Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: It is at times when we, as a discipline, experience changes in the foundations of our thinking that we tend to pay more attention to the figurations that animate them. From Boasian cultural tapestries of interwoven traits, organic analogies of functionalists, structuralist codes and cyphers, to interpretativist stories and dramas, paradigmatic shifts intensified battles over foundational tropes. We attend carefully to messiness. Our figurations reflect the tension we feel between the urge to order and simplify this messiness and the duty to preserve the sense of irreducible incoherence and incohateness of social life. We are complexifiers and our tropes show it. Witness the currently popular use of “knots” (i.e. Küchler and Fernandez) and the related trope of “entanglement.“ Both could be seen as borrowing from harder disciplines of mathematics (knot theory) and physics (quantum entanglement) respectively. And just as Boasians oscillated between beautiful coherence of patterns and patchwork of shreds and patches, or as Geertz picked the “neurally poorly connected and ungainly octopus” to mediate between spider’s web as an image of coherent cultural organization and a pile of sand, so do our current tropes shimmer between order and disorder. We may be witnessing another shift in the foundations of our thinking discernible from the convergence of recent debates about alternative ontologies, responses to anthropocene, and rethinking science, technology and art in terms “non-anthropocentric approaches to material agency” (Knappett & Malfouris). Whether these debates amount to a paradigm shift or a new “turn” in anthropology or whether, as others think, they are but the reinvention of the wheel, these debates have sharpened and revived the interest in the very foundations of our thinking. This panel is an invitation to take the pulse of our current conjuncture by attending to the the figuration of our thinking. Or, in other words, what has present “inchoate of inquiry” (Fernandez) called forth as “predication and formulation?“ What, for instance, are the consequences for our ongoing rethinking of agency as involving humans as well as non-humans, or of our cognition as embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended, or for our responsibilities in anthropocene whether we think in terms of networks (Latourian ANTs) or meshworks (Ingold’s SPIDERS)? What happens, as Leavitt asks, when (Ingold’s?) lines “get tangled, the spheres leak, and the fields are infested with rhizomes emerging as linear weeds bearing spherical blossoms that flower into Fibonacci spirals and Mandelbrot sets?” What can Chinese fascination with knots teach us about thinking through “disorder, contradiction and incommensurability,“ as Scoggin asks? Can the mathematics of “material translation of algebraic number systems and rules for their combination into geometric objects” (Küchler) illuminate “hauntologies” as temporal (Albro) and spatial phenomena (Zivkovic)? It is our position that we are not in the business of settling for one metaphor or a family of tropes. Rather, we should investigate them carefully in order to be able to nimbly jump among them with as full as awareness as possible of their entailments.