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Figured Worlds

Figured Worlds: Ontological Obstacles in Intercultural Relations

John Clammer
Sylvie Poirier
Eric Schwimmer
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    Figured Worlds
    Book Description:

    "World Visions can conceive of everything except alternative world visions." If this pronouncement by Umberto Eco is right, how can any ethnic group conceive of living with another group on the same territory - in Canada or elsewhere - if their world visions are incompatible? Can we sidestep incompatible world visions or should we try to understand them?

    Figured Worldsexplores the possibilities of equilibrium between commitments to mutual understanding and the framing of strategies of negotiation. This collection begins its rich analytical investigation by describing how people - Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori, Japanese, and Africans - first learn the figured worlds of their own culture, made up of sensations, affirmations and will, prophecy, revelation, myth, dream, and metamorphoses. It then sets out how diverse figured worlds within a given social system are related, and concludes by offering insightful mappings of the dynamics of these relations, perceived in both their existential-ontological aspects, as well as their material-practical means. Comprising scholarship that is half Canadian and half British, this work offers important foundational perspectives into the thought worlds of cultures found within other cultures.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7489-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface: The Nature of Nature
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: The Relevance of Ontologies in Anthropology – Reflections on a New Anthropological Field
    (pp. 3-22)

    Conflict between cultures is endemic in the modern world. It surfaces in examples as diverse as ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, religious or sectarian war in Northern Ireland and parts of the former Soviet Union, separatism in the Basque country, and the independence movement in East Timor. Many of these disputes are large in scale and may threaten the stability of regions or even, potentially, the world. Closer to many anthropologists, with their characteristic interest in the local and its expression in the life of small-scale communities and of relations between such communities (despite growing disciplinary concern with globalization...

  6. Part I: The Reconstruction of Figured Worlds

    • Chapter One A Circumpolar Night′s Dream
      (pp. 25-57)

      In the course of compiling hisSystema Naturaeof 1735, the great Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus was confronted with the problem of how to select the distinguishing characteristics of the genus he had christenedHomo. With the limited factual evidence available to him, he found it rather difficult to discover any anatomical features that would reliably separate humans from apes. The distinction, he surmised, was of a different order, to be grasped through introspection rather than observation. Do you ask how a human being differs from an ape? The answer, said Linnaeus, lies in the very fact that you ask...

    • Chapter Two Ontology, Ancestral Order, and Agencies among the Kukatja of the Australian Western Desert
      (pp. 58-82)

      The question of ontologies is fundamental in ethnographic encounters and anthropology for two reasons: first, because it refers to Being and what members of a culture have to say about it; and second, because it is linked to knowledge and action. All ontologies are value-laden (Overing 1985, 7), and one major obstacle to understanding ontologies other than oneʹs own lies in how to recognize their local value as truth. This difficulty becomes particularly obvious when we are dealing not so much with different world views as with different ways of being-in-the-world. Accordingly, acquaintance with the ontologies and epistemologies of other...

    • [Illustration]
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter Three The Politics of Animism
      (pp. 83-110)

      ʹAnimismʹ is a term that has almost entirely dropped out of anthropological discourse in the West. It has not, however, disappeared from the intellectual vocabulary of the East and is still evoked there in a number of guises. Discoursesaboutanimism abound in South-East Asia, for example, where forms of Indigenous religion and their expression through media such as shamanism suggest that the term still has some utility. It is in Japan, however, and possibly only in Japan, that the concept of animism is still widely used as a way of explaining the distinctiveness of the national culture and as...

  7. Part II: Beyond Positional Identities

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 111-112)

      In systems where several mutually unintelligible ontologies coexist, conflicts have been seen to arise that ′have to do with the day-to-day and on-the-ground relations of power, deference and entitlement, social affiliation and distance — with the social-interactional, social-relational structures of the lived world′ (Holland et al. 1998, 127). Such conflicts can be analysed using constructivist theories like Bourdieu′s. However, ontological questions arise when conflicts originate in ′narrativised or figurative identities′ that ′have to do with the stories, acts and characters that make the world a cultural world′ (127), based on a set of highly diverse philosophical categories. Cases have been...

    • Chapter Four In the Nature of the Human Landscape: Provenances in the Making of Zanzibari Politics
      (pp. 113-131)

      It has long been argued in anthropology that earlier attempts to separate nature from society/culture and show how far they reflect each other are a Western analytical imposition, for in other non-Western ontologies and epistemologies the so-called natural and socio-cultural seem to be much more part of each other and less distinguishable as separate categories. Hobart (1978) describes how on the island of Bali, Brahmanic hierarchy is likened to the flow of water from the islandʹs centrally placed mountain to the sea, and therefore as the flow of purity from high to low. The people have no need to rephrase...

