Tag Archives: Hegel


Identity — Special Section: Keywords

by Lauren Leve

[Leve, Lauren. 2011. “Identity.” Current Anthropology 52 (4): 513–35.]


“Identity” is a key term for anthropological analysis today. This paper explores the challenge posed by modernist Buddhists in Nepal who participated in identity politics while grounding their claims to identity-based rights in belonging to a religious community defined by the doctrine that there is no such thing as a “self” in the conventional sense. Examining the sharp proliferation of identity- based discourses and claims in post-1990 Nepal in light of broader structural transformations associated with the globalization of neoliberal governance strategies and against the rise of a popular vipassana meditation movement, I suggest that the rise of ethnoreligious politics in Nepal at that time reflects the presence of a global “identity machine”—an apparatus that establishes not only the categories of identity recognized and claimed in democratic states but also, indeed, their very ontological foundations in liberal conceptions of self, citizenship, and social relations. Nepali Buddhists who claim religious rights while also engaging in practices that challenge the very idea of identity are at once participating in the ideological and institutional conditions of neoliberal modernity and also reworking these in unexpected ways. This paradox calls on anthropologists to study the processes that produce and extend particular ways of seeing and organizing the world rather than inadvertently naturalizing them.


“as the space between culture (as a taken-for-granted order of symbols, institutions, structures, values, and/or beliefs) and identity (as a reflexive construct or experiential modality through which one knows oneself and claims recognition) has seemed to shrink, identity has become, in effect, a kind of metaculture: culture—to use the old Hegelian terminology—not just in itself but for itself” (513-14).

“This paper addresses these concerns by asking not about the history or meaning of any particular collective identity but about the epistemological status of identity as an object in the world and of scholarly analysis. I argue that the proliferation of identity-based claims and politics that is so visible around the world today cannot be understood apart from a powerful sociopolitical formation that I refer to as an“identity machine”—a transnational assemblage that is rapidly reorganizing ways of being and knowing oneself and others in liberal and neoliberal democracies” (514).

“My concern here, however, is not the well-known fact that governance may take place through identity but what is specifically neoliberal about the ways this is occurring today. Materialized in the heavily promoted values, discourses, and institutions associated with neoliberal democracy and development, the identity machine produces not only the classes and categories of social personhood that structure public recognition of social collectivities but, indeed, the very ontology of “identity” itself” (514).

“My proposal is that these events reflect the power of a particular global sociopolitical imaginary, concretized in a constellation of institutions, ideologies, frameworks, structures, technologies, forms of knowledge, ethics, and norms that act as a kind of “identity machine,” producing not only the categories of ethnological identity (“ethnicities,” “tribes,”“nations,” “cultures”) but also the very ontology of identity that underlies liberal and neoliberal democracy.”

“we live in a time in which “culture” has become a powerful form of political currency, a morally and legally compelling aspect of personal and collective being that can be deployed as the basis of political claims. Arjun Appadurai (1996) has even given this a name, “culturalism”: “the conscious mobilization of cultural differences in the service of a larger national or transnational politics” (15)” (517).

“I propose that the current profusion of identity talk and also the political compulsion for states to recognize citizens’ sub- and supernational identities are at once parts and products of this global assemblage,which works by extending a particular style of thought and social organization in which identity proliferates and identities proliferate and in order to do certain kinds of politics, you have to represent yourself in certain terms and make your claims in certain ways” (518).

Doing is inherently plural, collective, choral, communal. This does not mean that all doing is (or indeed should be) undertaken collectively. It means rather that it is difficult to conceive of a doing that does not have the doing of others as a precondition. I sit at the computer and write this, apparently a lonely and individual act, but my writing is part of a social process, a plaiting of my writing with the writing of others (those mentioned in footnotes and a million others), and also with the doing of those who designed the computer, assembled it, packed it, transported it, and those who installed the electricity in the house, and those who generated the electricity, those who produced the food that gives me the energy to write, and so on. … Our doings are so intertwined that it is impossible to say where one ends and another begins. (Holloway 2002:26)” (523).

Identity machine

  • “Social groups are assumed to be constituted not primarily by their relations with one another but first and foremost by their relation with their own history. This history—“culture” in its material form—is assumed to make them what they are in the same way that an individual is assumed to be constituted, as an individual, by his or her own memory. This history/culture/identity is conceptualizedas something that these groups can—indeed, should—own and control. To destroy that property is murder; to appropriate it is theft. These are the assumptions that structured the Theravada Buddhist demand for secularism “as a human right” and for official constitutional recognition as Buddhist—not Hindu—citizens (see Leve 2007b)” (525).
  • the “vision of subjective personhood that I have been discussing in this paper—an ontology that has been globalized as part of political and economic liberalization in the shape of democratic policies, institutions, and norms. When people represent them selves as identity groups, they cast themselves as the owners of their identities and histories. The process is mediated through what can only be called an emerging global, neoliberal bureaucracy, which has now come to include national bureaucracies (along with NGOs, transnational corporations, and bodies such as the UN, IMF, and WTO) as different levels within its own administrative structure” (525).

