Aftermaths and recuperations in anthropology

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Jane I. Guyer. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.011


Aftermaths and recuperations in anthropology

Jane I. GUYER, Johns Hopkins University

The Frazer Lecture was launched in 1921, with the support of scholars from all over Europe, explicitly in the context of the “meeting on common ground” after World War I. In the spirit of anthropologists examining postdisaster processes of any kind, to meet with scholars from other disciplines for mutual illumination, and to revisit its own rich intellectual and empirical archive, my lecture explored processes of recuperation. Recuperation is selective of elements rather than rescuing whole systems, then followed by creative reconfiguration. Sources from classics, recent philosophically inspired anthropology, new ethnography of Africa, and postwar Vietnam are examined as examples that pick up the spirit of the Frazer Lecture itself.

Keywords: disaster, recuperation, Frazer Lecture

Invitation and introduction

The invitation to deliver the Frazer Lecture, ninety-five years after its inauguration in 1921, in the aftermath of the Great War, was a true gift from those who nominated me and endorsed my selection. It provoked me to bring together several separate threads of thought, starting most prominently from my past reading of the Frazer Lecture Inauguration for my graduate course at Johns Hopkins University, on the history of anthropology, entitled “Revolutions and Recuperations.” All the signposts for my explorations are instances of the ways in which particular components of life and thought can be preserved across thresholds of major change, and how certain conditions can stimulate their creative reconfiguration and collective revitalization. This explains my choice of theme: recuperations in our disciplinary intellectual life, and in the social life of those from whom we learn, in both cases [82]after changes that threaten, destroy, gravely distort, or replace the legacies from the past. What remains may have been packed away for no further use of any practical sort, within the context of a profoundly uncertain future, and yet these remnants have not been utterly destroyed. For this written version, I retain the spirit of the lecture, where engagement in discussion and the provocation to further explorations, in conversation with others, rather than the drawing of definitive lines of debate or departure, set the tone and shaped the structure. The writing, delivery, and revision of the lecture have been an inspiration to me to return to books already on my shelves, as well as to read newer ones more attentively, and to anticipate further suggestions, on a very large topic where many voices can contribute and take the themes in their own directions. Hence my retention of a sense of ongoing collective engagement, rather than taking a definitive, and final, position as the conclusion.

In the present moment of history, we seem to be entering a phase of general uncertainty about framing the future, owing to both encompassing apocalyptic visions and many varied localized disturbances and destructions, as I suggested in my article on “the near future” (Guyer 2007). Many dynamics are depicted as “emergent,” suggesting indeterminacy: an as-yet unknown creature emerging from a chrysalis. So our archive of empirical anthropological findings after moments of crisis, with the recorded experience at the center of analysis and with close attention to the enactment of recuperation in the life of the everyday, became my central theme. Since I have not carried out close fieldwork directly on this topic, my reasons to choose it come from connecting classical inspirations from our disciplinary past to a personal-historical sensibility, and to our shared current concern about the process by which possible futures are created. What have we found, as a discipline, how have we interfaced with other disciplines, and what else could be done? We increasingly engage with new terms: the future depicted as “emergent” is not expected to follow predictable stages of “development” that have already been traversed by others, as was suggested by social evolutionary theory in our past, and then development theory.

Recuperation refers to a process, which can include many heterogeneous elements, chosen by a variety of actors, recorded in different situations by different scholars, which have been brought forward through time and applied to uncertainty. I differentiate this from recovery, which generally refers to wholeness: the restitution, or revolutionary replacement, of whole systems. Frazer himself gave examples of both recovery and recuperation, from the vast library of “folklore” on which he drew. His example of “great floods,” which I address later, is particularly attentive to the details, which vary from case to case. The current ethnography is not, or not yet, fully framed to attend to conditions of major encompassing catastrophic change, such as another world war, of the kind that marked Frazer’s own experience and which returned in full force at the time of his death in May 1941, at the age of eighty-seven, and informed another Frazer Lecture from around that time (as I will invoke later). We can draw on some of this past encompassing work, as I do below, [83]and our colleagues who have technical expertise may be able to craft some specificity into the study of anticipation in advance as well as into recuperation in the aftermath. Our particular strength as a discipline is deep attentiveness to the people’s own creative and pragmatic modes, their terms for depicting their condition even when it seems to be in transition of some kind, and our creation of a comparative understanding of the possibilities with which they work.

We now have a literature on “possibilities” (Graeber 2007; Guyer 2009) and “impossibilities” (Moore 2016), in the anticipation mode, and in varied predictive temporal modes, some of which I explored in my above-mentioned lecture-turned-article on temporality (Guyer 2007). Here, however, I follow one of Frazer’s leads from 1921, and elsewhere, to attend to the practicalities and imagery of people’s selective dedicated recuperations in the immediate aftermath of loss and destruction. We, like him, begin to draw on rich and diverse resources for pushing forward on both frontiers: to engage with, but not necessarily create anew, single dominant macrotheories, and to allow the intricate dynamics of life, in the new ethnography of postdisasters and rising attention to the place of “the ordinary” in such circumstances, to sharpen the question of what is being sifted out of the detritus of disaster, to be rescued for further use, and by whom. We can expect that whatever is recuperated, whether an idea, a practice, or a material object, will be known to be a small part, a “fragment,” considered to be of value. “Fragment” derives from the Latin verb frangere, to break off, and we begin to discover that it occurs and recurs in the history of attention to recuperation, under whatever concept was used at the time: redemption, reconstruction, renewal, all concepts with the Latinate “re” (again) to depict their temporal referent.

Thus can wide-angled, and narrowly focused, works engage with each other. I pick up particularly on a method and an image from the scholarship of our own day that can echo an image of Frazer’s, that we “meet on common ground,” namely Michael Jackson’s Paths towards a clearing (1989), where we meet and deploy Jackson’s “radical empiricism” (in the subtitle of his book) with respect to our discipline’s methods of learning from a world whose speed and directions of change are rapidly intensifying, and varying from one case to another. By this, he means that research is fully interactive: “We are continually being changed by as well as changing the experience of others. . . . Radical empiricism seeks to grasp the ways in which ideas and words are wedded to the world in which we live, how they are grounded in the mundane events and experience of everyday life” (ibid.: 3, 5). In his own work, some of these “ideas and words” may be “grounded” in the “mundane,” but their referents in practice are to recuperative moments, as I discuss later. This view can encompass both thought on the ground and thought about it, in the library, the lecture theatre, and the seminar room, in comparative and conceptual mode, and in our resulting return to major works in other disciplines, such as the philosophy that has animated so much of our new attention to “the ordinary,” through Stanley Cavell. I would add, also from the history of philosophy, the apposite title Fragments of redemption (Handelman 1991), on the way in which Benjamin, Scholem, and Levinas approached redemption and repair in the context of World War II. The library on my topic is broad and brilliant, and still invites, and deserves, more attention than I can give it here. So this article invites our wider engagement on a vast and deep topic to which a single time-, and space-, limited intervention cannot do full justice.

