Turning to life: A comment

João de Pina-Cabral


Life is a concept that is commonly encountered in ethnographicl iterature. Most social anthropologists seem happy to live with a broadly uncritical approach to it. In recent years, however, it has come to our notice that if we truly aim to take on interdisciplinarity in any serious way, we cannot avoid dealing with life as an analytical tool. In this essay, I examine the notion of life in light of ethnographic theory. I outline three broad families of meaning of the category “life” as it appears in the ethnographic register. Taking recourse to Marilyn Strathern’s inspiration, I conclude that these meanings can be integrated if we see them in terms of scale.


life, scale, personhood, transcendence, ethnographic theory

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/701115