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Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 16:1–32, 2009

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1070-289X print / 1547-3384 online
DOI: 10.1080/10702890802605596

Post-Human Anthropology

Neil L. Whitehead
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

This article discusses recent performative ethnographic work in the Goth/

Industrial music scene as the band “Blood Jewel”—
bloodjewelband—and how through the medium of cyber space this has led to
different kinds of engagements with ethnographic “subjects.” This experience is the
context for theorizing the basis and forward trajectory of ethnographic fieldwork,
especially with regard to topics such as the study of sexuality and violence which
have proved resistant to standard ethnographic strategies. The cultural meanings
of sexual and violent representation, challenges to normative sexualities, and the
emergence of digital subjectivities and ontologies are then examined in relation to
this ethnographic approach. It is concluded that an anthropology still stuck in the
problematic of the European Enlightenment must urgently consider the disappear-
ance of its traditional “subjects” as meaningful ethnographic categories of research
and work to contribute to the emergence of a post-human anthropology in which the
post-Enlightenment “subject” is re-configured as a participant observer in research.

Key Words: Ethnography, sexuality, violence, Internet, performance

The purpose of this article is to broach possible new domains for

anthropological thinking, to try to respond to the challenges of such
changing human experience by re-thinking some classic anthropological
methods, and to sketch out the theoretical basis for an anthropology
that is better equipped to adapt to the looming end of the “human,” as
an historically and culturally contingent category.
The first part of this essay therefore lays out this agenda in terms
of my own research over the last few years and how such challenges
have been met through developing a methodology of “performative
ethnography.” This differs from, but is clearly related to, the various
forms of performance ethnography (Denzin 2003). However, the
notion of ethnographic performance under consideration here is not
confined to the theatrical or role-playing moment (i.e., a discreet
“performance”) but is meant to reflect the fact that ethnography
itself, in any form, is a cultural performance, which marks it off
from, for example, “tourism” or “journalism” in a number of symbolic
and pragmatic ways.

2 N. L. Whitehead

In the latter part of this article I turn to the emergence of a “post-

human” anthropology— that is an anthropology in which, paradoxi-
cally, the human subject is no longer the exclusive center of attention—
a viewpoint already apparent in the work of a number of scholars and
an issue that has a particular relevance for a discipline committed to
the research of “all things human.”
Following a ten-year research project in Guyana and Brazil on an
assault sorcery complex termed “kanaimà” and its contemporary
meanings (Whitehead 2002), it became an important theoretical question
for me to ask how it was possible to research violence, knowing full
well as a result of this experience, that this is also meant to be
entailed in the very violence we hope to understand.
Moreover, amongst the most difficult things for us to admit cultur-
ally is the sexualized nature of violence, whether that violence is
socially legitimate or not (e.g., see Trexler 1995). That topics of sex
and violence are inherently difficult to grapple with is also shown by
anthropology’s minimal if not dismal track record on both, and the
more so when these topics are conjoined (Harvey and Gow 1994;
Whitehead 2004). Such cultural conjunction nonetheless is as clearly
central in the cultural production of contemporary Western cultures—
whether in the realm of commercial film and entertainment or in the
torture camp of Abu-Ghraib—as it may be in other cultures world-
wide. It is not the prevalence or the importance of the phenomenon
that is problematic for us to acknowledge, so much as the professional
challenge of deploying ethnographic methods to understand such
My ethnographic encounter with kanaimà had taught me that
violence is always more than its material appearance, that part of the
instrumentality of violence could be its endemic and persistent affects
on imagination and subjectivity (Kleinman, Das, and Lock 1997). At
the same time Western sexuality itself has necessarily become more
disembodied and immaterial in a sexually toxic and physically dangerous
social world. The explosion of on-line sex sites, ranging from commer-
cialized pornography and camera chat rooms to person-to-person dating
and “swinger” sites, all represent a new realm of sexual experience
and subjective engagement. Highly visual, masturbatory, and anony-
mous the possibilities for safe-sex make such cyber-sexuality, or “out-
ercourse,” a credible alternative to dangerous intercourse with “real”
people.1 Nor is this just a framework for desire; it is also enacted on a
massive scale,2 suggesting myriad ways in which sexual experience has
become radically detached from the physical.
If the realm of imagination and fantasy is subjectively no less real
than that of the material and physical, then we can easily appreciate
Post-Human Anthropology 3

why cyber-life and its digital subjectivities seems to stimulate and

offer opportunities for the expression of both sexual and violent
desires. As Freud notes, the “uncanny” occurs where the accepted
structure of a world is violated, “when the boundary between fantasy
and reality is blurred” (Freud 2003: 150), and so to challenge the
“accepted structure of the world,” which clearly has no adequate
narrative for either contemporary violence or the sexual, the realm
of cyberspace becomes a particularly fruitful context in which to blur
such boundaries and perhaps stimulate better intellectual under-
standing. In Lacan’s (1982) formulation desire is not a relation to an
object but a relation to a lack (manque), and desire appears as a
social construct because it is always constituted in a dialectical
relationship. Re-theorizing desire therefore requires not so much
the unpicking of Lacanian analysis of late-capitalist subjectivity, as
incorporating a better appreciation of how desire may be con-
structed in other cultural worlds, including those of cyberspace. In
this way the notions of Deleuze and Guattari (1983), about the
nature of desire as being productive rather than imaginary (“not
theater but a factory”) and about the “desiring-machines” which we
become as a result of these productive and socially situated desires,
seem more appropriate to the interpretation of changing subjectivi-
ties and the elaboration of desire evident in on-line worlds. But how
can a Malinowskian methodology get at such human situations that
are both geographically unlocated and by definition uncannily
disembedded or distinct from localized cultures?

Blood Jewel
I am currently participating in an audio-visual project centered on a
Goth/Industrial band Blood Jewel, which is the performative vehicle
for research on these concerns.3 We were giving prominent billing in
2006 at Deti Nochi (Children of the Night), an East European annual
Goth festival in Kiev, and have made active collaborations with bands
in Brazil, France, and Poland since then. Our principal place of perfor-
mance and promotion since October 2006 is MySpace
bloodjewelband, but we are also present on LiveJournal, Vampire-
freaks, LiveVideo, FaceBook, and HateBook.4
This project is certainly a success artistically whatever its value as
an ethnographic research strategy to better understand the emer-
gence of digital subjectivities. Before we were deleted for profanity
from YouTube, our videos had been viewed over 50,000 times, and we
are regularly approached by other acts working in the Goth-fetish
medium for collaborative projects and performances.
4 N. L. Whitehead

FIGURE 1 Blood Jewel logo.

This finding suggests that being an effective, and not naive, cultural
actor may also be a basis for anthropological understanding and that
in the realm of cyberspace it is only through active participation that
there is anything to observe at all. In short, in order to understand
desire we must become desiring subjects ourselves. In this way perfor-
mative engagement rather than observing participation changes the
basis of ethnographic description from that of inferred and interpreted
meanings and motivations to that of auto-ethnographic description
and overtly positioned observation.5 The experience thus engendered
is not merely biographical because it is the wider relevance of that
experience, as a token not just of self but also of a structured engagement
with others, that lifts such an approach out of the cultural solipsism of
the Malinowskian method.
In any case, as Clifford (1997), Fabian (1990), Marcus and Fischer
(1999) and others have shown us, these are certainly the challenges
for constructing an anthropology of the twenty-first century. Apocry-
phal evidence for the validity of this kind of re-orientation of intellectual
practice (i.e., the project of linking cultural performance to cultural
analysis) is directly given by Blood Jewel’s artistic success because
that must in part derive from the theoretical coherence of this ethno-
graphic strategy.

