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No 2

Basic Questions of Anthropology

Die Basler Ethnologie hatte schon lange davor einen gewaltigen

intellektuellen Einfluss auf die globale Anthropologie. Zu den One World Anthropology
wichtigsten anthropologischen Vordenkern in Basel gehör-
te Johann Jakob Bachofen-Burckhardt, studierter Jurist und
Professor für römisches Recht an der Universität Basel. In sei-
nem 1861 erschienenen Hauptwerk «Das Mutterrecht» stellte er Tim Ingold
grundlegende Fragen nach der Geschichte und dem Verhältnis University of Aberdeen
der Geschlechter. Er wertete das Matriarchat positiv – damals ein Bruch mit
dem dominierenden Patriarchat und entschieden gegen den damaligen anth-
ropologischen Mainstream gedacht. Bachofen wurde mehrfach wiederentdeckt
(Ludwig Klages, Rainer Maria Rilke und Walter Benjamin). Seine Thesen sicher-
ten ihm noch in den 1970er Jahren eine intensive Rezeption seitens der Frau-
enbewegung. Heute werden die Fragen, die Bachofen stellte, anders beantwor-
tet. Relevant sind sie jedoch geblieben. In Anlehnung an diese Tradition stellt
die jährlich stattfindende Bachofen Lecture Grundfragen der Ethnologie neu.

2297 4464
One World Anthropology
«Having received all mortal and immortal creatures and being there-
withal replenished, this universe hath thus come into being, living and
visible, containing all things that are visible, the image of its maker,
a god perceptible, most mighty and good, most fair and perfect, even this
one and only-begotten world that is.» Plato, The Timaeus (Archer-Hind 1888: 345)

Tim Ingold


ISSN: 2297-4466

Till Förster and Rita Kesselring
Institute of Social Anthropology
Münsterplatz 19; 4051 Basel
© Fotografie Umschlag: Till Förster (Nafoun, Côte d‘Ivoire)
Gestaltung: Ursula Bürki
One World Anthropology

