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Journal of Anthropology

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‘The Earth Cannot Let Go of Us’: Analysing
Ontological Conflicts

Utsa Hazarika

To cite this article: Utsa Hazarika (2016): ‘The Earth Cannot Let Go of Us’: Analysing Ontological
Conflicts, Ethnos, DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2016.1171791

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Published online: 20 Jun 2016.

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Download by: [Library Services City University London] Date: 03 July 2016, At: 14:40

ETHNOS, 2016

‘The Earth Cannot Let Go of Us’: Analysing Ontological
Utsa Hazarika
Independent Scholar, Delhi, India
Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016

This paper examines certain key concepts of the ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology,
with a view to a clearer understanding of its proposed methodology. It situates the
ontological approach within the historical and intellectual conflicts through which it
arose, outlining its motivations and the challenges it poses to traditional fieldwork
methods and theory. The concepts of ‘radical alterity’ and ‘incommensurability’ are
examined as intellectual as well as political concepts, highlighting their historical
contingency on the politics of colonisation. Following from this, the notion of
‘ontological self-determination’ is analysed with respect to my fieldwork with the
Dongria Kondh in the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, India; I show how an application of
the ontological methodology allows a better understanding of certain conflicts
within current discourses and practices of nationhood and development.

KEYWORDS Alterity; incommensurability; ontological self-determination; Eduardo Viveiros de Castro; Dongria

Proponents of the ‘ontological turn’1 in anthropology advocate a focus on ontology over
epistemology, and argue that this allows anthropologists to ‘take seriously’ their infor-
mants or the people they study. The general claim is that this re-orientation of meth-
odology allows us to pursue the ‘decolonisation’ (Viveiros de Castro 2009) of
anthropology. Conversely, the focus on epistemology, despite the anthropologist’s
‘best ideological intentions’ (Viveiros de Castro 2009), results in the ‘(dismissal of)
informants’ accounts as imaginative “interpretations”’ (Henare et al. 2007: 1) –
thereby not taking them seriously enough.
The ontological turn is, therefore, motivated by both an intellectual and a political
challenge to anthropological methodology. These intellectual and political dimensions
are captured in Viveiros de Castro’s phrase ‘ontological self-determination’, a concept
which I examine with reference to my fieldwork with the Dongria Kondh in the Niyam-
giri Hills of Odisha, India. In order to do this however, it is necessary to first make an
attempt to pin down the notions of ‘radical alterity’ and ‘incommensurability’; for
although these are seen as key concepts associated with the ontological turn, there is
little in the work of its advocates that makes explicit what exactly is meant by these terms.
One of the primary aims of this paper then is to clarify and defend certain key con-
cepts of the ontological approach, which have recently attracted significant critical

CONTACT Utsa Hazarika
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

3 I will begin with Asad’s work. 2 U. HAZARIKA attention. Asad traces the history of anthropology. and hence to the rationality. By stating the epistemological side of the problem of the ‘unequal power encounter’ that anthropology was rooted in. but that the world also determines how anthropology will apprehend it. situ- ating them in the political and intellectual conflicts from which they first arose. ‘structural’ changes as it were. Asad provides clues to another way in which the world might determine how anthropology apprehends it. In his introduction to Anthro- pology and the Colonial Encounter. The initial quote above is a remark upon the ways in which post-war changes in the world at large. of the world power which the West represents’. Still on the subject of the unequal power relations which gave the anthropologists access to the ‘primitive’ societies they were studying. Asad’s words – ‘ … the world also determines how anthropology will apprehend it’ – are also a call to remind ourselves of the need for reflexivity in anthropological meth- odology. He then stakes a further epistemological claim about the objectification of anthropological knowledge: ‘It is because anthropological understanding is overwhelmingly objectified in European languages that it is most easily accommodated to the mode of life. Asad writes that the problem for the discipline (and other ‘bourgeois disciplines’) arises not only from these relations. By fundamentally altering the con- ditions in which ethnographic research was being carried out. but also from ‘the way in which these disciplines objectify their knowledge’ (my emphasis). rooted as he finds it ‘in an unequal power encounter between the West and the Third World’. At first glance this seems to refer just to the sociopolitical or structural changes mentioned above. Crucial among these was the decolonisation of the countries in which anthropolo- gists had traditionally conducted their fieldwork. (Asad 1973: 12) Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 In keeping with Viveiros de Castro’s stated aim of ‘(concluding) the process of the discipline’s decolonisation’. To begin with. As a result. Fol- lowing from this. I turn to an application of these theoretical concepts using an ethno- graphic example from my fieldwork. The Problem with Epistemology … we remind ourselves that anthropology does not merely apprehend the world in which it is located. that is. where anthropologists are mindful of the determining effect the . he writes: ‘It is because the powerful who support research expect the kind of understanding which will ultimately confirm them in their world that anthropology has not very easily turned to the production of radically subversive forms of understanding’. later in the same chapter. decolonisation impacted the discipline by forcing it to take into account matters of power relations that had previously been set aside. impacted the discipline itself. who first made explicit the connection between anthropology and colonisation. I examine the central motivations for the ontological approach. Linking this epistemological problem to the wider structural one.2 This theoretical discussion occupies much of the first half of this paper. the conditions of the ‘unequal power encounter’. the key motivation for this approach has been set out by Asad – the need for a reflexive methodology. Indeed. Asad sets an important precedent for the anthropol- ogists of the ontological turn and their attempts to ‘decolonise’ the discipline. However. Asad notes that the old theories of anthropology which had once seemed insightful started to seem insufficient and unconvincing. or the ‘colonial encounter’.