Such theoretical transgression necessarily calls forth transgressive
methods of study, and this project is also the opportunity to challenge
some of the parochial tendencies of area studies philosophy and Mali-
nowskian ethnographic conventions. In the same way that anthropology
has often been silent about the dynamics of violence, for its observation
is both inherently dangerous and ethically fraught (Whitehead 2004),
so too sexual practice—though not certain kinds of performance of
sexuality—has remained largely opaque within anthropological theory.
Post-Human Anthropology 5

Again this is obviously linked to the way in which methodology of par-

ticipant observation inherently undercuts its object of study, because
observing the sexual practice of others is no less ethically and method-
ologically complex than in the matter of violence. To this can also be
added the challenges of researching phenomena that are transcultural
and immaterial, as in cyberspace.6 However, there is an absolute
necessity to respond adequately to such challenges if anthropology is
itself to remain a credible approach to understanding the world.
The suggestion is that we invert the Malinowskian formula of
participant observation to also practice observant participation (i.e., to
understand and theorize the place of proactive, not just reactive
participation) in the cultural phenomena we study. Otherwise, critical
understanding of certain kinds of social and cultural features of a
situation is simply beyond the reach of ethnographic methods.
The proactive nature of ethnographic study has always been
present but, despite the turn to “reflexivity” that marked ethnography
in its post-modernist, literary guise this has more the character of
some kind of confessional than the theorized, purposeful design of
research strategies that overtly acknowledge the obvious fact that
ethnographers are also persons acting in the world.
Undoubtedly, a failure to properly acknowledge and analyze this
aspect of ethnographic method has led to a covert and repressed strategy
of ethnographic representation in which the sexuality and violence of
others is encoded as part of a non-ethnocentric idea of cultural context.7
It has also led to the production of ethnographic ideas and images
that happily reinforce a status quo in which Western observers are
invited to perpetually colonize the bodies and imaginations of others,
resulting in an “ethnopornography.”8 In this light the ethnographic
gaze is inherently desiring or “pornographic,” colonial in its possession
of others and dominating of their bodies. To avoid this framework of
power and subordination requires the death of ethnography of a certain
kind, and in its place a resurrection of desire, an acknowledgment of
the centrality of desire to the project of knowing and knowledge in all
its spheres. The positionality and cultural gaze of Western academics
may not be unique, but it is historically privileged and heavily
inflected with a form of epistemological rectitude, an intellectual
BDSM, through which the pleasures of classification and analysis
become akin to the corporeal binding of the ethnological subject. As a
result of this philosophical trajectory standard ethnography displaces
“desire” into the space of the “unclassified” or ethnologically pristine.
In this way, the sensual intellectual thrill of penetrating the unknown
to encounter the virgin and pristine, the native and authentic, still
seems to drive the self-imagining of the ethnographer—a pleasure
6 N. L. Whitehead

that in turn has been culturally generalized through the ethnopornog-

raphy of such representational media as National Geographic Magazine,
Travel Channel, or the Discovery Channel.9
This situation thus requires a far better understanding and theori-
zation of desire if the anthropological project itself is to move forward
into a twenty-first century of fetishized human relations, practiced in
the immateriality of cyberspace, no less than in the context of Abu-
Ghraib torture camp. As a consequence, altering the power relations
in ethnography, attempting more equitable collaboration is an important
means, perhaps the only means, to really get at sexuality, violence, and
the whole field of transnational and virtual phenomena, even if it is
not the necessary basis of all ethnographic inquiry for the future (Lassiter
2006). So my research project is not an observational ethnography but a
performative one, in which my desire and personal aesthetic response
becomes the vehicle for participation in other cultural worlds. Such a
performative ethnography thereby reconstructs the binaries of ethno-
graphic subject/object, visitor/visited, and refers us instead to an expe-
rience of trans-national cultural modernity as a lived context in its
own right, with its own forms of social organization and cultural practice,
a kind of “super-modernity” (Augé 1995).
Super-modernity is thus strongly hierarchical, funded by the euro-
dollar economy and performed by those who control the economic
resources in the spaces of the airport, hotel, taxi, and international
conference. Such spaces are the field-sites of supermodern life, which
itself colonizes all proximate geographical and cultural environs
through the consumer purchase of TVs, cell phones, computers, and
access to the Internet. In this way the power-relations of technological
competence and ownership become a form of neo-colonial dominance
embedded in the social and cultural life of the post-colony.
Certainly, a performative ethnographic approach has many pitfalls
and begs the question as to how then the ethnographer’s own desires
and life-history inform a “field-situation.” I first did fieldwork when I
was twenty-three and I am not sure if I ever came back again because
all such experiences are potentially transformative, a feature of travel
that has been marked in Western culture since at least the fifteenth
century (Harbsmeier 1997). So there was such a moment of blending
personal desire and fantasy with the inception of the Blood Jewel
ethnography, just as had been the case in my first fieldwork with the
Palikur of French Guiana. Equally personal transformations and
desires informed, shaped, and were an inevitable consequence of
performative participation in Blood Jewel; this is no different, even if
it was unacknowledged at the time, from my first fieldwork experience,
or anyone else’s ethnographic project.
Post-Human Anthropology 7

The method that developed for the online ethnography, especially

in MySpace, entailed not saying, “I want to study you,” the classic
Malinowskian trope of arrival, but rather, “I am like you,” implying
that we already share forms of experience and meaning. In this way
personal proclivity and biography were important because this was
not a pretense, a mask for ethnographic intent, but for my part a
recognition that what was defining for me in my own cultural world
was no less relevant to the way in which issues of sexuality and
violence might be understood, than was the “exotic experience” of
fieldwork in Amazonia. However, to establish the relevance of this
“non-exotic” experience and then some claim for competency or even
authority, as is implied by executing a research program within the
canons of anthropological fieldwork, had to be established. Insofar as I
am actively contributing to the artistic success of Blood Jewel, then
that claim is justified.
The band Blood Jewel was obviously not created all at once, so some
narrative of origins is important for understanding the way in which
the ethnographic project itself became possible. In my lecturing and
classroom teaching on the topic of violence, I had found that the use of
visual images could be a very important aid to a better understanding
of cultural forms and especially as a means to promote critical under-
standings through the conjunction of discordant images. For example
a PowerPoint slide with a picture of one set of protestors displaying
images from Abu-Ghraib alongside a picture of anti-abortion protestors
displaying extremely disturbing images of surgically mutilated fetuses
pointedly raises a number of issues about the meanings of different
forms of violence. If then there is a pedagogical value to subjectively,
as well as intellectually, engaging students, it was a small step to
consider adding music to the presentation of imagery, providing as it
were a third mode to this bricolage. One other enabling factor was the
relative ease of finding fairly sophisticated software cheaply that
allowed the editing of visual and aural materials. This resulted in the
making of a video that combined a wide range of violent images,
animated in the form of a slide show that kept musical tempo, with
what I artistically identified to be the most appropriate music (in this
case Depeche Mode’s Master and Servant). The theoretical point was
to draw out the way in which Western modes of violence were a form
of sexual fetish, as the just-released materials from Abu-Ghraib, so
starkly illustrated (see also McClintock - forthcoming). In fact, the
results were, to me at least, so powerful that I began searching for
other ways in which this pedagogical methodology might be used and
to experiment with other forms of musical/visual mixing. Apparently,
these efforts were also impressive to others beyond academia. On the
8 N. L. Whitehead

one hand, personal contacts I had in the Goth music scene liked the
visual element as a way of paying tribute to the music of Depeche
Mode, but the problem was clearly that this was an inherently limited
context for artistic exploration, even though it did lead to the sugges-
tion that the videos could be an interesting component of a live music
performance by providing something to fill the gaps between bands or
even as a kind of “VJ” (video-jockey) club presentation. I pursued this
possibility for some time and by shamelessly exploiting personal
contacts managed to have some of these videos accepted as part of the
Deti Nochi festival program in Kiev, Ukraine.

