If cultures are always in the making, this book catches one kind of culture on the make. Academics will be familiar with audit in the form of research and teaching assessments - they may not be aware how pervasive practices of 'accountability' are or of the diversity of political regimes under which they flourish. Twelve social anthropologists from across Europe and the Commonwealth chart an influential and controversial cultural phenomenon.
This article exploits the “binary license” offered by the title of the symposium in which it appears (“Comparative Relativism”) as a kind of promise of connection. The author suggests, however tentatively, that in the challenge of heterogeneity, fractality, perspective/-alism, and multiplicities lies the power of the forking pathway: the moment a relation is created through divergence. If we are invited—in the same breath—to consider forms of comparison and forms of relativism (dropping difference and similarity), we are also offered two paths, (...) one based on a world of singularities and multiplicities, and the other on a world of not-quite repetitions. The article asks if the binary is not essential to the epistemic work that Western (Euro-American) scholars might want to do, since we forever reinvent the divide between the modern and the post-/pre-modern. Strathern assumes the anthropologist's license to talk about concepts through persons, and begins by asking how Papua New Guineans who come together in a city compare themselves, and in contrast to ethnic comparisons elsewhere (e.g., contra Sarah Green's Balkan interactions). In talking about persons through concepts, it is worth asking what is entailed in relativizing one scholar's work through that of another. The author says that her “hunch” is that in both cases the analyst might wish to have the liberty of discerning—in the same breath—the multiplicities of what John Law and Annemarie Mol call perspectivalism (their very general alternative to comparison) and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's radically divergent perspectivism (a self-contained, recursive and above all socially specific relativism). (shrink)
This introduction to the Common Knowledge symposium titled “Comparative Relativism” outlines a variety of intellectual contexts where placing the unlikely companion terms comparison and relativism in conjunction offers analytical purchase. If comparison, in the most general sense, involves the investigation of discrete contexts in order to elucidate their similarities and differences, then relativism, as a tendency, stance, or working method, usually involves the assumption that contexts exhibit, or may exhibit, radically different, incomparable, or incommensurable traits. Comparative studies are required to (...) treat their objects as alike, at least in some crucial respects; relativism indicates the limits of this practice. Jensen argues that this seeming paradox is productive, as he moves across contexts, from Lévi-Strauss's analysis of comparison as an anthropological method to Peter Galison's history of physics, and on to the anthropological, philosophical, and historical examples offered in symposium contributions by Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Marilyn Strathern, and Isabelle Stengers. Comparative relativism is understood by some to imply that relativism comes in various kinds and that these have multiple uses, functions, and effects, varying widely in different personal, historical, and institutional contexts that can be compared and contrasted. Comparative relativism is taken by others to encourage a “comparison of comparisons,” in order to relativize what different peoples—say, Western academics and Amerindian shamans—compare things “for.” Jensen concludes that what is compared and relativized in this symposium are the methods of comparison and relativization themselves. He ventures that the contributors all hope that treating these terms in juxtaposition may allow for new configurations of inquiry. (shrink)
How do we inhabit technology? This theme for a conference on the way in which technology at once surrounds us and becomes part of our very bodies prompts reflections from Melanesia. If the concept of technology inhabits anything, it most emphatically inhabits our ways of speaking about ourselves, reifying many different projects as the extensions of one - an enchantment with creativity. The same language imagines `nature' existing apart from human creations. It is clear that the life of these old (...) Euro-American divisions is not over yet. Intellectual property protocols, notably patenting, foster the divide between `technology' and `nature' while presaging its collapse. This article points to some alternatives, incidentally offering a candidate for `habitation' that has nothing to do with community or locality. (shrink)
The authors of Re-Thinking Science argue theneed for a socially robust science. In this essay, an anthropologist asks what it takes to render a description of `society' robust. Two empirical cases – concerning bioethics in the field of reproductive technology, and compensation claims for environmental pollution – show society in different guises.
Abstract:In this forum, Marilyn Strathern and Jade S. Sasser review Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway's edited volume Making Kin, Not Population: Reconceiving Generations (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2018). Responses from multiple authors featured in the book follow.
This piece answers responses by Bruce Kapferer, Annemarie Mol, and Morten Pedersen to the author's article “Binary License,” appearing in the Common Knowledge symposium on “comparative relativism.” She emphasizes that, whatever contributions to theory may be attributed to her (for example, the concept of the “partible person”), her work is mainly descriptive and centered on Melanesia. She makes no objection to discussing generally applicable principles, or to finding unity in diversity—saying only that she is somewhat wary of them and, instead, (...) mainly reports her findings about particular cultures in detail. Her conclusion is that, when theoretical expectations are in tension with observed particulars, though a “bifurcation” may well come to light, “bifurcation is nothing to be ashamed of.”. (shrink)
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics' recent report on the ethics of the donation of bodily material for treatment and research (Human Bodies: Donation for Medicine and Research. www.nuffieldbioethics.org/human-bodies) brings to the fore the much-debated question of how far society should go in trying to encourage people to donate their bodily material. Based on conclusions reached by the Working Party with respect to the duties of the stewardship state, the role of altruism and of solidarity, public interest in health-related research, the (...) welfare of the donor and the importance of ‘professional values’ such as trust and respect, the report presents an ‘Intervention Ladder’ that sets out the ethical acceptability of various ways of encouraging people to donate. Policy recommendations are made in a number of areas including organ donation, gamete donation, volunteering for clinical trials and the use of donated tissue in research. (shrink)