but which also allows for its concepts to influence our own analytical categories. Latour 1993. The task of ethnography then. the way in which Asad frames this epistemological issue – the need to pay attention to the way in which anthropological knowledge is objectified. The ontological turn thus advocates a fundamentally different approach to native discourse. For it is Western rationality and its accompanying philosophical traditions that largely deter- mine the concepts through which the anthropologist operates. Further. becomes to learn and understand the representations of the peoples studied. and of anthropological explanation more generally. Anthropologists of the ontological turn charge that this approach to ethnography results in simply ‘expanding familiar categories to unfa- miliar instances’ (Henare et al. even when their explanations challenge these very categories. Their approach is seen to be the one which allows ‘the production of radically subversive forms of understanding’ and it is in this sense that Viveiros de Castro claims that a focus on ontology will further the decolonisation of anthropology. on their ‘ways of knowing’. however. it posits an ‘equality between the discourses’ (Viveiros de Castro 2003). even when this discourse proposes its own. concepts. According to this view. the anthropologist approaches her subject with the view that nature is something that is shared by all. and then present these in a comprehensible way to the anthropologist’s audience – those of her own society or culture. 2007: 6). one that not only takes it seriously. when an anthropologist encounters something unfamiliar in the field. radically opposed. which challenges the concepts through which she operates. or epistemology. Viveiros de Castro (2012) explains this as the view of ‘the unity of nature and the multiplicity of cultures’ – that is. The issue at hand thus goes deeper to power relations on ‘the plane of knowledge … (where) the anthropologist typically enjoys an epistemological advantage over the native’ (Viveiros de Castro 2003). The informants’ explanations are shoehorned into a representation that fits with our analytical categories. while ‘culture’ comes to mean the ways of knowing or seeing that world. ETHNOS 3 structural or sociopolitical circumstances of the world have on the way they ‘apprehend the world’ – or rather. while the cultures through which people apprehend nature differ. Before turning to an analysis of this method. The ‘natural world’ thus acts as a given. And this interpretation is then presented as the ‘representation’ or culture of the people she studies. and to which the anthro- pologist (perhaps unwittingly) attempts to fit native discourse. or rather. and especially to the ‘rationality of the world power which the West represents’ – is what anthropologists of the ontological turn claim their method allows them to do. it is necessary to clarify the Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 epistemological issues raised by Asad above – how is anthropological knowledge objec- tified? And what is the problem with Western rationality and its influence on anthro- pological discourse? Proponents of the ontological turn stress that the widespread use of the nature/ culture distinction (cf. By denying the anthropologists’ epistemo- logical advantage over native discourse. For a discipline which originated in the ‘unequal power encounter’ with those it deemed ‘savages’ and ‘primitives’ at the bottom of the . It is on this ‘epistemological plane’ that the influence of Western rationality on the anthropologist’s discourse becomes an issue. she tends to find some way of interpreting the phenomenon to fit her ‘familiar categories’. representations of that world. 2013) in anthropological thinking results in an overemphasis on epistemology.

arranged in two columns of four. for example. The point is. Holbraad sets out his vision of how this task might be successfully undertaken. This work is an attempt to understand aché. it is both the divinatory power of Ifá initiates. is both ‘thing and concept’. During these séances. Holbraad takes mana-terms to be those which challenge the ‘initial assumptions’ or ‘familiar categories’ (above) of the anthropologist. . referred to … as oddu … Each oddu is connected to a series of myths that are interpreted in various ways … to give pertinent advice to consultants. and proceed as follows: … by clutching all sixteen nuts with both hands. and then separating most of them off with the right hand so as to leave either one or two nuts in the left. 4 U. such that they present themselves as puzzles which ‘do not “make sense”’. a Cuban diviner’s cult. a mana-term bound to present itself as a con- tradiction to the anthropologist because it transgresses her categories. HAZARIKA evolutionary ladder. I now turn to an analy- sis of ‘radical alterity’ through Holbraad’s ethnography of Ifá. The term is used widely to refer to both ‘abstract and concrete’. given that no causal efficacy seems “actually” to be involved?’ (Holbraad 2007: 204). but also that these powders can only be made and used by practitioners who possess the secret knowledge and the aché-power to do so in the first place. the babalawo marks two lines with his middle and ring finger on a layer of aché-powder … which is spread on the surface of his divining board. (Holbraad 2007: 202) For an anthropology that focuses on the epistemology of its informants. It thus contradicts what practitioners say about aché: not only that the power or capacity to divine comes from the aché- powders. deities and ancestors. the aim will be to explain why it is that they represent aché as both concept and thing. diviners typically use a divining board and sixteen palm nuts. Noting the lack of success that these debates had in successfully accounting for mana. This approach begins with the presumption that aché-powers and aché- powders are a priori separate and independent of each other. however. Radical Alterity Alterity is just a relational indicator of the contradiction between the ethnography and the initial assumptions the analyst brings to it … If ‘alterity’ is just a tag for phenomena that do not ‘make sense’ to us. In what we might call a random way. which keep ‘things’ and ‘concepts’ apart as separate entities. There are thus two approaches that look plausible. which he takes to be a ‘mana-term’ after Lévi-Strauss’s introduction of mana and the protracted anthropological debate which followed. then. then mana-terms are ‘alter’ in the most literal way. (Holbraad 2007: 190–191) Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 In order to show how the focus on ontology fulfils these aims. Aché. If two nuts are left. he marks a single line with his middle finger. If only one remains. The first is to look for the ‘causal’ explanation – ‘Why might Cuban diviners posit … (a) relationship between their power and their powder. The process is repeated until eight (single or double) marks are made on the board. this yields one of 256 possible divinatory configurations. and also the secret powders used by the initiates in séances. that the assumptions or categories of the anthropologist are not up to the task of solving these puzzles – thus. and then attempts to connect them by an ‘external’ logical causality. it offers a radically subversive methodology which ‘create(s) the conditions for the … ontological self-determination of people(s)’ (Viveiros de Castro 2003).

