About the project
Anthropos and the Material: Challenges to anthropology
The main thrust of this project is to explore the intersections between humans and the material. We focus on changing perceptions and figurations of the anthropos, particularly in relation to its material aspects of existence, i.e. its relations to the environment broadly defined.
Tom Svenson Foto: UiO
The project is organized around three parallel themes: domestication practices, economic practices, and ritual practices. Each of these will be explored in relation to a perspective that perceives humans and materials as always and already enmeshed. The project thus aims to shed light on the changing constitutions of the anthropos, and how it relates to and relies upon its material conditions of existence, and thus to contribute to crafting an anthropology that is better able to capture these conditions and processes.
The members of the network bring with them a focus on different topics: on material forces and relations of dependency to attempts to theorize sociality, as well as globalization and how 'worlds are held together' to more recent foci on domestication processes, local forms of global reforestation projects and questions related to the multiplicity of global financial, environmental and cultural crises. Some basic assumptions will tie them together and give shape to the project:What significance do various approaches to materiality and materialisations have for comparative studies of the human existential condition?
-How can the field of anthropology contribute to conceptualizing, studying, and writing 'the material'?
-What are the theoretical implications of the current shifts, and what is the edge through which anthropology can make a difference?
-How can attention to materiality help us to rethink anthropos in anthropology?
By setting up a common research focus within all the three domains we will ensure that the research across the three domains will yield comparable insights of theoretical value
Aim and scope
Two of the main challenges to social anthropological research in Norway identified in the evaluation report Social and Cultural Anthropological Research in Norway: An evaluation were that it needs to increase its theoretical ambitions and that Norwegian anthropologists should be more visible in international anthropological debates. The follow-up committee recommended that research networks should be established with partners from several anthropological research institutions in order to achieve these goals. This application is a response to these recommendations. The proposal includes a description of a proposed research project and a plan for a research network targeting the thematic area People, Nature and Environments of the ISP call for proposals. The general aim is to generate research activities that will strengthen anthropological research in Norway by an increased engagement in theoretically development with a greater number of significant publications in leading international journals by Norwegian anthropologists as an important visible result.
We propose to do so by studying the implications for anthropology of the renewed interest in nature and the material. A great source of contemporary disquiet relates to the uncertain future of the 'natural world' and hence also of the place of humans in this world. Environmental and climate change, biodiversity, biosecurity, pandemics, global warming and the unequal and unpredictable supply and distribution of food and water are all serious concerns. Similarly, there is much disquiet relating to ‘the economy,’ in the wake of financial scandals, crisis and subsequent restructuring programs. As new forms of inequalities are emerging, national sovereignties are challenged. At the same time states and public authorities are producing regulations and legislations that frame local practices and political processes, intensifying a new political ecology (Escobar 2008). These processes, albeit often referred to as global, are at the same time manifested in concrete situated cosmologies, where people mediate distinctions between the human and the non-human, the material and the social. These distinctions are often expressed in organized practices referred to as ritual. This combined state of global affairs points to the problematic interrelationships between human and non-human agencies and a heightened concern, within the social sciences and humanities, with materialities as objects of analyses.
We propose to address these issues through conceptualisations and configurations of anthropos and the material, as well as the practices and relations through which they come into being. We focus on changing perceptions and figurations of the anthropos, particularly in relation to its material aspects of existence, i.e. its relations to ‘nature’ and environments broadly defined. The project is organized around three parallel themes: domestication practices, economic practices, and ritual practices. Each of these will be explored in relation to a perspective that perceives humans and materials as always and already enmeshed. The project thus aims to shed light on the changing constitutions of the anthropos and how it relates to and relies upon its material conditions of existence, and thus to contribute to crafting an anthropology that is better able to capture these conditions and processes.
Theoretically, the issue may be formulated as one of processes of historical emergence, and the task thus conceived broadly as identifying the emergence of particular constellations of various life-forms, life-worlds, networks, or ‘forms of life’ (Helmreich 2009). The project is framed by a set of overarching disciplinary concerns:
- What significance do various approaches to materiality and materializations have for comparative studies of the human existential condition?
- How can the field of anthropology contribute to conceptualizing, studying, and writing ‘the material’?
- What are the theoretical implications of the current shifts, and what is the edge through which anthropology can make a difference?
- How can attention to materiality help us to rethink anthropos in anthropology?
These are questions that we consider to be crucial to the discipline at the moment and through which we intend to bring together some of the most important research that has emerged at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, and the other institutions that will participate in the project. We also acknowledge that these issues are highly relevant to other disciplines, and we hope that by addressing them we will be able to expand the scope of anthropological approaches and thus open up for investigating these questions also within an interdisciplinary environment. We believe that through a shared focus on materializations and the material, we will highlight, and be able to compare, some of the unique contributions and theoretical potential of several research projects. Through this focus we hope to contribute to the discipline as a whole as well as to strengthen the theoretical impact of social anthropological research in Norway.
The project is located at the Department of Social Anthropology (SAI), University of Oslo (UiO) with participants from the University of Bergen (UiB), Department of Ethnography at the Museum of Cultural History, UiO (KHM), University of Tromsø (UiT), Centre for Development and Environment, UiO (SUM), Section for Medical Anthropology and Medical History, Institute of Health and Society (IHS), UiO, University of Aberdeen, as well as guest researchers from the University of Manchester and University of California, Santa Cruz.