Auld lang syne

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Michael Lambek and Amira Mittermaier. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.001


Auld lang syne

Michael LAMBEK, University of Toronto

Amira MITTERMAIER, University of Toronto


At the close of the year and in a more dangerous global climate than we can remember in our lifetimes, we are nonetheless delighted to continue the tradition of putting out a holiday issue of HAU. Better times and ideas are not to be forgotten as we seek means to move forward. In our own world of anthropology, we return to our ancestors in this issue with original contributions inspired by de Saussure and George Stocking, and reprints of classic essays by Pitt-Rivers and Pouillon. The issue is also replete with the voices of distinguished elders—Descola, Gal, Silverstein, Strathern, Taussig, and Werbner—as well as many exciting younger scholars. We continue certain themes from previous issues—among them, contradiction, genital modification, gradation, and the history of anthropology. And we add a set of strongly present-oriented and engaged articles around the theme of language and political economy.

We begin with a continuation of the debate on Contradiction held in our summer issue. Deana Jovanović insightfully moves from opposed propositions to opposed dispositions, highlighting both ambivalence and future orientation.

We are delighted to continue our tradition of publishing the Morgan Lectures. Here we have Rupert Stasch’s fall lecture, available both in print and video, addressing a contemporary form of primitivism through an exploration of the fascination held by tourists for the Korowai of New Guinea and conversely what the tourists have come to mean to Korowai. Stasch emphasizes both the transcendent qualities of the encounter for both parties and the interface of their respective transactional norms and practices.

How might we reflect on the fate of structuralism in the centenary of the publication of Saussure’s Cours de linguistique generale? This is a project developed by Chris Ball, Alejandro Paz and Michael Silverstein that has taken place over three [ii]years and across three different campuses. We are pleased to offer a small selection from the many reflections it generated. Following an introduction to the project by Paz we have a lecture, delivered at the University of Toronto Scarborough, by Philippe Descola reflecting on his own relation to structuralism and thereby on transformation within structuralism itself. This is accompanied by commentaries from Michael Lambek and Chris Ball. A second lecture, by Danilyn Rutherford and delivered at the University of Chicago, moves from kinship to interaction and illustrates vividly one way in which “structuralism matters.” In a thoughtful postscript, Michael Silverstein explores the working out of relations between structure and transformation, synchrony and diachrony, in Saussure himself and in his successors.

Transformation is also the theme of the article by Diana Espiríto Santo describing the cosmological relations manifest in Brazilian Umbanda (“spirit possession”). The next article, by Carlos Londoño Sulkin follows up the theme of Janice Boddy’s lecture in the previous issue of HAU. He contributes a “bioethnographic case study” of Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonean-American anthropologist, who, after having been brought up in the United States, decided in her early twenties to undergo a circumcision ritual in Sierra Leone. Londoño Sulkin uses this case study to remind us of the complex ways in which moral decisions are made and to argue for a “liberal pluralism” in the anthropology of morality. We pair his essay with a response by Ahmadu who describes her circumcision as a spiritual and scholarly journey. Reflecting on what it means to be called “a strong woman,” she contrasts different meanings of strength in the West and in Sierra Leone.

Our special section addresses the relation of language to political economy. It consists of articles first presented at a symposium at Chicago in recognition of Susan Gal. Sue Gal’s ovular essay on the subject in 1989 inspired many students and colleagues and has led in a number of fruitful directions evident in the articles here. As elaborated by Andrew Graan in his introduction, the articles address relationships among language structure, language use, and political economy and do so specifically with respect to the culture of contemporary capitalism and its neoliberal projects, mediatization, and especially what Graan calls “reflexive engineering.” Francis Cody explores forms of reciprocity in women’s responses to a mass literacy campaign in South India. Bonnie Urciuoli and Ilana Gershon each turn a critical eye to the effects of branding in the United States, Urciuoli with respect to racialized identities on a liberal arts campus and Gershon with respect to employment. Rosemary Coombe offers a comprehensive analysis of the way neoliberal projects have interfered in conceptualizing community culture and cultural knowledge in various sites in Latin America. Andrew Graan then addresses communicative dimensions of governmentality and governmental aspects of publicity in an analysis of the discourse of foreign officials in Macedonia. Amahl Bishara explores the way forms of Palestinian protest express political community in the face of the different forms of sovereignty and state violence present in the West Bank and in Israel. In each of these studies we find nuanced accounts of the ways in which subjectivity is changed and challenged by means of language. As Sue Gal points out in in her incisive Afterword, the articles all illustrate how the political and economic [iii]are not in the first instance to be differentiated from each other and are suffused with language and other modes of semiosis.

