Transforming translations (part 2): Addressing ontological alterity

Amiria J. M. Salmond


This is the second and final part of an article that considers how some scholars associated with anthropology’s “ontological turn” are seeking to transform ethnography as a mode of translation. Here I build on insights generated through ethnographic engagements with Te Aitanga a Hauiti whakapapa (detailed in part 1), which foregrounded the kinds of limits and commitments that may be entailed in comparative relations. The ethnography raised questions about aspects of the ways in which recursive anthropological discussions of ontology are developing, including what roles “native thinking” and “native thinkers” are invited to play in these increasingly widespread debates. The aim here is to consider what ontological strategies might be trying to achieve in a broader view, as well as where the recursive approaches I particularly address sit in relation to other aspects of these discussions, within and without anthropology. A general introduction to the ontological turn is offered, in which three ethnographic strategies for addressing ontological alterity are identified. The focus then shifts to explore how language appropriated by some of these scholars from earlier debates about “different worlds” and “ontological relativity” has fed uncertainties about the kinds of disciplinary transformations they seek to advance. The aim in addressing these indirectly related discourses is to clear space for ongoing discussion of the kinds of issues raised ethnographically in part 1, in which the ethnographic commitments of recursive strategies would appear to be at stake.


ethnographic translation, alterity, worlds, Māori, ontology, relativism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.006