To clarify my exploratory logic, I refer briefly to two previous lectures. In my Munro Lecture in Edinburgh (Guyer 2013), I termed this kind of thought as working with “epistemologies of surprise”: that is, noticing any small originality as it [84]arises within a thicket of other contextual elements, in a particular instance. We, and also our informants, work like artists and archeologists as we approach the clearings for engagement: noticing, digging up, and reconfiguring small elements of continuing value from yesterday, and recombining them in meaningful ways with new elements for today and tomorrow. This approach carries forward the theme of another, but unpublished, lecture I delivered, at Brandeis (Guyer 2010), where I argued for the central importance for anthropology of the verb “to consider”: etymologically deriving from the Latin con (together) and sidus (a star), so perceiving, and/or making constellations of mutually referential elements, as distinct from geometrical figures with linear derivational logics or just random collections. And it also infuses the process with the implicit reference of the verb “consider” to patience and respect.

The format of the article retains this exploratory spirit, which was explicit in the imagery of “common ground” and “a clearing” in my two central sources, Frazer himself and Michael Jackson, and which is being taken most recently into particular interdisciplinary engagements with philosophy by Michael Lambek and Veena Das. Relevant works from other disciplines, particularly on narrative, are mentioned in the article, but remain to be more fully engaged.

Classic inspirations recuperated

In his time, Frazer was attempting to provide, in his own way and for his own moment in intellectual history, a wide-angle lens on human history and experience, along with a sharp focus on striking instances. Before turning to our sources on the present, I return to Frazer’s own introduction to the inauguration of the lecture, because he precisely draws our collective attention to postdisaster life, where the varied constituencies can have a focus to share with each other, and “can meet on common ground.” I then add inspiration from the same moment in history: Marcel Mauss’ Essay on the gift. Mauss himself was a contributor to the foundation of the Frazer Lecture.

The spirit of the foundation in 1921 already included Jackson’s concept of a meeting in a clearing in the forest. We did not yet have the analytical concept of “assemblages” of elements, from Deleuze, but the expectation that we would “assemble” in person, from different disciplines and subject matters, around common challenges to understand complex configurations was explicit in Frazer’s address to his public and in the contributions to the lecture’s endowment. It had been funded by an international battalion of scholars and public figures from all over Europe, and across the disciplines. The list of contributors (about 240 altogether) includes Durkheim (who died in 1917), Marcel Mauss, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Émile Torday, Franz Boas, W. H. R. Rivers, several Germans, and British scholars from across the disciplines, including A. E. Housman, poet-author of A Shropshire Lad, two members of the Darwin family, classical scholars, many parsons from local churches in the vicinity of Cambridge, and public servants. Their participation situates the lecture series’ inauguration explicitly in the context of recuperation, and artisanal scholarly devotion to this process, both together and in personal thought, after a war that had divided many of the contributors into “hostile camps.” Here are the moving terms of the occasion’s opening speech by Frazer:[85]

It will serve to show to those who come after us that in an age when the world was torn into hostile camps and exhausted by internecine conflict, scholars could still meet on common ground, above the clash of arms, in the serene air and untroubled light where truth is sought by her votaries. [It] will act as a spur to my industry: it will encourage me to labour yet a while. (Frazer 1921: unpaginated)

In the spirit of our own interdisciplinary engagement, we can note that Frazer’s reference to exhaustion with hostility, and his appreciation of the participation of his European colleagues in the “meeting on common ground” in a spirit of recuperation, was a departure from the vision of the war, at that time, that social psychologist Richard Koenigsberg and historian Roger Griffin1 have referred to as “a collective ritual whose purpose was to sacralize the nation-state. By consuming soldiers’ bodies, the body politic came into being: ‘Individuals died so the nation might live.’”

The question then becomes, on what themes, in what terms, and by whom, would the search for truth be undertaken again, then and now, beyond what is seen by most survivors as a catastrophe? Instead of the French monarchy’s famous saying from 1757, “Après moi, le deluge,” we turn it around into “Après le deluge, qu’est-ce qui reste de moi (et de nous, et des autres)?” Many echoes resonate. For example, W. H. R. Rivers was a contributor to the inauguration, and he had been treating soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drawing on wisdom gained during his experience on the Torres Straits expedition.2

Marcel Mauss was another contributor. He echoes the same theme of reengagement, in recuperative mode, in his Essay on the gift. Working recently on my translation (Mauss [1925] 2016) to include its context of writing, which was also after the Great War, I noticed certain parallels of broad inclusiveness, and commitment to anthropology as a creative source on recuperative themes and variations in cultural life, in relation to the challenges and agonies of the present. In this edition of L’Année Sociologique, the first issue after the Great War, Mauss paid his respects to each member of their group whose life had been lost. Several of the young people had been killed in battle, and it was supposed that Durkheim himself was particularly drained of an already sick life by the death of his only son in a military hospital in Sarajevo. Mauss’ imagery for recuperation is almost complementary to that of Frazer. In the Memorial he writes:

Our group resembles those little woods in devastated regions where, for a few years, a few old trees, riddled to bursting, try to become green again. But if just the undergrowth can grow in their shade, the wood will reestablish itself. . . .

Maybe the sap will rise again. Another seed will fall and germinate. ([1925] 2016: 51)[86]

New growth, new interdependence, new futures. His configuration of sources and explorations of themes and cases in Essay on the gift itself embodies exactly this effort, as he states explicitly in the conclusion.

Thus the clan, the tribe, and the peoples have learned—as tomorrow, in our so-called civilized world, classes and nations and individuals too will have to learn—how to confront one another without massacring each other, and to give to each other without sacrificing themselves to the other. Herein lies one of the lasting secrets of their wisdom and their solidarity. ([1925] 2016: 197)

Essay on the gift, then, in the context of its writing, was a vast effort at recuperation of many specific inspirations from the past, and from a “point of departure [that] lies elsewhere” (ibid.: 114), to relaunch a form of cooperativism in European life (see Hart 2007) that Mauss then lived long enough to see subjected to another catastrophe. Like Frazer, he seemed to be, at that moment, deeply inspired by the need to meet on common ground, with many others, beyond strife.