The Singular and the Plural less human beings – not to menti-
on legions of non-humans – which
Many years ago I came up with my would otherwise be excluded. To do
own definition of anthropology. It this kind of philosophy is, in effect,
was ‹philosophy with the people in› to make a conversation of life itself.
(Ingold 1992: 696). By this I meant This conversation – this life – is not
two things. Firstly, the questions however just about the world. In an
that anthropology asks are indeed important sense which I shall ela-
philosophical ones: they are ques- borate, it is the world. To join the
tions about what it means to be, to conversation, then, is to inhabit the
know, to think, imagine, perceive, world. That the world we inhabit is
act, remember, learn, live in the com- indeed one world is, in my view, a
pany of others, administer justice, core principle of our discipline. It is
2 exercise power, relate to the environ- a principle that we neglect at our pe-
ment, confront our own mortality, ril. I am afraid that in practice, it has
and so on and so forth. These questi- all too readily been neglected, along
ons are indeed endless. But secondly, with the challenges and responsibili-
the way anthropology does its phi- ties it entails, in favour of a facile ap-
losophising is primarily through its peal to plurality. It sometimes seems
engagements – in both observation that anthropologists are constitutio-
and conversation – with the peop- nally averse to oneness, to singula-
le among whom we work. Indeed, rity, and likewise obsessed with the
I would now go further, to include plural. Never one world; always many
not just the people but all the other worlds. Once these were the many
beings, of manifold kinds, with whom worlds of symbolic culture; now, in
or which we share our lives. There is the wake of the so-called ‹ontological
here an implied criticism of philoso- turn›, we have the many worlds of es-
phical philosophers who would rather sential being, of realities to be sym-
shy away from any such engagement, bolised. Everyone and everything, it
preferring to labour in the library seems, is its own world. You name
with their canonical texts. We anth- it, and there’s a world for you. But
ropologists, I contend, can do philo- what do we mean by plurality? And
sophy better, by virtue of bringing in what sense is it opposed to sin-
into the conversation the voices, the gularity? The question of how to
experience and the wisdom of count- reconcile the singular and the plural
– or in slightly different terms, the from soul-life to the life of the soul
universal and the particular – could by division. Call the plural a multipli-
well turn out to be the central pro- city if you must, but do not suppose
blem of a truly philosophical anthro- it is a multiplication of the singular!
Let me offer an example. People li-
ving in the High Arctic, mainly in Wholes and Parts
northernmost Canada and Greenland,
know themselves and are known as The soul, after all, is not an entity
Inuit. The word is a plural form, de- sunk inexorably into itself. That is to
rived from the singular inuk, which say, it is not an object, in the sen-
roughly translates as ‹soul›. In a mo- se recently promulgated by the ad-
dern idiom we might suppose that vocates of so-called ‹object-oriented
every soul belongs to an individual, ontology› (see, for example, Harman
and therefore that the plural Inuit 2011). In their view, everything you
simply denotes a population of in- might care to name has its own in-
dividuals. Greenland and Canada, we scrutable essence, neither reducible
say, have their respective Inuit po- to the more elementary particles of
pulations. We could do a census and which it and other entities might be
count them up. But for the people constituted, nor soluble into cons-
themselves, at least traditionally, tructs at some superordinate level 3
souls could not be counted or enume- of existence. Admittedly, the soul is
rated in this way. As the ethnogra- amenable neither to reduction nor to
pher Henry Stewart has noted, the totalisation; neither to ‹undermining›
plural form is «most certainly not a nor to ‹overmining›, as the object-
collective designation for all original oriented philosophers would put it
inhabitants of the tundra Arctic». (Harman 2011: 172). But this does
It rather connotes something like not make the soul an object-in-itself.
«autonomous existence» (Stewart It is, more fundamentally, a move-
2002: 90). Most often the plural suffix ment, which takes the grammatical
(-miut) followed a toponym or place- form not of the noun or pronoun, but
marker – as, for example, Netsilik, of the verb. And the most outstan-
plural Netsilingmiut, or Iglulik, plural ding characteristic of this movement
Iglulingmiut – and could be glossed is that it carries on, or keeps on go-
as «soul-life going on in and around ing. For Inuit people it even carries
this place». The question this raises, on over generations, as a grandchild,
then, is of how to get from one to the for example, is animated by the soul
other, from the life of the soul (inuk) of its grandparent, leading parents
to soul-life (inuit). Not by multiplica- to address their children, sometimes,
tion: or not at least in the arithmetic as they would address their own pa-
sense familiar to us from elementary rents, and to treat them with equi-
school. Nor, conversely, can you get valent deference and respect (Nuttall
1994). The idea of ‹early years›, as of soul-life? Again, I have nothing
though children were closer to some against the idea of lives as parts, but
imaginary point of origin in a process then we should think of these parts,
of socialisation, therefore makes no too, as ways of carrying on, like the
sense. Everyone, at any moment, is voices of a composition. The analogy
both older and younger than them- I have in mind is that of polyphonic
selves. music, in which every voice, or every
Thus souls – or lives – are movements, instrument, carries on along its own
and to echo the celebrated aphorism melodic line. In music the relation
of Heraclitus, one cannot step twice between parts and whole is not sum-
into the life of the same soul. What, mative – neither additive nor multi-
then, is the relation between the life plicative – but contrapuntal. Think of
of the soul and soul-life, or to put it the tenor part in the chorus or the
in more general terms, between the cello part in the symphony. I want to
particular life and life itself? Is it a think of the life of every particular
relation of part to whole? I have soul, likewise, as a line of counter-
nothing against the idea of ‹life as a point that, even as it issues forth,
whole›, so long as we do not think of is continually attentive and respon-
this whole as a totality. Holism is one sive to each and every other. Souls,
thing; totalisation quite another, and as we might say, are answerable to
4 it is vital to acknowledge their dis- one another, a condition that carries
tinction (Ingold 2007: 209). Totality, entailments of both responsiveness
to my ear at least, implies addition and responsibility (Wentzer 2014). It
and completion: whether or not you is important to stress, however, that
consider the result to be more than, in regarding every soul as part of a
equal to, or even less than the sum ‹composition› I have in mind a sen-
of its parts, the logic of summation se of the term quite different from
remains. Life itself, however, is ne- that invoked by the philosopher Bru-
ver complete; nor – as I have tried no Latour in his manifesto for what
to show – can we approach it by any he calls ‹compositionism›. The idea
process of summation, whether ad- of composition, for Latour, «under-
ditive or multiplicative. It is not a lines that things have to be put to-
completion but a continual originati- gether (Latin componere) while re-
on: life, as one elder from among the taining their heterogeneity» (Latour
Wemindji Cree of northern Canada 2010: 473–4). Bits and pieces that are
told the ethnographer Colin Scott, is «utterly heterogeneous», as Latour
«continuous birth» (Scott 1989: 195). admits, «will never make a whole, but
It is the generative potential of a at best a fragile, revisable and diverse
world in becoming, a world that is fo- composite material» (2010: 474). For
rever ‹worlding›. this reason, the composition, in his
So is the particular life a part of life terms, may indeed be as readily de-
as a whole, the life of the soul a part composed as composed.
Assemblage and Correspondence mind, is precisely how not to descri-
be the way that particular lives play
This cannot be said, however, of the into life itself. The trouble is that by
composition of souls. Precisely be- resorting to the notion of assemblage
cause souls go along together and as a catch-all, it is all too easy to obs-
because their continual regeneration cure or gloss over a distinction that I
is nourished and impelled by the me- consider to be of capital importance.
mory of their association, soul-life is This is the distinction between the
a whole that cannot be decomposed kinds of work done in language with
without causing grief if not destruc- the little words ‹and› and ‹with›. The
tion to the lives of its parts. This is logic of the conjunction is aggluti-
why I am disinclined to think of the native; that of the preposition dif-
composition as an assembly, or ‹as- ferential. Contrasting the figures of
semblage› as it is ubiquitously ren- the tree and the rhizome, Deleuze
dered through awkward translation and Guattari allow them to stand, re-
from the French. The source for this spectively, for filiation and alliance.
translation commonly turns out to The Deleuzoguattarian multiplicity is
lie in the sprawling meditations of unashamedly rhizomatic rather than
philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his dendritic. And the rhizome, they say,
collaborator, psychoanalyst Félix Gu- is nothing but alliance. «The tree im-
attari, in A Thousand Plateaus (Mille poses the verb ‹to be›, but the fabric 5
Plateaux), of which more below. The of the rhizome is the conjunction,
difficulties of translating this work ‹and … and … and…›» (Deleuze and
are indeed formidable, and it is true Guattari 2004: 27). With respect, this
that some of the plethora of senses is grossly unfair to living trees which,
that have clustered around ‹assemb- unlike their diagrammatic counter-
lage›, as something like a gathering parts, grow, branch and swerve from
or bundling of life-lines reminiscent within the midst of things every bit
of sheaves of corn at harvest, do ap- as much as do the tangling roots of
proximate to what I have in mind the rhizome. In the sphere of human
(Ingold 1993: 168). But others most relations, though filiation might be
definitely do not. An example is phi- marked on the anthropologist’s ge-
losopher Manuel DeLanda’s appropria- nealogical chart as a line connecting
tion of the term to denote a transitory two points, standing respectively for
and contingent coming together of parent and child, in real life it is a
heterogeneous components that cohe- process of becoming in the course of
re only through an exterior contact or which, through «growing older to-
adhesion that leaves their inner natu- gether» (Schütz 1962: 17), the child
res more or less unaffected, and that carries on the life of its parent while
can therefore be detached and recon- progressively differentiating its own
figured in other arrangements without life from that which it engendered
loss (DeLanda 2006: 18). This, to my it. Filiation is not the connection of
parent and child, it is the life of pa- human family, lives lived in counter-
rent with child (Figure 1). Just as in point are not ‹and … and … and› but
musical counterpoint, parts are not ‹with … with … with›. And in answe-
components that are added to one ring – or responding – to one ano-
another but movements that carry on ther, they co-respond. Thus, in place
alongside one another, so too, in the of the assemblage as a way of talking

