A Note from the Editor

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Michael Lambek. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.001

A Note from the Editor

Michael LAMBEK, University of Toronto


Once again HAU brings you a full basket of fine goods. If there is a dominant theme to this issue it is that of HAU’s own subtitle, namely ethnographic theory.

Our debate section, edited by Giovanni da Col, begins with a number of succinct positions on the nature or state of ethnography by master practitioners of the discipline, given during an event held at the Centre for Ethnographic Theory (SOAS, London) in Fall 2016, and titled “Two or three things I love or hate about ethnography.” Borrowing from Marshall Sahlins’ (1999) jocular proposition that by saying a lot of things about a hackneyed category (“culture,” “ethnography”) one may end up getting two or three things right, the debate involved Rita Astuti, Signe Howell, Daniel Miller and Tim Ingold, and was inspired by the acclaim received by Ingold’s (2014) HAU article “That’s enough about ethnography.” Was Ingold really against ethnography per se? His intervention in this collection attempts a clarification as does da Col’s introduction, which adds further refinement and epistemological weight to the idea of “ethnographic theory” (da Col and Graeber 2011). To the four main debates we have added two pieces by Maurice Bloch and Alpa Shah on participant observation as both an odd method (because it entails a practical and imaginative double-bind to embrace both an inside and an outside point of view on its objects/subjects) and a revolutionary one.

Ethnography nowadays is shaped by the ethics review process and so it is fitting to follow with a discussion by Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, Bob Simpson, Elena Martinez, and James McMurray on the situation in the UK.

We are very pleased to offer the texts of two lectures delivered in the past year by anthropologists who have been very influential in the fields of temporality and cognition respectively (among their other contributions). First, Jane Guyer presents her Frazer Lecture delivered in the fall of 2016 at Cambridge. This is an honorary and honorable piece of Anthropology’s own tradition and Guyer, among other [ii]things in her journey through matters of recuperation, reflects on the origins of the Frazer Lecture itself and offers further insight on the effects of the First World War on our discipline. The second, by Rita Astuti, was delivered as the Robert H. Layton Lecture in the Department of Anthropology, at Durham in 2015. It is a magisterial exemplification of “ethnographic theory” that depends both on extremely careful ethnography and on carefully formulated questions. Whereas “theory” often elicits obscure prose, Astuti is outstanding for the clarity with which she sets out and takes the reader through her argument. Not coincidentally, she makes a major contribution to the study of contradictions, a subject whose appearance in an earlier issue of HAU (Berliner et al. 2016) has, to judge by the downloads, aroused a great deal of interest.

Our special section, edited by Niloofar Haeri and based on a number of panels she has organized, addresses the question of sincerity, speaking to recent discussions concerning interiority, prayer, and the mediation of language. At a workshop on Muslim ethics I recently made the mistake of identifying sincerity with Protestantism. The shocked and quick rebuttal by the Islamic scholars made me realize how limited the discussion has been in anthropology (or at least my reading within it); whatever the case, the articles in this section, as Haeri says in her introduction, open up the question of sincerity for comparative examination in a number of different religious traditions and forms of practice. Haeri shows us the debate among Muslim theologians as well as among a group of urban Iranian women whose practice she closely observes, concerning the relations between professed intention, sincerity, and concentration in both obligatory prayer and more open forms of addressing God. The question of subjectivity is continued in Sonja Luehrmann’s compelling account of Russian women who, returning to Orthodoxy after the Soviet period, perform a kind of self-interrogation and attempt to expiate what they conceive as past sins, notably abortion. Outward and inward states are brought together in temporary but difficult acts of pilgrimage. Ayala Fader describes the dilemmas of ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York who try to curtail the inroads of the Internet on the subjectivity of their congregations. Here a perceived crisis of doubt is met by intentional public talk aimed to control or cultivate the interiority of community members through what Fader calls “discursive interiority,” including a kind of medicalization of religious doubt. Courtney Handman likewise attends to linguistic mediation of sincerity, examining the language ideology of the Lutheran missionaries on Papua New Guinea and their concerns about which languages were adequate to support Christian religious subjectivity and spontaneity. Was Pidgin “deep” enough to plumb the soul? The section is completed with a thoughtful Afterword by Matt Tomlinson concerning the fractal recursivity of oppositions between exteriority and interiority evident in each of these contexts.