While intellectual history may have resulted in critiques of Frazer’s and Mauss’ big pictures and large theory, I suggest that putting their work back into the context of their own historical moment would better lead us into their documentation of the details of life, language, and practice through which other wisdoms can enter the “clearing,” “on common ground,” for consideration. It is these grounded details to which we can be drawn.

I offer two artistic, rather than intellectual, contributions to the imagery of common ground, light, and growth, after damage. One is Paul Klee’s Little tree amid shrubbery, painted in 1919, composed after the death, in the war, of two of his close friends. So here is another echo of postwar efforts at picking specific seeds for regrowth. To deepen one step further our sense of the aesthetic and sensory dimensions of this theme of recuperation, where people retrieve the art as well as the sociality and practicality of life, I add these lines from a poem entitled “The end and the beginning,” by Nobel laureate Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, from 1947, on postwar triage and selective recuperation, also referring to the dense undergrowth of life and thought:

After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won’t pick
themselves up, after all.
. . .From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.
(1995: 178–79)

In a certain resonance with Szymborska, I had another, already-existing spark of inspiration for thinking toward “recuperations”—especially in the plural, as small elements from an existing archive, and in the active mode of the verb “to recuperate,” for daily use—that comes from fieldwork in Nigeria about thirty years ago, when an elder explained to me the Yoruba word asa, which is generally translated [87]into English as “custom.” It refers etymologically to choice, in this context from the archive of knowledge from the past: that is, finding whatever would be suitable for the particular occasion at hand, from the treasury of experience, through wisdom and knowledge. When I asked how it is done, my wise elder explained to me: “We choose whatever will not make everything worse.”

This last inspiration emphasized for me the importance of us recuperating—from old disciplinary works, theoretical-philosophical commentary, and the current ethnography of life experiences—inspirations for meeting on our own common ground for mutual engagement, to include closer attention to all the people from whom we learn about selective mobilization after damage: in life, in ethnographic and perhaps also poetic and artistic modes, where a promising experience or element can be chosen again, and a “rusted argument” can be “hauled off to the dump,” while another one is searched out and preserved, all in the context of new experiences of damage and disaster, from wars to floods.

Recuperation as a concept: Narrative and elemental forms

As my Yoruba elder taught me, recuperation is selective: in the storage mode and in the mobilization mode. It appears that incidents that provoke anguish also provoke a process of valuation and selection for the future. In Frazer’s case, in Folk-lore in the Old Testament ([1923] 1988), he places all the detailed versions of such catastrophes as the “Great Floods” into comparative juxtaposition. I pay particular attention to his evidence of the specificity of recuperative actions immediately following survival. While the substance differs markedly in each case, the creation and application of a narrative to it appears as one way in which the choice is made of what to recuperate, in order to reinsert a recognizable account of an ongoing life. Our question then becomes: Which narratives offer the resonating connections to an indeterminate future, as lived in our current present?

At the time of the lecture’s foundation, Frazer’s analysis of Great Floods, worldwide, was already famous for its expansive inclusiveness, not only of cases across the world, but of different versions of Noah’s Flood in the written biblical tradition, and their points of similarity to other Middle Eastern narratives. The topic of the survivors’ immediate steps toward recuperation after the flood is particularly puzzling. These are very small, mainly symbolic elements. Noah sends out the dove, which brings the surviving olive branch to the still-floating ark: an element that has remained a symbol of peace-making ever since. But the biblical narrative includes another, novel element: the first animal sacrifice from man to God, in order to mend relations. Noah makes an altar and slaughters animals and fowl, without instructions, although this finds “favour” with God.3 Indeed, J. H. Hertz ([1936] [88]1972), Chief Rabbi of the British Empire while Frazer was writing, makes this commentary on “after the flood”: that Noah was the “pioneer” of altars and sacrifices. However, a subsequent translator of the Hebrew text, Robert Alter (2004), suggests that this element was recuperated much later, from the Mesopotamian versions of the story, where the gods always asked for such gifts. Frazer’s thoughts might have been similar, as he had compiled many versions, each with its own event of recuperation and invention, which might also have been borrowed and presented as “pioneering.” Among the Iban, in Borneo, a woman observed how the wind produced friction and warmth by rubbing a creeper against a tree, and she reinvented fire (ibid.: 85). And in Micronesia, the only survivor, through paddling his own canoe, was able to find a place to create an altar (ibid.: 91). In his final words on the Flood, Frazer interprets the gravitas of the story:

Wherever they [many diluvial traditions dispersed throughout the world] appear to describe vast changes in the physical configuration of the globe . . . they probably embody, not the record of contemporary witnesses, but the speculation of much later thinkers. Compared to the great natural features of our planet, man is but a thing of yesterday, and his memory a dream of the night. ([1919] 1988: 142–43)

It can be our work, as anthropologists, to archive such memories and their redeployment.

The moment of posttrauma, in all these poetic and spiritual archives, appears to be either lived at the time or redacted afterwards to identify recuperation of some form that can reopen the way to a future. In all these cases, collective continuity supersedes individual completion, as in many cultural imaginaries, hence situational recuperation from a collective archive of knowledge and conceptual imagery, and—as with Noah’s Flood—a sense that the story itself can continue to be redacted, but then also applied to diverse situations, each of which may shift the emphasis on elements while retaining the overall narrative form. When Frazer invoked the Great War in his lecture inauguration, he repositioned us, implicitly, with Noah and his rebuilding of a relationship with God and with an almost completely destroyed earth. In the biblical story, Noah makes a vineyard, hence the story of his artisanal success, inebriation, eventual clash with his sons, and creation of an ongoing life in the world that seems to have differed from the one destroyed by the Flood. The story as a whole supplies a narrative to apply to continuing existence, and a couple of elements—the symbol of the dove, and the centrality of recuperation through ritual—to be constantly recontextualized for the situation of the moment. Life goes on, in artisanal creative mode, with a certain likely, but manageable, fractiousness. How does it work? Implicitly, Frazer is suggesting that we look closely at narrative components and ritual elements as key forms for recuperation of an otherwise destroyed past.

Marcel Mauss, in Essay on the gift, makes a similar point about the wisdom of gift traditions and practices in relation to disasters, as quoted earlier in his comparison between the past and “tomorrow,” with respect to competitive opposition through gift-giving rather than “massacring each other.” “Herein lies one of the lasting secrets of their wisdom and their solidarity” ([1925] 2016: 197). “Lasting secrets,” inspirations from “elsewhere,” and the means of pooling many such recuperations [89]after catastrophe are a recurring theme as Mauss compiles his sources and launches them into a new intellectual and social space. Even in his critical allusions to other works, he compiles the small elements of enduring value. In his direct reference to Frazer’s Folk-lore in the Old Testament, he writes that “contrary to the critiques that freely proclaim these researches out of date, they still retain their freshness and truth” (ibid.: 205).