Both these lines of explanation run aground when we take what our infor- mants tell us seriously. who uses his secret knowledge to bring the deity into proximity. lasting for as long as it takes the anthropol- ogist to pinpoint the contradiction and account for it by reflexively challenging her own assumptions. In response to this ‘epistemological bind’ (Henare et al. but rather an act of ontological transformation in its own right. Going back to Holbraad’s explanation of ‘alterity’ which began this section. Motility for aché-powder is its partibility – the particles of the powder as they allow for the hand of the practitioner to bring Orula into immanence. this ‘conceptual identity’ does not take into account the ‘real transference’ (Holbraad 2007: 204) of power which practitioners get from aché- powders. However. we see their shortcom- ings and the ways in which they can be subverted. Returning to the divinatory séance described above. ‘Alterity’ therefore need not be permanent for the anthropologist. we turn to the category of ‘concept’ instead. in the way that ‘all bachelors are unmarried men’ is for us (cf. but rather as motions’ (Holbraad 2007: 209). . But mana-terms like aché cannot be accounted for by either ‘concept’ or ‘thing’. Wagner 1981: 6). It is the power of the practitioner. in which and through which the deity reveals itself on the divinatory board. The synonymous nature of powder and power in Ifá divination leads us to postulate the possibility of ‘powder is power’ being an analytic truth for practitioners. the problem is ontological. and it is the consecrated space provided by the powder. whereas ‘powder’ is ‘power’ not just because of what it means. and could probably be taken as a kind of epistemo- logical ‘culture shock’ (cf. when it is spread over the divining board. 2007: 10). the ontological turn proposes to take difficult ‘alter’ phenomena like aché and use them to reflect back on to our own conceptual shortcomings. A ‘bachelor’ is an ‘unmarried man’ by virtue of meaning alone. but because of what it is – in other words. we can now roughly pin down alterity in the following way – phenomena are instances of alter- ity when they contradict the assumptions or categories of the analyst. ‘is the space in which ontological transformations happen … oddu – is not an ex post facto representation of an already pertaining state of affairs. is thus revealed as the ability to bring or draw Orula out from transcendence to immanence. Holbraad writes: ‘the constitution of deities as displacement of powder tells us something pretty important about the premises of Ifá cosmology: that these deities are to be thought of neither as individual entities nor as relations. By refusing to give our concepts or cat- egories a higher epistemological status (than those of the native). motility for aché-power is its ability to bring Orula from a place of distance to one of proximity. for it is in this act that the oddu is “sub- stituted” as an immanent presence in the séance’ (Holbraad 2007: 211). Aché. thing and concept – now appear to be instances of the same thing in a ‘logical universe where motion is primitive’. However. Thus what earlier appeared as separate ontological domains – aché-powder and aché-power. the ethnographic phenomena are automatically filtered through the anthropolo- gist’s categories. rather than conceptual. ETHNOS 5 Having failed to find an explanation for aché using the category of ‘thing’. Aché-powder. the onto- logical turn also gives us the methodology required to overcome this contradiction by allowing us to transgress our own categories. What Holbraad is trying to show here is that when the focus is on epistemology Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 alone. Quine 1951). as power and powder.

one phenomenon – many descriptions. and from the point of view of the ontological turn. For example. Will- erslev 2004) in an untenable position. This holds a striking parallel to the nature/culture distinction. if indeterminacy refers to the possibility of describing a phenomenon in two or more equally true ways. For Povinelli. since these societies reject the very categories on which the incommensurability of their views is meant to be based. Animals and spirits. Accordingly. Davidson 1973–1974. anthropological work on the subject also bases its definition on these terms. and from the nature/culture distinction. to be no indication in the literature of weaker or stronger forms of alterity – that is. HAZARIKA There seems. whose definition of incommensurability is grounded in linguistic indeterminacy. 6 U. might we be better off looking for it in its political aims? Rather than looking for degrees of alterity. putting her directly at odds with the methodological aims of the onto- logical turn. The scheme–content dualism here features as one of text and interpretation. where the content is a common world which speakers of different languages interpret according to the grammatical categories of their language or ‘scheme’. the Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 general idea is that language provides a ‘scheme’ through which its speakers interpret the world (cf. with its ‘implication of the unity of nature and the multiplicity of cultures’ (Viveiros de Castro 2012: 46). supposedly part of the . The most prominent and recent discussion on incommensurability comes from Povinelli (2001). Incommensurability occurs when two languages are so dissimilar that their speakers see the world in com- pletely different ways. ‘readings’) are equally true interpretations of the same ‘text. Viveiros de Castro (2012) discusses the widespread belief among indigenous peoples of Amazonia (and elsewhere) that the ‘natural world’ is populated by subjectivities. at what point does ‘alterity’ become ‘radical’? And if its radical nature is not to be found in its conceptual formulation. Thus. by beings that have ‘points of view’ or perspectives like humans do. the question is instead reframed – what is ‘radical’ about alterity? I return to this latter ques- tion in the discussion on ‘ontological self-determination’ later in this essay. this definition is immediately proble- matic. in his analysis of ‘Amazonian perspectivism’. Incommensurability Philosophical discussions on incommensurability tend to focus on language. Moreover. The resulting definition of incommensurability therefore rests on a ‘scheme–content dualism’. then incommensurability refers to a state in which two phenomena (or worlds) cannot be compared by a third without producing serious distortion. positing indeterminacy requires an ontological commitment to the existence of a ‘text’4 which is ‘read’ or ‘interpreted’ in two different ways. Povinelli’s definition thus relies on the epistemological view of anthropology that proponents of the ontological turn have rejected. from her definition we have one text – many readings. Povinelli (2001: 320) writes: Indeterminacy is also used in a more narrow sense to refer to the condition in which two incom- patible ‘translations’ (or.’ In other words. it would put the anthropologist who studies ‘perspectivist’ societies (Swancutt 2007. Quine 1957–1958). one nature – many cultures or representations. that is. and cannot therefore constitute ‘incommensurability’ in a way that would be applicable to their work. however.

have to be posited on a one-to-one relation which. ETHNOS 7 ‘natural world’. This is a good point at which to return to the previous discussion of alterity. but descriptions or represen- tations of ‘the natural world’ can be compared. We began the conditional by positing a single text (or phenomena or nature) and two incompatible translations. given the definition of linguistic indeterminacy that precedes it. should be an epistemic relation. but also to the formulation of anthropological knowledge more generally. an under- standing that includes both of them. A definition of incommensurability which will be applicable to the ontological turn in anthropology will. that is.5 There is thus no common ‘text’ or ‘unity of nature’ for an anthropolo- gist studying such perspectivist societies.’ Building on this. have (human) culture – thus transgressing the nature/culture distinc- tion of the anthropologist and forcing her to account for perspectivism by subverting her categories. describes this enterprise in the terms of a one-to-one relationship: ‘ … the understand- ing of another culture involves the relationship between two varieties of the human phenomenon. Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 It is worth noting. it aims at the creation of an intellectual relation between them. it is an orien- tation or approach not only to fieldwork in particular. Wagner (1981: 3). I would reiterate that the focus on ontology is methodological. readings or descriptions. an important antecedent and inspiration for authors of this approach. I showed there what such an epistemic relation. one that created ‘an understanding that included both (native and anthropologist)’. would look like. much of which challenges its plausibility. The entry of a third world in this definition of incommensurability also runs counter to the anthropological enterprise as conceived by the ontological approach. posits three phenomena or worlds with no real indication of how this third world or phenomena might compare the other two – surely any comparison will have to be done on the level of readings or translations and not on the level of phenomena. The confusion surrounding this accounts for a good deal of the criticism the propo- nents of this method have faced. and as a result the second part of the conditional ‘ … then incommensurability refers to a state in which two phenomena (or worlds) cannot be compared by a third without producing serious distortion’ cannot logically stand as a definition for incommensurability here. however. going by Viveiros de Castro and Wagner’s comments above. What is being advocated is a focus on the ontology of the people being studied – and not on the ontology of the anthropologist (and her culture). Clearly the nature/culture distinction implied by the first half of the con- ditional entails that ‘natures’6 cannot compare themselves. however. the impact of this approach on anthropology can be purely epistemological. Viveiros de Castro (2003) writes: ‘The essential factor is that the discourse of the anthropologist establishes a certain relationship with the discourse of the native. Thus. It therefore seems clear that the first part of the conditional ‘ … if indeterminacy refers to the possibility of describing a phenomenon in two or more equally true ways’ does not hold for the ontological approach to ethnography. that the latter in itself is a somewhat mysterious formu- lation. therefore. Laidlaw (2012) expresses some of these concerns as follows: . The second half of the con- ditional. This relation was shown to consist primarily in the methodology employed during fieldwork and analysis. This relationship is a relation of meaning. or … a relation of knowledge’.

