lectures and seminars for the general public  |  Cluster of Excellence "Cultural Foundations of Integration"  |  Sociology

When is a Thing? Transduction and Immediacy in Afro-Cuban Ritual

Wednesday, 17. May 2017
18.00 – 20.00

Universität Konstanz, Raum Y 311

Claudia Marion Voigtmann

Prof. Dr. Stephan Palmié (Chicago)

This study is part of the event series „Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolloquium“.

Or, ANT in Matanzas, Cuba, Summer of 1948

Revisiting William R. Bascom’s 1948 ethnography of Afro-Cuban religious practices in Jovellanos (a semi-urban site in Cuba’s Province of Matanzas) in light of current theoretical concerns in our discipline, this essay constitutes a thought experiment. As such it seeks to re-describe some of Bascoms data in light of Actor-Network Theory, to see if his patent puzzlement over his interlocutors’ statements concerning the liveliness and even personhood of mineral objects – stones that embody, rather than represent deities – can be resolved that way.

At the same time, I aim to offer a critique of current attempts to redefine our discipline’s mission under the sign of an “ontological turn” that recurs to notions of “radical alterity” that strike me as both essentialist, and certainly profoundly ahistorical. Recurring to Karen Barad’s theories of “agential realism,” I suggest that contemporary concerns with “posthumanist” “anti-representationalism” better be tempered by a view of our epistemic pursuits, including those of anthropology, as embedded in thoroughly historical – and so changing – ontologies.

In light of such considerations, the lecture concludes on a vision of anthropology as a form of knowledge that cannot afford to evade neither the historical transformations of the social worlds it aims to illuminate, nor that of the concurrent transformations in its own epistemic orientations, but has to reframe its goals in terms of conjunctures of ontologies and epistemologies of mutually relational and, most importantly, historical scope.

Prof. Dr. Stephan Palmié lehrt Ethnologie und Sozialwissenschaften an der University of Chicago und forscht ethnographisch und historisch zu afro-karibischen Kulturen.