Title: The return of ethnographic theory
Date: 2011
Source: Retrieved on 28th November 2021 from www.journals.uchicago.edu
Notes: Published as the foreword to HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory Volume 1, Number 1 — Fall 2011.

Take an ethnographer. She has spent more than thirty months in the Bocage in Mayenne studying witchcraft. ‘How exciting, how thrilling, how extraordinary...! Tell us all about the witches’, she is asked again and again when she gets back to the city. Just as one might say: tell us tales about ogres and wolves, about Little Red Riding Hood. Frighten us, but make it clear that it’s only a story; or that they are just peasants: credulous, backward and marginal. Or alternatively: confirm that out there there are some people who can bend the laws of causality and morality, who can kill by magic and not be punished; but remember to end by saying that they do not really have that power....

Jeanne Favret-Saada, Deadly words ([1977] 1980)

We might say that the Melanesian concept of the person as a ‘dividual’ (M. Strathern) is just as imaginative as the possessive individualism of Locke; that understanding the ‘philosophy of the Indian chieftainship’ (P. Clastres) is just as important as commenting on the Hegelian doctrine of the State; that Maori cosmogony is on an equal par with Eleatic paradoxes or Kantian antinomies (G. Schrempp); that Amazonian perspectivism is just as interesting a philosophical challenge as comprehending the system of Leibniz.... Indeed, if it is a question of knowing what matters in evaluating a philosophy—its capacity to create new concepts—, then anthropology, without looking to substitute for philosophy, remains a powerful philosophical tool, capable of airing the stuffy ethnocentric corridors of our philosophy, while freeing us in passing from so-called ‘philosophical anthropology’.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, And(2003)
Traduttore, Traditore.
Italian Adage

Some journals are defined by their colors, other by their names. HAU is the green and black one, basking under the flag of its Ouroboros—the vital self-reflexive and self-recreating snake happily eating its own tail. As for the choice of name, HAU stems from what Eduardo Viveiros de Castro in his generous endorsement of the journal calls “the felicitous equivocation.” Since what is Marcel Mauss’ reading of the Maori term hau as “Spirit of the Gift” if not the quintessence of everything that is equivocal, everything that is inadequate, but also, everything that is nonetheless endlessly productive and enlightening in the project of translating alien concepts? But take note: when we say “alien” we are speaking of alien concepts, which are by no means limited to those drawn from strange and romantic places; HAU has no intention of limiting itself to the highlands of Papua New Guinea or forests of Amazonia: we actually agree that the exotic is the domain of ethnography, but that’s because good ethnography makes everything exotic. HAU is a call to revive the theoretical potential of all ethnographic insight, wherever it is brought to bear, to bring it back to its leading role in generating new knowledge. Above all, we see ethnography as a pragmatic inquiry into conceptual disjunctures. To adopt a provocative phrase from Ardener (1987), HAU is fascinated by “remote areas,” but sees such remote areas as those singularities or pockets of any social space-jungle or city—inhabited by “event-richness,” conceptual vagueness or even unusual social boredom. Remote areas are not just awaiting stranger-kings: they are full of treacherous stranger-concepts, that need to be invited in, hosted as honored guests before they can be recognized as affines, and eventually, even ancestors.

We are not claiming to be saying anything particularly new here.[1] Rather, by adopting the term hau as a mark of our enterprise, we are placing ourselves within a particular stream of anthropological scholarship that over the last three decades has addressed such disjunctures, and the moments or events of “speculative wonder” or “positive equivocation” to which they give rise. Concepts like hau, after all, are not simply “floating signifiers” in Lévi-Strauss’ sense ([1950] 1987)—capable of accommodating any meaning or the absence of it. They are events, unclassifiable remainders that rearrange preconceived notions and categories by juxtaposing different cultural images and positions (cf. da Col 2007; Humphrey 2008). This is a process which, as Marilyn Strathern suggests, often takes “the form of a negation or an inversion of a relationship between familiar terms” (1990a: 205) or as she also puts it, a “bifurcation” (2010) that can lead the anthropological analysis down unexpected routes. Bifurcations appear everywhere in ethnographic theorization, by working out distinctions, contradictions and caesuras between what we think of as nature and culture, us and them, the human and the non-human, the immanent and the transcendent, the religious and the economic, the moral and the material. They often end with frustrations paralleling the ones suffered by Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar(1985) in his attempt to isolate and analyze a single wave in the sea: born of the realization that it is ultimately impossible to keep that many perspectives in one’s mind simultaneously.

Starting from here, we could attempt a definition of ethnographic theory: it is a conversion of stranger-concepts that does not entail merely trying to establish a correspondence of meaning between two entities or the construction of heteronymous harmony between different worlds, but rather, the generation of a disjunctive homonimity, that destruction of any firm sense of place that can only be resolved by the imaginative formulation of novel worldviews. In this sense, ethnographic theory does not operate so differently from what Hofstadter (1980) described as the challenge of translating Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, with its host of portmanteau words, from English into another language. By attempting to establish an equivalence between two “nonsensical” words, one necessarily ends up having to use one’s own imagination, inventing terms and concepts, inaugurating new connections from old verbal categories. Needless to say what we are describing here is very different from a mere romantic invocation of cultural incommensurability. Geoffrey Lloyd once noticed that no anthropologist has ever returned from the field announcing that he or she could understand nothing (2004: 4). Or as Umberto Eco (2004) notes, one should not only be preoccupied by the ontological constraints but also with the licenses of dire quasi la stessa cosa— of “almost-saying” the same thing when translating—and accepting that linguistic incommensurability does not entail incomparability but a comparability in becoming. And most of us probably agree that 95% of what we learn in the field (whether Tibet, Madagascar or upper-class London) quickly comes to make intuitive “sense” to us. As for the remaining 5%, it is not so much incomprehensible, utterly alien, as excessive—at least in terms of the efforts required for its conceptualization. HAU is especially interested in hosting “ethnographic translations” of those excessive remainders, remainders or wonders that arise when worlds are (happily, productively) out of joint.

The widespread excitement HAU has elicited since its announcement, it seems to us, is a direct result of its ambition to return anthropology to its original and distinctive conceptual wealth—to critical concepts we bring from the field, whether exotic or urban—and thereby, to return ethnography not only to the forefront of theoretical developments in the discipline, but by doing so, making anthropology itself relevant again far beyond its own borders. HAU aims to put all those endlessly productive difficulties that result in the comparison of different forms of life—whether “savage minds” or the creativity of urban movements, science at home or villages afield—back on the intellectual agenda; to put them to work for the benefit of all. The challenge we pose to our fellow anthropologists is therefore to produce ethnographically grounded, theoretically innovative engagements with the broadest possible geographic and thematic range.


But, above all, I had always been grateful to Pascal ... for his determination, inseparable from that concern, always to seek the ‘reason of effects’, the raison d’être of the seemingly most illogical or derisory human behaviors—such as ‘spending a whole day in chasing a hare’—rather than condemning or mocking them, like the ‘half-learned’ who are always ready to ‘play the philosopher’ and to seek to astonish with their uncommon astonishments at the futility of common-sense opinions.

Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian meditations(2000)

The seed that was to grow into HAU was planted last February, when Giovanni first posed the question of why it was that anthropology did not have a general scope, high-end, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that would replace the demand for copyrights with the liberation of “copy left.” True, there were a handful of (mostly shamefully neglected) examples of “gold” open-access journals with an established tradition of reputable scholarship. But they remained mostly inhouse publications, venues for graduate students or even brilliant yet regional or subject-specific journals (e.g., Asian Ethnology, Tipiti, Museum Anthropology Review— thank you Jason Baird Jackson). Some magnificent open-access journals were not geared towards an English language audience (e.g., Mana). Access was also incurring the risk of being wrongly associated with “easier-access” (and less quality control) for authors or even (God forbid) “intellectual accessibility.” Another concern he felt was not really being met by existing institutions was speed of publication. Junior scholars are haunted by the anxiety of lengthening their CVs, overwhelmed by fierce competition for academic posts and fellowships. Yet they are still expected to wait two years to get an article into a high-end journal. Consider the overflowing of ideas during PhD writing-up seminars, AAA meetings and EASA workshops. How often do scholars hesitate to share their best ideas, fearing their concepts may be parasitized on the long route towards a printed article or monograph? Would not one solution be a journal capable of publishing peer-reviewed manuscripts within six months of submission and also capable of delivering those original ideas to the largest possible audience?