It therefore seems that neither the ‘incommensurability’ proposed by Povinelli. Pedersen (2012) dismisses the idea that a reflexive anthropology needs to posit a meta-ontology in order to take its informants seriously. But we do need to give ourselves the conceptual means by which we can account for these views in our attempts to understand the people we study. Our aim as anthropologists was to assist this process by providing it with a radical intellectual dimension. Ontological Self-determination Viveiros De Castro’s work on alterity has been a key influence on the ontological turn in anthropology. is applicable to this approach. And come to think of it. or that animals and spirits live and perceive as humans do. why should ‘saming’ be such a better thing to do to others? (Viveiros de Castro 2003) Alterity or difference here appears to signify a kind of independence – in the case of the indigenous activists he mentions. But as I hope I have shown. ‘Ontology’ here is thought of as some bounded entity jostling for space in a ‘bloated universe’ (Quine in Heywood 2012) of similar entities. In his response to this charge of an untenable ‘meta-ontology’. independence from the state. 8 U. Thus. and when things or people cross from one to another? What kind of meta-ontology does one have to postulate to make sense of the thought that the world could be made up of different stuff in different places? Laidlaw’s challenge here hints at a notion of incommensurability. As I briefly indicated in the pre- vious discussion on radical alterity. the only commitment the onto- logical approach requires from the anthropologist is reflexivity on the epistemological level. Notions of incommensurability thus seem to rely on the commitment to the exist- ence of bounded ‘worlds’. while alterity is conceived as the absence of a relation: ‘to oppose’ is taken to be synonymous with ‘to exclude’ … There’s no need to remind you that ‘othering’ is not the same kind of politico-metaphysical swindle everywhere. in broader terms. the methodological move proposed by the ontological approach is to use the ontology of those we study to reflect upon and transgress our categories in our analysis of ‘those we purport to describe’. His view that anthropology should work to ‘create the conditions for the … ontological self-determination of people(s)’ (2003) should be seen in the context of the social and political zeitgeist surrounding the indigenous rights movements in Brazil which influenced his work: The start of the 1970s saw the indigenous minorities in my country begin to establish themselves as political agents. that the world is ‘made up of different stuff in different places’ (Laidlaw 2012). HAZARIKA … what on earth happens at the boundaries between these different ontologies. enabling the thought of American peoples to escape the ghetto in which it had been enclosed since the sixteenth century … our world had yet to wake up to the now pervasive sentiment against difference and alterity … All difference seems nowadays to be read as an opposition. especially those difficult mana-terms we encounter in the field. . he writes: ‘At issue … are not the categories of those we purport Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 to describe. and we do this by rendering our categories contingent upon the phenomena. we do not have to force ourselves into the untenable position of actually believing that powder is power. it is in this political aim of the methodology that its radical nature might be found.7 or. since this is pre- sumably what happens ‘at the boundaries’ of different ontologies. As I mentioned earlier. It is a statement of political struggle. nor that hinted at by Laidlaw. Quoting Hol- braad (2011: 263–264). of the colonised against the coloniser. but rather our own when our attempts to do so fail’.

and enables the anthropologist to counter the ethnocentric practices of commensuration – it is a means to the ontological self-determination of peoples. however. Engwura initiation was of significance to the settler population of Australia not only because they ‘superanimated liberal reflection … (and) caused a crisis of reason in Australian non-Aboriginal citizens’ (Povinelli 2002: 75). as I will show. Asad above). ETHNOS 9 Incommensurability here would have the same import as alterity or difference – a statement of opposition to the power which seeks to bring ‘the other’ under its control in an act of ‘saming’ or ‘commensuration’. And although. The ghetto in which the thought of the American people was enclosed was imposed upon them since the sixteenth century – in other words. since. Povinelli’s (historical) ethnographic studies of Aboriginal communities in Australia provide an insight into how these practices of ‘saming’ and ‘commensuration’ played out through anthropological discourse during colonisation. her definition of incommensurability is grounded in linguistic indetermi- nacy. it is still possible to apply her ethnographic studies to the aims of the ontological approach. since the colonisation of the Americas Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 by European powers. incommensurability is ‘displaced from a … logical problem into a social problem’ (Povinelli 2001: 325). The other is ‘enclosed in a ghetto’. and for some. but also because how the indigenous was situated within extant discourses of the wild and reasonable and the civil and savage would affect the formulation of state policy … Did the lack of a common language or shared moral universe between settler and indigenous groups threaten the very notion of an Australian nation … ? (Povinelli 2002: 77) We have the indications here of both alterity – the ‘crisis of reason’ that Arrente ritual sex caused for the white population. against the ‘unequal power encounter between the West and the Third World’ (cf. . not even human at all. This act of commensuration does not incorporate the other as an equal. in a space that is politically and intellectually inferior. Whereas alterity sought to dismantle the power relations of colonisation on the epistemological plane of anthropological analysis – in that it used the structural issue of colonial power to address the epistemic issue of the objectification of anthropological knowledge – incommensurability takes the epistemic project of alter- ity and resituates it in the political. Being incorporated into these as the ‘savage’ and ‘wild’ native is necessarily a ghettoisation of the Aboriginal subject – enclosing her in a politics and a discourse where she is subordinated to the settler. We may note that this conception of alterity is proposed as a kind of opposition or ‘insurrection’ as Viveiros de Castro (2003) would have it. Povinelli’s analysis of Spencer and Gillen’s study of ritual sex during the engwura initiation of Arrente men shows one such instance of incommensurability. Both nation and notion were of course a paradigm and a discourse that were the prerogative of the coloniser and not of the indigenous subject. In Povinelli’s analysis. An apposite example of commensuration would then be the evol- utionist paradigm where indigenous peoples and their cultures were ‘savage’ or ‘primi- tive’ and occupied the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder – inferior humans. and commensurability – the notion of an Australian nation which encompassed both settler and indigenous communities under the ‘unity notion of “we the people”’ (Povinelli 2002). as men- tioned above. they do not seem to require a commitment to the idea of a common ‘text’ or ‘nature’.

