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Society of Others

Society of Others: Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place

Rupert Stasch
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Society of Others
    Book Description:

    This important study upsets the popular assumption that human relations in small-scale societies are based on shared experience. In a theoretically innovative account of the lives of the Korowai of West Papua, Indonesia, Rupert Stasch shows that in this society, people organize their connections to each another around otherness. Analyzing the Korowai people's famous "tree house" dwellings, their patterns of living far apart, and their practices of kinship, marriage, and childbearing and rearing, Stasch argues that the Korowai actively make relations not out of what they have in common, but out of what divides them.Society of Others,the first anthropological book about the Korowai, offers a picture of Korowai lives sharply at odds with stereotypes of "tribal" societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94332-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Language
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction: Otherness as a Relation
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book examines the ways in which Korowai people of West Papua, Indonesia, make qualities of otherness the central focus of their social relations. According to a dominant strand of Western thought, people’s social unity is based on their similarity and their shared experiences. The most authentic, valued, and intimate social bonds of life are ones that most approach an ideal of pure identification. In popular stereotypes “tribal” people hold a special place in this understanding: they are whole human populations whose main social experience consists of undifferentiated unity of consciousness, following from their enduring, intimate copresence in the same...

  7. CHAPTER 1 A Dispersed Society: Place Ownership and the Crossing of Spatial Margins
    (pp. 25-72)

    A basic feature of Korowai people’s social world is that their landscape is divided into a patchwork of territories owned by named patriclans. Almost all interaction is strongly inflected by questions of who is an owner of specific places and who is not. When I once asked a friend named Fenelun the purpose of landownership, he said the institution exists so that a man can live on his land, marry, raise children, and go about producing and procuring food without other people getting angry at him. Many other Korowai answered questions about landownership in similar terms. They said that if...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Pairing and Avoidance: An Otherness-Focused Approach to Social Ties
    (pp. 73-104)

    The Korowai understanding that social bonds are created around boundaries of otherness that are at once separative and connective is not limited to people’s experience of space. This chapter looks at a widespread pattern in Korowai practices of categorizing entities as related generally: a pattern of otherness-focused pairing, in particular, pairing defined around avoidance. The pairs “owner” and “guest” and “human” and “demon” are examples of otherness-charged dyads that I have already touched on. Here I document the much wider prominence of pairs in Korowai categorizing practice by examining family resemblances across diverse areas of speech, interaction, and cosmology. Searching...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Strange Kin: Maternal Uncles and the Spectrum of Relatives
    (pp. 105-139)

    In 2001 I interviewed a woman named Ngengel who had borne six children in her life and had married a younger man after her first husband’s death. An artful conversationalist, Ngengel, toward the end of our talk, summed up the social anthropology of her world in the following series of statements:

    A child will become a member of its father’s clan. Another clan will become its uncles and mothers, and other clans will become its grandmothers and grandfathers. Daughters will be married by husbands, and sons will sit at their own places. As far as her own place, a daughter...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Children and the Contingency of Attachment
    (pp. 140-172)

    Korowai frequently describe their overall kinship lives as boiling down to the fact that people are certain to die and that there is an imperative that they be replaced by children. When one man and I were discussing the relation between the time of mythological narratives and the time of present human lives, he offered this description of human temporality generally: “A guy lives, has children, and dies. They stay, have children, and die. The children that initially grow and live, those people don’t live, they die. The children have children and die, the children have children and die, the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Marriage as Disruption and Creation of Belonging
    (pp. 173-207)

    In anthropology it is a truism that marriages are close relations between people who are socially other and hence that bonds by marriage are specially charged. Korowai too understand marriages as marked, attention-drawing bonds. Marriages are the most frequent subjects of political controversy in Korowai collective experience. Often a specific existing or potential marriage is the single overriding issue a given person is engrossed with at a particular time of life, whether the person is distressed or delighted by the marriage and whether it is the person’s own marriage or the marriage of someone else that is such a consuming...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Dialectics of Contact and Separation in Mourning
    (pp. 208-254)

    When I once gave some money to a widow named Yalun, she entrusted it to her young son, Ngop, to buy her some ramen noodles in a village to which he was making an overnight trip. While still in the village Ngop became hungry and ate the noodles he had bought. Entrusting cash to travelers for purchases is a common Korowai practice, and in such situations everyone is scrupulously careful to see that the entruster’s rights of ownership are upheld. When Ngop returned home his mother was furious at him. She quickly gave up her anger, though, saying, “It’s fine,...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 255-276)

    The idea that social bonds are most naturally based on pure identification might have enduring appeal, but I hope the preceding chapters have made this idea harder to believe in as a human reality. Korowai practices of social relating follow an opposite pattern, according to which otherness is foundational to persons’ mutual ties. This pattern is even more remarkable given the great hold of identification-dominated stereotypes in urban dwellers’ images of demographically and geographically small-scale societies. Korowai social life, far from being organized by a logic of “tribal” homogeneity of sentiment and consciousness, is organized as an intricate system of...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 277-290)
  15. References
    (pp. 291-302)
  16. Index
    (pp. 303-317)