Our Colloquia section offers Part II of Paul Kockelman’s analysis of “Grading, gradients, degradation and grace,” Part I of which appeared in our last issue. This is, in effect, a third instantiation of contemporary work in linguistic and semiotic anthropology, following from the papers on structuralism and political economy. Kockelman understands a landslide in Guatemala and responses to it in a manner that attempts to unify material flow, semiotic quality, and phenomenological intensity. Along with his recourse to grace, the scope of the analysis itself is reminiscent of Gregory Bateson.

Our Forum section features four brief pieces from “Voicing the Ancestors,” a panel convened at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in 2014. As Richard Handler explains in his Introduction, the idea of the panel was to revisit anthropology’s canon while paying attention to how that canon was produced. Inspired by George Stocking’s work, the panel invited anthropologists to each read a piece by an intellectual ancestor and to reflect on the piece’s relevance today. Fittingly, the contribution by Ira Bashkow channels Stocking himself. It reflects on what prompted Stocking’s turn to the history of anthropology. Jacqueline Solway features the work of Igor Kopytoff, both on commoditization and on the very topic of ancestors. She asks what it means to “work anew, but always with our ancestors perched on our shoulders” and reminds us that ancestors “both enable and bind us in complicated ways.” Lee Baker turns to an adversary of anthropology, white supremacist George Lincoln Rockwell, to highlight anthropology’s mid-century role, led by Margaret Mead and others, in combatting [pseudo]scientific racism and struggling for civil rights in the United States. Baker emphasizes that anthropology’s history is not confined to the academy but concerns public engagement, a lesson we will have to confront in the days and years ahead. Gregory Schrempp’s contribution expands the idea of a disciplinary canon by introducing a text from the sixth-century bce presocratic philosopher Xenophanes. He argues that we should understand anthropology as a new turn in big ideas with a longer history.

We offer Symposia on two important new books. The first acknowledges the recent publication of Marilyn Strathern’s neglected manuscript from 1973-4, now titled Before and after gender: Sexual mythologies of everyday life. Although HAU has been shy of highlighting its own books, we make an exception here in honor of one of our greatest practitioners and because of the exceptional interest of this work, both in its own right and for the history of feminist thought in anthropology. Strathern’s book has engendered thoughtful and quite diverse commentaries from Sarah Green, Margaret Jolly, and Annemarie Mol and is capped by a response from Strathern herself.

Secondly, we offer a Symposium on Richard Werbner’s impressive book Divination’s grasp: African encounters with the almost said. Werbner builds on Isaac Schapera’s early work on Tswana diviners and his own intensive fieldwork to offer an original and subtle approach to divination and an important intervention into Africanist debates. There are productive commentaries from Frederick Klaits, Sónia Silva, and David Coplan, with a response by Werbner.

This issue includes an unpublished paper by Julian Pitt-Rivers on the paradox of friendship, released here in Hau’s festive spirit and as a teaser to the forthcoming [iv]From Hospitality to Grace: A Julian Pitt-Rivers Omnibus (2017), edited by Giovanni da Col and Andrew Shryock. With his proverbial zest, Pitt-Rivers compares the paradox of friendship, with its offers of help and implicit demands for a reciprocal counter-gesture, with the paradox of the spontaneity of the Maussian gift and the consequences of its refusal.

The Reprints section include two modern classics on the relationships between belief, sincerity and trust, hitherto unavailable online and certainly destined to be rediscovered in our age of fakes, insincerity and humbuggery. The first, a classic essay on belief and skepticism by Michael Taussig reflects on how shamans and sorcerers acknowledge the existence of spirits while knowing the efficacy of their rituals relies on tricks and deception. The second, an essay by Jean Pouillon, former editor of L’Homme, is a French classic on the use of the term “belief.” “How is it that multiple meanings do not require diverse expressions?” asks Pouillon before distinguishing three main usages of the term: “belief ” in the existence of some-one or something and its acceptance on a cognitive level; “belief ” as holding true, intended as knowing or “seeing” truth; and “believing in,” denoting trust or faith in someone or something. Pouillon ends by reflecting on how the “Western” ontological division between the natural world and “the world beyond it” grounds the distinction between belief and knowledge.

Once again, we want to thank the amazing staff as well as our hard working and insightful Associate Editors, student interns, and external referees. HAU is a collective project.