FIGURE 2 Deti-Nochi festival, 2006, Kiev, Ukraine, Blood Jewel’s first live
Post-Human Anthropology 9

On the other hand, and more importantly in the long run, the
search for an artistic context in which I could use creative skills and
yet retain the pedagogical link to promoting new critical understandings
of sexuality and violence led directly to meeting with the person who
was to become my principal collaborator in Blood Jewel—Jeff Fields.
Jeff liked the way in which the visual materials functioned as a kind
of additional lyric element, and he was interested in seeing what
might be done with some of the musical material he had already
created. Needless to say, I was very impressed by Jeff’s music and the
opportunity to actively collaborate in designing further music and its
visual lyric, although not something I had thought possible before as
Depeche Mode was unlikely to need my artistic input, was the key
moment from which Blood Jewel as “band” originated. However, both
Jeff and I were also aware from the outset that our close interlacing of
musical and visual elements was itself something of an artistic inno-
vation. Obviously, this was not to invent the “music video,” nor, as in
my own early experiments with the music of Depeche Mode, was it
new to join music tracks with video content originating from a different
source. What is new and may be a substantive part of the artistic
success of Blood Jewel was to conceive of the visual and musical
elements as closely linked artistic expression. It is probably fair to say
that the vast majority of music videos, being simply promotional
devices, are either films of a band cavorting in a way that matches
some element of the lyrics or simply a band performing the music
track. In other words, for musicians the visual element was largely a
way of replicating performance rather than a distinct artistic project
in its own right. As one of our fans wrote in response to my explanation
of what we were trying to achieve:

thanx 4 those words . . . very much . . . you touch on a lot of the things
that are important to me in your project . . . your stuff is like videodrome -
it seems to me that frame rate is critical, is it designed to produce a
psycho-physical affect? Is it calibrated in to human aural/visual signal
processing capabilities and thresholds? . . . there is a space that is
created by your intersection of visual and aural feeds that is “trance” if
you like . . . you don’t wanna watch - you gotta watch . . . the music
imprisons you in that. . . . and the visual feed becomes an opportunity to
“say” something - a sort of visual lyric . . . yes?

At the same time then the source of that ability to contribute to the
contemporary music scene, beyond the imponderable factor of my own
creativity, is the cultural milieu from which I personally originate and
those in which I participated—London youth cultures of the 1980s,
10 N. L. Whitehead

particularly Punk, Ska, and the New Romantics, and this was pre-
cisely the scene from which Goth and Industrial music itself emerged
in the 1990s.10 In this way, and because the music and bands of that
era, such as Depeche Mode or Gary Numan, remain important in the
music scene of today the claim “I am like you” was quite true. But it is
also an incomplete claim because alongside a personal fascination and
interest in Blood Jewel’s resonance with its audience, that resonance
was also a pedagogical and research opportunity. Pedagogical because
although I am contractually obliged to teach University of Wisconsin
students, this does not exhaust an interest in teaching beyond the
academy. It was also an intellectual opportunity because research on
sexuality and violence might be usefully extended into a cultural
milieu in which those very issues were at the core of successful artistic
expression. Goth and Industrial music endlessly plays with themes of
sex, death, and violence, which have in part been important to the
development of the contemporary fetish scene. This linkage is very
evident with a figure like Marilyn Manson, whose popularity derives
from an interest in his questioning of received ideas of sexuality and
violence. The classic Goth identity of the vampire, as a sexually trans-
gressive and bloodily violent figure, is of course perfectly expressive of
these concerns. If for no other reason, it would be important for any
adequate anthropology of violence to be able to interpret the popularity
of both fetish sexuality and erotic violence of the vampire in main-
stream American culture.11
In any case, who you are or who I am in the off-line world is simply
not relevant to the initial interactions of MySpace, and there is apparent
equity in decisions as to if, and how, such interactions might or might
not continue. In the MySpace site everyone has a “profile” page that
can be linked to a system of requesting/accepting others as “friends.”
Requesting or accepting requests to be friends thus governs the nature
of this initial interaction in MySpace, and my working assumption has
been that those with a greater number of friends are, in this medium,
desirable and successful. The idiom of “friends” as means through
which one may link “MySpace” to your “space” derives from the origins
of MySpace as a social networking site, like Facebook, Hatebook, Live-
Journal, or Vampirefreaks. However, in the last two to three years
MySpace has emerged as important in another way because the site
facilitates separate types of account for musicians, film makers, and
comedians.12 At least for musicians MySpace has become a very
important tool for promotion and even an alternative to live perfor-
mance. Perhaps most bands in MySpace will never be heard outside of
that context, but then they never would have been heard at all
because the music industry obviously has finite capacity to market
Post-Human Anthropology 11

music, while the entertainment industry, which controls live-music

venues, has little interest in discovering and trying to sell new prod-
uct. Thus, MySpace has become a context in which the fan base and
viability of a given musical act might be demonstrated, and this is the
significance of the system of “friends” and importance of the counts
made of profile visits and plays/downloads of musical content.
In this way the rationale and formats in MySpace are highly appro-
priate for on-line ethnography because MySpace exists to promote
precisely the kind of dialogical exchanges that are also at the core of
existing ethnographic methodology. Fans are attracted to band sites
for the promise of direct interaction with the band while other artists,
visual as well as musical, can define themselves within a particular
musical/artistic niche by association and collaboration with established
To try to make Blood Jewel successful, I interacted on-line by
producing and embodying in an artistic form membership in a band
that is expressive of some of the key ideas and values that define the
Goth/Industrial community. In particular, Blood Jewel emphasizes
structural violence and fetish sexuality, consistent with the theoretical
origins of the collaboration between Jeff Fields and me. Artistically
fetishized sexuality is represented as a medium for self-empowerment
and an erotic response to the threatening and potentially toxic nature
of off-line sexual encounter, especially for women. As a result Blood
Jewel has proved interesting to women in particular, and the major
portion of our active fan base is women. Blood Jewel therefore aesthet-
ically distinguishes itself from consciously masculinized forms of
sexual representation, very evident amongst Heavy Metal and its
varieties, by foregrounding the erotic power of women.

FIGURE 3 Blood Jewel artwork—frequently used comment motto.

12 N. L. Whitehead

FIGURE 4 Blood Jewel artwork—frequently used comment motto.