Among our refereed articles three address questions of ontology in new ways. The first two are complementary in that they each discuss a form of monism they uncover in the ethnography. In a masterful essay concerning the Aṉangu of the Western Desert of Australia, Ute Eickelkamp not only unravels the complex ways in which Aboriginal worlds are changing but also draws a comparison between the Dreaming and the ontological monism of the German romantics. This is reminiscent of the essay by Andrew Brandel in our last issue. Central to Eickelkamp’s concerns is whether and when “nature” comes to appear as an external object [iii]in Aṉangu thought. Working with classical Chinese diviners William Matthews brings to light a form of ontology he calls homologism that he places in explicit and insightful conversation with Descola’s comprehensive scheme. Andrew Apter adds an epistemological dimension to these ontological pictures, concerning the relationship of anthropologists to what they learn in the field. Reflecting on an unfortunate experience during his fieldwork among Yoruba in Nigeria, he proposes a solution to the long-standing question of the anthropologist’s standpoint with respect to a foreign ontology.

The next three papers continue with questions of subjects and objects, here with respect to South Asian refractions of questions of materiality. Each picks up a very different social context. Jens Zickgraf offers a rich ethnographic description of an annual ritual of money counting in a small South Indian community and analyzes what it tells us about the materiality of money and what he calls “moneyness.” Sareeta Amrute looks to the world of South Asian computer programmers in Berlin, illustrating the way humour opens up reflection on their transnational situation and precarious employment as well as the ambiguous materiality of the work of programming itself. Piers Locke, in a striking contribution to multispecies ethnography, offers an account of “nonhuman personhood” and his affective interactions with an elephant in a government elephant stable in Nepal.

Finally, Daniel Miller offers an intriguing account of how, in the age of Facebook and choice, kinship comes to be subsumed, at the ideological level, into the idiom of friendship. Where we once spoke of fictive kinship we can now speak of fictive friendship. Moreover, Miller argues that this is a global trend.

Our Colloquium section, edited by Donna Goldstein and Kira Hall follows up their article (with Matthew Ingram) in Issue 6.2 on “The hands of Donald Trump” with a set of reflections confronting the successful election of Trump to the presidency of the United States. They raise the aestheticization of transgression in the campaign and suggest we think about a hypermasculine form of camp. Michael Silverstein speaks to the role of negative branding in Trump’s speeches. Stefka Hristova compares Trump’s hand signals to those of Uncle Sam in their respective calls to nationalist voters, while Norma Mendoza-Denton looks at Trump from the other direction, namely via the images produced in Mexico, illustrating the effeminization of President Peña Nieto. Jeff Maskovsky insightfully speaks to the performance of white nationalism as addressed to white voters while Kaifa Roland shows the deeply racialized messages in Trump’s body language especially as received by non-whites. Nancy Scheper-Hughes emphasizes the longue durée of racism evoked in Maskovsky’s and Roland’s essays as she turns to the horrific record of Jeff Sessions in Alabama. Following up with the men standing in the outstanding photo, taken by Scheper-Hughes’ colleague Kathy Veit in 1968 (and which serves as our cover image), brings the point home as nothing else could.

Our Forum section starts with Part II of “Voicing the Ancestors” that began in the last issue. As orchestrated by the eminent scholar of anthropology’s history, Richard Handler, the writers bring up figures from the Boasian tradition who are too often misunderstood today or perhaps just simply forgotten. This is particularly important for those readers of HAU not educated in the Americanist tradition. Robert Brightman celebrates the centenary of the important debate between Alfred Kroeber and Alexander Goldenweiser, arguing that Goldenweiser’s account of the [iv]individual holds value in contemporary discussions of biographical subjects and subjectivities. Pauline Strong revives Irving Hallowell in a succinct but brilliant account that no contemporary ontologist can afford to overlook. Alexander King shows that Benjamin Lee Whorf’s thought is not to be reduced to or even described as a hypothesis and argues that Whorf affords a critical “foundation for good anthropology of any kind.” Finally, Richard Handler shows that Jules Henry’s angry critique of American culture is as relevant today as it was in 1963 when he wrote it. It is worth repeating a quotation from Henry that Handler uses: “To think deeply in our culture is to grow angry and to anger others; and if you cannot tolerate this anger, you are wasting the time you spend thinking deeply. One of the rewards of deep thought is the hot glow of anger at discovering a wrong, but if anger is taboo, thought will starve to death” (Henry 1963: 146). Each of these pieces illustrates how important it is to return to the original voices of the thinkers themselves.