Figure 1: Filiation.
Left: the connection of parent and child, as it might be drawn on a genealogical chart. Right: the
life of parent with child, as a ‹growing older› together. Left: the connection of parent and child,
as it might be drawn on a genealogical chart. Right: the life of parent with child, as a ‹growing

about the multiplicity of soul-life,

as if it were an alliance of souls, I
propose the term correspondence to
connote their affiliation. ‹Life as a
whole›, then, is not the agglutinative
summation but the differential corre-
spondence of its particulars (Ingold felt pen. We found that we had drawn
2015: 23). an ellipse. At infinity, the ends of the
It follows that the relations that parabola had closed up. In its very
make up the whole are not between open-endedness, the whole, it seems,
but along. Between-ness gives us the is spatiotemporally self-encompas-
idea of interaction, a reciprocal back- sing: we live on the inside of eternity,
and-forth exchange between subject as Australian Aboriginal people have
positions. The along-ness of corre- long been trying to tell us with their
spondence, by contrast, does not ontology of the Dreaming or ‹every-
go back and forth but side by side, when› (Stanner 1965: 159). With this
like companions walking together demonstration in mind, let me return
or playing music together. And the to the problem of universality. What
thing about walking and playing is can it mean to say of the one world
that they do not issue from a positi- that it is universal? And how does it
on put continually pull the performer relate to the particular, or to the re-
out of it. Both, as the philosopher of lativity of the particular moment, the
education Jan Masschelein puts it, particular life, the way of the soul?
are practices of exposure (Massche-
lein 2010: 278). The English langua-
ge has a beautiful word, longing, to Differentiation and Diversity
describe the exposure of going along. 7
In longing, an imagination that lies It means that we have to think of
beyond the horizon of conceptualisa- difference in terms of differentia-
tion loops proleptically back to meet tion rather than diversity. The di-
an origination that lies beyond the stinction is critical. One way to get
reach of memory, as in the cycling at it is to reflect upon the meaning
soul-life of the Inuit, in a place whe- of the ground. How often have we
re past and future merge. It is a place heard it said that cultural particulars
we perpetually dream of and strive are superimposed upon the ground
for, but never reach. of universal human nature? Well
In a workshop held at the University then, what is the ground? Is it – as
of Aberdeen, a couple of years ago, the founder of ecological psycholo-
the mathematician Ricardo Nemirovs- gy, James Gibson (1979), once put
ky gave us a wonderful demonstra- it – an underlying surface of sup-
tion of what this means in practice. port upon which all else rests? Or is
In a nearby park, we laid out a rope it rather – to follow the thinking of
in the exact form of a parabola, its Tadashi Suzuki (1986), one of the fo-
ends diverging to infinity – or rather remost figures of contemporary Japa-
to where our rope ran out. We then nese theatre – a source of growth and
viewed the parabola through a ver- nourishment?
tical sheet of perspex, and drew the For Gibson, the ground is but a
line of the rope on the perspex with a platform, affording nothing to its
inhabitants save that it is ‹stand- in it. As chairs, tables and cupboards
on-able› (Gibson 1979: 127). To be are set upon the floor of the room,
habitable, any environment must be Gibson explains, so hills, trees, and
furnished with objects, much as an boulders are set upon the ground. As
interior room must be furnished if the such, the ground appears as a plane
householder is to do more than stand of indifference, a tabula rasa, from

Figure 2: Figure and ground.

Left: the figure is mounted on the ground of indifference. Right: the figure arises as a fold in the
ground itself.