Essay on the Gift, of course, is a vast effort at recuperation: taking elements from the past and from elsewhere, saved and treasured by the intellectual equivalent of an archeological search for remnants, and compiled in order to imagine how to work forward together, or perhaps compete collaboratively rather than catastrophically, working away from “massacring” and “sacrificing themselves to the other,” in an inspiring way.

Although I leave economic crises aside for the substance of this article, in my own work on economic life I have found compelling examples of ideas about the recuperation of elements from heterogeneous collections in the storehouses of memory and materiality. In my recent economic anthropology collection of essays entitled Legacies, logics, logistics, in order to indicate the archive and then its new configurations and applications, I use a striking passage from Lord Beveridge’s history of food rationing in Britain, also written after the Great War, that deeply impressed itself on me (as a child of postwar food rationing from World War II, still owning my own ration book), which provided the title of an article, “toiling ingenuity,” and that we could connect further to the reassemblage of “the ordinary,” as I move to later.

“So many forms and circulars . . . instructions”, “monuments of toiling ingenuity”, [which should] “lie mouldering gently into dust and oblivion—lie buried, please God for ever”; “little if anything learned in them can be of use again, save in a civilization bent again on self-destruction.” (Beveridge 1928: 344, cited in Guyer 2016: 256; see also Guyer 2016: ch. 2, first published as Guyer 1993)

Lord Beveridge invokes the many and varied damages of “self-destruction” in war rather than the ideological quality of self-sacrifice, thus giving prominent value to all the small components of survival. So, how do we understand various different peoples’ modes of recuperation of “legacies” as they emerge out of periods of disturbance, and form them into new assemblages in situational practice? And how do we, in anthropology, regroup and focus in times of rapid change and loss in the world, and in revolutions within our discipline? So I take “to recuperate” to imply an imaginative extraction of something of value from the past, and its revival and reconfiguration for the present and future, in whatever way each of these temporalities is understood within familiar processes into which sudden crisis has erupted.

Intellectual recuperations from the history of the Frazer Lecture

In the Frazer Lecture of 1932 (so during the Great Depression, another catastrophe, and in the new upswing of racial theory), Sir Arthur Keith, physical anthropologist, writing on the Aryan Theory, praised Frazer as “a master mariner—who . . . [90]has sailed his ship on all the linguistic seas of the world. From these living seas he has dredged a rare harvest of myth, belief, custom and folklore—flotsam and jetsam which have drifted down to us from the childhood of humanity” ([1932] 1967: 304). He is clearly bringing forward the evolutionary implications of Frazer’s The golden bough (1922). The negative implication of the last sentence is striking: that it is not people (whom he refers to as “children”) but the abstract flows of time that rescue damaged remainders and float them down to the beaches of the present, after storms of destruction. And the term “flotsam and jetsam” implies that the damage is serious and the bits and pieces may have little enduring value. This is hardly in the spirit of Frazer’s comparative work on the folklore of the Bible or his appreciation of mythology. Beachcombers in Frazer’s spirit would not agree with Keith’s imagery. Old wood from skillfully built sunken ships was often recuperated and used for new purposes, and sea-glass from broken bottles was turned to other uses. So Keith’s imagery from his own Frazer Lecture can exemplify the fact that members of our discipline have varied and vacillated in their approaches to the crafting of what used to be referred to as “survivals.” Our own approach is to focus on the skilled preservation, choice, and crafting of specific retrievals, as recuperations with their own evocations of meaning, and potential for assemblage with other elements, for the present and the future. The process is not a macrodrift of vast evolutionary or developmental forces, under their own momentum, but is composed of many spaces of agency, imagination, and effort.

My other example, tracking through the tragedies of twentieth-century European history and the various links to Frazer, is the Frazer Lecture of 1944 by Morris Ginsberg on Moral progress. At a historical moment when one can hardly imagine a more agonizing topic, when he points to the “recurrence of periods of barbarism and violence” (1944: 41), Ginsberg raises the circumstantial argument that ethical theory is “so plastic that it can be adapted at will as circumstances require” (ibid.: 34), and (his closing sentence) “we are entitled, despite the cruelties and barbarities which abound in this world, to put some trust in human intelligence and will, and to feel justified in the hope that the energies which are now expended in mutual destruction may come to be used in the service of ends in which reasonable men can find fulfilment” (ibid.: 45). Thus does he move away from a general theory of system, steady incremental progress, and abstract rationality to one of situational recuperations, thought, and determined creativity. And he turns back to “the ordinary man” (as we do later) “who is coming to feel that the action taken by the state on his behalf in relation to other states concerns him deeply and that he shares in the responsibility” (ibid.: 43) for hoping, being reasonable, and working towards fulfillment, as he indicates in the final sentence of the lecture, as quoted above.

These statements were written during times of crisis and destruction, when scholarly communities and their spokespersons were reaching back and digging down selectively into the human archive, and gradually taking terms like “barbarism” completely out of the evolutionary context, where they were eventually replaced by systems defined as “civilized.” We, too, in what Mauss refers to as “our so-called civilized world,” can be “barbarous,” or become barbaric, as Ginsberg pointed out and as Isabelle Stenger’s work develops for the future in her In catastrophic times: Resisting the coming barbarism ([2009] 2015). Frazer (1921), too, argued that current knowledge was “temporary and provisional, destined with the [91]progress of knowledge to be superseded by truer and more comprehensive views in the future.” They all place a question mark over evolutionism and progress, but in different ways, each for its own time in history, in intellectual framing, and for the direction of change that it identifies.

Exploring our disciplinary record for yet other moments of crisis, I came across Ralph Linton’s collection of twenty-one chapters by separate authors, from some different disciplines, entitled The science of man in the world crisis, published in 1945. Like Frazer, he insisted that “plans for world reorganization . . . can only be solved by collaboration,” then adds a time-frame: “It has been observed that it usually takes about a generation for the new discoveries and techniques of one science to become part of the regular working equipment of other sciences” (Linton 1944: vii). Franz Boas published Anthropology and modern life in 1928, with similar aspirations.

