A clinical anthropology of art: theoretical, practical and disciplinary implications
Location SOAS Senate House - S314
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Christos Panagiotopoulos (Cornell University) email
  • Antoine Gournay (Université Paris-Sorbonne) email

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Short abstract

What are the theoretical, practical and disciplinary implications of an epistemological reconsideration of anthropology of art? How does the redefinition of art within the larger framework of clinical anthropology challenges classical anthropological approaches of the artistic and the material.

Long abstract

This panel will discuss the disciplinary and practical challenges of a new epistemological approach to anthropology of art based on Jean Gagnepain's Theory of Mediation (ToM). By re-situating the anthropology of art within the unifying theoretical framework of a general anthropo-logy or human science based on clinical observations, the model redefines art (ars/techne) as an embodied rational process and analytically dissociates it from other rationalities, namely language, subjectivity and morality. Philippe Bruneau and Pierre-Yves Balut at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, developed the theory towards a new model described as an 'artistique générale' or a general theory of artistic/technical productions. Suitable in practical cross-disciplinary applications, scholars have applied this model in fields as varied as archeology, modern and contemporary art, material culture worldwide, as well as design and fashion. The panel will discuss the theoretical, clinical and epistemological dimensions of the Theory of Mediation, and showcase it's applications in various artistic realms.

To what extent does this new definition alter our vision of the arts? How does this theoretical shift of paradigms - from an external material object of interaction to an internal mechanism of embodied reasoning - renegotiate the relationship between art and language, politics and morality respectively? Through various ethnographically and historically situated examples, the contributors to this interdisciplinary panel will discuss the practical implications of a clinical anthropology of art, and more broadly the theoretical assumptions of an epistemological approach to the anthropology of art.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Pour une anthropologie générale: la situation de l'ars

Author: Pierre-Yves Balut (Sorbonne) email

Short abstract

Analyse de la raison technique comme part d'une science clinique des capacité rationnelles de l'homme

Long abstract

On oublie trop qu'anthropologie veut simplement dire science de l'homme. Actuellement, elle ne cesse de se distinguer, de se ramifier, de se particulariser surtout.

On proposera ici une anthropologie générale comme science des facultés de l'humain, comme analyse des mécanismes de la raison, vérifiable à partir des dissociations observables en clinique. Il ne s'agit donc pas d'une philosophie abstrayant et généralisant l'observation de situations particulières ; ni de celles qui tendent à réduire l'humanisation à l'un de ses processus : le langage, depuis la tradition grecque jusqu'à la sémiologie où tout est signe ; l'histoire, du social du structuralisme, de l'histoire traditionnelle ou du marxisme ; le désir comme mode ultime d'explication de tous les comportements humains.

Sur la base de ce structuralisme rendant compte de toutes les formes de la raison : du langage sans doute, mais tout autant de sa capacité technique, de sa constitution du social ou de l'interdit, il est possible, entre autres, de fonder une science autonome de l'ars, préoccupée du geste, de la manipulation, distincte des technologies et physique des matériaux, en sorte d'avoir une théorie nos limitativement de l'image, mais autant du vêtement, du logement, du « grand art », même contemporain, de tout équipement de n'importe quelle activité, le culte comme le sport, quelles que soient les conditions de la découverte, fouille, reconstitution ou archive.

The anthropological clinic between myth and reality

Author: Attie Duval-Gombert (University of Rennes 2) email

Short abstract

Quelle place donner à une clinique anthropologique ? Mythe et réalité : This communication will identify the role and limitations of clinical observations for anthropology.

Long abstract

In particular, how from clinical observations of psychopathological states (such as aphasia, atechnia, psychosis and neurosis) we can elaborate an epistemological model for the human sciences. What is the role of the clinic in the model of the Theory of Mediation and for anthropo-logy more broadly. This paper will also explicitly discuss the parallels and relations between art and language.

Embodied Knowledge and its Representation

Author: Vilma Santiago-Irizarry (Cornell University) email

Short abstract

I here address the conceptual and methodological potential and implications in using Laban's system of movement analysis and notation in anthropological work.