which all variations have been ex-

cised, only to be re-imposed, as di-
verse, free-standing entities, upon
it. For Suzuki, quite to the contra-
ry, the ground is the very source of
emergent difference. It gives rise to
the features we see, the formations
of the landscape, trees and buildings,
even people. The floorboards of the
traditional Japanese house, Suzu- software it supports, the separation
ki (1986:21) tells us, virtually grow of knowing from being, of sapiens
into the inhabitants who walk them, from Homo, is replicated and rein-
just as did the trees from which the forced. What would happen, then, if
boards were made once grow from the to the contrary, we were to think of
earth. Here, the ground is no more in- the ground of human perception and
different to the trees than are floor- cognition, or of sentience and sen-
boards to people; rather, trees and sibility, as something more like the
people arise from the earth and from floorboards of a traditional Japanese
boards, respectively, in an ongoing house, or, with Deleuze and Guattari
process of differentiation (Figure 2). (2004: 17), like a field of long grass,
The distinction I want to empha- or even like the earth itself?
sise here is between the ground of To think of difference in terms of
in-difference and the ground of dif- differentiation rather than diversity
ferentiation, or – if you will – bet- is to imagine the universal not as a
ween the respective grounds of being featureless ground upon which all va-
and becoming. Being different, that riation is deposited but as a surface
is diversity; becoming different, that is as folded and crumpled as the
that is differentiation. Differentiati- earth beneath our feet. With the lo-
on turns to diversity by way of the gic of diversity, of excision and reim-
twin operations of excision and position, all difference is bilateral: 9
reimposition: where the former cuts as features are distinguished from
things out from the processes of the ground, by way of their excision,
their generation, the latter deposits so the ground is distinguished from
them, as ready formed particulars, the features that are then reimposed
upon the universal ground of indif- upon it. But as Deleuze sets out to
ference. This ground, as we are in- show in his book on Difference and
clined to say, is hard, providing a Repetition (1994), in becoming diffe-
solid but inert foundation for the rent, one thing may distinguish its-
objects that rest upon it, and the elf from another without the latter’s
activities that are conducted across distinguishing itself from the for-
its surface. It is worth noting that mer. Imagine lifting a sheet to form
exactly the same metaphor is im- a crease; we register the line of the
ported into our thinking about the crease, we see it as something that
human mind, when neuropsycho- has an existence of its own, and yet
logists, for example, speak of the the crease is still in the sheet. It is
mind’s ‹hardware› as offering a neu- not as though the sheet had parted
ral substrate capable of supporting company with the crease and sunk
various kinds of cognitive operations, bank into flat homogeneity, leaving
including those involved in speech the crease-line, as it were, high and
and manual tool-use. In the very di- dry (Ingold 2015: 34-5). So it is, too,
vision between the hardware and the with lines and the ground: the line,
says Deleuze, distinguishes itself particularity of the singular life dis-
from the ground «without the ground tinguishes itself from the universality
distinguishing itself from the line» of life itself, without the universal’s
(Deleuze 1994: 29). The distinction, distinguishing itself from the parti-
in short, is unilateral. Every distingu- cular. That is why I call the life pro-
ishing feature, then, is a fold in the cess one of interstitial differentiation
ground (Figure 2). rather than of exterior agglutination.
My contention is that in a life of lon- As agglutination is to differentiation,
ging, all difference arises thus, from so is alliance to filiation, and assem-
within, in the midst of things. It is, blage to correspondence. Perhaps you
in that sense, interstitial. It follows might compare the distinction to that
that the life of the soul is to soul-life between cutting timber transversally
as the crease is to the sheet, or as the with a saw, and splitting it longitu-
line is to the ground. As the crease dinally with an axe. The saw cuts the
distinguishes itself from the sheet length into blocks or sections, which
or the line from the ground, so the can only be reassembled through


Figure 3: Transverse and longitudinal cut.