At the same time Blood Jewel engages issues of violence through

ironic and discordant representations of violence. For example, in our
video SpeedKilla13 released in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech
shootings, images of the perpetrators in the Columbine shooting, as
well as other school shooters and Cho, the Virginia shooter himself,
are interwoven with short video clips of police shootings, frames from
the video game Grand Theft Auto, and photo work showing women
and guns. This material is then sequenced between images relating to
the film Taxi Driver (Martin Scorese 1976) and Crash (David Cronenberg
1996) to suggest a historical and cultural context for rampage shootings
and fetish sexualities that are otherwise represented as stemming solely
from the psychopathology of individuals, rather than the cultural
milieu of the United States itself.
Fan reaction is, as for any band or artist, a way of gauging the success
of our music, photography, and videos, and to the extent that we
continue to sustain certain kinds of statistical expansion in terms of
music plays, profile views, comment volume, comment quality, we can
claim a measure of artistic success. Equally, as an ethnographer, I can
also make the claim to understand the cultural milieu in which I per-
form. In this way performative ethnography sustains a theoretical
feedback loop, and effective artistic expression can become a form of
academic research. Performative felicity, artistic appreciation, and fan
Post-Human Anthropology 13

FIGURE 5 Promotional comment picture for video SpeedKilla.

praise are the evidence of success with this approach, and such suc-
cess in turn makes performative ethnography the basis of a “native
knowledge” that is a theoretical grounding for the epistemological
credibility of auto-ethnographic analysis.
This entails that one has to be free to create a personality and let it
“live” in MySpace to participate or, more importantly to have an expe-
rience to evaluate; thus, the methodology cannot be too restrictive. I
am Detonator of Blood Jewel, often known as simply “DT,” with
responsibility for on-line site maintenance, video, and animation
production. I also contribute lyrics and some vocals. Jeff Fields—
Skull—is the primary music originator. At the inception of Blood
Jewel we conceived of it as a “creative collective” that would encourage
all kinds of artistic contribution to a broad project that itself was
designed to challenge the idea of the “band.” This was both a prag-
matic response to the fact that the collaboration between Jeff and me
was not in the manner of the typical notion of a “band” and as a way of
resisting and challenging both the formula of MySpace and of exploring
the potentials that on-line performance and expression offered. This
philosophy is announced on our MySpace site as follows:

Blood Jewel originated in 2006 as a “creative collective”—a combination

of all our various talents in music, animation, visual style and aesthetic
theory. We aim to join those of similar thinking and artistic practice
14 N. L. Whitehead

across the globe to create a new network of global Goth out of Industrial
/ Electronica / EBM and related musical styles. This fifth wave of
intellectual and artistic vision unites the seen and heard to assault the
intellectual mind, breaking down old ideas of performance and expres-
sion. Violence and sexuality are key to our work for they are the
frontiers of human expression and understanding . . . . Cyber-sex,
fetish-sex, necro-sex, domination, pain and bdsm—these are all modes
of power and art—the violence of armies, states and police is a fetish of
power—the erotics of guns, bombs and missiles leads to the destruction
of bodies, the inner destruction of minds, and toxic tomorrows . . . . We
undermine the current social ordering of these fundamental human
facts through an audio-visual assault on the ideologies and structures
of power—with full body force . . . . Through the gates of tomorrow is a
new world of uncharted transgressions, the age of reason is dead . . . .
all that is left are our dreams and adventures . . . nothing is alien to us,
all things are permitted, do as you will . . . . perform your dreams at full
body force!!!

It transpired that this approach is very suited to the context of

MySpace which, through the system of commenting on friend’s
profiles and the ability to include visual materials in such comments,
allows musical materials to be artistically broadened. Blood Jewel is
by no means the only “band” that uses a lot of graphic material, and
there are many examples of sites in which it is hard to say whether
the music or the visual art is the more important. This has made
MySpace a serious context for the emergence of new kinds of art and
probably accounts for the way in which, during 2007 in particular,
many established artists, models, and musicians who had not previ-
ously been present on MySpace opened new sites. Blood Jewel was a
beneficiary of this phenomenon to some extent since we were by then
an established presence and with our reputation for an interest in
fetish sexuality, we received increasing numbers of friend requests,
particularly from female fetish models and performers. In particular,
a friend request from the super-model Gisele Bundchen underlined
both the growing commercial and artistic importance of MySpace as
well as Blood Jewel’s role in that.
As a “creative collective,” important contributions to Blood Jewel
are also made by various other individuals, particularly, Death Kitten,
Yompabaan, Konductor, Horus, Cephas, and Poizone. Cephas and
Death Kitten also maintain allied MySpace sites, as does Post-Human
(discussed below). These contributions have ranged from important
technical and artistic assistance in filming, photography and video
editing, stylistic and performance suggestions, as well as live dance
and fetish play.14
Post-Human Anthropology 15

As an ethnographic project the overarching methodology is thus to

use MySpace to try and make it as a “band” using our own original
visual media and sound in an appealing and innovative way. So for
the intellectual project of understanding sexuality and violence, via
the “uncanny” medium of cyberspace, our actions need to be genuinely
creative and real subjective responses to a potential and now estab-
lished audience, particularly among our MySpace “friends,” the core
fan-base for Blood Jewel. In this way, even as a researcher, my own
subjectivity is engaged, and transformed, along with everyone else’s.
As a result I have developed responsibilities toward “ethnographic
subjects” in the traditional ethnographic fashion, but with a blending
of research and performance this is not the limit of those responsibilities,
which now extend into creative relationships, as with models who
have worked with us, and other bands who have contributed musically
to our videos.
These creative collaborations have been vital in establishing the
artistic merit of Blood Jewel, and I will briefly outline two different
collaborations, which were the first to occur. Blood Jewel’s high-volume
use of visual illustration generates a constant need to find or originate
new graphics and the photo-still is crucial to that. While it is accept-
able in MySpace to re-use existing graphics, credible art requires
original contribution.15 Blood Jewel therefore organized a photo-shoot
with the fetish models “Miss Ammunition” and “Bee” from Chicago to
generate an inventory of original artwork. The results of this collabo-
ration appear regularly in our visual materials and the photo-shoot
itself was videoed and posted. For the models, who worked for us for
free as a result of their personal interest and engagement with Blood
Jewel art, as did the photographer, make-up artists, and jeweler,
being featured in our videos and on our page is a useful way to promote
their work.
Blood Jewel has also collaborated with a number of bands, and our
first collaboration, among the most successful, was with the French
band Shibari using the track “Kliko,” which became the video Kliko-
Erotic Ambient.16 As maker of the video I can say that the intention
was to tone down the violent sexuality often referenced in Blood Jewel
solo productions and to seek an erotic aesthetic that emphasized the
power of passive sexual modes, particularly bondage, or as it is termed
in Japanese, “shibari.” Despite this the resulting music video has been
the most problematic in terms of censorship. Posting it to our YouTube
site resulted in over 10,000 hits in just two weeks, but also the erasure
of our YouTube accounts, probably resulting from my taking down a
critical comment posted by another user who then “revenged” them-
selves on us by complaining to the YouTube administration. This was
16 N. L. Whitehead

FIGURE 6 Artwork from the Blood Jewel fetish-shoot, Chicago, January

2007. Model Bee.

FIGURE 7 Artwork from the Blood Jewel fetish-shoot, Chicago, January

2007. Model Miss Ammunition.
Post-Human Anthropology 17

in the fall of 2007 just after the media corporation Viacom had bought
out the original YouTube and was fiercely policing copyright infringe-
ment. We had not infringed copyright but of course this was a great
way of avoiding the charge of censorship. Notably, YouTube is filled
with videos showing extreme violence, often from the war in Iraq, but
erotic representation proves far more controversial, at least for an
American audience. Kliko-Erotic Ambient has subsequently been
repeatedly erased from both our site and that of Shibari in MySpace,
although we have developed strategies to keep the video available.17
Obviously, the matter of censorship and challenging normative
standards artistically is potentially controversial within the context of
ethnographic research. However, ethnographically, my actions are
ethically acceptable because they are based on that authentic artistic
goal. Nor are such transgressive artistic acts undertaken as a means
of experimenting with others lives because it is my own experience of
this project that is the auto-ethnographic subject of study. If I were to
attempt to research individual users as “informants” on the processes
and dynamics of MySpace, then the relation between on-line identity
and off-line social identity would be all important and lead directly to
the ethically fraught issues of how much masking of identity and pur-
pose could be legitimate for the ethnographer. However, one might
also ask if cyber-personalities are human subjects in the sense that
the bureaucracy Humans Subjects Protocols panels suggest? Cer-
tainly, we need to at least have this debate as we cannot expect tradi-
tional ethical standards of the off-line world to apply formulaically to
the study of on-line worlds.
In this way my desire (and that of other band members) to create
Blood Jewel is essential to making a credible auto-ethnography. The
deceptive and rather difficult project of trying to do this simply as a
contrived mask for a standard scholarly project about on-line users
simply would not work; it would be as ineffective as it is immoral. The
ethnographic problem up until this point has been that the mask of
“being an ethnographer” has pushed our own desires out of the picture
so that they can only re-enter the idiom of ethnographic reporting in a
covert or highly constrained way. Alternatively, we can take experience
rather than identity as the starting point for framing ethnographic
issues, and this clearly breaks with existing practice and pushes the
boundaries of what anthropology is or could be.18
A good example of this methodology is the artwork I have been cre-
ating and using as comments to other MySpace users sites. The point
here is to explore the theoretical thesis, expressed in earlier works
(Whitehead 2002, 2004), that violence is a form of cultural expression
with at times creative and positive cultural meaning and that much of
18 N. L. Whitehead

