World: An anthropological examination (part 1)

João de Pina-Cabral


Anthropologists often take recourse to the word “world” as if its meaning were selfevident, but the word remains highly ambivalent, often extending its meaning in a perilously polysemic fashion. So, the question of “what world are we engaging?” imposes itself, particularly as it leads to another important question: are there “worlds”? This latter question raises some of the fundamental perplexities that have haunted anthropological theory throughout the past century. In this series of two articles, I propose to abandon the established dichotomy between rather crude forms of realism and equally crude forms of semiotic idealism. I sustain that we cannot discuss world without considering for whom, but that this is fully compatible with single-world ontology if we take into account the role of personhood in the human condition. This first article argues for a single-world ontology and for the centrality of personhood. It explores the implications of a form of minimal realism that best suits the ethnographic gesture, while the second article responds to the question of world-forming, the matter of worldview.


world, ontology, worldview, representation, intentionality, monism

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.002