Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Jessica Urban (Independent)
A central proposition of discourse-centered research is that “culture is localized in concrete publically accessible signs, the most important of which are actively occurring instances of discourse,” (Urban 1991: 1). Such signs simultaneously encode aspects of the world, and also themselves exist as things in the world. In earlier incarnations, the in-the-world quality of signs was understood to be apprehended through the five senses, with variability coming into play as regards the representational aspect of the signs. Proponents of the ontological turn, such as Viveiros de Castro (2004), challenge this approach in terms of the assumption that the senses of the researcher are making contact with the same world as the senses of the researcher’s interlocutors. An alternative view, they propose, is that people inhabit different worlds. In other words, “the” world as apprehended through those senses is not one and the same, thereby problematizing the singularity. This paper proposes that something is indeed missing from the original discourse centered formulation. However, rather than postulating a multiplicity of worlds as accessible through the five senses, we offer, as an alternative, a missing “sixth” sense: introspection (Kohut 1978). The latter — that is, observation of our own internal feeling states — coupled with empathy enables, in some measure, social transmission of affective orientations to the world as mediated by signs. It is through such affective orientations, we posit, that being-in-the-world varies. While offering exemplary ethnographic cases, this paper simultaneously highlights methodological difficulties that haunt such an extension of discourse-centered research.