By picking up such concerns, we are meeting our ancestors again, as well as the people with whom we work, “on common ground” and with close attention to all of their recuperative and collaborative modes in times of disturbance, great and small. I turn now to recent works on the ethnography of recuperations as these are carried out in the present world, ending with a study of the aftermath of our latest great flood, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.4

Recent works: The ordinary as archival source, narrative as a guide for search

The “ordinary” as source of fragmentary recuperation and aspiration

The recent high profiling of the “ordinary” as a resource—intellectual and social—is very important, as we move away from past, fully systemic, meanings of enduring structures and patterns, or predictably developing stages of growth, with the central focus on each structure superseding its precursor. Michael Lambek writes of “ordinary ethics” as placing the emphasis on action, not on Kantian reason, thus avoiding two mutually problematic extremes: decisionism and determinism, “with their polarizations of agency and structure, or choice and compulsion” (2010: 15). Very interestingly to me, the word “ordinary” itself can thereby come close to my Yoruba elder’s meaning for “custom”: a large and encompassing set of experienced, or imagined, possibilities, already understood by those who can guide choice and mobilization. However, such an archive of “the ordinary” is neither an authoritarian structure imposed from above nor a field for completely open inventive decisions. The implicit index in both cases is to “the ordinary people,” and to life as lived by them, and, very importantly, as Lambek puts it, to “ethics as a function of action . . . also a function of making” (ibid.: 14). Ethics result from action, in our case here, the action of preservation, recuperation, and recrafting for a future, rather than people simply following rules that have already been laid down, as if always equally relevant.[92]

In her important and very influential analysis of postviolence situations in India, Life and words: Violence and the descent into the ordinary” (2007), Veena Das employs several of the terms that I find so useful on our topic of “recuperations.” She indicates the importance of “the fragment” as a way “to pick up the pieces and to live in this very place of devastation” (ibid.: 6). Then quoting Achille Mbembe (2002: 259), she includes this: “How can life be redeemed, that is, rescued from this incessant operation of the negative?” (Das 2007: 213). Das treats this as an ethnographic question, and not primarily an abstract theoretical question, which endorses one aspect of the position of Frazer at the 1921 Lecture: that we continue to work at the challenges before us.

In his trailblazing book on “the ordinary,” Stanley Cavell (1988) uses the word “recovery,” with certain—perhaps underemphasized—referents to the systemic mode. He writes: “The ordinary is subject at once to autopsy and to augury, facing at once its end and its anticipation. The everyday is ordinary because, after all, it is our habit, or habitat” (ibid.: 9). The subject of these sentences is in the singular, unlike my heterogeneous “recuperations,” although when Cavell quotes Freud, in excavational idiom, he moves into the plural: —“the impulses and wishes which we dig out so laboriously in adults from their own debris” (ibid.: 70); and later asks: “What for us is remains?” (ibid.}: 75) “Is the life of the world, supposing the world survives, a big responsibility? Its burden is not its size but its specificness . . . whether nature is breathing (still, again)” (ibid.: 101).

In Cavell’s much later discussion, in Philosophy the day after tomorrow (2005), the possible tension between large framing and specific elements, across temporal shifts—in this case, particular words, in their changing situational context—is made explicit. In the connection of philosophy (as frame) to “what is happening every day,” he writes that his own aspiration for philosophy today is to follow all the following “tasks”: “epistemological or metaphysical or religious or aesthetic or psychic or political or moral . . . it is precisely all of these, all the time. But that means to me that every word we utter, or withhold, is an act capable of responsiveness within at least these registers. No wonder philosophy lives in fear of the ordinary word” (ibid.: 131). The element and the frame are here seen as potentially in tension, whereas the “fragments of redemption” may be actively chosen and then reconfigured into workable assemblages.

Thus can the “ordinary” escape from being pejoratively depicted as pertaining to the relatively unworthy, from requiring authority from above to make any coherent sense, and from any cultural implication, which is etymologically incorrect (of course), that it is usually disorderly. Rather, it is the outside that introduces violence and disorder, making the next stage one of recuperating the viable “fragments” that remain, not necessarily the total system. Stories become important: not as templates to drop onto unknowable situations, but rather as ways to “affirm the possibility of life by removing it from the circulation of words gone wild” (Das 2007: 221). Thus does the “ordinary” become an archive and a treasure trove for finding possible elements for ongoing life, and may be the ground on which narrative and elemental assemblage become quite different, or perhaps complementary or coexisting, alternatives in composing approaches to an emergent, but unknown, future, in specific times and places. Lambek leads us in this direction when he argues that the ethical condition “has less to do with motivation, freedom or power, [93]whether to do good or bad, in the abstract, than with situated context.” (2015: xix, original emphasis). The idea of “situated context” evokes precisely the specificity of each creative recuperative moment that I am suggesting is anthropology’s terrain for ethnographic attention. In another work, Lambek focuses on our long history of analysis of ritual, to argue that “rituals are frequently culminations of what is past and anticipations of what will follow” (2007: 23). It is possible, then, that the recuperated elements and narratives can be crafted to complement each other: the latter by infusing temporal dynamics into the already apprehended meaningful value of the former.

Combinatorial processes of narratives and elements: Literary sources and their questions

This is a brief and simply indicative section of an important breadth given to what is seen as recuperable (if anything), using narrative analogies, first of all in our current literary and philosophical work on apocalypse. (We can note that “analogical thought,” as distinct from “reason,” was what the poet John Keats meant by the creativity he advocated and termed “negative capability.”) Yes, disaster is dreadful, but many of the stories composed and then applied to new situations seem to suggest that what has been wiped out was itself negative, as, indeed, the Bible’s Great Flood is supposed to exemplify. Maria Manuel Lisboa shows how, in many of the stories of catastrophe, “each ending leads to a new beginning” (2011: 15). Hence, the aftermath is not entirely accounted for by destruction and grief. The word “catastrophe” itself indicates an unveiling of unseen worlds. Lisboa identifies the sense of a return to a new equilibrium: to a condition that did not prevail before the cataclysmic “erasure,” where “what follows must be completely different” (ibid.: 15). There may, in fact, be seen to be a need for “radical purge” to establish “utopia.” The myths and legends can then be applied to emergent situations, to insert their full logics. Noah, of course, followed instructions about what to recuperate in advance of catastrophe (all the animals, male and female), and eventually arrived at a totally new place where he had to deploy one or two of those recuperated beings as ritual sacrifices, in order to recuperate a relationship with God. During the lecture, I showed Marc Chagall’s remarkable painting of this dramatic moment, painted in 1932. Noah is dressed as an elder of small-town Jewish life of that period in Europe: the peak of the Great Depression and the upswing of National Socialism. The matching of an image of the present moment with a story from the archive from the past can illustrate Lisboa’s suggestion about how narrative and element can be recurrently rematched to each other, especially through the imagination of the creative arts. What seem to be recuperated are not only “elements” from an “ordinary” past, now devastated, but the possibility of a creative reconfiguration of fragments.