rubbing. thus reinforcing them as ‘savage’ and ‘wild’. sex may have been just another form of attachment … a subjective restructuring based on some engwura operation other than ‘sex’. HAZARIKA Povinelli writes: I have little doubt that Spencer (and) Gillen … took it to be self-evident that what they saw … was ‘sex’ between ‘men’ and ‘women’. This study shows that Povinelli’s analysis of the intellectual and political dimensions of incommensurability need not require a commitment to a common text. it is the possibility of considering native prac- tices on their own terms – terms which. they ‘confirmed themselves in the world’ (cf. It is against this historical contingency that ‘incommensurability’ has been posited. 10 U. as highlighted by Povinelli and Viveiros de Castro. continue to play out in current discourses on development and nationhood. crucially. soaking. which: … foreground the corporeal and ontological transformations that occur when a body is under a heightened state of physical and mental stress or stimulation … Trauma may well have been the Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 necessary condition for the production of an engwura orientation … the interiority and exter- iority of the initiates’ body was remade in rituals … In this economy of the body. cannot be compared with the cat- egories of the coloniser. These paradigms of commensuration. etc. and thus subordinating them into the ghetto of the ‘wild’ and ‘savage’ native in colonial discourse. (2002: 82) Povinelli challenges the ethnographers’ presumption of a shared ‘act and field of action’ through descriptions of Arrente myths and rituals. it is a comparison that necessarily renders the native as inferior. Asad above) by making Arrente sexual practices commensurate with their own. these rough rituals bled into the brutish. to be indigenous’. Spencer and Gillen’s approach to ethnography resulted in separating sex acts from other corporeal practices because they filtered these phenomena through their fam- iliar Victorian category of ‘sex’. it is unclear what the ‘text’ here would actually be – for our understanding of what the phenomenon is changes according to the categories it is filtered through. Her meth- odology in revealing the ontological differences in Arrente ritual sex is parallel to those of Viveiros de Castro and Holbraad – she reflects upon the categories through which Arrente ritual sex was understood by Spencer and Gillen. except to say that they are different: that Victorian ‘sex’ is not Arrente ritual sex. that when they and the Arrente pointed to a ‘sex act’ they were pointing to the same act and field of action … (but) for their Victorian sensibilities. (Povinelli 2002: 99–106) Arrente ritual sex acts were thus likely in the same category as other corporeal practices such as massages.8 thus circumventing the need to apply the special protections for indigen- ous land rights under UNDRIP and other UN conventions. (Povinelli 2002: 102–103). The Dongria Kondh. Indeed. (and) bordered on the traumatic. who live in the Niyamgiri Hills in the east Indian state of Odisha could be called an ‘indigenous’ community. incisions. which induced trauma during rituals in order to generate the ‘corporeal and ontological transformations’ which tied Arrente individuals to their land by giving them an ‘engwura orientation’. were it not for the Indian government’s insistence that it regards ‘the entire population of India at Independence. burning. ‘Commensurability’ is thus the possibility of comparison – but in the context of the colonial encounter in which the anthropologist was embedded. An example from my fieldwork will illustrate what incommensurability and ontologi- cal self-determination under these circumstances would look like. This gloss on the word . she then returns to an exam- ination of the phenomena to find an explanation in terms of Arrente categories. and their successors. In so doing.

For the past decade or so. the personhood of earth-beings. This separation underpins ‘the political theory our world abides by’ (de la Cadena 2010). splintering its unity and questioning its univers- ality. I struggled to understand how it was that a hill could seat a god. obscures the divisions along which the ‘colonial encounter’ continues. ETHNOS 11 ‘indigenous’. in its guise as the nature/culture distinction.9 The company collaborated with a state-owned mining company. in one of my conversations with the head bejun14 of a Dongria village. however. Differences are therefore to be found (or sought) between these multiple ontologies. Contrasting this diagram with a cross section in the form of a bauxite mine. In her study of ‘sacred mountains’ in South America. In 2013. focuses on the Dongria Kondh’s understanding of their sacred hill. In other words. and also. they have fought off Vedanta Resources. a London-based Indian-owned. To hold that this conflict is one of represen- tation. the Dongria Kondh contend that their god. the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC).11 my research. India’s Ministry of Environment and Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 Forests rejected their proposal. therefore allows an analysis of conflicts over ‘what there is’. Niyamraja. which renders them dually ‘culture- nature’. For example. which is based on the rejection of a ‘nature’ that is common to everyone. brings into relief the issues at stake in the conflict over the mine. The ontological approach. resides in the hill. therefore. requires us to focus our attention on the ‘nature’ part of the nature/culture dis- tinction. In so doing. forms the basis for the focus on rep- resentations or epistemology that the ontological turn seeks to refute. is that the differences are found in ‘nature’ itself – that is. as shown in Figure 2. An analysis of the conflict over the hill illuminates the shortcomings of ethnographic explanation that focuses solely on epistemology or representation. one would have to proceed first by positing the hill as fixed and given ‘nature’. The Dongria Kondh are thus one of many such communities pitted against the tota- lising logic of the Indian state. Phenomena such as Niyamraja and. in the phenomena under consideration and not between two representations of it. de la Cadena (2010) outlines several reasons why an analysis like the one above is problematic. which the company and the community apprehend differently according to their representations. While the company takes the hill to be a large. homogenising (or ‘commensurating’) the entire population of India at the time of decolonisation. This cross section is a depiction of the Dongria Kondh’s understanding of their hill. rather than between represen- tations of a fixed and external ‘natural’ entity. in South America. multinational mining company listed on the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index. One feature of such ‘culture-nature’ enti- ties. carried out in the years before this decision was made.13 Much like the anthropologists previously discussed in this paper. My informant drew me a picture15 which I have reproduced in Figure 1. These ‘earth-beings’ (as christened by de la Cadena) and their accompanying ‘earth-practices’12 ‘are contentious because their presence in poli- tics disavows the separation between “Nature” and “Humanity”’ (de la Cadena 2010: 342). Ausangate and Quilish – mountains which similarly became protagonists in anti-mining movements – comprise a kind of ‘culture-nature entity’ (de la Cadena 2010: 350). which planned to turn one of their sacred hills into a billion-dollar bauxite mine.10 and accordingly it was an arm of the state pushing for the mine. and adopting instead ‘the mountain’s multiple and heterogeneous ontologies’ (2010: 362). we undermine the characterisation of ‘nature’ and the place it is given under this dichotomy. lifeless deposit of bauxite. . de la Cadena also advocates rejecting these traditional distinctions.

