“[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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Ha, you hit my enduring epistemological dilemma on the head with this question. Have we? Not in Slovenia, where I'm working on my Masters, we haven't. Subjectivity, meta-subjectivity, meta-meta-subjectivity, identity, biopolitics, lacanism and the rest continue to rule the roost. I find this all very well and good, but the focus on the unsayability of anything at all, on the lack of objectivity, leaves me feeling exactly how your quote describes: feeling dreary and trance-like, finding nothing of interest of value.

I look at other anthropologists and think, "so what?" I'd love to see if any answers appear here.
I believe we can address something beyond ourselves. Social constructionism in all its forms have not taken anthropology in a positive direction according to me. Following the lead of Gilles Deleuze and particularly Manuel DeLanda's interpretation of him, we can move towards an ontology of assemblages, where humans are part of emergent assemblages. The human subject in itself is an assemblage of "individual singularities". DeLanda proposes that assemblages of various scales homogenizes or open up assemblages. A postsubjective anthropology would be both posthuman and neo-realist.
Do Zizek have a great influence on Slovenian anthropology?
Well, why don't we just pick up and actually (re-)read the literature which was declassified by "subjectivists" as "the evil"? As I frequently had the questionable pleasure of meeting anthropologists who did mainly criticize these "evil" cultural materialist/evolutionist/positivist/etc. theories on a very emotional basis I guess that would help us quite a lot in answering at least some of your questions... ;-)

What happend in the 1980s was a reaction against something. I think now the time is ripe to develop an equation containing both parts of this theoretical conflict.
As far as I can see there is a realist/materialist movement reaction on the move. Evolution is becoming popular again (and much more in line with Darwin's original ideas rather than the earlier anthropological interpretations of Spencer, Morgan, Service, etc). But, of course, this "new" realist direction is not the same as the one the subjectivists reacted against since this earlier materialism relied on essentialism (DeLanda terms it naive materialism). The subjectivists has just replaced this with a social essentialism, everything is socially constructed, etc. This new materialism relies far more on emergent properties, not essential laws. A post-subjective anthropology would definitely ask different questions.
Yes, he does actually. But the end effect is something of a pop-culture anthropology that doesn't have much to say, save that it's all stories and stories of stories. On the other hand there is a strong volkskunde, ethnological strain of anthropology here, which is heavily involved in studying folklore, customs and the countryside - but which rarely goes much beyond the local (well, that's my opinion). Finally, we have a culturology program, which is also very Zizekian - an anthropology of the (our) West, to quote my ex-mentor.

Johan Normark said:
Do Zizek have a great influence on Slovenian anthropology?
Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis? Very dialectical :)

Maximilian Sulpicius Stadler said:
Well, why don't we just pick up and actually (re-)read the literature which was declassified by "subjectivists" as "the evil"? As I frequently had the questionable pleasure of meeting anthropologists who did mainly criticize these "evil" cultural materialist/evolutionist/positivist/etc. theories on a very emotional basis I guess that would help us quite a lot in answering at least some of your questions... ;-)

What happend in the 1980s was a reaction against something. I think now the time is ripe to develop an equation containing both parts of this theoretical conflict.
Re: Owen

I think the relevant question is what does it matter if it’s objective or subjective. In many ways I find this a false dichotomy. Sure, at the philosophical level, we are condemned to solipsism, if we seek hard, objective, truth. But at a practical level, we can get by with piece-meal, near truths. 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. On the other hand, the subjective turn has gone too far, taking relativity and unsayability as the basis means you are left with nothing to say.

Here I am, working on my thesis. If I accept that I can say nothing, then why say anything at all? If subjectivity is all there is to anthropology, then Zen and silence seem a better solution to all this verbiage.

So, yeah - all for a utilitarian anthropology. The question cui bono - well, that’s politics. My position is that the only entity that can be consistently grasped is the individual (a la Nigel Rapport), so that’s who I hope can ‘bono’ from my utilitarianism.

Re: Johan

Yes, evolution - finally. And finally it’s actually about evolution - variation, selection, heredity - rather than making up just-so-stories about how things had to happen. I just recently completed a write-up on evolution in the social sciences and it’s quite amazing. Amazing how consistently the term was (mis)used to support an us/them dichotomy that had little relation to terms on the ground, and how un-evolutionary it was.

I’ve recently begun reading up on my paleoanthropology, neo-darwinism and memetics again, and I’ve come up against an interesting thing. Memetics seems like a perspective that could consistently produce a very interesting second opinion to nearly every topic in symbolic or cultural anthropology - but it appears quite overlooked. Any experience on this?
Not everyone is into memes: http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/12/we-hate-memes-pass-it-on/

I view evolution as part of a more basic process of becoming, and here we also encounter complexity theory that can tell us how things and phenomea emerges from other components. It would not be too difficult to merge Darwin's "descent with modification" with complexity theory. I believe this has already been done in contemporary biology.
Johan : What is COMPLEXITY THEORY ?

Luka : Mimesis is something tooold fashion to be true
I just quote Wikipedia here: "Complex systems is a scientific field which studies the common properties of systems that are considered fundamentally complex. Such systems may exist in nature, society, science and many other fields. It is also called complex systems theory, complexity science, study of complex systems, sciences of complexity, non-equilibrium physics, and historical physics. The key problems of such systems are difficulties with their formal modeling and simulation. From such perspective, in different research contexts complex systems are defined on the base of their different attributes. At present, the consensus related to one universal definition of complex system does not exist yet."

Most anthropologists will probably react against these ideas and argue that theories from the natural sciences do not apply to the social sciences. This to me sets up an unnecessary dichotomy. I would rather ground a postsubjective anthropology in an ontology that is realist/materialist like complexity theory rather than base it on social essentialism.
Johan Normark said:
Most anthropologists will probably react against these ideas and argue that theories from the natural sciences do not apply to the social sciences. This to me sets up an unnecessary dichotomy. I would rather ground a postsubjective anthropology in an ontology that is realist/materialist like complexity theory rather than base it on social essentialism.

They would find it hard to defend that position, though, since very obviously evolutionary concepts come to us from the natural sciences. Just a thought.

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