Above: a log sawn against the grain into sections; Below: the same log split along the grain with
an axe.
conjunction. But the axe joins with sense of ‹one-world-ness› that fol-
the timber, as in its swerve it corres- lows from it.
ponds with lines of growth that were There is one characteristic of animism,
incorporated into the wood when it Descola assures us, that «everyone
was part of a living tree. The axe acts can accept», and this is the «attri-
on the timber as the preposition on bution by humans to non-humans of
the noun, following the grain of the an interiority identical to their own»
world’s becoming and differentiating (Descola 2013: 129). By this he means
it from within (Figure 3). that plants and (especially) animals
are taken to be endowed with souls
which enable them to act, norma-
The Self and the Soul tively and ethically, as social beings,
just as humans do. Against this ho-
Now to us anthropologists, the on- mogeneous sea of souls, common to
tology that gives us the ground of all animate beings, there stands the
nature as a universal and homoge- diversity of exterior physical bodies
neous substrate upon which are set that give each particular soul its
the fragmentary forms of cultural executive armature and allows it to
diversity will be immediately recog- function in the world in the parti-
nisable as the default position adop- cular way it does. In this regard, De-
ted by generations of textbooks – a scola thinks, animism is the perfect 11
position that tends to be glossed by inverse of modern or western natura-
such nonspecific words as ‹western› lism, which gives us the diversity of
and ‹modern›. Philippe Descola, forms of mental or spiritual life (or
in his treatise Beyond Nature and what modern people call ‹cultures›)
Culture (2013), calls it ‹naturalism›. set against the background of a ho-
For Descola, naturalism is one of mogeneous, physical nature. Or in
four logically possible ontological a nutshell, whereas animism is the
schemas that underwrite the way combination of similarity of interiori-
human beings can organise their re- ties and dissimilarity of physicalities,
lations with one another and with naturalism is the combination of si-
the world they inhabit, and render milarity of physicalities and dissimi-
this world intelligible. The others are larity of interiorities.
analogism, totemism and animism. Now this all sounds very neat, until
This is not the place for an extended you start to wonder why naturalism,
review of Descola’s arguments (see in the same breath that it extols the
Ingold 2016). But I would like to universality of nature, vis-à-vis the
attend briefly to his account of ani- diversity of cultures, also celebra-
mism, since by doing so I can both tes the boundless diversity of living
add some precision to what I mean kinds or species vis-à-vis the uni-
by the relation between the life of versality of the human mind and of
the soul and soul-life, and clarify the its conscious sense of self. What is
similar, and what is diverse, depends of ‹tribal peoples›. Let us, for the sake
on which way you look! And if na- of argument, gloss over the obvious
turalism can just as well be defined problems with the terms of compa-
by the dissimilarity of physicalities rison, and allow the first to equate
and similarity of interiorities as by broadly to Descola’s ‹naturalism›, and
its opposite, then how can it any the second to his ‹animism›. What
longer be distinguished from ani- interests me here is not where Wag-
mism? The answer, I think, is that ner draws his lines between the West
compared with the similarities and and the rest, but what he has to say
dissimilarities of animism, those of about the self and the soul under the
naturalism are of another kind. In two contrasting ontological regimes
brief: naturalism’s similarities are of (1975: 93-4).
identity, animism’s are of continuity; Under the first regime, of naturalism,
naturalism’s differences are of diver- similarity means identity. We imagine
sity, animism’s are of differentiation. a world of individuals. These indivi-
To amplify these twin distinctions, duals can be counted. They can be
we can bring an earlier masterpiece aggregated into the kinds of collec-
of comparative anthropology, Roy tivities we call ‹societies›. And they
Wagner’s The Invention of Culture can be compared according to their
(1975), to our aid. intrinsic attributes. An attribute is
12 While for Descola, naturalism and deemed to be universal when it is
animism are but two of four pos- common to every entity; it is parti-
sible ontological schemas, Wagner cular when it is limited to a narro-
offers only two possibilities. On the wer class of entities, or perhaps even
one hand are people who delibera- unique to a single entity. Thus we
tely assemble life into collectivities, might claim that every individual hu-
and in so doing, precipitate an idea man being possesses a sense of self,
of the world as made up of primordi- a singular seat or reason and consci-
ally discrete, enumerable entities, ence, and that this sense is therefore
otherwise known as individuals. On universal. But we might also claim
the other hand are people for whom that the mode of expression of this
the task is to differentiate life into sense varies between one group of
separable streams, precipitating as human beings and another, and class
they do so an idea of the world as all those who express their selfhood
primordially undifferentiated (Wag- in a certain way as members of one
ner 1975: 51). For Wagner these alter- culture, and all those who express it
natives are exemplified respectively in a different way as members of ano-
by ‹middle-class Americans› and the ther. We would, in so doing, establish
Daribi people of Papua New Guinea what we take to be the ‹fact› of cul-
among whom he carried out his field- tural diversity, although – as Wagner
work: the former broadly representa- shows – this ‹fact› is really just the
tive of western modernity, the latter precipitate of a logical procedure.
Under the second regime, of ani- Into the Vortex
mism, we start not with populations
of more or less identical individuals «Life in general», wrote the philo-
but with a continuum of yet-to-be sopher Henri Bergson in his Creative
differentiated relations. Out of this Evolution, «is mobility itself; particu-
continuum, recognisable beings have lar manifestations of life accept this
to be formed. It is the task of life to mobility reluctantly, and constantly
do so. Yet in this process of formati- lag behind» (1911: 128). Bergson pic-
on, which carries on throughout life tured the particular life, thus, as a
and is never complete, there always kind of eddy or whirlwind, a circulati-
remains a memory of that undiffe- on, brought on by a swerve or deflec-
rentiated potential from the inter- tion in the current of life itself that
stices of which every being is drawn. would otherwise proceed relentlessly
This memory is the soul. In a sense, on its rectilinear course. Life itself is
the soul is a constant reminder of an evolution; the cycle of every par-
the viscosity of the relational field, ticular life is a revolution. The first,
and of the effort that has to be put though it may be continuous with the
in to work against it. It is the reflex second, «cannot continue in it wit-
of life-as-a-whole that is coiled up hout being drawn aside from its di-
into each part – into each particu- rection» (Bergson 1911: 129). There is
lar life – in the course of that very much in common between Bergson’s 13
differentiation by which the parts vitalism and the animism, described
emerge from the whole. In this re- above, which casts the particular life
gard, the soul is the precise obverse as the life of the soul, and life its-
of the self. Under a regime of natu- elf as soul-life. We can, I think, take
ralism, the self may be disciplined in the one as a guide to the other. And
the work of creating a collectivity, it in doing so we can see that in the
may be forced to conform to common world according to animism, things
standards, and yet its very persis- are never ready formed – never fully
tence attests to the threat of decom- precipitated from the matrix of their
position, reminding us that without generation – but ever-forming, as
continued effort, the whole is liable concentrations of vital materials and
to collapse into its individual cons- energies that are, and must remain,
tituents. Under a regime of animism, perpetually in circulation. Everything
by contrast, the soul cannot be dis- that is – or better, everything that
ciplined, but it can be lost, drowned occurs – is immersed in the flow.
in the very ocean from which it was Thus it is all very well to speak, with
once generated (Wagner 1975: 98). Descola, of the interiority of soul-life,
Whereas the self casts its shadow on but this is not, as he would have it,
the inner walls of society, life-as-a- an interiority set over and against
whole carries the soul in the midst of the exteriority of bodies. It is rather
its involute folds. the interiority of life that is imma-
nent in the world itself, and that par- surface of a Möbius strip, without any
ticipates directly in its relations and breach of continuity. Recall Bergson’s
processes. Let us call this the interio- comparison of the life cycle to the
rity of immanence. Quite contrary to eddy in a stream. Can you tell what is
the interiority that is opposed to the inside the eddy from what is outside?
physicality of the exterior world, the Of course not, for the eddy is not a
interiority of immanence runs seam- container and it has no content. It is
lessly into physicality, like the singular a vortex, the form of turbulence. As


Figure 4: Wrapping the soul.