Justin Shaffner soon came on board, bringing with him important editorial experience with presses and printed journals, and also with various digital initiatives such as the Open Anthropology Cooperative and The Melanesian. Next came Morten Nielsen, who helped with the initial steps of the journal’s foundation. Then came David Graeber—bemused by his installation in that odd form of divine kingship encompassed within the enigmatic role of Editor-at-Large—and finally, Stéphane Gros, who rapidly became the very backbone of the journal—literally—a relentless yet gentle figure working out of the spotlight, processing manuscripts with Mandarin-like efficiency. If you are reading this piece, please know that Stéphane probably inspected it three times during his breakfast, even after sending it to copyeditors. The “editorial assistants” quickly became vital companions in HAU’s venture: Rachel Douglas-Jones (later “promoted” to Associate Editor for her flawless talent in leading the Marketing and the Art departments of the journal), Mylene Hengen (our generous translator), Harriet Boulding and Amiria Salmond with their immaculate copyediting and last but not least Philip Swift, our marvelous jack of all editorial trades.

Organizationally, HAU’s was conceived out of feeling that the discipline was suffering the domination of commercial publishing and that the pursuit of human knowledge was being severely damaged by the extraction of shamelessly priced subscriptions in a time when most scholars are operating under severe financial constraints. Intellectually, it developed out of a sense of frustration with the lack of original insights arising from the discipline, and the resulting sense that anthropology was, at least in terms of its relation to other fields of scholarship, committing a kind of intellectual suicide.


In 1913, Sigmund Freud published a series of essays under the title Totem and taboo ([1913] 1952) inspired by the works of Frazer (1906–1915) and Robertson Smith ([1889] 1995).

In 1931, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote a series of reflections that came to be known as Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough ([1967] 1993), in which he mapped out a theory of magic that would ultimately lead him to write his Philosophical investigations(1963).

In the late 1940s, Jean-Paul Sartre, determined to write a work on existential ethics, spent months struggling over the problem of the Kwakiutl potlatch— which, he was convinced, ought to have pointed a way out of the dilemma of an Hegelian master-slave dialectic, even if it superficially seemed to present a perfect instance of the very sort of struggle for recognition Hegel described in it (cf. Sartre [1983] 1992: 373–79).

Can we imagine something similar happening with concepts drawn from contemporary anthropology?

It is actually hard to think of any major European thinker of the first half of the twentieth century who didn’t feel the need to come to terms with anthropological concepts of one sort or another. Concepts lifted directly from ethnographic work— words like mana, shamanism, totemism, potlatch, taboo—or those that had emerged from anthropological analysis—like magical thinking, divine kingship, kinship systems, the gift, sacrificial ideologies or cosmogonic myths—were heated topics of intellectual debate; concepts that everyone, philosophers included, had to take seriously.

Nowadays the situation is reversed. Anthropologists take their concepts not from ethnography but largely from European philosophy—our terms are deterritorialization or governmentality—and no one outside anthropology really cares what we have to say about them. As a result, we have become a discipline spiraling into parochial irrelevance. Meanwhile, older anthropological debates are treated as if they never happened. Deleuzians and Speculative Realists write about the ontology and the elusiveness of life (cf. Thacker 2010), and their reflections are gravely debated in other disciplines, without anyone even noticing the rich anthropological literature on mana. Lacanians fiercely debate topology without anyone remembering what Leach (1961) or even Lévi-Strauss ([1985] 1988) had to say on the subject.[2] Even more weirdly, anthropologists themselves draw on Foucauldian notions of biopower, blandly accepting his premise that sovereign power’s concern with the health, fertility, and prosperity of a population is some kind of modernist break with all previous political practice, apparently completely oblivious about the vast anthropological literature on “divine kingship” in their own discipline, which is, precisely, about the concern of sovereign power with the health, fertility, and prosperity of populations.

How did it happen? How can one explain such a colossal failure of nerve?

One reason might simply be the immensity of the task with which anthropology was faced. Not too long ago, it was still possible to write a history of the idea of love, or truth, or authority, starting in ancient Greece or Rome—or perhaps the Old Testament—and proceeding entirely through European sources. If one wished tobe cosmopolitan, one might compare how such matters are treated in the tradition of “Western philosophy” with those prevalent in “Eastern philosophy,” in other words, with a bow to the written traditions of India and China. But in the 1920s and 1930s, even a polymath like Marcel Mauss, when he wished to be comprehensive, had a fairly limited number of ethnographic cases to draw on. It was also still possible to arrange them in crypto-evolutionist order, and therefore, to allow one or two to stand for others. Thus even those who did appeal to anthropology could do so rather briefly.

Nowadays that’s no longer possible.

The result, we might suggest, is an odd kind of dilemma. In a world where North Atlantic powers are growing less dominant and even in the old imperial centers, society grows increasingly diverse, maintaining the old, purely Euro-American centric forms of knowledge seems increasingly untenable. But at the same time, the sheer mass of our accumulated knowledge of different intellectual traditions is simply overwhelming. It’s not just our greater access to the world’s written intellectual traditions, from Medieval Islamic mysticism to African philosophy. Anthropology has revealed, from Cameroon to Vancouver Island, Yemen to Tibet, an apparently endless array of what can best be called material philosophies,[3] often extraordinarily sophisticated reflections on the dilemmas of humanity, sociality, and the cosmos that are simultaneously inextricable from forms of material existence, none with any particularly privileged claim over any other. It was an excess of wonder. How could anyone possibly have command over all this knowledge? One wonders, indeed, if the reaction by scholars of other disciplines was a tacit, but nonetheless very real, sense of panic. There was just too much to know. But neither could all these other traditions simply be ignored: would not that be Eurocentric, even racist? Even to select one over another seemed unwarranted—by what criteria? To include all would be simply impossible.

In such a context, the anthropological auto-critique of the 1980s was made to serve a purpose for which it was never intended. In fact, anthropology has been since its inception a battle-ground between imperialists and anti-imperialists, just as it remains today. For outsiders, though, it provided a convenient set of simplified tag lines through which it was possible to simply dismiss all anthropological knowledge as inherently Eurocentric and racist, and therefore, as not real knowledge at all. This allowed those who wished to write histories of love, or truth, or authority to once again begin with Plato or Aristotle, proceed, perhaps, through Descartes or the Marquis de Sade, and end with Heidegger or Derrida, without ever acknowledging the existence of perspectives from outside the tradition of Continental philosophy. Often—more often than not, in fact—this revival of an exclusive focus on the Western philosophical tradition comes framed as a critique—but as a critique that must necessarily be internal to the tradition because it is held that those trained in contemporary universities somehow cannot think outside it. In the end, even anthropologists have come to follow suit, abandoning any attempt to create theoretical terms that arise from their own ethnographic work, but borrowing those developed by thinkers drawing exclusively on the Western philosophical tradition. Finally, the approach has been tacitly acceptable to intellectuals who identify with other non-Western traditions partly because it reinforces structures of authority, since it allows that other “civilizational” traditions should, once acknowledged, also be seen as similarly emerging top-down from a written intellectual tradition rather than bottom-up, from material philosophies, as a more anthropological approach would have suggested.

Another reason it has been so easy to parochialize ourselves is the very nature of contemporary Homo Academicus. Ethnographic theory is slowly realizing the necessity of turning its gaze within, towards an ethnography of everyday theory, uncovering how knowledge is produced in micro-daily interactions between students, faculties, departments and funding bodies. There is a wide dissatisfaction with the fragmentation of the discipline in directions serving the passing tastes of funding bodies—clearly, one factor behind the extraordinary outpouring of support that HAU has received since its inception. Ethnographic depth is increasingly superseded by the recourse to a game of concept-of-the-month—the uncanny, the abject, affect, biopolitics—each concept undergoing relentless exegesis and being displayed with pride during PhD writing-up seminars, only to be abandoned for the next term rediscovered in Spinoza, Heidegger, Rorty or Bataille. Reflecting on the brilliance of a work like Malinowski’s Coral gardens and their magic never seems to be quite as “cool” as quoting a new and unknown term from a European philosopher, one which can cast an interesting new game of lights and shadows with the dark cave where anthropologists are regarded to be still dwelling, playing meticulously with their rococo ethnographic figurines and primitive paraphernalia. In such a world, name-dropping becomes almost everything. The fact that it usually reduces academics to the embarrassing situation of considering themselves hip for recycling French theorists from the period of roughly 1968 to 1983, in fact, exactly the period of what we now call “Classic Rock” (in other words, for reading to the intellectual equivalents of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin) seems to go almost completely unnoticed.