HAZARIKA Figure 1. And following from this. it could no longer be the seat of their god. when these practices – such as worshipping Figure 2. by the practices of their communities or collectives. 2010. has been brought to the fore by Latour (2013) in his discussions on climate change. Cross-section of a bauxite mine. . The sense that ‘nature’ is being remade through human actions. Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 Do these pictures show two different things? Or just two different representations of the same thing? In other words. The undermining of the nature/culture dichotomy by these transformations suggests that ontologies are determined. and the ontological matters that this brings into play. Cross-section of Niyamraja. is the difference here ontological or epistemological? To hold that the conflict is purely one of representation would be to ignore the very real ontological transformation that a bauxite mine would have on the Dongria Kondh’s mountain. Source: Saving Iceland (2010). at least in part. that is. The mine would thus fore- close any possibility of the Dongria’s ‘ontological self-determination’ because it would reconstitute the phenomena itself. The idea of the ‘anthropocene’ (Latour 2013: 9–10) – an era where ‘nature’ (as we have known it) is increasingly shaped by human actions (or ‘culture’) – is reflected in the transformation that the mine would have on the mountain. 12 U.

but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school? (Chaudhury 2009) The discourse of development and industrialisation thus seeks to set the terms of what is real and what is not – ‘mineral wealth’ here is taken to be ontologically privi- leged in comparison to the Dongria’s god – and in practice. As noted above. that forms the impetus for an ‘ontological self-determination’. the Arrente study highlights the parallels between commensuration in (Australian) colonial discourse and in (Indian) nationhood. does succeed in determining what there is. similarly situates her study of Spencer and Gillen’s ethnography within the colonial expropriation of Aboriginal lands. And why not? Do you want the tribals to remain hunters and gatherers? Are we trying to preserve them in some sort of anthro- pological museum? Yes. her concerns focus on how the denial of indigenous ontologies relegated them to an inferior status of ‘wild’ and ‘savage’ in the emerging Australian nation – a process that repeats itself in Niyamgiri. it is apparent that the so-called common text of nature itself is under debate. and not merely our under- standing (or representation) of it. The role of the anthropologist in these situations has been suggested by authors such as Latour (2013) and Stengers (2005) to be one of diplomacy. the notion of ‘ontological self-determination’ was closely linked to Viveiros de Castro’s own involvement with indigenous movements in Brazil.’ Diplomats’ role is therefore above all to remove the anesthesia produced by the reference to progress or the general interest. for these authors. The certainty that such a . where … diplomats are there to provide a voice for those whose practice. many of these movements emerged to fight against the state and industrial takeover of indi- genous lands – and the ontologies that went with them. Similarly. in her focus on similar movements in other Latin American countries. ‘earth-beings’ which are normally considered ‘natural’ phenomena should be allowed to participate in ‘culture’. but Povinelli and de la Cadena as well. to give a voice to those who define themselves as threatened. As I men- tioned earlier. had a ‘crisis of reason’ of his own: … no country can develop unless it uses its natural and human resources. the ‘unity notion of “we the people”’ as described by the Indian state to the UN works in effect to ‘commensurate’ communities like the Dongria Kondh and incorporate them into this discourse as the ‘wild’ and ‘savage’. but will that bring development to these people? We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgirhi [sic] hill.000 years. ETHNOS 13 the mountain. ‘If you decide that. P.17 Povinelli. in her study of the colonisation of the Aboriginal communities of Australia. Chidambaram.16 where they serve as protagonists for indigenous movements against land acquisition. it is the potential loss of worlds. De la Cadena. you’ll destroy us. Mineral wealth is wealth that must be harvested and used for the people. For example. we can allow the minerals to remain in the ground for another 10. or mining it – and their ontologies come into conflict. the Home Minister. or ‘modes of existence’. advocates bringing ‘culture-nature’ entities to the political arena. whose mode of existence and whose identity are threatened by a decision. This is especially true given that the practices of development and industrialisation are being conducted through ‘extant discourses of the wild and reasonable and the civil and savage … (which) affect the formulation of state policy’ as it did for the Arrente. as documented by the pic- tures above. that is. (Stengers 2005: 1002–1003) Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 These concerns animate the analyses of not just Viveiros de Castro. in 2009.

which. 14 U. whose chief difference from others is that they are true – true. This certainty is outlined by proponents of the ontological turn. and of an inferior ontological status. a well-known Dongria leader. Lodu Sikaka. His use of kinship terms to refer to the hill. One of these is indicated by the widespread use of kinship terms for their hill and god. epitomises the way in which many Dongria Kondh community members respond to questions about giving up their land: ‘We won’t give up Niyamgiri for any price … Niyamgiri is not a pile of money. 2007: 13). that it is mineral wealth – he issues a challenge to the kind of defence put up by the Home Minister. one which is in competition with its existence as mineral wealth. which is polymor- phous and contentious. which also extends to the prac- tices and processes required to transform minerals into wealth. and which echo Stengers’ assertion that ‘money does not balance the account’ (2005: 1003). as against the state’s desire to turn it into a pile of money. That mountain is our life. settled) by appeal to our most privileged representations. where this wealth is ontologically privileged. This narrative is brought into question by the Dongria Kondh themselves. where it objectively exists. While this kind of straightfor- ward economic calculation likely plays a role in the Dongria Kondh’s refusal of the com- pany’s offer. When questioned about accepting monetary compensation in exchange for Niyamraja. Niyamraja. in terms of the monetary yield expected from the mine. The Dongria Kondh’s god. points to the wider implications of how the sense of being ‘true to the world’ operates in this conflict. By refuting the idea that the hill is a pile of money – in other words. will last them for generations to come. I have this axe here ready for them’19 (My emphasis). and must be given an equal ‘ontological footing’ (cf. with the ontologi- cal and political intertwined in his defence of the community’s kin-like relationship with the hill. more evange- lically. It is our father … It seems like some ancient demon has returned. Mineral wealth is accorded the status of ‘nature’. points to a different ontology of the hill. and are usually followed by a list of the many varieties of produce the Dongria Kondh receive year-round from their forests. as opposed to the sustenance they receive from their land. on the other hand. Claims such as ‘I can spend two crores18 in two days’ (no doubt exaggerated) are common. of course. who point out that. His defence of the project. . Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 This ontological status accorded to ‘mineral wealth’. Holbraad 2011) in the conflict. on the other hand. Their explanations emphasise the ephemeral quality of money. they claim. members of the community often phrase their responses in ways that are similar to each other. and the ‘representations’ or ‘cultures’ that accord with this ontology are therefore privileged. It is our mother. that of the unity of nature exemplified by the nature/ culture distinction. “to the world”’ (Henare et al. indicates a link between the ethnocentric practices of commen- suration – the disparaging references to the ‘tribals … remain(ing) hunters and gath- erers’ and relegating their culture to a thing of the past – and the ontological privileging of monetary yield. HAZARIKA discourse relies upon is. ‘Differences between people’s representations can be explained (or even. that is. Lodu’s words articulate a kind of ‘ontological self-determination’. many of whom advance ontological claims in explicit opposition to this privileging of monetary wealth. Some of these implications are revealed in the Minister’s comments on the productivity or yield of the hill in question. is a fact of ‘culture’. a closer look also reveals other ‘accounts’ that need to be balanced.