Left: souls emerge as vortices in the current of life. Right: they appear contained, and interact
only by way of their exterior bodies.
Bergson observed, though the life- logic, to release the soul from its ima-
form, like the eddy, might appear to gined incarceration and to restore its
us as a stable thing, with an inside turbulence to the circulations of life.
and an outside, the appearance is de- It is to appeal not to the naturalistic
ceptive, for in truth «the very perma- dyad of identity and diversity but to
nence of … form is only the outline the animistic pairing of continuity
of a movement» (1911: 128). Every and differentiation. The universal,
particular soul, likewise, is but an then, is not a lowest common de-
eddy in the flow of soul-life, a vortex nominator but a field of continuous
that continually winds and unwinds. variation; not a plane of indifference
It is a place not of rest but of tumult. upon which diversity is overlain, but
Only at the eye of the vortex does a plane of immanence from which
stillness reign. Here’s the philosopher difference is ever-emergent.
Michel Serres, in The Birth of Physics
(2000), baring his own soul: «I am
myself a deviation, and my soul decli- Agency and Patiency
nes, my global body is open, adrift. It
slips, irreversibly, on the slope. Who The next stage in my argument is to
am I? A vortex» (Serres 2000: 37). relate the principle of interstitial dif-
But if the differences of animism, ferentiation to the problem of agen-
manifesting on the plane of imma- cy. I want to suggest that there is a 15
nence, arise thus as singular vorti- connection between the question of
ces in the current, those of natura- how to reconcile the singular and the
lism have broken off from it and lie plural, and the life of the soul with
strewn upon that plane of indiffe- soul-life, and the question of how to
rence otherwise known as ‹nature›. relate agency and patiency, action
The former are emergent and intersti- and suffering. Indeed the connec-
tial; the latter resultant and superfi- tion is so intrinsic that these seem
cial. Whereas animism, then, gives us to me to be alternative ways of po-
a world of becoming, naturalism gives sing what is fundamentally the same
us a world of being. And it is the lo- problem. The life of the soul is made
gic of naturalism, operating from be- up of doings; soul-life, by contrast,
hind the scenes in Descola’s account, is what a living being undergoes. So
which contrives to wrap every cycle our question is really about the rela-
of life into itself, thus converting the tion between doing and undergoing.
generative currents of its formation Now in the grammar of most modern
into a vital agent that is supposed to Indo-European languages, there is a
inhabit an interior divided off from distinction between the active and
the exterior world of its interactions passive voices of the verb: the act-
with others (Figure 4). In my call for ive voice is for what one does; the
a one-world anthropology, I want to passive for what one undergoes.
escape the deadening impact of this Should we, then, think of the life in
the active voice or in the passive? go. To revert to an earlier distinction,
Or should we think in terms of some it is a way of corresponding with the
kind of interplay between the two? world in which we live, rather than of
More precisely, should the active be interacting with it.
framed within the passive or vice ver- If every doing is a task, then we need
sa? Are the things we do the callings to find a way of talking about agency
of a life that happens to us, or are that puts it inside undergoing. With
the things that happen to us called our conventional dichotomy between
up by the things we do? active and passive voices of the verb,
For those of us raised in an Indo- this is very difficult to do. Howe-
European linguistic environment, our ver, many non-European languages
usual habits of thought – conditioned (as well as Indo-European in earlier
as they are (though by no means times, such as in classical Greek)
determined) by the grammatical ca- recognised what linguists call the
tegories of the languages we speak – middle voice of the verb. In the midd-
put the agency of the individual out le voice, agency is inside the action,
in front, as the sovereign initiator of inside the verb. As the linguist Emile
his or her actions, that is as a self. Benveniste put it, in a classic paper,
And this self stands opposed to the in the middle voice the doer «achie-
exterior environments of nature and ves something that is being achieved
16 society in which its actions have ef- in him» (1971: 149). My suggestion,
fects. Thus we tend to set the agency then, is that in the one world of be-
of the particular life against the pas- coming life is lived neither in the
sive backdrop of life in general. The active nor in the passive but in the
principle of interstitial differentiati- middle voice. Such is the life of the
on, however, suggests that the doings soul. Its particular life is not played
of every particular life continually out against the background of life
emerge and distinguish themselves itself but emerges actively from its
from within the plane of immanence midst. With life lived in the middle
that is life itself. This is to frame do- voice, our focus can no longer be on
ing within undergoing, and not the the essence of being. It is must rather
other way around. And it is to think be on its ongoing generation. That is
of every doing not as self-initiated to say, it should be not on ontology
action but as a moment in the life of but on ontogeny.
the soul. Such doings belong not to This idea of ontogenesis (as onto-
us directly or exclusively, but to the génèse, the ‹becoming of being›) was
memory of the whole coiled up within key to the philosophy of Gilbert Si-
us. Another way of putting this is to mondon, for whom it equated more
think of everything we do as a task. or less to the process he otherwise
For the task is something that falls called individuation, that is, the con-
to us, as responsive and responsible tinual ‹falling out› of being from be-
beings, as part of the life we under- coming. «It corresponds», Simondon
wrote, «to a capacity beings possess turn that is not ontological but on-
of falling out of step with themsel- togenetic. With multiple ontologies,
ves, of resolving themselves by the everything or every being is its own
very act of falling out of step» (Si- world, so that ultimately there are
mondon 1993: 300). There are echoes, as many worlds as there are beings
here, of Bergson’s idea that life ‹lags or things. This is the reductio ad ab-
behind› in the deflections and circu- surdum of object-oriented ontology.
lations of its particular forms; that But with multiple ontogenies, every
where life in general forges ahead, its being or thing issues forth along its
cycles «want to mark time» (Bergson own particular path, within a world
1911: 128). In the process of indivi- of nevertheless unlimited differenti-
duation, we could say, the soul ari- ation. In short, ontogenesis allows us
ses as a transient falling out-of-step, to reconcile singularity and multipli-
«a metastable being, which carries city, agency and patiency, within one
within itself the pre-individual forces world.
from which it was produced» (Grosz «There is only one world», declares
2012: 41). As a kink, fold or vortex in the philosopher Alain Badiou, but it
the flow of life, the soul neverthel- is a world that refuses any norma-
ess contains within itself, as a me- tive preconditions for existing in it
mory of the forces that produced it, – such as might be entailed in any
the potential for further transforma- naturalistic definition of universal 17
tion. In Simondon’s terms, life itself humanity (Badiou 2008: 38, see Trott
(or soul-life) is a never-ending pro- 2011: 87). How many times have we
cess of individuation, but critically, attempted to define human nature in
the differentiations it engenders are terms of the common possession of
concentrated not at some putative this or that attribute – bipedalism,
boundary with an outside world, but tool-making, pair-bonding, language,
in its internal resonances (Simondon symbolic thought, and so on – only
1993: 305). Or in a word, life as in- to discover that there are creatures
dividuation – as lived in the middle born of man and woman who lack
voice – is a process of interstitial dif- these attributes and who conse-
ferentiation. quently find themselves excluded, or
at least considered less-than-human?
The one world we inhabit is not how-
An Ontogenetic Turn? ever reserved for what anthropolo-
gist Donald Brown (1991) has called
I do not like the idea of ‹turns›; they ‹Universal People›, creatures of the
are, for the most part, exhibitions normative imagination delineated
of academic vanity. But if we must by a suite of innate capacities and
have such things to indicate the behavioural traits that all are sup-
transitions in our thinking, then let posed to share. It is rather a world
us follow Simondon in calling for a of ever-emergent difference, which
admits no boundaries of inclusion or published in the following year un-
exclusion. der the title A Pluralistic Universe.
In this world of becoming, as I have James’s proposed solution to the pro-
observed elsewhere, though each of blem of the one and the many was