This process may entail an interesting recursivity: how do student references listed in essays or mentioned during seminars influence the subsequent readings of staff? The Internet and the digital revolution have transformed the very process of the acquisition of knowledge, an activity which now includes extensive access to blogs, e-books, the wide availability and circulation of official and pirate PDFs, and the use of search engines like Google Books. With few exceptions, the most informative humanities blogs are run by Continental philosophers who are doing an outstanding job in developing original movements and currents of thought almost entirely through the employment of digital tools and online relationships (e.g., the outstanding diffusion that “speculative realism” is achieving through blogs, online essays and open-access presses).

Today, the quintessential research gesture of an anthropology student is not to wander through library aisles to retrieve old monographs or edited collections but to google a topic or check if a PDF of a book has been uploaded to an internetrepository.[4] A lack of funding for book purchases for students and libraries alike compounds the problem. We all love our PDF collections and have our favorite blogs but these tools also have their drawbacks; they have the danger of leading to “fast-food” theory, piecemeal reading, the assemblage of micro-excerpts and fishing for catchy concepts whilst anxiously fast-scrolling through a webpage. Anyone who has marked undergraduate work knows the overwhelming role played today by Wikipedia in general essays on ritual and religion, partially (or totally?) replacing the older and more solid tomes such as Morris’ Anthropological studies of religion(1987), the Lessa and Vogt’s Reader in comparative religion(1979), or even the various Handbooks of the American Indian.

In the late 1970s, Umberto Eco identified a similar process in his reflections on the role that photocopiers were beginning to assume in academia and warned about the dangers of what he termed xeroxcivilizaion and the “intellectual alibi” provided by photocopies.

A xerox is an extremely useful tool yet it often constitutes an intellectual alibi: one leaves a library with a pile of copies in his hands, certain that he could never read them all. Eventually he becomes unable to use any of them since they begin to get mixed up and confused. Yet despite this, he still has the feeling that he has gained possession of the content of those books. Before the xeroxcivilization, this man used to handwrite cards in huge reading halls and in the process, something sedimented in his memory. With the anxieties prompted by xerox there is a risk of wasting days in libraries copying books that will never be read ([1977] 2005: 87, da Col’s translation)

Eco highlights the “vertigo of accumulation” resulting from piling up photocopies and certainly most of his insights could be applied today to the large volume of available PDFs. It might be seen as hypocritical for the editors of an online journal to preach about the dangers of the digital humanities, but all we are really proposing here is vigilance—or, to be more precise, a vigilant inquiry into the social conditions of the production and reproduction of academic knowledge. In this sense, from a xeroxcivilization of academia we may wish to consider the current situation an “Adobization of academic life” which would benefit from ethnographies on the social life of the PDF.

Our suspicion of contemporary anthropology’s obeisance to Continental philosophy does not mean we are not interested in philosophy; rather, that we are interested in developing a different mode of engaging with it. It is quite intentional, then, that in our inaugural issue, we have chosen to publish an unedited manuscript written by Marilyn Strathern in the early nineties, in which she tickles Derrida, Baudrillard and Lacan in a way that illustrates how there are productive alternatives to a blind worship of (usually rather outmoded) Continental fashion. Instead of “using” Derridean or Deleuzian concepts to show how our “Others” think within that ontological horizon (recently all natives seem to have become Deleuzians), anthropologists could critically engage with the conditions of possibility of conceptual production and eschew (or—with Bartleby—decide they simply “prefer not to” embrace) the vanity of flamboyant effects achieved by deploying philosophical terms, jargon, and fads. We would rather our Mongolianists show that “nomadic machines” are not actually what Deleuze and Guattari thought they were, and instead return to the moment in which philosophers like Deleuze and Guattari themselves turned to ethnography for its conceptual riches (drawing on everything from Bateson’s plateau to Clastrean theories of the State). In the words of Pierre Bourdieu, inspired by Pascal, “true philosophy makes light of philosophy” (2000: 2). We are less interested in anthropologists eager to “play the philosopher” and spin another intellectual whirlpool about the state of exception or the multiple bodies of the king (thank you Andrew Shryock) and more concerned with those who, acknowledging the analogies between philosophy and anthropology, are careful enough to think about what makes the two distinctive, and at the same time, bold enough to create their own conceptual repertoire (our thanks here to Martin Holbraad).

The engagement between anthropology and history has been just as productive. The methodology of employing historical data as examples of “radical alterity” for profound reflections to challenge Western and/or “natural,” “scientific” or modern cosmologies has been employed by social theorists and anthropologists from Weber’s Ancient Judaism ([1917] 1952), Robertson-Smith’s The religion of the Semites([1889] 1995), to Boas’ Tsimshian mythology([1916] 1970). More recent examples would be Prytz-Johansen’s (1954) magnificent ethno-historical study of Maori religious ontologies, Tambiah’s (1977) analysis of the “galactic polity” in Southeast Asia, Burghart’s (1978) study of royal gift exchange, caste and ascetic hierarchies in Nepal, Geertz’s (1981) study of the Negara system in Bali, and Sahlins’ (1998) musings on the anthropology of Western cosmology (our thanks here to Gregory Schrempp and Martin Mills).

After our initial conversations on these topics, we quickly realized we were not alone. We quickly realized a desire for a return to ethnographic theory was out there, in almost everyone’s mind, but as yet without name. The road to HAU’s foundation continued with a few enthusiastic yet forlorn emails sent to senior scholars. We needed to accrue reputation and academic mana to convey the idea effectively and make our vision pervasive. We required the help of those scholars who had nothing to score in terms of publications and journal rankings, those who could afford to adventure in uncharted territory. The response and the enthusiasm that followed our initial exchanges soon became infectious. Marshall Sahlins responded immediately—and what an emotion it was to read his first email—as well as Marilyn Strathern, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Jeanne Favret-Saada, Joel Robbins, Bruce Kapferer, Maurice Godelier, Keith Hart and many others. Among them were esteemed and more experienced exponents of the world of digital anthropology who showed great collegiality, such as Mike Wesch, Mark Turin, Chris Kelty, and later Alex Golub (the latter two among the founders of the widely read anthropology blog, Savage Minds). The heirs of Leach, Pitt-Rivers and Evans-Pritchard generously granted permission to reprint neglected classics of ethnographic theory. It was not a butterfly but a snowball effect. The rumbling was unmistakable, there was something rolling and growing on the horizon.

Ten months later and wonderful feedback is still flowing in. Some argue that we have started a movement. Whether or not this is the case, we remain awed by the endorsements coming from all over the world, the quality of the manuscriptsreceived and the enthusiasm and brilliance of the authors who have supported our vision with their wonderful work or advice. We also remain grateful to everyone who recognized the importance of a journal with a cosmopolitan vision of a freely-accessible and non-commercial anthropology.

Open-Access, Copy left, Peer-reviewed.

Open access journals should receive all our support. Especially established academics who do not need to “score points” with “fancy” publications would do well to contribute to open access journals so as to increase their reputation. If we all do it consistently, the day will come when publishing in a highly regarded open access journal will give you more “points” than publishing in one of the overpriced journals published commercially.

Catarina Dutil Novahes, 2011[5]

There is more than a strong intellectual agenda in HAU’s spirit. In the wake of the wider crisis in academic publishing, HAU takes advantage of the possibilities afforded by the digital revolution and recent open-access (OA) initiatives in the humanities. HAU provides a platform for the exchange of scholarship, supporting a cosmopolitan and democratic vision of anthropological knowledge by making all content freely available and freely redistributable. Anthropology has been without a prestigious open-access peer-reviewed journal and press for too long.

There are fears in the scholarly community that with Open Access comes a decline in both quality and standards. We hope this volume shows that these concerns are unfounded. HAU—being free from printing constraints—offers fast processing of submitted manuscripts, blind peer-review, international exposure and a top-notch board of advisors and reviewers. Academic excellence is ensured by a full and rigorous peer-review. Articles accepted by HAU are evaluated first by the journal’s editorial team. Once their relevance to the journal’s intellectual agenda is established they are forwarded to two or three anonymous reviewers. The large Editorial Board and list of eminent names that HAU boasts has a purpose beyond mere academic recognition: the board members are our reviewers, the first pool from which we draw the talents who assess the manuscripts and certify the journal’s credentials beyond “impact factors.” All members of HAU’s Editorial Board have committed to review at least one manuscript per year for the journal, and in line with our goals to foster community and promote intellectual diversity across different traditions, we include scholars outside the North Atlantic and AngloSaxon academic juggernauts: Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan. More invitations are on their way as well as plans for facilitating the submissions of manuscripts in several languages.