that creative and positive meaning derives from its conjunction with
sexuality. A more limited hypothesis would suggest that the use of sex-
ualized and violent imagery with the Goth/Industrial scene should be
read as an attempt to construct alternative and empowering imagi-
naries in which dominant discourses of danger and toxicity are
inverted to subvert a perceived status quo of sexual repression and to
overcome fear of violence through its imaginative enactment.19 None-
theless, one may question whether a biologically-grounded sexuality
can ever be a subversive sexuality. I think the answer has to be yes in
the sense that it is a logical possibility even if at this point in time it is
historically challenging and culturally unlikely. The Blood Jewel
project is focused on not so much sexual fluidity in gender terms as
how gender imaginaries generate erotics, and particularly a gender
imaginary which is heterogeneous rather than homogeneous. In other
words, the power and erotic dynamic of sexual othering using ideas of
gender. This artistic and research orientation limits the potential
overall impact of the project on issues of gender fluidity, but to fulfill
the auto-ethnographic aspects of the project it is those phenomena
with which I am most familiar, comfortable, and capable that domi-
nate the artistic production. This then leaves plenty of scope for oth-
ers—differently motivated and with different sexual proclivities—to
work in related ways.20
In this way Blood Jewel’s art is theoretically driven and is not just
the presentation of theory, but rather an active performance of theory.
This orientation is not without precedent and in particular the use of
the erotic and sexual in avant-garde art is well established through
figures such as an Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe (Osterweil
The dialogic process of commenting with pictures that may also
contain text (see Figures 2–6) actually produces highly reliable infor-
mation about the values of the community in question through
responses to our own page. The difference to classic fieldwork is of
course that this happens without asking them why they liked a video,
or what they didn’t like about it, etc., which would be the traditional
ethnographic or sociological questions.21 Certainly, people are not
necessarily reading Blood Jewel’s artistic productions with the
theoretical complexity with which its being produced—a perennial
issue of media and literary studies—but such readings are possible
and are manifest in some of the back comments and personal mail
messages about our videos. The videos and comments thus operate on
different subjective and intellectual levels, ranging from direct,
emotive appreciation— “that’s awesome pics and sound . . . cool
image” —to a more sophisticated reading that appreciates how art
Post-Human Anthropology 19

FIGURE 8 Signature artwork posted by Blood Jewel in MySpace.

that is highly challenging and uncomfortable to contemplate can pro-

voke critical thinking about power, violence, and sexuality.22 As an
aside, one might note that this is actually key to the “art” of producing
good media anyway; it is culturally and socially polyvalent.
Finally, it must be said that the use of female bodies—the gen-
dered aspects of the site’s aesthetic—may be thought problematical.
But while the site is obviously driven by my visual preferences, this
is in the first place an artistic choice, not a scientific or philosophical
one. Moreover, in aesthetic terms I am necessarily engaged with the
visual canons of modernist culture where the male body is not
normatively available either intellectually or even practically as a an
object of static contemplation.23 Blood Jewel has worked with the
French male-model “Oliver” on a series of photos showing him in a
kilt, bound with chains, and heavily bloodied but the MySpace milieu
is usually strongly heterosexual, or at least Blood Jewel’s fan-base
is, and so this material has not played a prominent role in our
20 N. L. Whitehead

At the same time recent events have arguably caused a re-signification

of the female body as a form of threatening weaponry, whether as
torturers at Abu-Ghraib, or as martyr bomb-carriers, or active mili-
tary personnel in United States combat zones, the erotics of military
violence fully express our fetish of violence and power (Oliver 2008).
Performative ethnography is precisely a public revelation of personal
proclivity, but this also produces a set of experiences that are a fruitful
ground for anthropological study because they involve the representation
of sexuality and violence in a relatively uncharted cultural realm—
cyberspace and the counter-normative cultural worlds of Goth-Industrial
music and art.
A contextualization of personal desire and proclivity, such as
described above, is exactly what is called for by the idea of making
overt the ethnographer’s positionality, and this has often become no
more than a rather formalistic exercise in sharing some minimal
biographical details, rather than a discussion of subjective engage-
ments. In the end, nobody’s choice of scholarly project or informants is
so scientific anyway; it is subjective and a pragmatic reflection of who
with, and where, we feel we can achieve a given intellectual purpose.
So participatory ethnography necessarily challenges us to demon-
strate and discuss our social skills no less than our intellectual and
artistic ones. But whatever the problems with such an emergent
methodology we already know that the fig-leaf of “scientific observa-
tion” can no longer cover the phallus of ethnographic desire.

Post-human anthropology
The global cultural emergence of the post-human is a response to this
situation, a convergence, both historical and intellectual, in thinking
and feeling about the nature of identity and the form of experience. As
mentioned before, the concept of identity has become highly problem-
atic in anthropology, for in asking the question “who is what?”, if we
have not been greeted with a recalcitrant silence,25 then we have
received the reply that “we are not who you think we are!” In this light
the categories of ethnological explanation are revealed as a way of
creating scientific objects and not the start point for unraveling other
experiential worlds.26 For many anthropologists working in Amazonia,
this has also gone along with the realization that there are ontologies
that lie beyond the human and which understand persons as subjec-
tively and socially partible, divisible, and highly unstable (Descola
and Palsson 1996; Fausto 2007; Viveiros de Castro 1998), just as
Strathern (2005) demonstrated for Melanesia and Busby (1997) for
South India.
Post-Human Anthropology 21