Long abstract

Given its evanescence, how can movement be subjected to epistemological analysis? How can we discern its mediating function and power in myriad human activities? I here address how, presuming the need to record and codify movement for it to be legible and referable was taken on by Rudolf Laban through his system of movement analysis and notation. This work partakes of modernist projects that pursue the objectification and specification of human conduct—movement, in this case--with the ultimate goal of (ostensibly) rendering it transparent, logical, and knowable. Significantly, Laban's analytical schemata have been extended beyond their initial context of production in theatre and dance performance to be applied in other domains--therapy, education, the assembly line—in which embodied knowledge is particularly salient. Yet they remain both conceptually and methodologically under-explored in anthropology.

Theory of Mediation : a new approach to the anthropology of Chinese art

Author: Antoine Gournay (Université Paris-Sorbonne) email

Short abstract

This paper will discuss how the redifinition of anthropol-logy by Gagnepain's Theory of mediation leads to a new approach of art in China.

Long abstract

Jean Gagnepain's Theory of mediation has been the foundation of a new approach to the study of art (ars/technè). This paper will discuss how this can be applied to the sinicized world. Three main points will be examined :

- The clear distinction between the historical and the technical field.

- The redifinition of art and its representational, sociological and ethical implications, beyond 'material culture'

- The need to apprehend the'technical system' as a whole (as opposed to the traditional approach which studies the various 'arts' separately).

Mediation Theory and Photography in Early Twentieth-Century China

Author: Oliver Moore (University of Groningen) email

Short abstract

This paper uses the case study of photography's experiences in early twentieth-century China to illustrate new methods of art historical analysis as well as convergences between photography's different regional histories and cultures.

Long abstract

One collaborative impulse in shifting the traditional humanities closer to their intersection with anthropology has been the theory of mediation, most notably its arch-interpreter Jean Gagnepain's insistence on analyzing human behavior through means of dissociating its constituent domains of the technical, logical, ethnic and ethical. This panel contribution attempts only selectively to use the theory's emphasis on dissociation to enlighten a field of visual culture, namely photography in China in its first era of mass appeal, which occurred during China's transition from empire to republic in the 1910s.

Mediation provides a fruitful way to consider how images and the new experiences of images were shared, communicated and mediated. Deepening the discussion of this particular case study, Chinese conditions included the rapid and sometimes controversial innovation of numerous visual and literary forms generated both in China and from outside (America, Europe and Japan).

The main analytical outcome is the possibility to make psychological affinities—and resistances—to photographic images central to their historical discussion. This offers an enhancement to most discussions in- and outside China, expanding beyond the limits of narrowly historical and cultural emphases. It also offers a regional case study whose value need not be only parochial, but is all the more significant when its analysis is re-mapped to transnational/-cultural levels, and evaluated as a new object in some of the leading achievements of photography's theorization.

The technical production of morality and the moral production of Art

Author: Christos Panagiotopoulos (Cornell University) email

Short abstract

The definition of art and morality as two autonomous rational processes, accordingly to the epistemological model of the theory of mediation, brings the question of their relation. How do we technically produce morality, and inversely how do we ethically define Art?

Long abstract

This paper discusses the epistemological relationship between our technical and ethical rationalities, as defined within clinical anthropology. The theory of mediation defines language, art, subjectivity and morality, as the four autonomous expressions of human reason based on clinical observations of psychopathological states. The model also explores how these diffracted autonomous rationalities interact. This paper will concentrate on a theoretical discussion and practical illustration of the intersection between art and morality.

On the one hand, asking how do we technically produce morality, and how, through a technical equipment, we organize, express, contain, allow or prohibit desire, and by which technical stratagems we circumvent the forbidden? In discussing the technical means through which we produce ethics we'll illustrate the structural mechanisms of transgression, retention and stratagems through examples from dietary restrictions to sartorial pleasures, and from moral bioenhancement through neural engineering to legal constructs through cybernetic industries.

On the other hand, we'll discuss the moral definition of Art. How do we decide, evaluate and judge technical productions, and how, from the abundance of material culture we're creating the 'Beaux Arts'. Through the discussion of moral processes such as judgement and decision making, as well as pleasure and desire, we'll attempt to understand, the place which occupies Art in the theoretical framework of the Theory of Mediation, and distinguish it from techne - a question most relevant in the discussion of anthropology of art : what do ethnographers consider as artistic, what do they describe as Art in their respective societies etc.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.