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Perspectivism - Type or Bomb

Perspectivism - Type or Bomb

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Published by: Iván Pérez Téllez on Jun 01, 2012
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07/04/2012

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Paris, 30 January
Who said intellectual life in Paris was dead? Who saidanthropology was no longer lively and attractive? Herewe are, on a cold morning in January, in a room packedwith people from various disciplines and several countrieseager to hear a debate between two of the best and brightestanthropologists.
1
The rumour had circulated through chatrooms and cafés: after years of alluding in private or in print to their disagreements, they had at last agreed to air them in public. ‘It will be rough,’ I had been told; ‘therewill be blood.’ In fact, rather than the cockfight some hadanticipated, the tiny room in the Rue Suger witnessed a
disputatio
, much like those that must have taken place between earnest scholars here, in the heart of the LatinQuarter, for more than eight centuries.Although the two had known each other for 25 years, theyhad decided to begin their 
disputatio
by each remindingthe audience of the important impact of the other’s work on their own discoveries.Philippe Descola acknowledged first how much he hadlearned from Eduardo Viveiros de Castro when he wastrying to extirpate himself from the ‘nature versus cul-ture’ binarism by reinventing the then outdated notion of ‘animism’ to make sense of alternative modes of relation between humans and non-humans. Viveiros had proposedthe term ‘perspectivism’ for a mode that could not possiblyhold inside the narrow strictures of nature versus culture,since for the Indians he was studying, human culture is what binds all beings together – animals and plants included – whereas they are divided by their different natures, that is,their bodies (Viveiros 1992).This is why, while the theologians in Valladolid wheredebating whether or not Indians had a soul, those sameIndians, on the other side of the Atlantic, were experi-menting on the conquistadors by drowning them to seewhether they would rot – a nice way of determining thatthey did indeed have a body; that they had a soul was not inquestion. This famous example of symmetric anthropologyled Lévi-Strauss to note, somewhat tongue in cheek, thatthe Spaniards might have been strong in the social sci-ences but the Indians had been conducting their researchaccording to the protocol of the natural sciences.
Descola’s four modes of relation
Descola then explained how his new definition of animismcould be used to distinguish ‘naturalism’ – the view mostoften taken to be the default position of Western thought – from ‘animism’. While ‘naturalists’ draw similarities between entities on the basis of physical traits and distin-guish them on the basis of mental or spiritual character-istics, ‘animism’ takes the opposite position, holding thatall entities are similar in terms of their spiritual features, but differ radically by virtue of the sort of body they areendowed with.This was a breakthrough for Descola, since it meant thatthe ‘nature versus culture’ divide no longer constitutedthe inevitable background adopted by the profession as awhole, but only one of the ways that ‘naturalists’ had of establishing their relations with other entities. Nature hadshifted from being a resource to become a topic. Needlessto say, this discovery was not lost on those of us in theneighbouring field of science studies who were studying,historically or sociologically, how the ‘naturalists’ man-aged their relations with non-humans.
 
April 2009 – vol 25 – no 2
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Perspectivism:‘Type’ or ‘bomb’?
Guest editorial by Bruno Latour 
Bruno Latour 1
Perspectivism: ‘Type’ or ‘bomb’?
Peter J. Aspinall 3
‘Mixed race’, ‘mixed origins’ or what?Generic terminology for the multipleracial/ethnic group population
Mark Maguire 9
The birth of biometric security
Roberto J. González 15
Going ‘tribal’: Notes on pacification inthe 21st century
Magnus Marsden 20
Talking the talk: Debating debate innorthern Afghanistan
COMMENTGustav Peebles 25
Hoarding, storing value and the creditcrunch: A comment on Hart/Ortiz andGudeman (AT 24[6])
Stephen Gudeman 25
Hoarding wealth: When virtue becomesvice: A response to Elyachar/Maurer, Applbaum and Peebles (AT 25[1] and inthis issue)
Fabian Muniesa 26
The description of financial objects: Acomment on Hart/Ortiz (AT 24[6])
CONFERENCESCaitlin Fouratt, Janny Li,Taylor Nelms 27
 AAA encounters: Challengingboundaries and rethinking ethics, American Anthropological Association107th Annual Meeting
NEWS28CALENDAR30CLASSIFIED31

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