Shamanism itself seeks to intermittently stabilize these fluid ontol-

ogies through ritual action that expresses a deep knowledge of the
cosmological rules for the transformation of beings between ontologi-
cal states and for the creation of new experience and desire through
the relational nature of historical identity. In this manner death and
resurrection become the critical ritual skills that undergird a vision of
all existence as both related (inter-connected) and of the cosmos as
being structured by the historical pattern of being and becoming.27 In
Amazonia we truly encounter partible persons (i.e., material beings
whose identities are not fixed but dependent on the forms of sociality
in which they are engaged). In turn, ideas of sociality derive from the
critical ontological moments of birth, copulation, and death, which are
the irreducible elements of existence itself. As a result of this ontological
framework the forms of social engagement and socially constituted
desire define the nature of material being, not the other way around.
However, material form is an illusory guide to ontological condition so
that the ability to negotiate the passage through death and resurrec-
tion becomes the means also to achieve ontological transformation, as
the great war-chief of the Tupinambá Konyanbebe answered as he sat
before a calabash of human flesh, “I am a jaguar [and so] it tastes
good . . . .” (Whitehead and Harbsmeier 2008: 91). The historical struc-
tures and subjective processes of Western desire have, of course, been
closely analyzed by various theorists, particularly Jacques Lacan, as
mentioned above. However, elsewhere systems of magic and sorcery
represent the articulation of desire (the naming/speaking of desire),
which, unlike in Lacanian theory, simultaneously thereby constitute
such articulation as a means for the realization of desire. Shamanic
chant, song, and music thus fill up the originary “lack” found in Western
forms of Lacanian desire.28
The construction of personhood in Amazonia thus bears on the ques-
tion of the post-human for at least two key reasons. First, Amazonian
ontologies thoroughly explore the instability of the human and animal,
and this is a project to which we have turned in the last twenty years
in the West with increasing enthusiasm. Westerners have extended
“human rights” to animals and literally incorporated animal tissue and
organs into their own bodies, even as the gargantuan political economy
of pet-keeping and the search for a progressive “eco-consciousness”
supplant or alter the meanings of intra-human interaction.29
Second, historical anthropology has come to realize that possibly in
all times and cultures the idea of the uniqueness of the “human” has
been only been intermittently present. Certainly, the notion of an irre-
ducible “human” has been deployed to augment political power and
functioned as a central notion in religion and spirituality. Notably,
22 N. L. Whitehead

such deployments have tended to be exclusionary, part of the process

of the invention of state or civil societies of a certain kind and, as I will
suggest below, this process continues as global capital development
creates in all places zombi workers controlled by vampire masters
producing for cannibal consumers. But one of the most striking exam-
ples of this process emerged in the conquest of America when the
Spanish Council of the Indies orchestrated a debate in Seville during
August 1550 to consider the proposition that the newly-found “Indi-
ans” were, or were not, actually human.30 Such a debate was not just
academic because the outcome decided the legal, economic, and politi-
cal status of the peoples of the New World; just as several centuries
later the “humanity” of black slaves transported to the Americas was
coded through notions of racial difference.
In this sense the instability of the category of “human” is nothing
new, nor is it universal or necessary. Within the Euro-American
cultural tradition the historical encounter between colonially expanding
Europe and the rest of the world challenged European thinking as to
the nature of the human and how it might be defined. Initially, this
was done without rupture to a medieval worldview in which Biblical
accounts of human origins were adequate to explain human variety.
But that did not last and the emergence of an “enlightenment” as to
the rational order of the world and the place of a collective “humanity”
within that ordered cosmos laid the basis for modernist frameworks of
reason logic and science (Agamben 2003; Atlan and De Waal 2007;
Badmington 2000).
These frameworks of thinking have given us both an epistemology
rooted in empiricism and a Cartesian self-conscious subject who occu-
pies its center, from which the individual mind knows and acts on the
world. This historical legacy in Western thought in turn underpins
social and political theory as to the meaning and role of law, legal
responsibility, and criminal justice, as well as the ideas of “life” and
“health” as medical categories, the institutions of democracy and the
exercise and defense of “human rights.”31a This discourse of the
human is crowned by the creative “human subject” whose insight and
inspiration become the motor of historical change and progress.
These grand narratives of modernity have been critiqued and even
abandoned in the last twenty years as the specter of “post-modernity”
has come to represent increasing dissatisfaction with the consequences
of this intellectual historical legacy. At the same time the limits of
scientific forms of knowledge and the ethical issues its pursuit has
engendered, the apparent intractability of cultural others in realizing
their destiny as rational individualized subjects, and our own deep
cultural pessimism as to the perfectibility of society or individuals
Post-Human Anthropology 23

FIGURE 9 Post-Human,

lead us to question what the “human” is and to ask if, as we pass

beyond the moment of modernity, we have not also entered an age of
the post-human as well?31b
In other words, this is not just to ask how the categories of
“human,” “animal,” “machine,” “divinity” might be unstable and shift-
ing but also to ask the more fundamental question as to whether our
current experience of being “human” is historically and culturally dis-
junctural, and, anyway, about to end.
Reasons for thinking so include not just the way in which we have
come to perceive the animal and mechanical as a mimesis of the
human but the way in which our own subjective experience is now
potentially disembodied through the burgeoning of cyber-spatial rela-
tionships and simultaneously re-embodied prosthetically, in medical
technologies of biological and mechanical implant or substitution.
Moreover, we simultaneously experience technological subjugation to
a regime of body-as-machine. Our bodies as technological subjects are
thus also dieted, nipped and tucked, sculpted, pieced, tattooed,
marketed, pictured, clothed, tortured, and mutilated to establish an
acceptable social identity. These suggestions have also been deployed
artistically, in the same way as Blood Jewel was the vehicle for
examining sexuality and violence, through the creation of the MySpace
24 N. L. Whitehead

FIGURE 10 Banner from the Trojan “EVOLVE” condom campaign.

site Post-Human. This is a personal page not a band page (a distinc-

tion important to MySpace usage), which works in a way akin to
installation art. The relevance here is that the response has been
highly laudatory to the themes of animal, machine, and human insta-
bility and hybridity, also underscoring the way in which the qualitative
approach of anthropology may be no less effective in understanding
mass-cultures than statistical survey-based methodologies. A second-
ary feature of the page is the emphasis on environmental toxicity and
the medical creation of sexual monstrosity and suffering. The resonance
of such normatively transgressive themes was far greater than I had
The post-human condition then is a reconfiguration, rather than
erasure, of embodiment; however, it is a reconfiguration in which the
human subject emerges episodically, almost as a cipher for a form of
subjectivity rather than functioning as the boundary of, or necessary
condition for, the experience of being human (see Haraway 1991; Hayles
1999). One of the most dynamic cultural fields for this unfolding
process is cyber-space. Here digital subjectivities replace the herme-
neutic of love and romance with the possibilities of multiple sexualized
engagements with imaginatively-embodied others. The materiality of
an off-line human body is supplanted by a no-less real on-line imagi-
native embodiment as diverse and perverse sexual subjects experience
non-penetrative and new forms of sexuality. From the commercial
chat-rooms—where the panopticon of the webcam permits a visual
performance of body-dreams, fantasies and desires—to the carefully
constructed cyber-beings that roam the worlds of gaming and social-
sites such as MySpace we can encounter and participate in radically
disembodied and novel forms of subjective experience.
None of this relates to interactions between actual “fleshy humans”
who have all but disappeared from such landscapes of desire and
dreaming. Indeed, such “fleshy humans” turn out to be sexually toxic,
requiring the wearing of prosthetic second skin, a condom “every
time.” They may also be socially dangerous as well because anyone
might turn out be a rapist, serial killer, or terrorist.
Post-Human Anthropology 25

FIGURE 11 The Human Element, Dow Chemicals’ ad campaign.

The advertisement for Trojan condoms currently running would

have us believe. Indeed, in the lead slogan of the campaign we are
enjoined to EVOLVE beyond our pathetic and tainted humanity. But
the erasure of all things human, an evolution into a fully post-human
condition is not only anticipated in such aesthetic and commercial
spaces but is the ultimate fantasy of global capital. This is the politi-
cally irresistible reason why our subjectivities are being so thoroughly
reconfigured. Again the reference is provided from the world of adver-
tising where Dow Chemicals’ current campaign—The Human
Element—fantasizes the “human element,” as being reduced to a new
symbol of the periodic table, an interesting catalytic factor but clearly
not a desiring or rebellious subject.
In a similar vein this is also checkmate in the C. P. Snow-inspired
debate on the “two cultures” of science and humanities, as the “final
solution” to the reconciliation of science and humanism becomes the
encapsulation of the human spark within the structures of technical
knowledge. The plaintive music, sonorous narration, and empty global
landscapes thus signal the end of time, the end of history, the end of
humanity . . . and our own entry into a post-human age.

