate with one another in new, hitherto uncultivated projects such as fieldwork.

Panel Plen1
Mutualities in practice: beyond worlds in collision