Play on ontologies – Beetle contests in Thailand

Beetle Market. (Photo: Stéphane Rennesson)


Anthropology has been recently shaken by a so-called “ontological turn” that amends the central idea of sociocultural perspective of “one world, many worldviews” to invest the networking and the articulation of multiple worlds!  Drawing on my ethnography of uncanny games in which animals are the cornerstone, I would like to show that this alternative approach can give groundbreaking understandings of the relation Southeast Asian societies build with their environment, the new worlds they elaborate from within their milieu should I say in order to explicit the kind of methodological shift I advocate on the basis of pioneer works the like of Philippe Descola’s. As we shall see, his hypothetico-deductive apparatus can prove very valuable when it comes to specify that animals can act along human agents to participate to a community, a localized nature.

In order to start I would like to cite another very inspiring researcher, namely Gregory Bateson, whose thinking have been recently coined as a prelude to ontological anthropology by Tim Ingold. I am myself also very indebted to Bateson’s conception of communication. As he puts it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind,

“ Consider a blind man with a stick. Where does the blind man’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick? These questions are nonsense, because the stick is a pathway along which differences are transmitted under transformation, so that to draw a delimiting line across this pathway is to cut off a part of the systemic circuit which determines the blind man’s locomotion”. (in “The Cybernetics of “Self”: A Theory of Alcoholism”)

And as I shall try to develop, human are kind of quite blind in the perceived worlds of animals such as beetles, birds, fish … and reciprocally! Continue reading “Play on ontologies – Beetle contests in Thailand”

Next Session : December 16, 2016

Beyond Nature and Culture of Modern Thai Water Engineering

The Ontology of Infrastructure


Friday, December 16, 2016 – 14h30 / 16h30
Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor,
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Jakkrit Sangkhamanee (CSDS, Faculty of Political Science, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chulalongkorn University)

The talk will explore Thailand’s Royal Irrigation Department Museum for Heavy Engineering where the works and lives of engineers are displayed and narrated and their machines exhibited. Through the museum walk-through, Jakkrit Sangkhamanee will analyze the mutual constitution and historical transformation of the amphibious assemblage that makes up Thai water engineering. In some ways, the  human and non-human hybridity depicted in the museum exceeds the binary of nature and culture proposed by Philippe Descola is his critical work Beyond Nature and Culture. Tracing the complex interrelation of engineers, landscapes, bureaucracy, statecraft and myth depicted in the exhibits, the analysis elicits the museum as a particular, and peculiar, parliament of things that articulates the amodern characteristics of the Thai water engineering assemblage.