Human Nature as Capacity

Human Nature as Capacity: Transcending Discourse and Classification

Edited by Nigel Rapport
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcpw2
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  • Book Info
    Human Nature as Capacity
    Book Description:

    What is it to be human? What are our specifically human attributes, our capacities and liabilities?Such questions gave birth to anthropology as an Enlightenment science. This book argues that it is again appropriate to bring "the human" to the fore, to reclaim the singularity of the word as central to the anthropological endeavor, not on the basis of thesubstanceof a human nature - "To be human is to act like this and react like this, to feel this and want this" - but in terms of species-widecapacities: capabilities for action and imagination, liabilities for suffering and cruelty. The contributors approach "the human" with an awareness of these complexities and particularities, rendering this volume unique in its ability to build on anthropology's ethnographic expertise.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-815-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction: HUMAN CAPACITY AS AN EXCEEDING, A GOING BEYOND
    (pp. 1-26)
    Nigel Rapport

    The issue of human nature, what it is to be human, has been the central enterprise of an ‘anthropological’ science – nominally, at least – since Immanuel Kant’s (1996) first, modern formulation of the disciplinary endeavour in the late 1700s. At the same time it has been argued that in ‘human nature’ anthropology conjures with a concept compromised beyond redemption by its essentialistic, hierarchical and exclusionary history: its role in an imperialism of male over female, adult over child, advanced over primitive, Occidental over Oriental, rational over emotional, and conscientious over brutish, as representative of the essentially human. Others again...

  6. Part I: Beyond the Economy
    • INTRODUCTION TO PART I
      (pp. 29-30)
      Nigel Rapport

      The two essays in Part Idescribe human capacities that locate actors beyond the economy; both in the sense of providing an ethnographic fullness to individual lives that exceeds the narrow determinisms ofHomo oeconomicus, and in the sense of charting a course to individual lives that sees them escaping the logic of any one economic system or set of relations. Here are Mexican migrants in Canada (Chapter 1) and Canadian students working abroad (Chapter 2) whose ‘liminality’, alike, cannot be construed, conscripted, as serving purely economic calls, whether of nation, family, sector or even global marketplace. An understanding of these...

    • Chapter 1 CONVERSATIONS WITH EULOGIO: ON MIGRATION AND THE BUILDING OF A LIFE-PROJECT IN MOTION
      (pp. 31-53)
      Nelson Ferguson

      On the other side of the thin polyurethane walls, the breeze is cool and sweet. But here, inside the greenhouse, the air is hot, the humidity stifling. Eulogio and I have been working in this mounting heat for hours, yet what feels like an eternity still lies between now and our lunch break. We work in silence, placing one potted tree after another onto the wagon. Dirt and run-off from the irrigation system mingle with the sweat on our skin until we are both coated with salty mixtures of grime and muck. We struggle to grip the heavy pots, each...

    • Chapter 2 THE LIMITS OF LIMINALITY: CAPACITIES FOR CHANGE AND TRANSITION AMONG STUDENT TRAVELLERS
      (pp. 54-72)
      Vered Amit

      The topic of student travel readily evokes two long-standing tropes of transition and change. On the one hand, youth is commonly regarded as quintessentially ephemeral. On the other hand, since the Grand Tour of the sixteenthth and seventeenth centuries, travel has often been associated with processes of self-formation and transformation. Both youth and travel also call to mind the interaction between change as a modality of personal as well as broader social formation. Thus the Grand Tour through Continental Europe was intended to serve as the basis for the cultivation of elite tastes among young British aristocrats. The transitions identified...

  7. Part II: Beyond the Polity
    • INTRODUCTION TO PART II
      (pp. 75-76)
      Nigel Rapport

      The two essays in Part II look at human capacities that locate actors beyond the polity. In ethnographic detailing of the contemporary European Union (Chapter 3) and of a mid-century United States of America (Chapter 4) alike, an understanding of individual behaviour is to be gained only be setting the context of the polity against an awareness of kinds of social relations–duties, potential commitments, possible consociations – that lie beyond it. Actors have the capacity to deal flexibly, ironically, with the political institutions that seek to claim critical dues on their loyalty, their senses of belonging and compassion.

      More...

    • Chapter 3 ‘CRISIS’: ON THE LIMITS OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION AND IDENTITY IN NORTHERN IRELAND
      (pp. 77-100)
      Thomas M. Wilson

      Romano Prodi, the then President of the European Commission, made the above statement at the Sixth ECSA-World Conference, Jean Monnet Project, Brussels, 5–6 December 2002. At the time it was clear that the European Union (EU) was expanding, and eastward, to first become a union of twenty-five member states in 2004 and then twenty-seven states in 2007, but the dilemma he posed concerned how to set the limits of the EU, metaphorically and geopolitically. Prodi queried the nature of public participation in the projects of expansion and consolidation – what in other circles has been called ‘widening and deepening’...