    • Chapter Five Apparent Compatibility, Real Incompatibility: Native and Western Versions of History – The Innu Example
      (pp. 132-148)

      The backdrop to the questions I would like to examine in this text is a report by a task force that was commissioned by the government of Quebec to examine the teaching of history (programs, teacher education, class hours, etc.). One of the reportʹs recommendations was to offer ʹNative groups an equitable placeʹ in primary and secondary school history programs ʹin terms of the role they have played in the history of Quebec, Canada and the Americasʹ (Groupe de travail sur lʹenseignement de lʹhistoire 1996, 74). Given the current state of research, one might ask how this ʹequitable placeʹ and...

  8. Part III: Non-negotiated Ontologies:: Authoring Selves

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 149-150)

      According to classical political theory, a society is ruled by a single hegemony that uses many techniques, peaceful or violent, to ensure that all members respect that hegemony and its underlying ontology. This objective is not often fully achieved. In modern liberal societies there is usually agreement, informally negotiated, based on a degree of tolerance by the stronger and a degree of compliance by the weaker. One might call this a successful compliance between incompatible ontologies. When this negotiation fails, as in the case of Algonquians analysed here by Samson and Tanner, Indigenous Peoples are subject to what Samson calls...

    • Chapter Six ′We Live This Experience′: Ontological Insecurity and the Colonial Domination of the Innu People of Northern Labrador
      (pp. 151-188)

      The Innu people of Northern Labrador, Canada,live the experiencearticulated by Daniel Ashini. Until they were made subjects of government-sponsored settlement into two communities, Utshimassits (or Davis Inlet) and Sheshatshit, in the 1950s and 1960s, they were nomadic hunters of the forests, river valleys, and tundra of the subarctic. Their way of life was until very recently relatively independent of European influence as a result of the bypassing of Labrador in the westward drive of colonial settlement. Immediately after sedentarization, the land that they had occupied and used for perhaps millennia was appropriated for industrial projects such as hydroelectric...

    • Chapter Seven The Cosmology of Nature, Cultural Divergence, and the Metaphysics of Community Healing
      (pp. 189-222)

      The notion that there are cognitive barriers to intercultural understanding – exhibited as an inability or unwillingness of people from different backgrounds to find common ways of thinking about issues – although long accepted within, and perhaps even fundamental to, anthropology, is not well conceptualized. The evidence for the existence of such barriers includes the many practical problems that tend to arise in relations between people of different cultures. There are also linguistic indicators, like divergent semantic categories and incompatible grammatical structures. Other possible indicators include the different dominant metaphors used by the cultural groups concerned, and incompatible ideologies characteristic...

  9. Part IV: Negotiating Ontologies, Making Worlds

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 223-224)

      A great deal of negotiation between Indigenous and mainstream groups has been going on for some time in many democratic societies, but it has mostly been limited to the interpretation of specific and exclusive legal provisions laid down by Whites and applied to indigenes. It is only very recently that a principle of legal pluralism, as Melkevik calls it, began to be applied to Indigenous societies, in Canada or elsewhere. Legal pluralism refers to the establishment of alternative systems of law, based on the diverse ontologies present in each country. Melkevikʹs paper sets out the social philosophy of legal pluralism,...

    • Chapter Eight The Customary Law of Indigenous Peoples and Modern Law: Rivalry or Reconciliation?
      (pp. 225-242)

      The aim in writing this article is to reflect upon and to discuss the relationship between the Aboriginal Peoplesʹ customary law heritage, in Quebec and Canada, and legal modernism.¹ We strive to discern the way in which each represents an ʹontologicalʹ obstacle to the other. Rather than simply establishing a rivalry between these two notions, we will also offer our reflections on a negotiated political reconciliation, respectful of both. This reconciliation is, we feel, both possible and desirable, within the very conception of legal modernism. It is best to underscore that our reflections are born of a preoccupation with the...

    • Chapter Nine Making a World: The Mâori of Aotearoa/New Zealand
      (pp. 243-274)

      It is now thirty-five years since I left New Zealand for Canada and Quebec. Before leaving, and just after, I wrote some books and articles about biculturalism in New Zealand. Since then, Mâori culture has changed profoundly; so has the toolkit anthropologists use to study cultures. When I decided in 1997 to do a restudy of biculturalism and went to New Zealand with a sketch plan, I was unaware of the gulf separating my project from my scientific ʹobjectʹ based on changes in Mâori culture since the Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975 and the Amendment Act of 1985.¹ It...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 275-282)

    New fields in anthropology cannot be established outside the flow of conceptual changes permeating the general culture. We could enumerate many reference points on which new fields could be founded, ranging from Nietzsche and Heidegger to Marxism, psychoanalysis, and evolution, but even after this, as Sloterdijk (1999, 52) has suggested, our lives are confused answers to questions that were asked we know not where. This may well apply also to the works in the present volume, whose authors are not philosophers, and who necessarily borrowed existing anthropological frameworks. So, if these papers can begin to set up a new scholarly...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 283-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-300)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-302)