7.1 (March 2006)
The March 2006
issue of the journal Ethnos contains four excellent and important
articles on aspects of animism.
here for the publisher's information about the journal.
here for the publisher's information about the specific issue, including
click throughs to article information (abstracts).
The four articles
Ingold, “Rethinking the Animate,
is often described as the imputation of life to inert objects.
Such imputation is more typical of people in western societies
who dream of finding life on other planets than of indigenous
peoples to whom the label of animism has classically been applied.
These peoples are united not in their beliefs but in a way of
being that is alive and open to a world in continuous birth. In
this animic ontology, beings do not propel themselves across a
ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation,
along the lines of their relationships. To its inhabitants this
weather-world, embracing both sky and earth, is a source of astonishment
but not surprise. Re-animating the ‘western’ tradition
of thought means recovering the sense of astonishment banished
from official science.
“Animism, Fetishism, and Objectivism as Strategies for Knowing
(or not Knowing) the World”
or ‘relational’ ontologies encountered in non-Western
(i.e. premodern) settings pose a challenge to Western (i.e. modern)
knowledge production, as they violate fundamental assumptions
of Cartesian science. Natural scientists who have tried seriously
to incorporate subject-subject relations into their intellectual
practice (e.g. Uexküll, Bateson) have inexorably been relegated
to the margins. Surrounded by philosophers and sociologists of
science (e.g. Latour) announcing the end of Cartesian objectivism,
however, late modern or ‘post-modern’ anthropologists
discussing animistic understandings of nature will be excused
for taking them more seriously than their predecessors. It is
incumbent on them to analytically sort out what epistemological
options there are, and to ask why pre-modern, modern, and post-modern
people will tend to deal with culture/nature or subject/object
hybridity in such different ways. Animism, fetishism, and objectivism
can be understood as alternative responses to universal semiotic
anxieties about where or how to draw boundaries between persons
“Animistic Epistemology: Why Do Some Hunter-Gatherers Not
paper addresses the question of why certain hunter-gatherers (of
the ‘immediate-return’ type in Woodburn’s terms)
have little interest in visual art. Their lack of interest is
striking in comparison with the elaborate traditions of painting
and carving in Australia and the circumpolar North, which Ingold
(2000) compares, showing that they correspond to totemic and animic
ontologies respectively. The ‘immediate-return’ class
of hunter-gatherers is examined in relation to Ingold’s
typology, using the Nayaka of South India as a specific example.
It is argued that their lack of interest in depictions corresponds
to an ontology which is inseparable from their animistic epistemology
(Bird-David 1999). This ontology differs from Ingold’s animic
and totemic types and can be added to his scheme.
“Spirit and Practical Knowledge in the Person of the Bear
among Wemindji Cree Hunters”
multi-vocality of the black bear as a category in Cree hunting
entails a melding of practical-empirical rationality with ethical
and ‘spiritual’ understandings. On one level of attention
in the hunter’s world, the bear functions as a postulate
in indigenous scientific ecology. It does so by assimilating the
consequences of both efficiency and restraint in hunting, as hunters
strive to maintain good relationships with others in the world
(summarized and abstracted in the bear). At the same time, reflection
on these issues via the bear as a spiritual ‘alter-’
endows hunters with profound senses of identity, value and personal
meaning, so that action in the world is at once practical, social,
ethical, and self-motivated. This outcome is a combination of
cultural learning and life experience. As the weft of experience
entwines the warp of culturally available categories, narrative
is the weaver.
to pick out a couple of favourite / important / provocative sentences
from each article ... but I'm resisting reviewing each article. They're
all good, especially in the sense that they all require and reward further
thinking (and other responses).
for now, thanks to Rebecca Vickerstaff and Kate Arthur (Taylor and Francis)
for sending me a copy of this issue. I'll be making much more use of
it in my future writing and citing!
18 June 2006
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