Minhoto counterpoints: On metaphysical pluralism and social emergence

João Pina-Cabral


In his classic work Contrapunteo cubano, Fernando Ortiz shows how two different plants and the products they yield can be at the base of two distinct forms of life. The fascinating revelation in his essay is how these two products (tobacco and sugar), which are central elements in the emergence of consumer society at the global level, give rise in their local mode of occurrence in Cuba to distinct social environments. In this article I ask, beyond its empirical relevance, what methodological and analytical lessons can we take from his essay? In reinterpreting Ortiz’s essay in the light of the forms of life that I studied in Alto Minho (northwest Portugal) in the later 1970s, I hope to draw lessons that can illuminate our own present take on the still momentous matters of social emergence and metaphysical pluralism.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713631