HAU guarantees a 6–10 month turnaround of manuscripts (conditional upon approval by reviewers). Being an online journal, HAU has reduced concerns with word limits on its articles (everyone hates cutting words) and none for printing costs. Furthermore, HAU is a proud “copy left” journal. Authors are protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License which states that the copyright for articles published in HAU remains with the author, while first publication rights belong to the journal. The contents of the journal are free for any and all to use or republish in educational and other noncommercial settings, as long as their source is properly attributed. In addition to original articles, we welcome chapters of forthcoming monographs that can be employed by scholars as “teasers” to raise a wide audience’s interest in their forthcoming work. The list of prominent scholars in the inaugural issue should not intimidate graduate students or recent postdocs, nor discourage them from submitting their work. They are the future of anthropology.

Following the example of Open Access initiatives of scholarly excellence such as Open Humanities Press,[6] HAU is committed to becoming an Open Access alternative to commercial publishing in anthropology by taking advantage of the lower costs of production that internet distribution allows. Alongside a bi-annual peer-reviewed Journal, HAU will develop two additional lines of publication: a Masterclass series of key lectures by distinguished anthropologists and a Monograph series, entitled Classics in Ethnographic Theory, for the publication of previously unpublished pieces and seminal out-of-print work. By reprinting modern or forgotten classics in ethnographic theory, the series hopes to revive interest in seminal monographs and illustrate how the work of ethnographic theorists anticipated philosophical debates in Continental Philosophy (e.g., how Pitt-Rivers’ discussion of strangers and guests could tackle Derrida’s “hostipitality”). Each monograph will be published with a preface by a contemporary anthropologist, who, in his or her essay, will highlight aspects of the work’s present-day theoretical resonances.

Both the journal issues and monographs will be available electronically with a view to making all volumes available as print-on-demand option for book lovers, and those who just prefer holding texts in their hands.

Funding and the Network of Ethnographic Theory

Andrew Shryock and Alex Golub teased us—nicely—by wanting to see not the first but the fifth issue of HAU. They are both smart and wise: starting an open journal and aiming towards high-end academic quality is a major challenge. Making it sustainable is even more difficult. Yet online production makes HAU a particularly economical endeavor: without the burden of printing costs, and with a non-profit Editorial Team, the journal can be sustained with a modest sum funding its website, team of copyeditors and its translators. Open-access copyediting can certainly match the one of commercial publishers. You judge: skilled and reasonably priced (or volunteer) copyeditors are not all taken by publishing behemoths and all our copyeditors decided to volunteer for this inaugural issue. But both an investment of time and funds are essential. (The blog Savage Minds argued that open-access anthropology needs civil servants and our CNRS-based managing editor Stéphane Gros could not agree more.)

To support an open-access non-profit initiative like HAU we have had to develop a novel financial model and organizational structure. HAU will function in line with the principle which inspired its creation as online journal: worldwide distribution through the exploration of new forms of digital collaboration. Rather than being affiliated with a single entity with its own distinctive interests, HAU will be organized around HAU-N.E.T, Network of Ethnographic Theory a lively, global network of scholars sharing HAU’s intellectual vision, interested in the ways internet and communications technology could bring changes in how we conduct and think about anthropology as a discipline of global exchange. HAU will have branches in universities or research institutions located in different countries which will host HAU on their website, participate in the project by giving editorial advice, propose work to reprint or translate, supervise the correct management of the journal and offering institutional address for applications to funding bodies within the respective countries.

It was not an easy task to convince institutions in a time of heavy financial constraints to invest in a novel project as HAU but we found departments daring to be intellectual pioneers. At the time of the publication of this inaugural issue, HAU-N.E.T. includes CNRS and the Centre d’Études Himalayennes (France), and the departments of anthropology at the universities of Sydney (Australia) Manchester (United Kingdom) and Amsterdam (Netherlands). Others are on their way since the network is open, in becoming.

HAU’s structure

HAU’s inaugural issue displays the full editorial structure of future volumes and is organized along three main divisions:

A Peer-Reviewed section, which may include two sub-sections.

1.1. Themed Articles, a group of submitted articles which spontaneously center around a topical theme, or Special Issues, a group of integrated articles critically engaging with specific subjects of great theoretical relevance, joined together by cross-referential dialogue and a solid introduction to the theme.

1.2. Varia, including accepted articles that fall outside themed or special issues.

A Non-peer reviewed section, which undergoes internal editing or assessment, and includes:

2.1 Unedited Scholarship, including previously unpublished work which holds great historical and/or theoretical relevance for current debates or nicely matches the journal issue theme.

2.2. Forum, hosting significant lectures, remarkable interventions, sui generis contributions or work that fits the journal’s intellectual agenda yet is unwilling to undergo the peer-review process.

A Classics section, divided in two parts.

3.1 Translations into English of remarkable work of ethnographic and theoretical interest, both past and present.

3.2. Reprints. Essays or excerpts of thematic interest for the journal issue that have never before been made available online. We consider the Classics section as having great relevance for both HAU and Open Access anthropology.

The re-exposure of the anthropological community to historical ethnographies will, we hope, prompt the reassessment of classic theoretical debates, an activity essential to the development of an ethnographic theory conscious of its own rich intellectual history.

The Inaugural Issue[7]

“Sooner or later,” Meyer Fortes once wrote (1959: 8), “every serious anthropologist returns to the great Frazerian corpus.” The themed section of this inaugural issue, edited by Giovanni da Col and Stéphane Gros, includes a set of essays that bring fresh and challenging insights on long-term anthropological debates about the two kin terms, “kinship” and “kingship” inaugurated by James Frazer in The golden bough. Despite its long-since debunked evolutionary premise and other well-known intellectual shortcomings, Frazer’s inquiry into divine kingship and the genesis of sovereignty sparked the imagination of generations of thinkers beyond anthropology for years and has, since 1920, been brilliantly regenerated and adapted to the bearings of contemporary theory via the magnificent tradition of Frazer Lectures. Willerslev (2011) recently made an intriguing attempt to resuscitate Frazer’s “speculative imagination” of ethnographic and historical material, an approach that could also prove valuable in welding together the essays included in this section.

As Luc de Heusch pointed out, “[t]he phoneme that separates the English words “kinship” and “kingship” deserves to be known as the “g” factor in history.” (2005: 66). We might say that it is the G-factor of anthropology, which today continues to allow us grapple with new ways to rethink mystical influence, authority, force, relatedness and consubstantiality. The relevance of juxtaposing two apparently antithetical terms such as kinship and kingship lies precisely in the novel possibilities and transformations of the original notions that emerge from the deliberate fiction of the association. What we might call the equivocal social topology of kin(g)ship is manifested in the etymological ambiguities still surrounding the relationship between “the people” and “the king,” where “king” might be derived from the Old English cynn (family or race) or, alternately, from a related root indicating “descended from noble birth.” Benveniste highlighted this ambiguity in his Vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes (1969, III: 9), in scrutinizing the opacity surrounding the notion of “the people” of the king in the Homeric epic. The Homeric term was unrelated to later term “demos”, which was primarily a territorial and political concept designing a division of land and its inhabitants, united by social status but not by kinship bonds. In Indo-European languages, the earlier way of relating the two was to speak of the king as “the shepherd of people” (in Greek, poimen laon), the term laos expressing a personal bond between king as guide and shepherd of a band of warriors, a metaphor drawn from the Achaean period where social structures were founded on animal husbandry. This pseudo-affinal relationship between the king and people evokes Leach’s argument (1961; developed too by Viveiros de Castro’s [2009]) likening the authority and influence exercised by relatives and affines to magical powers. Where relations of incorporation such as filiation and descent tend to be symbolically marked as relations of shared substance (bone, blood, flesh, etc.), relations of alliance and affinity tend instead to be conceived as mystical influence. It may be useful to remember here that Leach (1961) relied heavily on Fortes’ (1959) notion of “fate” (yin) among the Tallensi.[8] For the Tallensi, “fate” would be capable of coalescing the two dimensions into one, being both authoritarian and unpredictable and elusive. “Fate” can therefore be likened to mana, vitality or grace, forces usually attributed to kings, but which could also be seen as being either divine sources of fertility or quintessential thaumaturgic being (cf. Pitt-Rivers 1976, this volume; Marc Bloch [1924] 1973).[9] Whereas lineages (kinship) would be internalized bonds of substance, fate, grace (and kingship) would be externalized ones: life from the outside (cf. Sahlins 2010; da Col forthcoming). Here lies the metaphysical point of conjuncture of “kin(g)ship”: the ritualization and circulation of reproductive vitality.

