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.
Through the example of the Merapi volcano in Central Java in Indonesia, this talk will explore different practices and conceptions related to the comprehension and the communication with this uncertain environment. Merapi volcano is located in the “ring of fire” where Indo-Australian plate meets the Eurasian plate. At almost 3000 meter above the sea level, it is considered as permanently active. The volcano stands at 30 kilometers from the city of Yogyakarta, capital city of the eponym province. In the region, population density is quite high with 7000 inhabitant/km2 in the city and around 1000 inhabitant/km2 in the rural areas of Merapi’s south flank.
This reflection is a part of an anthropological research about the post-disaster resettlement (relokasi) of a village (dusun) located in the Merapi volcano’s south flank. Totally destroyed by the 2010 eruption of Merapi, the 81 household of the studied village was removed 5 kilometers downstream of its original location, through a post disaster governmental reconstruction program.
What is the echo of Descola’s work in Southeast Asia?
Descola’s anthropology of nature opens new horizons to review Southeast Asian ethnographic materials:
To question the place of Hindo-Buddhist societies in regard to the ontological typology he proposes. A question he did not elaborate in his comparative approach and master piece Beyond Nature and Culture1.
To question the modes of dwelling the diverse landscapes of Southeast Asia: highland forest, plains, river deltas, sea coasts and cities.
To question the overlapping of ontologies and knowledge systems linked to environmental management in contemporary societies.
I won’t answer these questions here, but rather give some paths for reflection linked to my own researches in Thailand and with Karen highlanders. I will :
Question the analogical dimension of the Hindo-Buddhist concept of thammachat, which is the vernacular word used to translate the notion of nature in the Thaï context.
Explore the overlapping between analogism and animism through the articulation between Buddhism and land spirits cults in Southeast Asia.
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.