“[There was] something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly an yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or value. But now there was something else in it after all.” Iris Murdock, The Bell, p. 190.

In the 1980s, after a long affair with objectivity, anthropologists, disappointed with the relationship, fell in love with subjectivity, celebrating it, and revelling in it. And yet, after three decades, our fascination with our own belly buttons has waned. We look at each other, and say, “what now?” Indeed: what now?

Have we shifted toward a post-subjective anthropology? Do we have new answers, or at least answers, to the claims of subjectivity? Are we able to address something beyond ourselves? Can we now move on? And, if so, what would post-subjective anthropology look like?

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TOE: Religion Or Science?

Fwd from the-scientist.com:


[quote=BobTS1162939] This is the Theory Of Everything In A Nutshell (TOEIANS):

Basic construction of the universe: 1. Particles 2. Strings 3. Frames.

Each particle has string. They combine with each other into quantum and physical objects.

Particles' travel along their strings appear to us as: 1. Gravity. 2. Properties. 3. Forces.

String-particle travels/lives within a frame seen as: 1. Waves. 2. Feelings 3. Influence.

Time is a one dimensional string whose constant value is 9. The universe is constructed on the number 3. Time moves outward dragging space with it. This outward expansion causes space which is a string to distort / stretch which we see as repairs / deterioration / aging / etc.. If the strings were decreasing we would see the reverse. Things would essentially become younger until they simply disappeared as opposing to dying / being not repairable as we see / experience now. The development of language and the effort to define things means particles / strings / frames have different names depending on the discipline.[/quote]


A) Since Life is, by our sensory conception, a virtual reality affair, religion is a legitimate virtual reality tool for going through life. But I am not religious. My senses do not become affected by the above TOEIANS. I embarassingly admit that hard as I try I am unable to comprehend the above TOEIANS.

B) My own conception of TOE is scientific, not religious, based strictly on data recorded and observed, of ubiquitous cosmic phenomena. And in presenting my TOE conception I do not deal with mechanisms but with the base processes.

Dov Henis
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
I’ve got quite a lot to read to get though this thread, so excuse me if I end up repeating others’ statements. It’s not intentional!

My preliminary thought is that historical awareness should be a big part of any engaged anthropology. Looking back at documentation of actual events, along with the commentaries that surround them, helps to break up the “common sense” tautologies of the present. So, on some level, the new left does seem to be going in the direction of a “post-subjective” stance.

The “someone else might have a different viewpoint” way of looking at subjectivity isn’t very useful as an argument. Really, subjectivity doesn’t have to mean sticking our head in the phlogiston. Besides, points of view aren’t going to magically disappear just because we state an objective stance or use statistics. Don’t know about you all, but I had to be taught the principles of mathematics and statistics.

The issue of history and ideology deepens. There is, I’ll assert, such a beast as historical interpretation. Give two people the chance to observe in their own way an event, and you’ll get a contested and varied dialogue on what happened. To add to this basic phenomenon, our understandings of historical documentation should be situated within the scope of our present uses for it. That is, the histories that we use should themselves be historicized.

It’s a matter of disclosure. Show what your intentions are, and how you are approaching the ethnographic present and the concomitant histories, and you better illuminate your own subjectivity.

Johan Normark on June 30, 2009

“The subjectivists has just replaced this with a social essentialism, everything is socially constructed, etc.”

I’ve always thought that the standard understanding of the idea of social constructions was humorous. Almost everybody I talk to seems to make the same mistake. Really, we should free ourselves from the dualism of “objective reality” vs. “social construction.” The point shouldn’t be that pointing to social constructions obviates our ability to see clearly. Rather, we should realize that all of our sensorium—the basic welter of sensations that we experience constantly—is organized actively through our cognition. That cognition, while unique to each due to the uniqueness of our biographical histories and the particulars of our personalities, are nonetheless products largely of our enculturation. That enculturation isn’t some kind of gamma ray that just shoots right into our heads...we learn it over the course of our lives, as we interact socially with others.

So, maybe we can see that there is an ontos (I’m not really wanting to validate the concept of ontology here), but that that ontos is filtered through the lenses of our experiences, lenses which are crafted to refract culturally specific understandings. That is, we experience the ontos through our subjectivities/positions/situations.

Such a viewpoint (on enculturation), I think, is standard fare in anthropology.

Luka Rejec on July 1, 2009

“The objectivist, positivist school was based on a misunderstanding of scientific objectivity - it’s not about ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ but rather about falsification. Making statements that can be proven or disproven. There is no final truth, no reality to uncover, no face of God behind the veil of the material.”

Thomas Kuhn, a second helping, please! Great point, Luka.
There is a very thoughtful and informative take on what a post-subjective anthropology might involve in Yael Navaro-Yashin's 2007 Malinowski Memorial Lecture, published in 2009 as 'Affective spaces, melancholic objects: ruination and the production of anthropological knowledge', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15: 1-18.

In it she uses a Deleuzian concept of affect (as opposed to a psychoanalytic, subject-centred one) to argue persuasively in favour of rehabilitating aspects of the subject in the face of its ontological 'flattening' by post-subjective manifestos such as Bruno Latour's Actor Network Theory (here she draws extensively on the work of geographer Nigel Thrift).

Martin Holbraad also offers an important take on post-subjective (or, in Haraway's term, 'post-human') developments in anthropology, and their implications for the study of 'things' (including what we would earlier have not hesitated to call 'material culture') in a paper he gave last month at the 'Things and Spirits' conference in Lisbon (not as yet published). In it he draws extensively on archaeologist Severin Fowles' provocative argument that one way in which anthropologists have responded to the 'crisis of representation' (the turn toward the subject, e.g. 'writing culture', the emancipation of the colonial subject etc.) is by adopting objects as their new (and possibly more malleable and accommodating) ethnographic subjects. Fowles offers a fascinating critique of calls by theorists such as Latour and Daniel Miller for 'the emancipation of the object' from the anthropocentrism (or subject-centrism) of social theory, which queries the politics of such moves.

See e.g. Fowles, Severin 2010. 'People without things'. In Bille, Mikkel, Hastrup, Frida and Sørensen, Tim Flohr (eds.) An anthropology of absence: materializations of transcendence and loss. New York: Springer, pp. 23-44



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