(Best in Sahlins 1972: 167–168) The constant pujas. Here I would like to explore a slightly different approach to these ‘mutual relations of care’ (de la Cadena 2010) in Niyamgiri. Lodu’s emphasis on ‘the jungle. point to the possibility of looking at the Dongria Kondh’s hill and its conflict in terms of its ‘hau’. or productiveness. our fathers and mothers. As a hill which epitomises the material sustenance the Dongria Kondh receive from their forests. grandfathers and grandmothers were here. we cannot let go of him. the earth. One more secular concept pertains to the hau of the gift. A second type of hau is that of the forest. but rather a yield much like the hau of the forest. and Niyamraja cannot let go of us. Thus the hau or vitality. of a forest has to be very carefully protected by means of certain very peculiar rites. rites or ‘earth-practices’ mentioned by Lodu. the earth. We have been here for many generations. Because of the jungle. The yield or productiveness – the hau – given by Niyamraja. where it is ‘its fecundity’. Quoting Best. by which the Dongria Kondh protect their land and the source of its abundance. Because we were born holding Niyamraja. but also to animals. in Niyamgiri’s forests. we give 13 pujas. ETHNOS 15 In their use of kinship terms to refer to Niyamraja. as well as the indications of a reciprocal and familial relationship with their land and god. Niyamraja. both belonging to ‘a broad concept. and posited into the future as an enduring respon- sibility to the well-being of their land and god: In the old days. where it is simply a ‘material yield’ (Sahlins 1972). It is in this offering – ‘the jungle. to bring the land peace. a general principle of productiveness’ (Sahlins 1972: 168). allowed the . would have to transcend the usual bound- aries between economic. Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 For this earth. forests and even to a village home. and which also houses their highest god. our parents and grandparents were also born – they were born holding Niyamraja. not just a straight- forward economic calculation as supposed at first glance. At the time Niyamraja was born here in Niyamgiri. that of a kind of ‘reciprocal dependence’ (Gregory 1982: 19) characteristic of gift exchange. and the role it plays in indigenous communities’ defence of their land have been explored by Andean ethnographies (de la Cadena 2010: 354). the water’ – that we might find an indication of the kind of yield the Dongria Kondh are getting at when they stress a familial relationship with their land. the Dongria Kondh often stress an ancient familial relationship with Niyamraja. the water’ suggests an understanding of ‘hau’ not unlike the two intertwined forms isolated by Sahlins. men and women were all born and survived. Sahlins writes: The hau of this land is its vitality. fertility and so forth … (pertaining) not only to man. The idea of a mutual embrace exemplifies this kind of relationship. land. the earth. to protect the water. to protect Niyamraja. extending into the past as a kind of cre- ation myth for the Dongria Kondh. in 12 months. all the animals and birds. religious and political categories. where ‘as a spiritual quality hau is the principle of fertility’ (Sahlins 1972: 168). These indications of a ‘total concept’ (Sahlins 1972: 168).21 suggest that it is also this second type of yield or productiveness that the Dongria Kondh are trying to protect when they speak out against the mine. the wind. We cannot let go of this earth. the water. the wind. as do the suggestion of the pujas as a kind of obligation to reciprocate Niyamraja’s initial offering which enabled the birth and survival of Dongria men and women. to protect the forests. it appears that any analysis of Niyamraja. the wind.20 The kind of reciprocal relationship described here. and the conflict surrounding it. and the earth cannot let go of us.

but was thought to consist in the object itself. it was the distinction separating ‘sex’ from other corporeal acts. and so they in turn carry out the constant pujas to enable his protection and survival – as well as that of the forest hau or fecundity. marshalling them in a critique of assumptions that prevailed within his own society. Far from producing a form of understanding that ‘confirmed the powerful in their world’ (Asad 1973). which appear interconnected in their worship and defence of their moun- tain and provide indications of a ‘total concept’. Like Mauss. Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 It appears that a focus on ontology. while with de la Cadena’s ‘earth beings’ it was the category of ‘politics’. By ‘taking seriously’ the gifts he encountered. The protection of their source. The methodology of the ontological approach requires us to discard the idea of ‘unity of nature’ and its place in the nature/culture distinction. 16 U. and … ration- ality. is there- fore constantly contrasted with the perceived ephemeral quality of money or compen- sation. has brought us back in fact to an established body of anthropological thought. This. the kind of analysis begun by Mauss unsettled many of its fundamental distinctions. a more fragmented and contentious view of ‘nature’ emerges. instead. it is the separation of the political. of the world power which the West represents’ (cf. he allowed for an analysis of ‘total concept’ where the economic. he embraced these unfamiliar entities. ‘Ontological self-determination’ is a form of analysis that seeks to challenge the sep- aration of the ontological and the political that resulted from the ‘nature/culture’ dis- tinction. In the case of the Arrente. The ‘simultaneous expression’ of these . With the Dongria Kondh. Instead of dismissing ancestor-artefacts and objects imbued with the personality of former owners as evidence of primitive animism or superstition. social. political and religious are ‘indiscriminately organised by the same relations and intermixed in the same activities’ (Sahlins 1972: 168). utilising a method that claims to provide ‘radi- cally subversive forms of understanding’. It allows for compet- ing ontologies. thereby challenging conventional (Western) distinctions between people and things. however. and with which they continue an enduring familial relationship through exchange. he challenged the ‘mode of life. was to take seriously the ‘primitive’ identification of aspects of personhood with the things that he collectively described as ‘gifts’. HAZARIKA birth and survival of the Dongria Kondh. where ‘ontology’ would be understood in reference to a fixed ‘nature’ that is common to all. 2007: 16) For Mauss then. from which they receive an enduring sustenance. for example. and in allowing these cat- egories to intersect with one another. the hau of a gift was not simply a representation of the object. (Henare et al. which is seen as a finite offering from a limited one-time transaction. These comments therefore indicate that the conflict is also one of differing conceptions of yield – those of mineral wealth and the ‘“hau” of the forest’ – stemming from two differ- ent ontologies. ontological analyses operate by situating alterity at the level of phenom- ena rather than representation. and politics would belong in the realm of culture. religious and economic phenomena. in terms of the issues explored here. each of which can bring other familiar distinctions and categories into question. Asad 1973). should not be surprising when one considers that the proponents of the ontological turn hold Mauss’ work on the gift to be a predecessor to their approach: Mauss’ seminal contribution.

