One World Anthropology
Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen
Keynote speaker at the Crag Confluence 2015
4 December 2015 – 6 pm
LLC – 50 George Square – The University of Edinburgh
As philosophical fashions lurch from one extreme to the other – from the hyper-relativism of the cultural construction industry to the ever-multiplying essentialisms of the ‘ontological turn’ – it is worth re-emphasising a core principle of anthropology which we neglect at our peril. It is that we human beings, along with other inhabitants of the planet, are creatures not of many worlds all but closed to one another, but of one world that is fundamentally open. Every life, then, is both an exploration into the possibilities of being that this world affords and a contribution towards its ongoing formation. Here I spell out three critical implications of this principle. First, the capacities and dispositions of human beings, whatever they may be, are formed within histories of pre- and post-natal ontogenetic development, under environmental conditions that have themselves been shaped by previous human and non-human activity. Our primary concern, therefore, must be not with ontologies but ontogenies, with generations rather than philosophies of being. Secondly, practices of learning and teaching, long and unjustly marginalised in an anthropology that remains obsessed with the shapes and forms of mature thought, should be restored to the centrality they deserve. And thirdly, the oneness of the world is founded not on similarity but difference – on difference, nevertheless, that arises from within the universe of relations that make it up.