Unsurprisingly, Hocart defined kingship as ritual mastery: “an organization to promote life, fertility, prosperity by transferring life from objects which are abounding in it to objects deficient in it.” Kingship in founded on a notion of ritual kinship, an idea that we find in forms of god-parenthood, spiritual kinship (such as the Tibetan Buddhist lama-student relationships) or the famous Latin American compadrazgo system (Gudeman 1972).[10] Recently, Sahlins’ (2011) has explored the full magnitude of this premise by (re)turning to Levi-Bruhl’s “mystical participation” and Prytz-Johansen’s (1954) conceptualization of the immaterial source of the authority of the Maori chief, expressed by its capacity to unfold the mana that connects chief, land and kinship group. Mana is the background element which is brought into the foreground and unfolded by the relationship between kinship and kingship: hence it is conceptualized not as “energy” but as a quintessential force of relationality, a “fellowship” (1954: 85) capable of mediatingdifferent social topologies, unfolded by and within the figure of the chief.[11] “Kinship” could then be conceived as a category carving the relationship between the unity and difference of life, a description of instances of “mutuality of interbeing” (Sahlins 2011) or as a special operation of membership (in the mathematical sense) that functions by putting “two into one” (one set, that is) or “many into one.”

This image of kinship, though, necessarily entails a figure-ground reversal (Wagner 1987) between singularity and multiplicity: the king or chief is a plural singularity, containing other singularities and intentionalities within a “body,” conceived as a set or a “container” of life, mana, and grace which allow authority to be maintained (cf. Pitt-Rivers 1976, this volume; da Col forthcoming). Imagined as a Venn Diagram, the “G-factor of king(s)hip” could be conceived as the prime set encompassing and intersecting the “extensions” and “intensions” of the vital relationship between the One and the Many.[12] In other words, kin(g)ship could be conceived as the quintessential social topology of life, a) the image through which the plurality of life and its beings appears as a singularity and b) a figure of vital externality, through which society contains itself within a body which lies outside whilst being “inside” of it and precisely because of its alterity and outsidedness can be deployed a source of vitality, regeneration, reproduction or circulation of life (cf. Hocart 1936; Sahlins 1984, 2010; Bloch 1992; Strathern 1998). People, households and their life-energy, are connected to the king: if the king’s body is corrupted, the household crops fail. Similarly, the lama or the godparent engender a multiplicity of offspring and the protection of the godfather is essential to assure the prosperity of the godchildren. Thus the apparently deceptive (or at the very least, over-stretched) juxtaposition of “kingship” and “kinship” remains productive, allowing one to imaginatively conceive how life is harnessed and redistributed in a society through different social topologies and how the sovereign is imagined, in what can only be called utopian terms, as a quintessential container of life. The sovereign is thought to “father” people, households and other vital containers by mastering the ritual for the production and reproduction of life itself.

This way of framing the matter clearly has merit. But it also downplays the hidden role of violence in the constitutional imaginary of the sovereign as a source of vitality and fertility (cf. Bloch 1992). Here we could not have a better discussion of violence and political theologies than David Graeber’s extended essay, a treatise on the “divine kingship” of the Shilluk people of South Sudan, originally made famous in Frazer’s Golden bough, and Evans-Pritchard’s 1948 Frazer lecture (reprinted in this volume). Graeber’s essay, written as a self-conscious effort to continue the dialogue Evans-Pritchard began, offers a thorough review on the literature on divine kingship and lays the foundation for an ethnographically-inspired “archaeology of sovereignty.” In anthropological literature and Western political philosophy, there are arguments for considering kinship and kingship as two different modes of solidarity. Thus if one agrees with Fortes (1969), that what underlines kinship is the axiom of prescriptive amity, kingship could be seen as introducing a new principle whereby people unrelated to each other could establish an analogous relation of solidarity (cf. Drucker-Brown 2005). Graeber departs from an analytical focus on solidarity by revisiting the foundational place of violence within the political and religious domain. He examines its role in constituting “divinity” and facilitating what Puett (2002) named the “theomorphic” potential of humanity. The secret of divine kingship would be its quintessential capacity of enacting not mystical influences but “utopian” visions that are never fulfilled, yet are constantly played, deployed and maintained by the power of arbitrary destruction.

Graeber’s analysis relies on a tripartite distinction between the role of violence in mediating the relationship between a) divine kingship, referring not to the identification of rulers with supernatural beings but to kings who make themselves all-powerful beings beyond human morality through the use of arbitrary violence and b) sacred kingship, which controls the danger of such forms of power by offering a tentative—and utopian—resolution for the elementary problems of human existence. Thus Graeber writes:

It is in this sense that Clastres (1977) was right when he said that state authority must have emerged from prophets rather than chiefs, from the desire to find a “land without evil” and undo death; it is in this sense, too, that it can be said that Christ (the Redeemer) was a king, or kings could so easily model themselves on Christ, despite his obvious lack of martial qualities. Here, in embryo, can we observe what I have called the utopian element of the state. Violence, and more specifically, antagonism, plays a crucial role here. It is the peculiar quality of violence that it simplifies things, draws clear lines where otherwise one might see only complex and overlapping networks of human relationship. It is the particular quality of sovereign violence that it defines its subjects as a single people (this volume, 13)

The Shilluk kingdom is a brilliant case for highlighting this tripartite archaeology of sovereignty since Shilluk rulers attempted to build a State in the absence of any real administrative apparatus and made the constitutional process of sovereignty— normally obscured—unusually transparent.

Sahlins’ essay is another magnificent tour de force on cosmologies of sovereignty and the relationship between kinship and kingship. Its relevance no doubt extends beyond anthropology, providing exquisite food for thought for ancient historians and classicists. Originally written in 1986—hence anticipating those concerns with the mythology of twinning later to be unfolded by Lévi-Strauss in the latest of his petite mythologiques, the Story of the lynx([1991] 1995)— Sahlins’ magisterial efforts offer a solid anthropological alternative to the mainstream interdisciplinary astonishment with the ontological duplicity of the Roman homo sacer and the genealogy of modern sovereignty, popularized by Agamben (1998). Sahlins’ essay focuses on the topology of doubling and the properties of duplication attributed to the figure of the king originally discussed (in the case of medieval European political theology) by Polish historian Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic treatise on the King’s two bodies(1957). According to Kantorowicz, the British or French king was a twinned being, encompassing a dual ontology of human and divine, one descending from nature, the other from grace (cf. Pitt-Rivers, this volume); the first indexed by a “body natural,” the second by a divine “body politic.” The king, being both man and god, would be capable of interchanging mortal and immortal sovereignties. Now Sahlins presents us with the strange and mysterious cosmology of sovereignty, the one represented by the dual-kingship of Sparta, where the metaphysical point of dual sovereignty is not played within a single body but where sovereignty is duplicated in two different beings. The case of the dual kingship of Sparta presents us with two kings who did not have a complementary division of powers but constituted a duplex political being, a divine twinning, indistinguishable in authority and in action. Dual kingship in Sparta does not express a political division of labor, a functional dualism, but an ontological principle. If regicide is a cornerstone of much debate over the nature of kingship and sovereignty, Sahlins skillfully shows that sovereign twinship is key to our understanding of a cosmology of sovereign right, in the given social context. By unfolding an unparalleled and detailed analysis of the gamut of mythological kinship charts in Ancient Greece, Sahlins shows how this diarchy was achieved by the mytho-praxis of mediating different cosmologies of sovereign right, the idea of the stranger-kings of divine descent in the Spartan myth alongside that of autochthony in Athenian ideology.