By juxtaposing current deployments of temporalized recuperations with the narratives and elements of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds, we may be alerted to finding very differently nuanced practical philosophies of recuperation and reassemblage carried forward in time, elsewhere. From other ethnographic records, the element, or fragment, may assume much greater prominence than the narrative. To research the creative reconfigurations of the moment, we would need to return again to Michael Jackson’s radical empiricism: How is joy, or some other component, generated, then recuperated and recrafted, with what [94]other elements, and by which people, in this collective process, into what assemblies and assemblages? And, we ask, people work on this in a condition of experiential exposure to what kinds of danger and turbulence? Owing to many recent turbulent experiences, in several places, all studied closely in ethnographic mode, we can turn to examples from West African ethnography postwar and postepidemic, Heonik Kwon’s postwar studies in Vietnam, and eventually an African American postflood case, to pay close attention to recuperated elements and reconfigured compositions, both narrative and existential, in the aftermaths of major destructions, of different kinds. In order to focus on recuperations, I leave for another conversation the other focus in an ethnography of disaster, namely on people’s excavation of the causation. Did God, or the gods, ordain this? Did we deserve it? What is the equation between those who may have deserved the damage and those who suffered most from it? These topics often remain fractious, owing to variations in the blame system, but the recuperations I focus on here are small, particular, and usually inspirational to efforts in the aftermath.

Ethnographic works in Africa

Here is Michael Jackson on story-telling, as bridging the personal and the collective, the narrative and the element, in recent turbulence in Africa. He particularly points to the advantage of the capacity of the ordinary to resist a reductively definitive framing in times of crisis, of the kind indicated by Cavell. He suggests that, in the case he will describe, “the terms in narrative lack ontological stability” (2013: 273), so are open to the story being “a form of restorative praxis,” “of finding common ground” (ibid.: 23) in the context of crisis. “Restorative praxis” is a crucial concept here, in that it can be linked to the thinking on ordinary ethics when it comes to re-creating life “after a flood” or whatever kind of destruction is specific to a particular situation and experience. Clearly, any deep work on recuperations needs to examine the specificity of the elements, but then also the narratives or principles of assemblage, when these are applied by whoever assumes the duty or ambition of considered reconstellation. Who chooses elements, narratives, and configurational logics to link them? We have examples.

These offer a mix of both the ordinary with its “fragments” for recuperation and the encompassing stories with their definitions of transformation, in cases of catastrophe. The temporality that is implicit, or explicit, in the accounts of African recuperation is irregular. Here is Jackson again, writing in Life within limits of “a text that preserved the sequencing, interruptions, and distortions of lived time” (2011: 132), where disparate things are bound together: “Here, as in dreams, the disparate detail is subject to a perpetual and largely unconscious process of combination and recombination” (ibid.: 133). Dreams again. Of the following case in Sierra Leone, after war, he writes, in The politics of story-telling, that “every story told . . . shifts elusively and continually between idiosyncratic and collective levels of meaning,” and he quotes from Paul Richards on “the importance of forgetting the past, the danger of over-defining the present . . . (concisely summarized by the Krio proverb tok af ief af—i.e don’t say all you know)” (2013: 169). Here, in our ethnographies of practice and local philosophies of everyday/ordinary life, we may find such livable wisdom as this, where the legends of major disaster coexist—possibly even uneasily, and promoted by different parties—with recuperative sayings and practices in [95]the ordinary and the everyday, which have been deployed at successive moments of dislocation.

Cameroonian philosopher Jean-Godefroy Bidima (2014) proposes that the imposed law of European origin needs to be replaced by the long-standing indigenous legal processes he refers to, in French, as palabres, through which there can be what he terms “renewal,” with the participation of many parties within the African understanding of “the public sphere.” He invokes debate with Merleau-Ponty and Žižek, and many other European philosophers, but with the aim of recuperating African modes of retrieving justice and life: “Palabre prioritizes conversation, an element of law that is constitutive” (ibid.: xxv); “a celebration of speech . . . that is expressed by rituals” (ibid.: xxx, original emphasis). He advocates recuperation of this tradition, especially after disruption: “The important thing is indeed what happened but particularly its emergence and becoming” (ibid.: xxxix). And he also appreciates the ethnographic approach to life as lived.

A further example is Paul Richards’ edited collection No peace, no war, which can offer a comparative view of the temporal indeterminacy of “emergence and becoming,” in some places, between peace and war. He sees it as a “continuum,” where “organizational demands” and “the politics of grievance” (2005 16) are continually in existence and in tension, working through intermittent outbursts, while everyone turns to religion to cope with the “scar tissue” of the violence. If we could be present at the ceremonial religious moments, what would we see, and configure, as “recuperations”? Or would the reapplication of the master narratives in legendary and religious history account for most of the recuperative process?

Writing on the local responses to the “emergent” (heretofore unknown) Ebola epidemic of 2013–15 in Sierra Leone, Richards writes of communities mobilizing “experience-based response” (2016: 149). Indeed their recuperation in time of crisis was not in what is usually referred to as the cultural domain, but rather in their capacity to mobilize, judge, and interpret the empirical, in part through a deep customary knowledge about management of the body, in part through ritual. This is “people’s science,” as Richards calls it, and “empirical common sense” (ibid.: 150), so an element that resembles epistemology more than it resembles factual or exclusively cultural-value elements. It draws on ritual practices to “speak to transitions and renewals” (ibid.: 147), in this case especially the management of burial by the women’s Sande Societies (ibid.: 131). Hence, perhaps, the archive of story-line experience and particular ritual practices as the source on which people draw in new situations. The question would then become: Which stories and rituals are stored and recuperated from the archive, by whom, and at which moments of challenge?

