Category Archives: Anthropology

Comaroffs: ‘Theory from the South

A recent journal article from the Comaroffs rallies the cause for a southern perspective. But it leaves much work to be done in developing the critical tools that might achieve this.

‘The Global South’ has become a shorthand for the world of non-European, postcolonial peoples. Synonymous with uncertain development, unorthodox economies, failed states, and nations fraught with corruption, poverty, and strife, it is that half of the world about which the ‘Global North’ spins theories. Rarely is it seen as a source of theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the Northern Hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, and ethnic conflict, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? In what measure? What might this mean for the very dualism on which such global oppositions rest? Drawing on recent research, primarily in Africa, this paper touches on a range of familiar themes—law, labor, and the contours of contemporary capitalism—in order to ask how we might understand these things with theory developed from an ‘ex-centric’ vantage. This view renders some key problems of our time at once strange and familiar, giving an ironic twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff ‘Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa’ Anthropological Forum Vol. 22, No. 2, July 2012, 113–131

David Turnbull – Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America

Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America
3 November 2011 7:30pm Institute of Postcolonial studies

David Turnbull considers recent research into the ancient civilisation of Caral in Peru, which questions the privileging of sedentary forms as necessary for complex social organisation. Turnbull reflects on the nature of heterarchy as framework for emergent knowledges and spaces. He relates this to the work of Enrique Dussel, which advocates ‘a space for transmodernity in which modernity and its negated alterity could co-realise themselves in a process of mutual creative fertilization.’

Dr David Turnbull is a philosopher of science who has published extensively on the history of space and time, with recent emphasis on concept specific to southern knowledges. His books include Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge (2000)

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

An anything but silent night about Melanesia

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Given the unseasonably cold weather, it was a strong turn out at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies for the ‘Silence must be heard’ discussion about Melanesian culture. A large contingent from Papua New Guinea ensured a lively discussion following about the relative benefits of development in the region.

Sana Balai began with a haunting account of her childhood experience in Buka Island listening to waves at night for a sign of the chief’s passing away. She recounted many fascinating incidents she has experienced as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, dealing with stories from the region that she knows are not permissible for her to hear.

Kirk Huffman compressed his extraordinary experience working in Vanuatu for nearly 40 years, defending the traditional way of life against development. In one remarkable story, he spoke about the taboo associated with the chief’s voice and the interlocutor who cancelled any accidental hearing of the chief by use of a wooden instrument. He also recounted the Vanuatu traditional view of the ‘world of steel’ represented by Westerners, and the village that refused to speak any more after the white men had captured their words in recording devices.

This event planted the seed for a future symposium that might fully explore the politics of silence in our region. Many questions were raised:

  • How does the Western crusade against secrets, such as Wikileaks, engage with societies whose traditions are based on knowledge restrictions?
  • Can silence be seen as a positive action, rather than a withholding?
  • How does this compare to the place of silence in Western culture, such as ‘the right to remain silent’ and ‘a minute’s silence’ of respect?
  • Are there protocols for Westerners who are working with Melanesian societies that builds trust in confidentiality?
  • How can knowledge be understood as the protection of secrets as much as spread of information?

There is clearly much more to learn from Melanesian culture. There is now the prospect of a future event where peoples of the region can share the understanding, commitment and sounds of silence.

After ‘Firstness’–the challenge of generative anthropology

Eric Gans represents a school of ‘generative anthropology’ that is concerned with the originary scene of culture in sacrifice and the invention of language. This field is informed particularly by the theories of scapegoating developed by Rene Girard. Gans coopts this approach to argue against ‘victimary’ thinking in Western liberalism. He defends the idea that the unique flame of civilisation was ignited by the Jewish religion, and subsequently carried by the West in the development of technology and market capitalism.

In a recent article about Bruno Latour, Haven’t we always been modern?, he argues for the privilege of ‘firstness’ shared by the ‘developed’ world.

The ‘developing’ world, whatever the varieties of its cultures, offers no alternative visions of nature, let alone modes of relating subject and object, to challenge the structures of modernity and its global marketplace. Its resentments of the ‘hegemonic’ West, justified or not, are wholly ethical.

While aligned with certain fundamentalist values, Gans sophisticated argument may be useful to further develop southern thinking. Is ‘firstness’ a unilateral status? Can the West be seen to represent a superior technological facility, but an inferior form of social cohesion? Can criticisms of the West be dismissed as merely ethical? Is not ethics a limiting condition on all systems?

The Impact of the Antipodes on Anthropological Thought

The Sydney Sawyer Seminar explores the history of how the Antipodes – and especially the Indo-Pacific lands and oceans – has constituted a laboratory for the Atlantic world over a broad intellectual, geographical and temporal scale. Our seminar covers three centuries from 1700 to 2009, and focuses on Atlantic-derived conceptions and experiences within the Antipodes that bear especially on the themes of humanity and cultures, of sovereignty and imperialism, and of environment and ecology.

Session One
The Impact of the Antipodes on Anthropological Thought: Histories of Human Order
Friday, 27 March 2009
1-5pm, Holme & Sutherland Rooms, Holme Building, Science Road, The University of Sydney
Convenor:     Jude Philp
Presenters:   

  • Elena Govor, Australian National University ‘Miklouho-Maclay and Russian anthropology’
  • Shino Konishi, Australian National University ‘The Slippery Native Tongue: Aborigines, explorers, and the eighteenth-century notion of a natural language’
  • Ron Day, Murray Island Community Council   ‘Meriam-le (Mer Islnders), Anthropologists and the idea of rational understanding’
  • Helen Gardner, Deakin University  ‘Out of site: missionary/anthropologists and their informants’
  • Jude Philp, University of Sydney  ‘Taking Torres Strait Islander culture to Cambridge University’
  • Discussant:    Warwick Anderson, University of Sydney, tbc

This session investigates the impact of the antipodes on anthropological thought through centring discussion on the disparate and extraordinarily diverse peoples of the Pacific region. The aim of many 18th-century European expeditions to the Pacific was to glean information about natural phenomena (geology, astronomy, cartography etc). The mediators of this information were the peoples indigenous to the many islands and lands spread across the Pacific Ocean. Rather than a laboratory of clinical and predetermined materials, the antipodean ‘laboratory’ was often treated as a marketplace where negotiation for access to resources necessarily involved the gathering of cultural knowledge, names, languages and cultural products. These chance purchases and notes were the beginnings of anthropological thought here.
RSVP to Katherine Anderson [email protected]  or 02 9036 5347 by March 20.
For further information regarding the Mellon Sawyer Seminar series visit:
http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/school/sophi/news_events/sawyer_seminar_series.shtml

Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences

JAPSS Press, a branch of the Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences is calling for chapter proposals for an Edited Volume dealing with Regionalism and Development in the Asia Pacific Region. Some possible topics are the following:
– South to South Cooperation
– International Norms and Regionalism in the Asia Pacific Region
– Globalization and Regionalism
– Development
– Human Rights and Regionalism
– Cultural Change and Regionalism
The book will be published under the name of the Journal and will be distributed in the United States and the World. The expenses for this project will be covered by the Journal and its supporting organizations. Editorial work will be undertaken by qualified scholars affiliated with the Journal. This is a wonderful opportunity for junior scholars and scholars from the developing world to share their research with the wider academic community.
If interested please submit a short abstract of the proposed chapter in addition to a brief resume to the Editor in Chief of the Journal.
Otto F. von Feigenblatt,
Editor in Chief, Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
Email: [email protected]
Visit the website at http://www.japss.org