Clearly, the analysis of the nature of “kingship” and its varied mytho-praxis cannot depart from an analysis of the role of the category of “kinship” itself. Schrempp here pays a brilliant tribute to his teacher David Schneider, that notorious skeptic on the universality of the notion of kinship, as he attempts to avoid a disembedded analysis of kinship as a category in itself, detached from cosmological thinking and cultural worldviews. He turns instead to his interest in Maori philosophy and religious ontologies by way of Prytz-Johansen’s famous statement that “[i]f one could picture to oneself a person like Kant among the old Maoris—which indeed is difficult—one should not be surprised if to the fundamental categories of knowledge, time and space, he had added: kinship” (1954: 9). Schrempp’s dazzling inquiry demonstrates that kinship here has a mythical quality that plays a cosmic role, even one that blurs the distinction between (Copernican) science and (kinship) myth. For Schrempp, mythical qualities can be found embedded in kinship’s explanatory categories and mythological imageries might be considered essentially as origin myths of scientific worldviews. Schrempp thus demonstrates the cosmological-cum-metaphorical foundation of categorical thinking, tracing the “origin myth” of the philosophical and scientific notion of the Western “category” in relation to the cosmological role of the category of “kinship” in Maori cosmology. Through a juxtaposition of different modes of the genesis of categorical thinking and its tropes (i.e., the body, the idea, class, cause and time), from Copernicus to Durkheim and Mauss to Lakoff and Johnson the article excitingly shows the disjunctive homonimities between the two operations—the “category” and “kinship”—by a series of “figure-ground reversals” (Wagner 1987) which offer modes of thought for contemplating the relation between the unity and diversity of the cosmos. The result is a perfect example of the kind of productive disjuncture we take to be the hallmark of ethnographic theory.

In a seminar titled the Anti-Narcissus, given in Paris in 2009, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro suggests that starting with the Mythologiques, Lévi-Strauss’ original binary structures came to be replaced by reflections on transformations and spatial connections. This poststructuralist reading of Lévi-Strauss’ work was also present in a neglected yet exemplary engagement with structuralism by Deleuze ([1973] 2004), an essay titled “How to recognize structuralism.” In it, Deleuze points out how structuralism is not predicated on any extrinsic designation nor intrinsic meaning but only on a positional one. Subjects or objects are not bounded entities occupying a place, nor sites of imaginary extensions, but “effects” determined in a topological and relational way or—in other words, they are constituted perspectivally (cf. Viveiros de Castro 2004). Thus Deleuze writes:

The scientific ambition of structuralism is not quantitative, but topological and relational, a principal [sic] that Lévi-Strauss constantly reaffirms ... father, mother, etc., are first of all sites in a structure; and if we are mortal, it is by moving into the line, by coming to a particular site, marked in the structure following this topological order of proximities (even when we do so ahead of our turn).... Lévi-Strauss says in his discussion with Paul Ricoeur, sense is always a result, an effect: not merely an effect like a product, but an optical effect, a language effect, a positional effect.... The second consequence is structuralism’s inclination for certain games and a certain kind of theatre, for certain play and theatrical spaces. It is no accident that Lévi-Strauss often refers to the theory of games, and accords such importance to playing cards.... The noblest games such as chess are those that organize a combinatory systems of places in a pure spatium infinitely deeper than the real extension of the chessboard and the imaginary extensions of each piece ([1973] 2004: 174–5, original emphasis).

The next two essays, by Alberto Corsín Jiménez and Roy Wagner, return to just this sort of productive play of positions and optical effects to show how knowledge on human kinship and both the tropes of “knowledge” and “kinship” emerge when juxtaposed through perspectival displacement.

By returning to Roy Wagner’s (1977a) most influential work on the predicaments of kinship as having potentially infinitely “analogical” properties, Alberto Corsín Jiménez brilliantly deploys this trope as a model for the epistemological re-organization of a “knowledge” economy. Wagner argued that the problem of kinship is precisely that all human relationships are analogous and all beings—humans and not-humans—are connected through potentially limitless ties. Therefore kinship can only be a “byproduct” of cosmological “cuts,” a movement of “partitioning” or “positioning” which would bisect, foreground or reduce the monadic flow of innate human relatedness. By starting with the axiom that all forms of knowledge are similarly analogous, Corsín Jiménez’s riveting topological proposal aims to show how the epistemological organization of kinship analogies—conceived as a form of “exchange of perspectives”—is similar to the perceptual modes enacted by a trompe l’oeil effect in art. In trompe l’oeil, an illusion is sustained by making the viewers believe that painted objects are outside rather than inside the pictorial plane. This topological reversal and displacement of points of view enacted by trompe l’oeil allows a reconfiguration of the boundaries between the epistemologica! and the ontological. Corsin Jiménez’s analysis explains how the reversibility between the two perspectives could be employed as ethnographic method to challenge anthropological knowledge practices.

Roy Wagner’s intentionally eccentric presentation on the relation between the game of chess and kinship is neither an attempt to explain what either chess or kinship actually “are,” or to convey their functional internal modes of operation, but a rhetorical gambit deploying deliberate fiction to displace and creatively mediate the relationships between the two entities for engendering novel meanings. The “problem” of kinship, also posed in similar terms by Schneider in a notorious article “Some muddles in the models” (1965; reprinted in this volume) is that “kinship” tends to be formulated as a self-enclosing system that engenders acute self-involvement on the part of those who analyze it. Wagner argues precisely that “kinship” lacks the ability to step outside of itself and see itself for what it is. The rhetorical strategy (and the joking relationships!) deployed by Wagner employs metaphors and ethnography in what he calls a chiasmic relationship where the movement and displacement of perspectives and positions from one another cast light on both, not from a point of view from within (like an insider, or a “relative”) but from the without of within, by being inside while juxtaposed. As a metaphor of his method, Wagner employs his favorite chess move, the Knight-Fork (knights being the only piece on the board that ends a move with a shift from white to black, or black to white) to cast light on the dilemma of cross-cousin marriage made famous by Lévi-Strauss (1954). The chiasmus is illustrated in kinship by the classic cross-cousin relationship, and in chess by the asymmetric double-proportion between the king and queen, the only gendered pieces on the board, and the moves of the other pieces in the game. It is also demonstrated by the fact that, Wagner argues, proscriptions produce both the prohibition and the thing prohibited (e.g., the practice of incest as well as its prohibition). Thus, for example, the Daribi both affirm and deny the siblingship of cross-cousins while the Barok both self-contradictorily practice and proscribe direct cross-cousin marriage. By “mating” chess and kinship, Roy Wagner gives us an imaginative piece that will surely inspire many reflections on both games and strategies in the years to come.

Engaging with Sahlins (2011) reconceptualization of kinship as “mutuality of being,” Chris Gregory concludes the collection with a refreshing and charming analysis of the sensory nature of kinship. He invites the reader to consider alternative approaches to the predominance of hierarchical thought in India on the basis of his exploration of tactile communication and inter-subjective acts of what he calls “skinship.” Gregory’s analysis is also an intriguing treatise of the anthropology of the kiss. By exploring such inter-subjective sensual acts of kinship relationships, Gregory’s argument brings new perspectives to the field of anthropology by reconsidering the prominence of hierarchical relationships. He then extends the piece into a critical engagement with the notion of Indian Gift. The article takes us on a journey into the “Divine Kingdom of the brother and sister” in Bastar District, Central India, where we learn about the variants of the Indian kiss, and its ability to transform hierarchy into familiarity by the deployment of virtue. The performance of virtuous relations through formalized behavior is explored especially in relation to the kiss, prompting us to reconsider the prominence of hierarchical relationships in the light of inter-subjective sensual acts that display virtue, and more importantly, respect. On this ground, Gregory proposes an engagement with moral philosophers, Kant in particular, and his notion of respect as a “priceless” anthropological value, constitutive of the human condition. The core of Gregory’s contribution is beautifully outlined in the following passage:

While the study of abstract moral philosophies of people such as Kant are no doubt important, both philosophers and anthropologists still have much to learn from the moral philosophers of the concrete found in places like Bastar. Ethnography theory has its origins in the concrete study of concrete problems but kinship theory, as the study of reference terms, has overlooked the obvious point that modes of address of a sensible kind are primary. If anthropologists are unsure about what kinship is then the people of Bastar have no doubts. For them it is first and foremost a relationship of contiguity rather than a relationship of consanguinity and affinity, a “mutuality in sensible being” to give Sahlins’ (2011) formulation a slight twist (this issue, 236).

We believe the papers gathered in the themed section show how the juxtaposition of kingship and kinship as two prime modes for conceiving human relatedness remains on the forefront of our discipline’s concern and theorizing, and can provide a strong and distinctly anthropological voice to the rising chorus of interdisciplinary interest in sovereignty, embodiment, subjectivity and the spatial transformations of relatedness across a wide range of ethnographic and historical contexts.