To these profound anthropological works on Sierra Leone after the civil war and after the Ebola epidemic we can add the moving accounts offered by Sierra Leonean former child-soldier, now turned writer, Ishmael Beah (2007, 2014). Like Jackson, Beah gives a central place to the telling of stories as ways in which recuperation takes place after tragedy. And it is striking that women figure prominently in the provocations of his memory, both as story-tellers and as mediators of new beginnings. In his memoir of the war, he writes of leaving the country after it is over, and of a moment when he notices a woman telling stories to her children: “As I watched the elaborate movements of her hands, the tide of my thought took me back to a particular telling of a story I had heard many times as a boy” (2007: 217). [96]Thus do tides move in repetitive rhythm and recuperate a sense of being that his childhood had laid down. His novel Radiance of tomorrow (2014), about returning home after exile in war, begins with a quotation that resonates with our disciplinary literature on “ends and beginnings.” This is the epigraph of the first chapter, which reappears as the terminus of the last chapter: “It is the end, or maybe the beginning of another story. Every story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a girl, a child. Every story is a birth” (ibid.: 3). In the last pages, during a moment of deprivation, a woman recuperates gestures, stories, and memories from the past, in a place that Beah describes as “where old wisdom and new wisdom merge” (ibid.: 240).

In these ethnographic examples from our current world, and particularly the story-telling traditions and the content of “common sense” in African communities, I am struck by how story and ritual come up again and again, as major modes of recuperation. These are modes of choosing and reassembling pieces of the assemblages from the past with elements from the present and oriented to the future, and reinstating the assemblies of collective life and thought. And it is striking that women play a key role in that they create memories of the past that current situations can suddenly release, and they mediate the many small steps from now to a “tomorrow” imbued with hope, or even Spinoza’s “joy,” or “radiance” (or Arendt’s “natality”). The concept of “sacrifice” recurs in some of these works about the rocky temporal and social terrain of political life in the globalizing world, but its contextualization as a ritual element can differ from case to case. What does “sacrifice” actually “make sacred” (its literal etymology) when it consists of a particular being, subjected to a particular death or transference, by particular others at a particular moment of historically emergent transition? Exactly how the different actors provoke, or actively mobilize, the archive of knowledge, and how they then configure action, deserves deeper exploration. From the archive of artistic wisdom, we can recuperate Wilfred Owen’s famous poem about death in World War I, recuperating a line from Latin, written by Horace, which he depicts as “the old lie,” when it is told to soldiers marched into terrible battlefields: “Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori”: “Sweet and right it is to die for your country (fatherland).”

Moving beyond the West African cases, and English war-time poetry, we have a great deal to learn from Heonik Kwon’s work (2006, 2008) on recuperations of life and spirit in Vietnam after the war, in several places and by people having undergone different losses. The spirits of those who have died are still there, so recuperating a respectful relationship with them is crucial for living in the present and future. The analytical and comparative work that could be done by juxtaposing all the cases alluded to here—West Africa, India, Vietnam, and all the new floods since Frazer’s classic work—is an open and beckoning frontier.

Back to the Flood

As a final example from current ethnography, we can look at Kate Browne’s ethnographic account of a recent “Great Flood”: in New Orleans in 2005, as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Again, ritual life is central in people’s recuperation, and our critical attention is drawn once more to “recovery” as a systemic concept, largely mobilized, in this case, by the bureaucracy, in its own terms. Systemic recovery does not converge in necessarily very optimistic terms with people’s own efforts [97]at recuperation. Browne writes of “the recovery machine . . . that kept [people] in the dark for three years, unable to help themselves” (2015: 157). She sees two big themes: “Two threads weave their way through. . . . The first thread makes clear that the parish . . . is home to historically important events and culture. . . . The second thread concerns the multiple references to the many immigrant groups and legacies” (ibid.: 173).

The people then recuperate small components of life: rituals for death and burial (including what to wear, to cook, to participate in, with respect to funerals), modes of offering “comfort” to each other, and retrieving a past pace of work in the face of the new and intensified systemic demands. Browne writes of a particular funeral: “This vivid, two-day rite of passage conveyed the power of culture to make life good, to hold people up and help them feel comfort in the midst of suffering” (ibid.:188). I do not notice Noah’s Flood story being invoked, but then it is the funeral that is centered in the ethnographic account, not the mythology. The narrative may, however, have been there, in some other context. And, as in the redacted version in the Bible, ritual is crucial to retrieving relationships, cherished practices, and the sense that “the ordinary” has not been completely destroyed. Here, as elsewhere, the place of women is crucial, as sources of knowledge, mediators and actors, even where certain moments of organization may be led by men.

* * *

So, in summary, I have pointed to a growing ethnographic literature on people’s recuperations after disasters and identified a number of themes. People attempt to bridge a damaged past (judged as deserving or undeserving of such destruction) and an indeterminate, emergent future within a present that requires effort and imagination, by drawing on retrievable elements or fragments rather than (or in addition to) systemic replacement. First, there are the encompassing legends that different parties may retrieve and apply to situations of deprivation, or what Browne calls “standing in the need,” and Marc Sommers, in his books on postgenocide Rwanda and the youth in other situations, refers to as being “stuck” (2012) and “outcast” (2015). In both of Sommers’ cases, the people themselves who are in need, stuck and outcast, craft the elements of possibility rather than possess the ability to reshape whole systems. They turn to ordinary practices: the visionary and the everyday, the episodes in the big narratives and the elements in short proverbs, words and things that can be floated forward independently of each other but directed by human agency and eventually configured together. Probably there are several other axes for ethnographic and also philosophical-theoretical attention. This is not the “flotsam and jetsam” of Keith’s designation; rather they are retrieved elements, seen as legacies, archived to be recrafted and recombined.

I feel sure, from all the postdisaster ethnographic work alluded to here, that we can work much further on the legacy elements that get recuperated, reassembled, and activated: ritual, narrative, pragmatic practices, and perhaps also simply words that may be applied to novel situations, or completely redefined as if they could carry the aura of the past while being skewed in a new direction. The pragmatics and valuation of the elements of life under these circumstances, the recuperations [98]involved and aimed for, and the assemblages put together, become a frontier to address, by drawing on our new literature on ethics and through our meeting on the kind of “common ground”—of disciplines, places of focus, theories, historical conditions and different languages of expression—to which Frazer drew our attention when he launched the lecture after the Great War.

Concluding observations

These cases bring us back, then, to the crucial role of legacies within moments at the end of disasters, as seen ethnographically and as experienced in the social-intellectual world of our discipline, which has such impressive resources for examining life experiences and configurational thinking in moments of chaos, grief, loss, and determination to move forward (however “forward” is configured). Consider here Jackson’s “paths toward a clearing,” Frazer’s “meet[ing] on common ground, above the clash of arms, in the serene air and untroubled light where truth is sought by her votaries,” or Mauss’ declaration that where “the wood will reestablish itself . . . the sap will rise again.” Frazer was also a daily walker, often with scholarly friends such as profound Jewish scholar Solomon Schechter, who famously worked on the huge mounds of scraps of paper from the Cairo Geniza, another stash of “monuments of toiling ingenuity” from the past, what Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole (2011) refer to as “sacred trash,” now retrieved, conserved, and studied in detail.