    • Chapter 4 MAKING THE COSMOPOLITAN PLEA: HAROLD ORAM’S INTERNATIONAL FUND-RAISING IN THE EARLY COLD WAR
      (pp. 101-124)
      Laura Suski

      Many commentators might agree with Ulrich Beck’s claim that the ‘human condition has itself become cosmopolitan’ (2006:2). There is, however, little agreement as to how this impacts upon the ethical relationship between cosmopolitan subjects. If there is an increase in the transnational flows of people, commodities, labour, and information, and if these trends are accompanied by the declining role of the state and the emergence of international institutions, what does this mean for our moral obligations to those beyond the traditional spaces of family, community, and particularly the nation? My interest in cosmopolitanism lies specifically at the intersection of what...

  8. Part III: Beyond the Classificatory
    • INTRODUCTION TO PART III
      (pp. 127-129)
      Nigel Rapport

      The two essays in Part III find human actors immersed in worlds of categories and things, of identities and relationships that take on classificatory forms. Indeed, in these chapters ethnographic attention is focused on the very thing-iness of human social existence: on our seeming modern fetish of inventing new things – ‘entifying’ – whereby life can become further specialized and commodified (Chapter 6); and on people treated as kinds of things, valued according to where they happen to have been born (Chapter 5). But it is also true to say that here are the human capacities to reflect on the...

    • Chapter 5 MONEY, MATERIALITY AND IMAGINATION: LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF VALUE
      (pp. 130-153)
      Andrew Irving

      From a distance it may seem that the dialogue between money and imagination is located in mind, consciousness and cognitive capacity rather than materiality and body. Indeed, the material body of money is seen as less important than the semiotic value attached to certain objects by way of the brain’s ability to invest substance with meaning and purpose. ‘Money’ – suggests Norman O. Brown – ‘is inorganic dead matter which has been made alive’ (1970 [1959]:245). The discarded bodies of different material substances, often with little practical utility, such as clay, shells, teeth, stones, paper and beads are brought to...

    • Chapter 6 ACTS OF ENTIFICATION: THE EMERGENCE OF THINGHOOD IN SOCIAL LIFE
      (pp. 154-176)
      Tord Larsen

      We have all heard about people who get up in the middle of the night, open the fridge, have a snack, and go back to bed. Iwas familiar with the phenomenon when Icame across an advertisement in a newspaper a few years ago. It read: ‘Are you a night eater?’ The advertisement offered assistance to habitual night eaters. Assistance, because their habit was now redefined as an illness, a kind of eating disorder. The question established a new category or class of people who thereafter became possible addressees of appeals, and who acquired a new ‘identity’ in addition to the...

  9. Part IV: Beyond the Body
    • INTRODUCTION TO PART IV
      (pp. 179-181)
      Nigel Rapport

      The two essays in Part IV look at human capacities that take actors beyond the body, narrowly and conventionally defined. The body does not limit human activities and potentialities insofar as the imagination is transcendent (Chapter 8). One imagines one’s way into other bodies, into being-with and being-for other bodies – where ‘other bodies’ include both the individual’s own and those of other people. One can imagine bodily otherness that exceeds the limits both of one’s current physique and of current sociocultural definition. Likewise, the body is not a limit insofar as the skills it can learn and incorporate give...

    • Chapter 7 EMBODIED COGNITION, COMMUNICATION AND THE MAKING OF PLACE AND IDENTITY: REFLECTIONS ON FIELDWORK WITH MASONS
      (pp. 182-206)
      Trevor H.J. Marchand

      Despite anthropology’s long-standing fascination with the spaces and places of people’s lives, Gupta and Ferguson rightly identified a surprising lack of ‘self-consciousness about the issue of space in anthropological theory’ (1997b:33). In general, space has been dismissed as a preexisting natural category within which societies are distributed and humans are politically, economically and socially organized: in other words, an infinite three-dimensional emptiness containing bounded places. Euclidean notions of space as homogenous and extensible have permitted passive contemplation of a distanced ‘there’, safely separated and reified as a static entity rather than a changing and socially contingent phenomenon. Until recent decades,...

    • Chapter 8 ‘LIVE IN FRAGMENTS NO LONGER’: SOCIAL DANCE AND THE INDIVIDUAL IMAGINATION IN HUMAN NATURE
      (pp. 207-230)
      Jonathan Skinner

      As a social science, it is characteristic of anthropology to examine the particularities of human cultures through detailed and nuanced ethnographic investigation (Crapanzano 2004; Abu Lughod 1993). In so doing, a choice is made by anthropologists as to whether or not to deploy etic distinctions between culture and nature and between human and animal – the former with the capacity ‘to produce’ in order to live (Godelier 1986) – or to work from emic constructions of like divisions and the ways in which people locally live by them, or to challenge and contest all such divisions as anthropocentric (Bateson 1999;...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 231-236)