The Varia peer-reviewed section of HAU’s inaugural issue includes an article dear to the journal’s mission, on the relationship between ethnography and theory, authored by Laura Nader. In this stimulating intellectual excursus, Nader highlights the conditions of possibility of the very concept of description. By arguing that “ethnography is a theory of description,” there are far-reaching methodological implications that can be traced through the historical development of anthropology and through a necessary intellectual history of the positive equivocations that have surrounded the question of what the “descriptive” is. Yet consensus, argues Nader, should not be about the scientificity of our methods, but about the need for innovation and the historical unfolding of the subjectivities involved in describing the descriptive.

Mann, Mol, Satalkar, Savirani, Selim, Sur and Yates-Doerr, bring out the gamut of perspectives and mutually reconstituted worldviews that an innovative ethnographic experimentation “at home” can elicit. The article begins as an experiment with the ambivalences of tasting (viscous and wet) food with one’s fingers, and the multidimensional character of such an experiment in terms of affects, emotions, and the fluidity of cultural repertoires. The experiment, the reader will sense, is also about how to write collectively about such highly subjective feelings, having to oscillate senses and perspectives between the “I” and the “we,” thus challenging our usual ways of contextualizing knowledge and locating authorship.

The material presented in HAU’s themed issue and in the Classics section of the journal (Unedited Scholarship, Forum, Translations and Reprints) offers a powerful source of ethnographical and historical inspiration to the scholarship of the last decade, which has witnessed the resurgence of discussions around concepts of sovereignty, embodiment and political theologies. These are discussions that have often neglected the long history of theoretical reflection within and beyond the Frazerian corpus. The section also includes some seminal engagements with the implications of “models” in theorizing relatedness and kinship relationships and with the orders of knowledge they literally (re)produce.

On this note Marilyn Strathern’s unpublished article “What is a parent?” inaugurates a magnificent speculation on the equivocal notion of “origin” across anthropological and Euro-American thought. Whilst originally written in 1991, the manuscript is a most valuable contribution to an understanding of Strathern’s later scholarship and the development of her ideas on kinship in light of the New Reproductive Technologies (NRTs). The paper goes “back to the future” by returning to Strathern’s later concerns with kinship and orders of knowledge, including a paradigmatic engagement between ethnographic theory and French philosophy. Strathern beautifully emphasizes the tropes and arguments deployed on kinship motives by Lacan (mirror stage), Baudrillard (hyper-reality), Derrida (his concept of origin and the idea of that everything begins with reproduction yet there is no “originality”). Strathern achieves an authoritative analysis through a tender use of analogies and abstractions resulting in a prolegomenon to the study of the “kinship” of philosophy itself (a move which resonates particularly well with the article by Schrempp contained in this volume). With a reconsideration of Houseman’s discussion of the Beti and Samo kinship and West Africa, Strathern delivers an ethnographic blow to the search for origins that preoccupies Euro-American thought by highlighting the kinship between the reproduction of origins and the reproduction of ideas.

It is a great pleasure for HAU to make freely available for the first time the unpublished 1982 Frazer lecture by Edmund Leach on Kingship and Divinity, hitherto held in the Archives of King’s College, Cambridge. The essay is classic Leach: erudite, funny, brilliant, and always just slightly rude. In it, he sets himself the challenge of trying to say something nice about Sir James Frazer, and just barely pulls it off. The essay is full of echoes of the themes of our kingship essays: it begins with reflections on the twin qualities of Frazerian sacred monarchs, and a typically impertinent argument that the analogy between gods and kings really boils down to one simple principle: “God is what[ever] we are not but would like to be.” The meat of the essay though is Leach’s endorsement of Frazer’s own most impertinent argument, what many take to be the core message of The golden bough even if the explicit argument was removed after the second edition: that the New Testament story of Jesus’ crucifixion is really a retelling of the ritual killing of a Babylonian sacred king—fusing together the two royal functions (talisman and scapegoat) that Frazer himself was so careful to distinguish.

The Forum section includes the lecture given by Nicholas Thomas on the occasion of his nomination as Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) in Cambridge. He opens with a reading of Anatole von Hugel’s Fiji journals, discussing the young natural historian’s collection of artifacts. From this, and von Hugel’s later curatorial works, Thomas shows that museum collections are never just ethnographical, nor mere collections of art, but “artifacts of European exploration, travel, colonization, and knowledge” (this issue, 305). To further illustrate his point, Thomas describes the case of a Maori flagpole, a pouhaki, that Tene Waitere, a famous Maori artist, had carved as a gift from his tribe to the Prince of Wales in 1920. A discussion with James Schuster, a descendant of Waitere, began in 2007, with the aim to relocate the flagpole to Cambridge. Originally, the flagpole was gifted to the Prince “not out of some subservient loyalty, but to reaffirm the relationships between Maori to the Crown, and the importance of neglected reciprocal obligations,” Thomas points out (307). The relocation became a process of restoration of a new kind, as it contributed to the flagpole recovering its mana—its spiritual power—as a great work of indigenous art; “[t]he pouhaki was ... a telling gift, an awe-inspiring artistic instrument” (310). This collaborative engagement is a wonderful example of the values things may possess, values that could enrich the understandings of museum collections. Thomas’ contribution provides much food for thought about the relationships between collectors and indigenous communities in the aftermath of decolonization, issues of representation of culture, and the processes of negotiation and reciprocity that have in recent times led curatorial practice to become an increasingly collaborative undertaking.

The three translations of Maurice Godelier’s work on kinship echo the main theme of this issue, offering for the first time in English some of his most important contributions to the field. The first article is an in-depth investigation of kinship and consubstantiality among the Baruya, where Godelier began his exploration of kinship in 1967. The two pieces that follow present a rich comparative treatment of a large body of ethnographic data in order to re-examine notions of descent and alliance, influence, nature and supernaturalism and the ontogenesis of kinship relationships. These are but a glimpse of his ambitious study, The metamorphosis of kinship (forthcoming in 2012 with Verso), which has already been much debated on the basis of its earlier French version (2004), yet remained fairly neglected in the English-speaking world.

The three pieces included in the Reprints section are of key importance for showing the contribution of ethnographic theory on contemporary discussions surrounding the nature of sovereignty, particularly the bias inhabiting each model or system that attempts to provide a synthetic account of human relatedness.

It begins with a reprint of Evans-Pritchard’s own Frazer lecture, “The divine kingship of the Shilluk,” hitherto mainly known to students as an ancient pamphlet that could be found in a few of the better-stocked university libraries. By historians of the discipline, the lecture, delivered in 1948, is largely remembered as a matter of the greatest practitioner of structural-functionalism putting a final stake in Frazer’s then until recently still-beating heart. It’s all the more ironic since his culminating disavowal of the Frazerian legacy—that the killing of the sacred king never really happened (one might add: except perhaps metaphorically in performances such as Evans-Pritchard’s own)—has since been proved to be simply wrong. It might have been true during the colonial period, where such acts were of course illegal. But since there has since been ample evidence, both historical and even ethnographic, for the ritual killing of African kings. But the essay is much more than that. It is the first in which an anthropologist raised the key issue of sovereignty: that a monarch must simultaneously be part of society, but also, a radical outsider, who can only constitute society by that very separation, that has come to define all subsequent thinking on the subject to date. The challenge, which all later analysts of the subject have had to grapple with in one way oranother, is how to square that fact with the realization that on other key issues Frazer was not, in fact, wrong.

Pitt-Rivers’ extraordinary piece is a forgotten engagement with the author’s favorite mana -term, the notion of grace in Mediterranean societies and popular theology, which recurs in several of his works on hospitality and authority (cf. Pitt-Rivers 1974, 1977). It also provides an original discussion of the notion of the “free gift” in anthropology.[13] Grace, according to Pitt-Rivers, is the prerogative of the divine and guarantees the legitimacy of kingship. Over the king and authority stands the elusive, random-like notion of “gratuity” connected to the theological plane authority:

The central core remains always the notion of gratuity, on the social as on the theological plane, and the essential opposition is to that which is rational, predictable, calculated, legally or even morally obligatory, contractually binding, creating a right to reciprocity. Grace is a “free” gift, a favor, an expression of esteem, of the desire to please, a product of the arbitrary will, human or divine, an unaccountable love. Hence it is gratuitous in yet another sense: that of being not answerable to coherent reasoning, un justifiable, as when an insult is said to be gratuitous, or when a payment is made, over and above that which is due (this issue, 431 [224]).