and therefore undermine the ‘unity of nature’ on which representational analyses are based. Conclusion I began this paper by situating the challenge posed to anthropology by the ontological approach in the context in which it first arose. they are in large part ontological. between Brazil’s indigenous commu- nities and the state. one needs to turn to the methodology proposed by the ontological approach. it is the culture that is ‘text’. The following discussions on radical alterity and incommensurability were an attempt to pin down these concepts as they appear in the work of anthropologists concerned with ontology. My analysis of alterity showed how the methodology of the ontological turn could be Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 applied to phenomena encountered in the field that could not be adequately explained using traditional methods. For Geertz. as it is convention- ally applied in discussions of philosophy and anthropology. Notes 1. See. and more recently. 4. While it might seem that this view will also be susceptible to the same criticisms that were applied to Geertz’s notion of ‘culture as text’. 2. 8. Laidlaw (2012) and Heywood (2012). Holbraad and related authors. The phrase ‘ontological turn’ is often used to refer to Viveiros de Castro. because a focus on ontology allows us to challenge our own categories and distinctions. ETHNOS 17 (apparently) discrete social phenomena (Mauss 1967: 1) is therefore aided by drawing on Mauss’ theoretical manoeuvres. as was shown by the ‘culture-nature’ status of ‘earth-beings’ like Niyam- raja. of nationhood and development. This enables us to evolve new forms of analysis. While many of the specific issues and terminology I address in this paper come directly from these works. One text – many readings. . or at least more equitable. This would be ‘going native’ – something that neither Viveiros de Castro nor Wagner advocates. Viveiros De Castro. I do not limit the discussion to these authors. for example. 7. is not applicable to the methodology proposed by the ontological approach. the ‘text’ here appears to refer to the ‘nature’ side of the nature/culture distinction. Ontological self-determination as a concept is a result of these intellectual and political issues. one nature – many cultures or representations (Viveiros de Castro 2012). Or ‘texts’ or ‘phenomena’ (from Povinelli’s definition above). Following this thread of analysis also leads to a better understanding of the conten- tious phenomena themselves. I then showed that incommensurability. rather than to culture. In order to understand conflicts such as those between the Dongria Kondh and the mining companies. 6. but draw instead on ontological thought within anthropology and science studies more widely. Viveiros De Castro’s methodology is in general parallel to Holbraad’s. and opens the methodology of anthropology up to the production of ‘radically subversive’. As cited in Aufschnaiter (2007: 34). forms of understanding. historically and socially contingent on the practices and discourses of colonisation. 5. these are conflicts over ‘what there is’ – that is. This is because what is at stake here goes beyond issues of representation or epis- temology. or between the Arrente and the emerging Australian nation. Both the ideas of incommensur- ability and radical alterity are better understood as political concepts. 3. ‘Anti-Narcissus: the idea of anthropology as a minor science’.

I also conducted research through legal documents. de la Cadena challenges the nature/culture distinction on a second front – by advocat- ing for such ‘natural’ phenomena to be brought into the cultural arena of politics. Bejun are responsible for carrying out the village rituals.g. 18 U. an NGO working on issues of land and food in Odisha. http://vimeo. ‘earth beings’ requires situating the ‘cultural’ aspects of personhood in ‘nature’. news reports. two anonymous Cambridge examiners for their comments on an earlier draft and the reviewers for Ethnos. I have added the labels to explain what I was told by my aim is to examine the debate surrounding epistemology and rep- resentation in anthropological inquiry. where. 15. 19. 20. de la Cadena’s aim is to open up the category of politics – currently ‘populated by rational human beings disputing the power to represent others vis-à-vis the state’ – to include ‘other-than-humans’ or ‘earth-beings’. an example of such participation in politics is Chapter 7 of the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador. which is protected under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. 21. and evolutionary processes’. HAZARIKA 9. Although with a subsequent change in government at the centre. They connect with the spirits and gods through their dreams and it appears that it is this ability that gives them bejun status. . It is illegal for ‘tribal’ land. where life becomes real and reproduces itself. 1973. including offerings (de la Cadena 2010: 337). While her argument runs parallel Downloaded by [Library Services City University London] at 14:40 03 July 2016 to mine in many ways. http://www. that it may be maintained as a source’ (1972: 168). and in July 2012 as an employee of Survival Inter- national. I am grateful to Dr Richard Irvine for his many helpful suggestions and discussions on this paper. 16. Personal translation. 9–19. and to the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles. Lodu’s description of these practices reflects the Maori rituals described by Sahlins: ‘the benefits taken by man ought to be returned to their source. 13. and to address a different body of work in thinking ontologically. Collaboration with state-owned companies is therefore required for industrial projects. 14. In her 2010 paper. 18. In Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. India. Choudhury 2014 and 2016). functions. Talal. Which the bejun confirmed was a correct representation. meetings and phone conversations. Disclosure Statement No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author. say. 12. London: Ithaca Press. Acknowledgement Fieldwork visits were conducted in August–September 2010 with the help of Living Farms. verified by my informant during the interview. pp. Earth-practices are ‘human interactions’ with earth-beings. While analyses of. (2010: 335) 17. edited by Talal Asad. 11. Introduction. from 2011 to 10.survivalinternational. References Asad. to be transferred to a private company. struc- tures. One crore is equal to 10 million. recent events suggest that the community’s future looks increasingly precarious once again (see e. (which) reads: ‘Nature or Pachamama. For de la Cadena. has the right to be integrally respected in its existence.

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