As with Bidima, most of our work shows that large intrusions and total and systemic replacements are seen as far less creative than people’s own capacity to recuperate elements and to deploy already understood and meaningful narratives in the present. Clearly, there is yet more close attention to be paid to the creativity, social practices. and collaborative dynamics in managing the temporalities and intricacies of storage, choice, recuperation, and recomposition within emergent processes after times of crisis and destruction. We certainly bring together philosophy and ethnography to take the exploration of recuperations further, using Jackson’s “radical empiricism” and creating conversations “on common ground” about elements, narratives, and their implicit temporalities toward a future: “the day after tomorrow” or “the end times,” or any vista in between.

Jackson’s paths of radical empiricism and new ethnographic work on the retrieval and invention of “the ordinary” through its “fragments” have led us into close attentiveness to worlds that are no longer experienced in the patterned or progressive modes of previous structural, evolutionary, and developmentalist theory. Much remains to be done, through creative collegiality. The horizons open up, and we find a growth in the sources by anthropologists, such as Alysse Waterston’s recounting of her father’s memories of war (2013).

Indeed, we can return to the spirit of the Frazer Lecture’s inaugural moment through an inspirational essay by Heonik Kwon, where he indicates the recuperative process not only in the worlds we share and study, but within the anthropological archive as well. Looking again at Durkheim, Hertz, and Mauss as they wrote on spiritual life, and their relevance to his own case study, he notes how much greater is the sense of a temporal creative dynamic in the work of Mauss.[99]

Despite their differences, however, these founders of modern sociology and anthropology had one common spirit—that the calling of these disciplines is to enlighten the spirituality of human solidarity. It is in this spirit that Durkheim saw spirits of society in what people in the past saw as divine authority. It is due to this spirit that I believe Hertz turned his attention to the plight of the souls and spirits excluded from the formal domain of social solidarity and that Mauss saw the power of the gift not merely in terms of sustaining existing social forms but also in terms of its capacity to remake and change the horizon of human solidarity. . . . Rather they together help us to grasp the way in which societies struggle with the progression of modern history, which was unknown to Durkheim. (Kwon 2014: 130, original emphasis)

In that spirit of finding or creating the common ground toward which we pursue the paths where we can meet, across times, places and disciplines, I am inspired to end with a verse by one who contributed to, and possibly attended, the foundation of the Frazer Lecture: the poet A. E. Housman. Here is a verse from one of his Last poems (no. IX), first published in 1922, so in the same era of collective life and recuperation from war:

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Beat them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
(1965: 108)

In the face of troubles, eternity, and confusions, what do we recuperate? In Housman’s case, the strength and courage to “shoulder the sky” and the practice of drinking ale together, or other ritual practices, large and small, and conversations, in fellowship. I am grateful for the inspiration without which I would not have taken my own zig-zag pathways through our library of impressive works in our still-inspiring discipline, and in the world whose own skills we continue to train ourselves to be attentive to, as the world and the skills change.

I retrieve one further reference about recuperation which echoes Housman and has inspired me before (Guyer 2009): the very last lines of Lévi-Strauss’ magnum opus, Mythologiques. In full awareness of the possibility of nonbeing, “man has to live and struggle, think, believe and above all, preserve his courage” (Lévi-Strauss [1971] 1981: 694).


I am grateful for new inspiration from Richard Fardon (and his editing of a collection of Mary Douglas’ writings on risk [Douglas 2013]) and Giovanni da Col, whose ethnography and suggestions could not be included here for lack of space, and to Michael Lambek and the reviewer, for suggestions and editorial work. My work will continue, through the further conversations that I hope this lecture can provoke, similar to the theme of intellectual recuperations, taken up by a younger generation, under the leadership of Bhrigupati Singh (Singh and Guyer 2016).[100]


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Waterston, Alysse. 2013. My father’s wars: Migration, memory, and the violence of a century. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor & Francis.

Suites et Réappropriation en anthropologie

Résumé : La Frazer Lecture fut lancée en 1921, avec le soutien de spécialistes venus de toute l’Europe, dans un contexte défini explicitement comme une “rencontre autour d’intérêts communs” après la Première Guerre Mondiale. S’inspirant des anthropologues examinant les suites de désastres dans le monde, s’ouvrant au dialogue avec des chercheurs spécialisés dans d’autres disciplines et à de nouveaux éclairages, et dans le but de revisiter notre propre archive théorique et empirique, ma lecture s’intéresse aux procès de réappropriation. La réappropriation est typiquement sélective et donne priorité à certains éléments plutôt qu’à des systèmes complets, donnant lieu à des reconfigurations créatives. Des travaux divers - aussi bien des classiques que des ouvrages d’anthropologie inspirés par la philosophie, de nouvelles ethnographies de l’Afrique et du Vietnam d’après-guerre - sont [103]examinés en tant qu’exemples de travaux reprenant l’esprit de la Frazer Lecture elle-même.

Jane I. GUYER is Professor Emerita at Johns Hopkins University. A graduate of the London School of Economics (1965) and the University of Rochester (1972), she undertook field research projects on economic life in Nigeria and Cameroon. She has held faculty appointments at Harvard, Boston, and Northwestern Universities. At Northwestern, she was Director of the Program of African Studies (1994–2001). Book publications include Family and farm in Southern Cameroon (1984), An African niche economy (1997), Marginal gains: Monetary transactions in Atlantic Africa (2004), Legacies, logics, logistics (2016), and a new translation of Marcel Mauss, The gift (Expanded Edition, 2016).

Jane I. Guyer
Professor Emerita
Department of Anthropology
Mergenthaler Hall
Homewood Campus
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore MD 21218


This is a transcript of the Sir James George Frazer Memorial Lecture given in Cambridge on October 17, 2016.

1. https://www.libraryofsocialscience.com/newsletter/posts/2016/2016-12-07-griffin.html.

2. See Pat Barker’s trilogy based on Rivers’ work with his patients (Barker 1992, 1994, 1995).

3. We can also note that Abel’s earlier, and successful, “offering “ of an animal to God was the cause of Cain’s deep jealousy, but that none of these early humans were reported, in the Bible, to be acting under direct instructions from God. Those details come much later, in the wilderness, on the flight from Egypt. The complexities in a cultural archive can make “recuperation” an act of skill and imagination, with varied authorities of interpretation, some of them added retrospectively through redaction.

4. There are other local studies of climate change and rising waters, most prominent in my own conversations with the work of my colleague Naveeda Khan in Bangladesh.