Revisited in association with later discussion on the short-circuiting of the circle of reciprocity, such as Laidlaw’s (2000) essay on the “free gift,” Pitt-Rivers theology of grace will certainly spark some debates in the years to come.

HAU’s inaugural issue concludes with a long essay by Schneider called “Some muddles in the models: or, how the systems really works,” an essay crucial to the history of the discipline. Even more than his later work, it stands as a classic in the study of meta-theorization of kinship. It would be the ideal addition to any syllabus on kinship, but also those on the more basic question of what kind of theoretical conclusions we can draw from ethnographic data, and how.

We began this project with a defiant gamble: that it’s only by returning to the past, and drawing on our own hoariest traditions, that we can revive the radical promise of anthropology to upend all accepted verities about the nature of the human condition, about life, knowledge, sociality, wealth, love, power, justice, possibility. It might seem paradoxical. But in the end, is it really? Anthropologists studying social movements have come to learn, in places like Chiapas or Oaxaca, that far from there being a contradiction between tradition and revolution, some of the most creative revolutionary movements spring up among those with the deepest sense of their own traditions. Perhaps we should internalize the lesson. In this, as in so many other things, there is no ultimate, no fundamental difference between us and those we study. Let us then begin a conversation—one freely available to everyone—with the promise to enrich all of our innumerable worlds.

Acknowledgements and Tributes

An intellectual genealogy would need to index several of the members of HAU editorial board and encompass a large bilineal descent system. Among those who have been our teachers, inspirers or colleagues we may quote in no particular order Marshall Sahlins (the generative moments of “the structures of the conjuncture” [1984]; the anthropology of Western cosmology and the relation between alterity and vitality [1996, 2010]); Roy Wagner (analogic kinship [1977a], the idea that any classification and division generate remainders when accounting for the relationships between emerging multiplicities [1977b] and the concept of “invention” and “reverse anthropology” [1977c/1981]); Jeanne Favret-Saada (the unparalleled unfolding of “disbelief” as ethnographic method [1977/1980, 2009, forthcoming]); Marilyn Strathern (the concept of “negative strategies” [1990a]; the eventfulness embedded within images [1990b]; the partial and non-linear nature of knowledge [1991a]); Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (perspectival equivocation and the ontological-disrupting property of ethnographic concepts [2003, 2004]); Caroline Humphrey (the semiotic constraints that innate processes exert on social imagination and subjectivity [1996, 2008]); Bruno Latour (symmetric anthropology [1996]; the irreducibility of forces and the shift from a substantialist view of human and non-human actants to an accidental one: any-thing is an event [1988]); Bruce Kapferer (the most solid ethnographic study of imagination, the study of political cosmologies in Sri Lanka and Australia [1997, 1998/2011]) and several exchanges on his forthcoming 2012 Huxley Lecture); Valerio Valeri (his exemplar engagements with philosophy through both evidence and ethnographic imagination [e.g., 2000]); Martin Holbraad’s superb “ontography” (e.g., 2009) and a passionate exchange of views during last years. Other relevant work would be Astuti, Parry and Stafford (2007); Battaglia (1993); Bourdieu (2000); Candea and da Col (2012); Corsín Jiménez (2008); da Col (forthcoming); Eco (1988, 1990, [1997] 1999, [2003] 2004); Gell (1999); Ginzburg ([1976] 1980); Graeber (2001, 2005); Henare, Holbraad and Wastell (2007); Herzfeld (2005); Keesing (1985); Leach (1961); PittRivers (1974, 1977, this volume); Fausto (2007); Gudeman (1986); Laidlaw (2000); Ramble (2008); Scott (2007); Stengers (2005); Turner (e.g., 2008, unpublished). Comments given by James Laidlaw in another manuscript about the relation between philosophy and anthropology were particularly enlightening, as well as the brilliance and generosity of Debbora Battaglia, Matei Candea, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Jacob Copeman, Robert Foster, Alex Golub, Chris Hann, Keith Hart, Holly High, Christoph Kletzer, Nancy Levine, Carole McGranahan, Martin Mills, Gregory Schrempp, Michael Scott, Andrew Shryock, Morten Nielsen, Amiria Salmond, Hans Steinmuller.

Major gratitude goes to the other members of HAU’s Editorial Team: Justin Shaffner for his comments, advice and ideas (particularly on Open-Access and digital anthropology) during the course of the last months and especially to Stéphane Gros, for some brilliant contributions to this essay and meticulous inspection. Sarah Green has been a great source of inspiration as well as Jeanette Edwards, Karen Sykes and some anonymous commentators from Manchester anthropology department. They all provided wonderful food for thought and especially taught much humbleness. Rachel Douglas-Jones deserves an honorable mention for some impressive proofreading and helpful suggestions. Gratitude should be extended to Mylene Hengen for helpful editing and especially to Carole McGranahan who has been the greatest rescuer of all, being the last one. Despite its pedantry, this list is far from complete, and cannot do justice to all our sources of inspiration or generous help.


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[1] We are aware that the pages that follow offer only a pastiche of thoughts and a tourist’s gaze on a subject that deserves a more thorough exposition of many of the unsung heroes of ethnographic theory. A partial list of ancestors and affines is given in the acknowledgements.

[2] Leach, trained in mathematics and engineering, wrote about topology and other non-Euclidean models of society; Levi-Strauss was among the first to invoke Klein Bottles. While contemporary Lacanians ignore this, Lacan himself was an avid reader of Levi-Strauss.

[3] By “material philosophies” here we mean not necessarily unwritten philosophies, though most are, but ones embedded in everyday practice, rather than those more purely abstract systems of thought that emerge from a specialized institutional structure that allows certain individuals to seperate themselves from everyday affairs on an ongoing basis for purposes of reflection and study.

[4] Sites such as scribd, aaaaarg.org and library.nu are amongst those regularly referred to in conversation.

[5] www.newappsblog.com

[6] openhumanitiespress.org/

[7] Written in collaboration with Stéphane Gros. We have no ambitions to propose a review of the literature on kingship and kinship but just to provide a tourist’s gaze, one hopefully capable of displacing and transform some anthropological categories we take for granted. On divine kingship, cf. the literature reviews contained in Feeley-Harnik (1985), Valeri (1985) and the more recent work by Puett (2004), Quigley (2005), Ramble (2006). The necessary apologies on the missing literature follow, although between them, the pieces by Graeber and Sahlins contained in this volume do offer a thorough review of the main scholarly debates.

[8] Recent writings nevertheless fail to engage with a further distinction drawn by Leach between two different types of affinal “mystical influences”: controlled supernatural attacks—denoting a potential relation of authority over the attacker and exemplified by sorcery, authority and kingship—the power of the mana of the king—and uncontrolled mystical influence, attributed to outsiders, witches and potentially dangerous affines (cf. also Candea and da Col forthcoming 2012).

[9] Leach writes: “There are some societies where Fate and Implacable Deity are to be found personified in one and the same affinal personality, and in such cases the relation between religious ideas and political authority takes on a very different and very special aspect—the mana of the King and the mana of the witch coalesce in the person of the all powerful Father-in-Law” (1961:25). As in kinship, it is peculiar how in different cosmologies fate’s tropes of authority are bonds, threads and knots. The Greek Moirae spins and weave, The Norse Norns binds (cf. Jackson 2005: 50; da Col, forthcoming).

[10] Our tourist’s gaze is obviously neglecting a wide range of literature on sacrifice (largely covered in Valeri (1985) and especially the Dumontian corpus, criticizing the extensibility of Hocart’s argument from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to India where the ritual functions on life where transferred from the King to the priest. A thorough review of this argument has been recently given by Rio and Smedal (2009).

[11] Prytz-Johansen writes: “Mana thus is something which is found both in chief, tribe, and land, in other words, something common to a group; but there is a difference in their relation to this mana in that the chief owns the mana of the others. It is this everything that makes his mana so much greater than that of the others, as it ‘extends’ into the land and the people” (1954: 86).

[12] Rio and Smedal’s work deserves to be explored for its daring attempt to develop a notion of “totalization” as an alternative to hierarchy, by coalescing forms of fractal personhood in Melanesia, especially the role of Big Men and Great Men (cf. Strathern 1991) with Dumont’s concept of encompassment. See also Fausto’s (2007) superb discussion of the notion of mastery ownership and magnification in Amazonia.

[13] For a thorough revisitation of the relevance of this work cf. Candea and da Col (forthcoming 2012).