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Theory for Thought
Materialisms, Violence, and Decolonialism
Spring 2019

15:00 Geneva Time | 12:00 Rio de Janeiro Time

We will read approximately 3-4 chapters of each text every two weeks. Each section of the group will meet wherever possible at
designated rooms for the discussion; one person will be assigned to kick off the discussion each week.

Dates and Readings

February 27th Mol, The Body Multiple, Chapters 1-3.

March 13th Mol, The Body Multiple, Chapters 4-6.

March 27th Kohn, How Forests Think, Chapters 1-3.

April 10th Kohn, How Forests Think, Chapters 4-Epilogue.

May 1st Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, Chapters 1-4.

May 15th Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, Chapters 5-Epilogue.

May 29rd Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, Chapters 1-3.

June 12th Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, Chapters 4-6.


Mol, Annemarie. The Body Multiple

The Body Multiple is an extraordinary ethnography of an ordinary disease. Drawing on fieldwork
in a Dutch university hospital, Annemarie Mol looks at the day-to-day diagnosis and treatment of
atherosclerosis. A patient information leaflet might describe atherosclerosis as the gradual
obstruction of the arteries, but in hospital practice this one medical condition appears to be many
other things. From one moment, place, apparatus, specialty, or treatment, to the next, a slightly
different “atherosclerosis” is being discussed, measured, observed, or stripped away. This
multiplicity does not imply fragmentation; instead, the disease is made to cohere through a range
of tactics including transporting forms and files, making images, holding case conferences, and
conducting doctor-patient conversations. The Body Multiple juxtaposes two distinct texts.
Alongside Mol’s analysis of her ethnographic material—interviews with doctors and patients and
observations of medical examinations, consultations, and operations—runs a parallel text in which
she reflects on the relevant literature. Mol draws on medical anthropology, sociology, feminist
theory, philosophy, and science and technology studies to reframe such issues as the disease-illness
distinction, subject-object relations, boundaries, difference, situatedness, and ontology. In
dialogue with one another, Mol’s two texts meditate on the multiplicity of reality-in-practice.
Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests Think
Can forests think? Do dogs dream? In this astonishing book, Eduardo Kohn challenges the very
foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means
to be human―and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among
the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn draws on his rich ethnography to explore
how Amazonians interact with the many creatures that inhabit one of the world’s most complex
ecosystems. Whether or not we recognize it, our anthropological tools hinge on those capacities
that make us distinctly human. However, when we turn our ethnographic attention to how we
relate to other kinds of beings, these tools (which have the effect of divorcing us from the rest of
the world) break down. How Forests Think seizes on this breakdown as an opportunity. Avoiding
reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught
up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools
from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself.

Stoler, Laura Ann. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power

Why, Ann Laura Stoler asks, was the management of sexual arrangements and affective
attachments so critical to the making of colonial categories and to what distinguished ruler from
ruled? Contending that social classification is not a benign cultural act but a potent political one,
Stoler shows that matters of the intimate were absolutely central to imperial politics. It was, after
all, in the intimate sphere of home and servants that European children learned what they were
required to learn of place and race. Gender-specific sexual sanctions, too, were squarely at the
heart of imperial rule, and European supremacy was asserted in terms of national and racial virility.
Stoler looks discerningly at the way cultural competencies and sensibilities entered into the
construction of race in the colonial context and proposes that "cultural racism" in fact predates its
postmodern discovery. Her acute analysis of colonial Indonesian society in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries yields insights that translate to a global, comparative perspective.

Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

Spinoza's theoretical philosophy is one of the most radical attempts to construct a pure ontology
with a single infinite substance. This book has as its subject the opposition between ethics and
morality, and the link between ethical and ontological propositions. His ethics is an ethology,
rather than a moral science. Attention has been drawn to Spinoza by deep ecologists such as Arne
Naess, the Norwegian philosopher; and this reading of Spinoza by Deleuze lends itself to a radical
ecological ethic. As Robert Hurley says, “Deleuze opens us to the idea that the elements of the
different individuals we compose may be nonhuman within us. One wonders, finally, whether
Man might be defined as a territory, a set of boundaries, a limit on existence.” Gilles Deleuze,
known for his inquiries into desire, language, politics, and power, finds a kinship between Spinoza
and Nietzsche. He writes, "Spinoza did not believe in hope or even in courage; he believed only
in joy and in vision . . . he more than any other gave me the feeling of a gust of air from behind
each time I read him, of a witch's broom that he makes one mount.”