A note from the editor

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Giovanni da Col. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau3.2.000

A note from the editor


Giovanni DA COL, Editor-in-Chief


Just when yet another article on the plights of neoliberalism hits the anthropological shelves, here comes a new issue of HAU with its unfashionable tendency to reiterate classic questions. This time around we continue our discussion from the previous issue and ask: How is value formed? Our Symposium turns on another classic question: What do we talk about when we talk about “kinship”? In a time when Stranger Kings turn into Fool Kings and a guilty Silvio Berlusconi perseveres in enthralling Italy with beautifully crafted panache and humbug, we would rather suspend our disbelief and seek haven in classic anthropological wisdom, and—avec Marcel Mauss and Jane Guyer—ask: How do jokes create relations? One could ask why we still bother to engage with classic topics and “big question” sort of issues instead of turning to the life of affects or the necropolitics of the anthropocene. Well, to gloss Italo Calvino, let’s just say that a classic topic is one which persists as background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.

The rejoinders provided in this volume are also proudly heterogeneous and we would like to keep it that way. Thus, the reader will notice the continued contrasts among the articles composing Part II of the special issue on “Value as theory.” Here is a lively and diverse set of approaches to anthropological questions of value: from linguistic matters of pragmatics and semiotics (Alexandra Aikhenvald) to the ethnography of activism (Alberto Corsín Jiménez and Adolfo Estalella); from hunter-gatherer ideologies of sharing (Thomas Widlok) to migration and the economics of kinship (Karen Sykes); from the life of labor and the labor of life (Morten Nielsen) to the social life of ethnographic artifacts (Rosita Henry, Ton Otto, and Michael Wood), and finally to moral philosophy and theories of action (Michael Lambek). Or take the Colloquia, where George Marcus and Marshall Sahlins rub shoulders. And if that wasn’t enough, we then present David Graeber’s Postscript, which, in criticizing our own special issue project with his “ontological gambit,” joins together Terry Turner, Karl Marx, J. G. Herder, and others while arguing that in order to revitalize anthropology from the near-suicidal crisis that affected the discipline in the 1980s, our ethnographic theories should be better understood within the larger intellectual currents that created anthropology in the first place. If anyone still thinks ethnographic theorists are a clique, then it’s time to think again.

We are delighted to host an unprecedented line-up of “kinship pundits” in this issue’s Symposium, all gathered to discuss Marshall Sahlins’ thin opus of universal dimensions and ambitions that aims to reconceive kinship as a transcendental category. Here is a work perhaps closer to Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork for a metaphysics of morals rather than to David Schneider’s critiques. Like all “big question” books, What kinship is—and is not is meant to be read widely and spark myriad debates, yet it provides any reader with the possibility of finding beautiful exceptions to its typifications. As one will see here, this little essay has already begun to generate useful divergences—indeed, ethnographic as much as philosophical ones, all of which provide critical counterpoints, yet also extend the potential of Sahlins’ argument. This Symposium also includes a cliff-hanger: our faithful readers will have to wait until next issue to read the author’s response, eager to give justice to a posse of ten symposiasts: Janet Carsten, Maurice Bloch, Robert Brightman, Andrew Shryock, Stephan Feuchtwang, Jeanette Edwards, Carlo Fausto, Kriti Kapila, Klaus Hamberger, and Joel Robbins.

A special issue on the theme of “value” could not miss classic reprints. Hopefully our choices here will appear as html links in some digital syllabi this academic year and beyond. After including Louis Dumont’s “On value” in Part I, we could not neglect Robert Hertz’s seminal discussion of the hierarchy and encompassment of the left hand by the right—an essay that left a deep mark on the former’s Homo hierarchicus. This is followed by a reprint of Nancy Munn’s “The ‘becoming-past’ of places” (the 2003 Westermarck Lecture) which exemplifies her influential approach to value in terms of action, spacetime, and memory in nineteenth-century New York.

This is an important issue for another reason, being the fifth issue since our launch in December 2011. At that time, several members of our freshly formed Editorial Board reacted with mild and kind disbelief to HAU’s inaugural issue. Some doubted we could sustain such excellence in the long term. In guise of Devil’s advocates, they would rather see Issue 5—they proclaimed—than Issue 1. Issue 5 would be HAU’s watershed. “If you can sustain this, you will have taken journals to a new level,” one argued. A gracious gift of advice and encouragement Well, here it is. One good landmark deserves another. And there is plenty more HAU to come.