us may be different, these differences to insist that the ‹multiverse›, as
are constituted in and through the he called it, is simultaneously both
generative processes of life, they do singular and plural for the reason
not exist in spite of it. To point to that its one-ness is never absolutely
similarities, by contrast, is to imagi- complete. It is «strung-along», said
ne a world already fragmented into James, «not rounded in and closed»
its minimal constituents. «In short, it (James 2012: 170). Regardless of the
is difference that connects, whereas part or element on which you might
similarity divides» (Ingold 1996: 6). choose to focus, at whatever level of
Political theorist William Connolly exclusiveness of inclusiveness, the-
makes much the same point, insisting re is always an overflow of relations.
that «there is no identity without Wherever you are, there are further
difference». To pit the ‹universal› connections to be drawn, maybe di-
against ‹difference›, Connolly writes, rect, maybe through intermediaries.
«reduces the essentially relational And in the drawing of these connec-
character of difference to the bland tions, even in their interpenetration,
18 idea of diversity among independent things lose nothing of their particu-
entities» (Connolly 1995: xx, original larity.
emphasis). It is, as we have already Should we follow James and call our
seen, to reduce the differentiation of one world a multiverse or pluriverse,
becoming to the diversity of being. rather than a universe? Well, yes and
To undo this reduction, we must put no. We may agree with the geogra-
difference and the universal back pher and environmental philosopher
together again. This is what Badiou Augustin Berque, that the idea of
does. «The single world», he argues, the universe in its modern, naturali-
«is precisely the place where an un- stic sense – as an objective exterio-
limited set of differences exist … rity that can be grasped only by the
far from casting doubt on the unity interior mind of the transcendental
of the world, these differences are subject – «negates all possibility of a
its principle of existence» (Badiou world … that is both supremely qua-
2008: 39). I believe that anthropolo- litative and totally unitary», that is,
gy should be fighting, intellectually the kind of world posited by Plato in
and politically, for the recognition of the final lines of the Timaeus with
this kind of world. So what should we which I began this essay (Berque
call it? 2013: 51). Yet I would still want to
In 1908, the American philosopher enter one qualification, which goes
William James delivered the Hibbert back to my comparison of the con-
Lectures at the University of Oxford, junction and the preposition as ways
of joining. The Jamesian pluralistic sally along their lines of growth and
universe is multiply connected, yet movement? Writing from his perspec-
its connections are conjunctive, not tive as a student of science and tech-
prepositional. They join things exter- nology, John Law (2011) has recently
nally, on the outside. «Pragmatically presented an answer of the first kind.
interpreted», wrote James, «plura- His concern is to offer an alternative
lism or the doctrine that it is many to the idea that everything there is
means only that the sundry parts of can be made to fit into a single con-
reality may be externally related. Eve- tainer universe, or what he calls the
rything you can think of, however «one-world world» (Law 2011: 10). In
vast or inclusive, has on the plurali- such a world, anything that cannot
stic view a genuinely ‹external› en- be made to fit – anything that flies
vironment of some sort or amount». in the face of universal reality – is
This seems plain enough. Indeed, the simply dismissed as an instance of
Jamesian multiverse is rhizomatic in belief, and mistaken belief at that.
every way: it is ‹and … and … and›; In a world divided between colonised
the very model of an assemblage. Yet and colonisers, what is truth for the
the passage that immediately fol- former is mere belief for the latter,
lows is more equivocal. «Things are though as Law shows, the same logic
‹with› one another in many ways», has long been at work in the socie-
James goes on, «but nothing includes ties of the colonisers as well. But it 19
everything, or dominates over eve- is a logic that fails in a post-colonial
rything. The word ‹and› trails along era, in which different and incom-
after every sentence. Something al- mensurable realities grind against
ways escapes» (James 2012: 167). one another with no assurance of re-
Notice how in this passage, James conciliation or containment. We now
starts with ‹with› and only then re- live, says Law, in the era of the frac-
sorts to ‹and›. Perhaps he would have tiverse, «a set of contingent, enacted
liked it both ways. and more or less intersecting worlds
in the plural» (2011: 2).
Worlds in the plural? We seem to
Universe, Fractiverse, Pluriverse be back where we started, with the
many as opposed to the one. Perhaps
This dilemma has not gone away, this is because of Law’s focus on the
nor has the question it raises. Is being of things rather than their be-
our world a patchwork of multiple coming, on ontologies rather than
realities, irregularly stitched across ontogenies. The realities, multiple as
their rough, unmatched and someti- they are, seem in Law’s account to
mes overlapping edges? Or is it more have already fallen out from the ma-
like a braid: a thing of entwined and trices of their generation. To recover
ever-extending pathways, binding the one-ness of the world should we
longitudinally rather than transver- not move upstream, and correspond
with things in the moment of their rentiation by which the ‹Earth as a
appearing, rather than assembling living whole› – to borrow Escobar’s
what has already appeared on the words – is continually emerging. It is
conjunctive hook of an and? This is, to the one-worldness of this whole, I
in effect, to seek an answer of the believe, that anthropology must re-
second kind. Returning to the phi- main committed.
losophy of James, but in the context Yet for this very reason, I have my
of contemporary geopolitics, anthro- doubts about the propensity of an-
pologist Arturo Escobar (2011) hints thropological scholarship always to
at just such an answer. For Escobar want to put other lives within their
the one-world world is the globe of social, cultural and historical con-
corporate capitalism. Epitomised texts. This is like laying them to rest,
in the celebrated logo of the World putting them to bed, so that we need
Bank – with its perfect gridlocked no longer engage with them directly.
sphere shorn of life, elements and Embedding lives in context implies
people – this is indeed a world that an already completed conversation.
is ‹rounded in and closed›, as James It is as though they are no longer
would have put it, and in which eve- enjoined in the world we inhabit but
rything there is has been reduced to rather set aside as the objects of our
liquid commensurability. It is a world concern. They belong to other worlds,
20 of commodities and monetary values, not to ours. If we are to return the-
from which people are overwhelmin- se lives to our one world, then we
gly marginalised if not actually lo- must recall them from the contexts
cked out (Badiou 2008: 38). in which our scholarship has buried
Against this global world, and with them, and bring them back into pre-
acknowledgement to James, Escobar sence. We will then discover that
reintroduces what he calls the plu- what we had closed off embraces all
riverse. «It might be described», he we should acknowledge.
writes, «as a process of planetarizati- As I stated at the outset, the world is
on articulated around a vision of the a conversation; it is not the object of
Earth as a living whole that is always our conversation. In this conversati-
emerging out of the manifold biophy- on lies ontogénèse, the becoming of
sical, human, and spiritual elements being. It is high time to restore onto-
and relations that make it up» (Esco- genesis, the skeleton in the ontologi-
bar 2011: 139). Unlike Law’s fracti- cal cupboard, to life. We will then see
verse, Escobar’s pluriverse is unam- that every particular life is both an
biguously ‹with … with … with›. It open-ended exploration of the possi-
is prepositional, not conjunctive, and bilities of being our one world affords
its plurality arises not from chains and a contribution to its ongoing for-
of exterior connection – of things mation – to its worlding. It is, in this
strung along – but from the cascades sense, a never-ending quest for an
of individuation or interstitial diffe- answer to the problem of what being
human, or what living in this world,
actually means. But every answer is
a response and not a solution: a re-
sponse that «provisionally integrates
what was formerly a source of ten-
sion» (Grosz 2012: 39). Responding
to the question, we respond to one
another; that is, we correspond. And
in this, we do not so much look out
from a position as long for one that
is forever beyond our grasp. Life is a
question to which there is no answer,
but in this one world of ours we are
all tasked with looking for it, and it
is in the search that all life is lived.
And it is just as well that there is no
final solution, for that, indeed, would
put an end to us all.


