A public lecture at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
By Philippe Descola is Professor at Collège de France, Chair in Anthropology of Nature
November 10 th 2017
Venue : Saranitet Conference Room, 2nd floor, Main Auditorium, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.
– Dr. Yukti MUKDAWIJITRA, Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University.
– Thanes WONGYANNAWA, Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University.
Notions such as ‘nature’ or ‘culture’ are the product of a particular historical process and express the specific distribution of ontological properties to beings in the world that the Moderns have devised. Other civilizations have adopted other systems of distribution, resulting in ontologies and principles of association between humans and non humans that differ widely from the one which emerged in Europe a few centuries ago. The challenge for the social sciences is to acknowledge this diversity, while retaining the ambition to explain it in non Eurocentric terms.
Organized by the Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC) and the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
Professor at Collège de France, Chair in Anthropology of Nature
November 7 and 8 th 2017 from 9h00 h to 17h00
4th floor meeting room, Operational Building, Faculty of Social Science, Chiang Mai University, Thailand.
The objective of this international workshop is to explore the relations between societies and their environments in Southeast Asia. Following Philippe Descola’s proposition to overcome the western dualism that opposes nature and culture, we will revisit Southeast Asian ethnographic material concerning, in particular, the modes of being and engaging practically and conceptually to the world. In the presence of the French anthropologist, we will question the diversity of natures in the region through the study of the articulations between animisms, Hindu-Buddhist cosmologies and any other forms of connecting the social, ecological and cosmic orders.
Organizers : The Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC) and the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Faculty of Social Science of Chiang Mai University.
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”)
The objective of this seminar is to study the relations between natures and societies in Southeast Asia in the light of the work of the French anthropologist Philippe Descola. The expressions Beyond nature and culture1 refers to the title of his master piece which is a deconstruction of the idea of a universal nature. It means that we will attempt thought this seminar :
To transcend the Western dualism that opposes nature and society as two different and separate realms of beings.
To include in our study the relation between human and non-humans – gods, spirits, plants, animals, objects.
To explore the diversity of natures in Southeast Asia.
In this first part, I will present Philippe Descola and the big lines of the his thought.
In the second part, I will develop through examples how his theoretical propositions could be adapted to Southeast Asian ethnographic materials.