Continue reading Leve—Identity

Viveiros de Castro—Immanence and Fear

Immanence and Fear: Stranger-events and Subjects in Amazonia

by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, translated by David Rodgers

[Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2012. “Immanence and Fear: Stranger-Events and Subjects in Amazonia.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 27–43.]

“As we know, a minimal amount of imagination is needed to be afraid” (28).

“I wish to talk about the forms of fear in the native societies of Amazonia, or more precisely, about another way of relating to fear exemplified by these societies” (29).

Quem tem cu tem meed,””Anyone with an asshole feels fear” (29).

“Here I need to return to a typical motif of indigenous cosmopraxis, one about which I have already written so exhaustively that the reader might be already familiar with it. I refer to Amerindian “cosmological perspectivism,” the idea according to which each species or type of being is endowed with a prosopomorphic or anthropomorphic apperception, seeing itself as a “person,” while it sees the other components of its own eco-system as non-persons or non-humans. Some are seen as prey animals or predatory animals (everything has its own jaguar), or as spirits (invariably cannibal, or sexually voracious). Other components of the eco-system are seen as artefacts of one‘s self-own culture: jaguars see humans as peccaries, and see the blood of the prey that they kill as maize beer; the dead see the crickets as fish, the tapirs see the salt licks where they gather as large ceremonial houses, etc. (Much of what I say here about animals can also be said about the dead since, in various aspects, animals are like the dead and the dead are like animals. That is, the dead are not human.) Thus, each species occupies “in” culture the position that humans (that is, the humans‘ humans) see themselves as occupying in relation to the rest of the cosmos. Hence, it is not just a question of each species identifying itself as a culturally defined humanity: perspectivism also means that each species possesses a particular way of perceiving alterity, a “consensual hallucination” device which makes it see the world in a characteristic way” (33).

“Having different eyes, however, does not mean seeing “the same things” in a different “way”; it means that you don‘t know what the other is seeing when he “says” that he is seeing the same thing as you: we do not understand anacondas. The problem is one of perceptive “homonymy,” not “synonymy.” Perspectivism is not a trans-specific multiculturalism stating that each species possesses a particular subjective “point of view” of a real objective, unique and self-subsistent world. It is not Anthropology 101—”various cultures and one nature.” Perspectivism does not state the existence of a multiplicity of points of view, but the existence of the point of view as a multiplicity. There is just “one” point of view, the one which humans share—like the anus—with every other species of being: the point of view of culture. What varies is the objective correlative of the point of view: what passes through the optic nerve (or digestive tube) of each species, so to speak. In other words, perspectivism does not presume a Thing-in-Itself partially apprehended by the categories of understanding proper to each species. I do not believe that the Indians imagine that there is a thing-in-itself which humans see as blood and jaguars see as beer. There are not differently categorized self-identical substances, but immediately relational multiplicities of the blood-beer, salt lick-ceremonial-house, cricket-fish type. There is no x which is blood for one species and beer for the other: there exists a blood-beer which is one of the singularities characteristic of the human-jaguar multiplicity. [  … paragraph ] What defines these perspectival multiplicities is their incompatibility. A human and a jaguar cannot be people at the same time; it is impossible to experience blood as beer without having-already-become a jaguar. Perspectivism states that each species sees itself as people. However, it also states that two species cannot see each other simultaneously as people. Each species has to be capable of not losing sight, so to speak, of the fact that the others see themselves as people and, simultaneously, capable of forgetting this fact—that is, of “no longer seeing it.” (34).

Supernatural regime—”a situation in which the subject of a perspective, or “self,” is suddenly transformed into an object in the perspective of another being” (36).

Appearances deceive because one can never be sure whose or which is the dominant point of view. One can never be sure, that is, which world is in force when one interacts with the Other.”

“I see these supernatural encounters in the forest, where the self is captured by an other, and defined by it as its ―second person,‖ as a kind of indigenous proto-experience of the State” (37).

“In an earlier work, I argued that the constitutive problem of Western modernity, namely, solipsism—the supposition that the other is merely a body, that it does not harbour a soul like that of the self: the absence of communication as an anxiety-ridden horizon of the self—had as its Amazonian equivalent the (positive or negative) obsession with cannibalism and the affirmation of the latent transformability of bodies. In a cosmos totally impregnated with subjecthood, the dominant supposition-fear is that what we eat are always, in the final analysis, souls: an excess of communication, the dangerous transparency of the world …

“I wish to suggest that the true equivalent of the “indigenous category of the supernatural” are not “our” extraordinary or paranormal experiences (alien abductions, ESP, mediumship, premonition), but the quotidian experience, perfectly terrifying in its very normality, of existing under a State. The famous poster of Uncle Sam with his finger pointing in your face, looking directly at anyone who allowed their gaze to be captured by him, is for me the perfect icon of the State: “I want you.” An Amazonian Indian would immediately know what this evil spirit is talking about, and, pretending not to hear, would look elsewhere” (37).