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No 2
Basic Questions of Anthropology

Die Basler Ethnologie hatte schon lange davor einen gewaltigen

intellektuellen Einfluss auf die globale Anthropologie. Zu den One World Anthropology
wichtigsten anthropologischen Vordenkern in Basel gehör-
te Johann Jakob Bachofen-Burckhardt, studierter Jurist und
Professor für römisches Recht an der Universität Basel. In sei-
nem 1861 erschienenen Hauptwerk «Das Mutterrecht» stellte er Tim Ingold
grundlegende Fragen nach der Geschichte und dem Verhältnis University of Aberdeen
der Geschlechter. Er wertete das Matriarchat positiv – damals ein Bruch mit
dem dominierenden Patriarchat und entschieden gegen den damaligen anth-
ropologischen Mainstream gedacht. Bachofen wurde mehrfach wiederentdeckt
(Ludwig Klages, Rainer Maria Rilke und Walter Benjamin). Seine Thesen sicher-
ten ihm noch in den 1970er Jahren eine intensive Rezeption seitens der Frau-
enbewegung. Heute werden die Fragen, die Bachofen stellte, anders beantwor-
tet. Relevant sind sie jedoch geblieben. In Anlehnung an diese Tradition stellt
die jährlich stattfindende Bachofen Lecture Grundfragen der Ethnologie neu.

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