Not “multiple ontologies” but ontic capaciousness: Radical alterity after the ontological turn

Chris Vasantkumar


This essay articulates a framework for understanding radical alterity in the aftermath of the abandonment of strong claims about ontological pluralism in recent works by key figures in anthropology’s Ontological Turn. Arguing that both ontological anthropologists and their critics have overemphasized the ideational at the expense of material practice, it builds on the insights of STS-influenced work on ontology to develop a materialist case for the continued relevance of radical alterity to the anthropological endeavor. In so doing it advocates replacing a crypto-Protestant emphasis on “strange beliefs” with an attention to the materio-cultural precipitates of successful practical action in the world. In service of this goal, it elaborates a notion of “ontic capaciousness” that attends centrally to practice in a single, yet multiple, world in which multiple modes of successful practical engagement with the unknowable really Real result in the working up of disparate relatively durable and incommensurable actionable reals.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/721993