Received 22 March 2008; accepted 5 May 2008.

I thank the members of Blood Jewel, Carol Siegel, Jonathan Hill, Peter Sigal, and Toma
Longinovic for their valuable and thoughtful discussion of this project. Earlier versions
of this article were read at the Department of Anthropology of Rice University, the
26 N. L. Whitehead

American Society for Ethnohistory meetings at William and Mary College, the University
of Wisconsin-Madison for symposia on “Sexuality & Violence” organized by the Sexuality
and Violence Research Circle of the Global Studies Institute and the Humanities Cen-
ter-Mellon Foundation symposium on “What is Human,” the Latin American, Iberian,
Caribbean Studies program lecture series. In particular, I thank my co-presenters for
the Digital Subjectivities panel at the American Anthropological Association 106th
annual meeting in Washington D.C., especially the organizers Jay Hasbrouck and Mike

Address correspondence to Neil L. Whitehead, Professor of Anthropology and Religious

Studies, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1180 Observatory
Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA. E-mail:

1. Popular attitudes are reflected in the Wikipedia entry for “safe sex”:

Safe sex is the practice of sexual activity in a manner that reduces the risk of
infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Safe sex practices
became prominent in the late 1980s as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Promoting
safe sex is now a principal aim of sex education. From the viewpoint of society,
safe sex can be regarded as a harm reduction strategy. The goal of safer sex is
education and risk reduction . . . . . . . some sex educators recommend that
barrier protection be used for all sexual activities which have the potential for
disease transmission, such as manual penetration of the anal or vaginal cavities,
or oral stimulation of the genitals.
Sex by yourself, known as autoeroticism, solitary sexual activity is rela-
tively safe. Masturbation, the simple act of stimulating one’s own genitalia, is
safe so long as contact is not made with other people’s discharged bodily fluids.
However, some practices, such as self-bondage and autoerotic asphyxia, are
made considerably more dangerous by the absence of people who can inter-
vene if something goes wrong. Modern technology does permit some activities,
such as “phone sex” and “cybersex”, that allow for partners to engage in sexual
activity without being in the same room, eliminating the risks involved with
exchanging bodily fluids. (My emphasis)
Non-penetrative sex (also known as outercourse and dry sex) is sexual
activity without vaginal, anal, and possibly oral penetration, as opposed to
intercourse. The terms mutual masturbation and frottage are also used, but
with slightly different emphases. NPS and outercourse are rather new terms,
which is why such practices are sometimes still called “intercourse.” Absti-
nence is of course the ultimately safe option.

2. Two in five Internet users visited an adult site in August of 2005, according to track-
ing by comScore Media Metrix 87 percent of university students polled have virtual
sex mainly using Instant Messenger, webcam, and telephone (“Campus Kiss and Tell”
University and College Sex Survey. Released on 14 February 2006.
17 February 2006). According to comScore Media Metrix, Internet users viewed over
15 billion pages of adult content in August 2005, Internet users spent an average of
14.6 minutes per day viewing adult content online, and there were 63.4 million unique
visitors to adult websites in December of 2005, reaching 37.2 percent of the Internet
audience. By the end of 2004, there were 420 million pages of pornography, and it is
believed that the majority of these websites are owned by less than 50 companies.
The pornography industry generates $12 billion dollars in annual revenue—larger
than the combined annual revenues of ABC, NBC, and CBS. Of that, the Internet
Post-Human Anthropology 27

pornography industry generates $2.5 billion dollars in annual revenue (Family Safe
Media. 10 January 2006.
3. See also the path-breaking work by Dwight Conquergood (1991, 1993) of the Depart-
ment of Performance Studies at Northwestern University on Latino Gangs and the
housing projects of Chicago.
4. Live Video, Live Journal, Facebook, Hatebook, Vampire Freaks
5. Such a dialogic and performative approach is also suggested by the work done in
search of post-colonial ethnographic methods, in particular the work of Johannes
Fabian (1990).
6. Christine Hine’s Virtual Ethnography (2000) does a valuable job of laying some of
the methodological groundwork for this kind of study. However, unlike Hine, who
suggests that “virtual” worlds are somehow not “the real thing” (2000: 65), the
model here is of off-line and on-line contexts, all of which are of course “real,” even if
of differing and changing significance. Historically, Hine’s work appeared before
social networking sites, and many other aspects of on-line worlds, had been widely
7. This situation then sets up a direct conflict between the project of cultural relativity
and the presence of cultural values we deem non-progressive. For example, in a
recent issue of the Anthropology News (March 2008, p.28), such a conflict is evident
in a discussion of how anthropologists should react and think about “gender
violence” in Papua New Guinea.
8. See the forthcoming volume edited by Peter Sigal and Neil Whitehead deriving from
serial meetings at the American Society for Ethnohistory, Duke University and the
University of Madison-Wisconsin. Here a range of case studies are used to illustrate
the prevalence of this phenomenon and to suggest various critical reading and
research strategies that might obviate the problem.
9. Currently airing on the Travel Channel, Living with the Mek—The Adventures of
Mark and Olly seems to have moved the ethnographic idiom firmly into the field of
entertainment. Mark and Olly, an ex-soldier and journalist, respectively, thus
perform as “ethnographers” through their extended residence, mimesis of cultural
behavior, and the commitment to “do no harm” to their bemused hosts, the Mek
villagers of Western Papua (Irian Jaya) the copy reads: “Explorer Mark Anstice and
travel journalist Olly Steeds must make extreme adjustments to spend four months
living with the Mek tribe of West Papua, New Guinea, one of the last indigenous
groups of farming hunter-gatherers in the world.”
10. This is not an attempt to write a history of that music scene but rather to suggest
how my understanding of it (accurate or not) was important in configuring my
current ethnographic work.
11. The mass popularity of the fetish scene, originating in large part from the milieu of
the disco and nightclub entertainment and the historical persistence of “burlesque”
theater, is evidenced not just in the context of the night-life of most major American
cities but also in such established contexts as Halloween, where fetishized nurses,
teachers, cheer-leaders, cow-boys, cops and construction workers witches form the
staple of costume rentals.
12. The full list of different site-types includes Games, Movies, Ringtones, Celebrity,
Grade My Prof., Music, Schools, Chat Rooms, Horoscopes, Music Videos, Sports,
Groups, Books, Impact, MySpaceIM, Latino, Karaoke, Jobs, News, MySpaceTV,
Filmmaker, Mobile, Profile Editor, and Weather. Some of these are simply listings
created by MySpace itself but others, as indicated, offer embedded html that
28 N. L. Whitehead

