Editor’s note: In the wake of all the discussion about the ‘ontological turn’ at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference, we asked four scholars, “which texts or resources would you recommend to a student or colleague interested in the uses of ‘ontology’ as an analytical category in recent work in anthropology and science and technology studies?” This was the reading list we received from Morten Axel Pedersen, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen.
As someone who has, for a decade, participated in discussions about ‘ontology’ at various European anthropology venues and departments, I share the sense of déjà-vu noted by Lezaun in Part 2 of this Reader’s Guide. In fact, it is surprising just how much interest and enthusiasm, not to mention critique and aversion, has been generated by the recent introduction of this discussion into mainstream US anthropology. Arguably, the ontological turn now faces the risk of becoming the latest ‘new thing’, so critique is inevitable, necessary and welcome. Indeed, students and scholars from some of the same institutions that spearheaded anthropology’s turn to ontology are now questioning its most deeply held assumptions and cherished arguments. That, of course, is precisely how things should be. And hopefully, the part-repetition in the US of debates that are now losing steam in Latin America, Japan and Europe will provide a new framework for experimentally transforming and productively distorting anthropology’s engagement with ontology, and thus avoid the ever lurking danger of it becoming just another orthodoxy.
What follows here is a list of predominantly anthropological readings, which does not cover the creative interfaces between STS and anthropology explored by scholars in Copenhagen, Manchester, Osaka, and elsewhere. The list is not intended to be exclusive. Indeed, many scholars who figure on it may well not consider themselves part of the ontological turn and may be critical of part or all of it. The reason why they are nevertheless included is that they all have, in my view, played a role in making the ‘turn’ what it is today.
Blaser, Mario. 2010. Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco and Beyond. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
Descola, Philippe. 2013. Beyond Nature and Culture. Trans. J. Lloyd. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Holbraad, Martin. 2012. Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Kohn, Eduardo. 2012. How Forests Think: Toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Krøijer, Stine. Forthcoming. Figurations of the Future: Forms and Temporality of Left Radical Politics in Northern Europe. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Maurer, Bill. 2005. Mutual Life, Limited. Islamic Banking, Alternative Currencies, Lateral Reason. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2013. Arbitraging Japan: Dream of Capitalism at the End of Finance. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rio, Knut Mikjel. 2007. The Power of Perspective. Social Ontology and Agency on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Scott, Michael W. 2007. The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands. Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Stasch, Rupert. 2009. Society of Others. Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Partial Connections (Updated Edition). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.
Swancutt, Katrhine, 2012. Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. Oxford: Berghahn.
Wagner, Roy. 1975. The Invention of Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Willerslev, Rane. 2007. Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism and Personhood amomg the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2009. Métaphysiques cannibales. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France
Jensen, C. B, M. A. Pedersen & B. R. Wintereik, eds. 2011. “Comparative Relativism”, special issue of Common Knowledge 17 (1).
Jensen, C. B. & A. Morita, eds. 2012. “Anthropology as critique of reality: A Japanese turn“. Forum in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (2): 358-405.
Candea, Matei & Lys Alcayna–Stevens, eds. 2012. “Internal Others: Ethnographies of Naturalism“, Special section in Cambridge Anthropology 30(2): 36-146
Henare, A., M: Holbraad and S.Wastell, eds. 2007. Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artifacts Ethnographically. London: Routledge. (Here’s a pre-publication version of the Introduction).
Articles engaging explicitly with “ontology”, also critically
Alberti, B., S. Fowles, M. Holbraad, Y. Marshall, C. Witmore. 2011. ‘Worlds otherwise’: Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ontological Difference forum. Current Anthropology 52(6): 896-912
Blaser, Mario. 2013. Ontological conflicts and the stories of peoples in spite of Europe: toward a conversation on political ontology. Current Anthropology 54(5): 547-568.
Course, Magnus. 2010. Of Words and Fog. Linguistic relativity and Amerindian ontology. Anthropological Theory 10(3): 247–263.
De la Cadena, Marisol. 2010. Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond ‘Politics’. Cultural Anthropology 25 (2): 334-70.
Hage, Ghassan. 2012. Critical anthropological thought and the radical political imaginary today. Critique of Anthropology 32(3): 285–308
Heywood, Paolo. 2012. Anthropology and What There Is: Reflections on “Ontology”. Cambridge Anthropology 30 (1): 143-151.
Holbraad, Martin. 2009. Ontography and Alterity: Defining anthropological truth. Social Analysis 53 (2): 80-93.
Holbraad, Martin. 2011. Can the Thing Speak? OAP Press, Working Paper Series, Article # 7.
Laidlaw, James. 2012. Ontologically Challenged. Anthropology of This Century, vol. 4, London, May 2012.
Laidlaw, James and Paolo Heywood, 2013. One More Turn and You’re There. Anthropology of This Century, vol. 7, London, May 2013.
Nielsen, Morten. 2013. Analogic Asphalt: Suspended value conversions among young road workers in Southern Mozambique. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (2): 79-96.
Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2001. Totemism, animism and North Asian indigenous ontologies. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7 (3): 411-427.
Pedersen, Morten Axel. 2012. Common nonsense. A review of certain recent reviews of the ‘ontological turn.’ Anthropology of This Century, 5.
Salmon, Amira. 2013. Transforming translations (part I):“The owner of these bones”. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 1-32.
Scott, Michael W. 2013. The Anthropology of Ontology (Religious Science?). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (4): 859–72.
Venkatesan, Soumhya et al. 2010. Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture: Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester. Critique of Anthropology 30 (2):152-200. (The papers can also be downloaded here).
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2002. And. Manchester: Papers in Social Anthropology.
Viveiros de Castro, E. 2013 “The Relative Native” by HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 473-502.
Finally, there are some recent and ongoing dialogues in France between anthropologists and philosophers concerning issues of metaphysics and ontology, which may be of interest:
- “Métaphysiques Comparées: La Philosophie à L’épreuve de L’anthropologie.” Summer 2013.
- “Practiques & Ontologies” Séminaire de philosophie et d’anthropologie contemporaines, 2013-2014, Paris Ouest
Morten Axel Pedersen is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. His publications include Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia (2011). He is also co-editor, with Martin Holbraad, of Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest, and the Future (2013). A new book co-authored with Lars Højer, Urban Hunters: Dealing and Dreaming in Times of Transition is forthcoming.