Our second HAU forum, edited by Sindre Bangstad, in a sense takes up Jules Henry’s challenge by asking what role public anthropology can play today and how best to perform it. Bangstad introduces the forum with a series of questions and notes the presence of a right-wing government in Norway and the rise of anti-immigrant populism across Europe. Irfan Ahmad asks how we can speak in a climate of hysterical nationalism that tries to shut us down. John Bowen productively offers three quite different kinds of public interventions he has made. Ilana Feldman speaks to the various kinds of publics addressed by a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Angelique Haugerud invites a public anthropology that responds to misinformation about the economy and notes how some Republicans actually espouse what had been presented as parody about them. David Price points out that in speaking to journalists it is more important to get across the message than your name and not to worry about what in other contexts would be plagiarism. Richard Wilson addresses the way we need to write to reach the public and the sometimes surprising responses when we do. Mayanthi Fernando raises the important point of how we address the public without seeming to confirm the language we want to dismantle and asks also how we might use our knowledge to grasp the passional and not simply the deliberative dimension of politics.

We have two book symposia. In each case the published book is the development of a recent Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture. The first symposium, on Peter van der Veer’s book The value of comparison delivered in 2013 and published in 2016 addresses a subject central to anthropological practice. The book is reviewed by Matei Candea, Annelin Eriksen, Stephan Feuchtwang, and Birgit Meyer, each of whom explicitly addresses questions of comparison in their own work. The symposium concludes with a response from van der Veer. The second book is Earth beings: Ecologies of practice across Andean worlds by Marisol de la Cadena based on lectures delivered in 2011 and published in 2015. In her rich and complex ethnography, de la Cadena raises many questions about ontology, translation, life history, and cosmo-politics. Catherine Allen, Andrew Canessa, Alf Hornborg, and Valentina Napolitano each provide critical commentaries on the book. The author plans to respond in the next issue of the journal.

I am particularly happy that our Translation and Reprint sections revive two outstanding scholars whose voices were not recognized as they should have been when they were alive. First, we bring back a very old dispute, namely van Gennep’s [v]critical review of Durkheim’s classic—or maybe not so classic—Elementary forms of the religious life, as well as an extremely useful, if perhaps somewhat partisan (but whom can blame him?) historical contextualization by Bjørn Thomassen. Thanks to our associate editor Matthew Carey for his excellent translation of van Gennep.

Second, we have a paper by Malcolm Ruel, reprinted from the Nigerian journal Odu from 1965. Ruel, who taught at Cambridge, is known for his indispensable articles unpacking the concepts of belief and of sacrifice. Here is a third: a deep portrait of witchcraft among the Banyang, in Cameroon, in a context having little to do with ‘modernity.’ What is so original here is the focus on the introspective rather than the accusatory attribution of witchcraft, hence the critical place of doubt, ambivalence, and retroactive accountability. Indeed, Ruel comes to a conclusion somewhat at odds with that of his own teacher, Evans-Pritchard, namely that Banyang witchcraft “presents an uncertainty and not an assurance.” Thanks to Ann Ruel and Knut Myhre for enabling this essay to come to light again.

Once again it is necessary to thank the staff, interns, associate editors, and referees for responding so well to the often unreasonable demands producing a journal like HAU places on them. I would like to single out our intern Taylor Genovese for the superb way he has taken up his duties and to wish him well in his doctoral program. As I am soon to conclude my term as interim co-editor I am mindful of the symbiosis between thought, imagination, and sheer effort as well as the teamwork that it takes to sustain this strong and exciting journal. Welcome back, Giovanni. Watch this space for HAU’s next steps.

Michael Lambek


Berliner, David, Michael Lambek, Richard Schweder, Richard Irvine, and Albert Piette. 2016. “Anthropology and the study of contradictions.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6.1: 1–27.

da Col, Giovanni, and David Graeber. 2011. “Foreword: The return of ethnographic theory.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1.1: vi–xxxv.

Henry, Jules. 1963. Culture against man. New York: Random House.

Ingold, Tim. 2014. “That’s enough about ethnography!” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4.1: 383–395.

Sahlins, Marshall. 1999. “Two or three things that I know about culture.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5.3: 399–421.