provides additional features such as music-players that track plays and downloads,
or secure merchandising for both music tracks and band merchandise. Initial
attempts to create a two-tier membership with, for example, bands paying for these
additional features, were abandoned because users found ways to write their own
html codes and customize their own pages.
14. A performance given at the Memorial Union University of Wisconsin-Madison featured
an extended fetish act by Yompabaan and Konduktor. Audience interviews and
reactions, as this was part of a concert organized on the theme of art, war, and vio-
lence, were also filmed.
15. The basic rule is that if you post something then it will be used by others. In legal
terms there is no obedience to copyright law at all, and notably those who complain
that their graphics are being used by others do develop not successful sites. The
milieu is one in which ownership of artistic output is continuously questioned as a
principle and understood as antithetical to the spirit of artistic freedom. Although
the MySpace administration would undoubtedly like to be able to enforce copyright
laws, as this would enhance their value as a commercial site, in practice it is only
the notion of “obscenity” that leads to punitive sanction (i.e., the erasure of one’s
17. Evasion of the “MySpace Nazis,” as the administration is colloquially termed amongst
users, is both a necessary survival tactics but also a demonstration of one’s technical
abilities and radical, critical credentials. Each time we have something erased or
banned this augments our credibility even as it is artistically very frustrating.
18. It is also in this sense that there is particular resonance for this essay in a journal
called Identities, because too narrow a focus on issues of identity—critical though
that has been to laying out a radical and progressive political agenda for anthropol-
ogy as it emerges from its colonial origins—makes certain kinds of phenomena
inaccessible, and anyway theoretically limits the project of anthropology in a highly
artificial way. And I think this is really important given all the virtual worlds
people are creating and participating in and about which anthropology has said so
19. Carol Siegel (2005) argues that such a deconstruction/reconstruction, territorialization/
re-territorialization of sexuality, necessarily entails the dissolution of traditional and
conventional gender binarity. As Siegel suggests Goth-Industrial stars like Marilyn
Manson detach(ed) gender from biological sex as part of a project of subversion,
often in sophisticated and complex ways. See also an overview of Goth fetish perfor-
mance and its increasing prevalence in Weinstock (2007).
20. The Post-Human web project (described below) is also an experiment in trans-gendering
as it is “me” although “she” is a 31-year-old woman.
21. But perhaps there isn’t a way to necessarily know what they liked and why? As
Kurosawa’s Rashomon teaches us, no one can say what another man does, not even
that man himself.
22. A good example of this was our release of the music video Poizone-Toxic Fetish http:// The content
is blatantly sexual but also uses imagery of landscape devastation by war and indus-
trial pollution. Images of the fetish use of gas-masks and rubberized clothing then
brings these themes together to suggest that erotic aesthetics and sexual responses
can also be political statement, as Michel Foucault has taught us, sex is subversive if
it leads to a different knowledge of your own body.
Post-Human Anthropology 29

23. Rather the male body is always fetishized in motion, as in sport, or as enactors of
violence, as in war. The female body thus radically destabilizes such normative
views when it mediates violence sexually. For the aesthetic and artistic project of
Blood Jewel, this precisely becomes a way to try to provoke and service critical
thinking about sex and violence. In turn, the Blood Jewel project contributes to the
scholarly project of developing new approaches to interpreting sexuality and
violence, as was very much the case with my earlier work on kanaimà sorcery.
24. As Carol Siegel (personal communication) indicates, there is nonetheless a clear
presence of male-bodies on display that break with the normative: “. . . advertising
beginning with the infamous Calvin Klein underwear ads and going on to the
bruised and battered look of so many male models now, . . . photography and video
for music promotion (like Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor bondage and torture
imagery), set piece images of tortured/bound male bodies in film, S/M performance
artists like Ron Athey and Bob Flannagan, the crossover work of women creating
porn as if they were gay men for consumption by other women. . . . All of these
things feed into the Goth/Industrial/Fetish scenes in San Francisco, New York, and
even here in Portland (sometimes known as leather club capital of the US). . . . If
you want to see tons of pix of beautiful boys in bondage with a decidedly Goth-slant,
try a Laurell K. Hamilton fan site, like
Shifters.html where mostly women and girls create images of the male protagonists
of Hamilton’s best-seller novels’ heroine’s male submissives.”
25. As other Amazonianists have pointed out (Clastres 1987; Mentore 2004), the silence
of the native is intolerable even to a liberal progressive anthropological science, no
less than the colonial regimes of the past. It is through dialogical engagement that
we come to know who is what, and those asked such questions can fully appreciate
what may be entailed in supplying the answers, because Foucaldian governmentality
proliferates through the naming and categorization of its potential subjects. The
other face to this intolerable silence of the other is of course our current enchant-
ment by the idea of torture and the imagination of circumstances under which they
must be made to speak.
26. In Sensuous Scholarship (1997) Paul Stoller challenges contemporary social theorists
and cultural critics who use the notion of embodiment to critique Eurocentric
and phallocentric predispositions in scholarly thought that considers the body pri-
marily as a text that can be read and analyzed. Stoller argues that this attitude is in
itself Eurocentric and is particularly inappropriate for anthropologists, who often
work in societies in which the notion of text, and textual interpretation, is foreign.
Instead, Stoller argues for the importance of understanding the “sensuous episte-
mologies” of many non-Western societies so that we can better understand the soci-
eties themselves and what their epistemologies have to teach us about “human
experience” in general, or, one might add, the fallacy of a generalized human experi-
ence at all.
27. As Viveiros de Castro (1992) has argued, being and becoming, rather in the manner
of Sartrean being in itself and for others, are thus separate ontological propositions
and represent the outcome of time and choice rather than unchanging metaphysical
structures of existence. Pierre Clastres (1987) made a similar argument concerning
the political historical emergence of society and state in South America and the
limits to power in “human” scale society; here it was Hegelian necessity rather than
Kantian ontology that was at stake.
28. To paraphrase Bruce Dakowski on Malinowski; “. . . the very word “magic” seems to
recall a world of mysterious and unexpected possibility, partly because we hope to
find in it the quintessence of primitive man’s longings and wisdom; . . . . and that
30 N. L. Whitehead

whatever that is, it is worth knowing and stirs up the forces of hidden desires and
dreams and reveals a lingering hope in miraculous possibility, a dormant belief in
man’s mysterious possibilities . . .” (Off the Verandah, dir. Andre Singer, 1985).
Embedded in the structures of consumerism Western desire is necessarily incom-
plete and envious of the “primitive” because the objects of desire are constituted
through a cultural frame of permanent psychological “lack” and economic “scarcity.”
29. The humanity of animals in turn receives full expression as we acknowledge not
just their political and legal status but also their perverse and non-reproductive
sexualities, or “biological exuberance” as it is termed in a recent volume that
documents trans-gendering, pederasty, and homosexuality amongst animals
(Bagemihl 1999).
30. A chaplain and chronicler to Charles V, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, had written
that the Indians were “. . .homunculi in whom hardly a vestige of humanity
remains.. [they were] like pigs with their eyes always fixed on the ground. . .”
(quoted in Nash 2005: 46), and as a result fit only for conquest and dominion by
the Spanish Crown. On behalf of the Dominican order, members of which had
lodged complaints against these sentiments, Bartolomé de Las Casas offered a
lengthy rebuttal to all of Sepúlveda’s writings. In fact, the debate was never face
to face and Sepúlveda offered a twelve-point written rebuttal to Las Casas who in
turn replied to these rebuttals. Here the matter rested, although such tensions
were ever-present in Spanish colonial policy.
31.a. Such universalizing of the category of “human” then paradoxically leads to a
depersonalization and deculturalization of the individual subject. This is very
evident, for example, from the way in which the United Nations discourse on
human rights is actually applied in refugee camps (Finnstrom 2008: 240; Malikki
1995: 378).
31.b. In the sense that the Great Killing of the twentieth century, from the trenches of
the Somme, to the death camps of Poland and the churches of Rwanda, has not
only led us to forlornly wonder where “common humanity” disappeared to in these
desperate moments but also to have created in us a despair at our own capacity for
in-humanity. Perhaps then there is actually a positive need for us to pass into
post-humanity because the discourse of the human paradoxically led to only mass-
death on an historically unprecedented scale. However, a cynical retreat into anti-
humanist nihilism, as has been popularly advocated by John Gray in his 2002
best-seller Straw Dogs is also possible.
32. Post-Human’s blog contains text that has been revised for this publication,
suggesting that the theoretical arguments are no-less successful, or at least do not
disrupt the artistic message, among Post-Human’s fans. Perhaps the best back-
comment received to this blog was simply, “Wow, I’m gobsmacked!”

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