Ontological politics

Ontological politics

Ryan Schram
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of May 16, 2022 (Week 12)

Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/12

Main reading: Blaser (2016)

Other reading: Blaser (2013)

Anthropology confidential

A recent encounter with “culture.”

Human ecology and political ecology

An influential definition of political ecology is

“…the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (Blaikie 1987, 17; see also Watts 1983).

Political ecology derives inspiration from Wolf in multiple ways

“[T]he world of humankind constitutes a manifold, a totality of interconnected processes…” (Wolf 1984, 3).

Revisiting the world-picture

Political ecology has its own “world-picture” in which nature and culture are separate. Imagine a map with many layers

Wolf calls on us to abandon the assumption of isolate social systems, but political ecology isolates human communities in another sense—on a separate map layer.

Nature and culture are characters in a modernist metanarrative

The central character of any historical narrative of modern progress is a specific version of the rational individual.

The story goes:

Similarly, stories of social progress depict a society moving from tradition, stasis, and dependence to mastery of itself

“We have never been modern”

Links in a chain

Different networks, different worlds

Do we live in a universe of many natures?

Should ethnography describe more than cultural difference?

Should anthropology posit multiple humanities?

References and further reading

Blaikie, Piers M. 1987. Land degradation and society. London ; New York : Methuen. http://archive.org/details/landdegradations0000blai.

Blaser, Mario. 2013. “Ontological Conflicts and the Stories of Peoples in Spite of Europe: Toward a Conversation on Political Ontology.” Current Anthropology 54 (5): 547–68. https://doi.org/10.1086/672270.

———. 2016. “Is Another Cosmopolitics Possible?” Cultural Anthropology 31 (4): 545–70. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca31.4.05.

Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Watts, Michael J. 1983. Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wolf, Eric R. 1982. Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.