“the world of immanent humanity is also a world of immanent divinity, a world where divinity is distributed under the form of a potential infinity of non-human subjects. This is a world where hosts of minuscule gods wander the earth; a “myriatheism,” … This is the world that has been called animist, that is, now to use the terms of our inanimist tradition, a world where the object is a particular case of the subject, where every object is a subject in potentia. Instead of the solipsistic formula “I think, therefore I am” the indigenous cogito must be articulated in animistc terms, as in, “It exists, therefore it thinks.” But there, where on top of this the Self is a particular case of the Other, such “animism” must necessarily take the form of—if you excuse the pun—an “enemism”: an animism altered by alterity, an alterity that gets animated insofar as it is thought of as an enemy interiority: a Self that is radically Other. Hence the danger, and the brilliance, of such worlds” (41).


This article proposes to explore the political correlates of Amazonian perspectival ontologies. From a Taulipang mythical narrative about the origin of the anus (as transcribed by Koch-Grünberg) to a Nambikwara explanation of Brazilian I.D. cards (as reported by Joana Miller), Amazonian ethnography allows us to perceive how “bodily” affects and “spiritual” encounters conspire to project a particular conception of power, sociality and truth.

Continue reading Viveiros de Castro—Immanence and Fear

Taylor—The Politics of Recognition

The Politics of Recognition

by Charles Taylor

[Taylor, Charles. 1994. “The Politics of Recognition.” In Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, edited by Amy Gutmann, 25–73. Princeton University Press.]


  • “our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being” (25).
  • “Within these perspectives, misrecognition shows not just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need” (26, bold added).

How did we get here?:

  1. social hierarchies collapsed, and with them the traditional idea of honor
    • “For some to have honor in this sense, it is essential that not everyone have it” (27).
  2. honor is replaced by the notion of dignity, which everyone shares in equal measure
    • we are born with it and is totes compatible with Democratic society
  3. As Democracy leads to a more individualized society, dignity becomes understood more in terms of authenticity—being the individual identity that you really are
    • so this dignity is no longer God-given and moral, it is significant by itself
    • “Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, which is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. This is the background understanding to the modern ideal of authenticity” (31).

dialogical self definition

  • (Enlightenment Philosopher) Herder says that our ‘way of being’ is inwardly generated—in other words, monological
  • However, Taylor argues that this process is actually dialogical in nature
    • this is because we are dependent on language to self-define
    • People do not acquire the languages needed for self-definition on their own. Rather, we are introduced to them through interaction with others who matter to us—what George Herbert Mead called “significant others” (32).
    • We “define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live” (33).
  • In this sense “the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others” (34).
  • Recognition has become so important that “Its refusal can inflict damage on those who are denied it, … The projection of an inferior or demeaning image on another can actually distort and oppress, to the extent that the image is internalized” (36).

politics of universalism vs. politics of difference—the two forms of liberalism

  1. “With the move from honor to dignity has come a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of all citizens, and the content of this politics has been the equalization of rights and entitlements” (37).
  2. “the development of the modern notion of identity, has given rise to a politics of difference. With the politics of equal dignity, what is established is meant to be universally the same, an identical basket of rights and immunities; with the politics of difference, what we are asked to recognize is the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else. The idea is that it is precisely this distinctness that has been ignored, glossed over, assimilated to a dominant or majority identity. And this assimilation is the cardinal sin against the ideal of authenticity” (38).
  3. “The claim is that the supposedly neutral set of difference-blind principles of the politics of equal dignity is in fact a reflection of one hegemonic culture. As it turns out, then, only the minority or suppressed cultures are being forced to take alien form. Consequently, the supposedly fair and difference-blind society is not only inhuman (because suppressing identities) but also, in a subtle and unconscious way, itself highly discriminatory” (43).


  1. “all societies are becoming increasingly multicultural, while at the same time becoming more porous. Indeed, these two developments go together. Their porousness means that they are more open to multi-national migration; more of their members live the life of diaspora, whose center is elsewhere. In these circumstances, there is something awkward about replying simply, “This is how we do things here …
    • “The awkwardness arises from the fact that there are substantial numbers of people who are citizens and also belong to the culture that calls into question our philosophical boundaries. The challenge is to deal with their sense of marginalization without compromising our basic political principles” (63).
  2. There is now an explicit demand for recognition, including a change in the way we are taught the history of culture.
    • This is “essential not so much in the name of a broader culture for everyone as in order to give due recognition to the hitherto excluded. The background premise of these demands is that recognition forges identity, particularly in its Fanonist application: dominant groups tend to entrench their hegemony by inculcating an image of inferiority in the subjugated” (66).
  3. “As a presumption, the claim is that all human cultures that have animated whole societies over some considerable stretch of time have something important to say to all human beings … when I call this claim a “presumption,” I mean that it is a starting hypothesis with which we ought to approach the study of any other culture” (66-67).
    • [How is this not just straight up Boas?]
  4. According to Taylor—”What has to happen is what Gadamer has called a “fusion of horizons.” We learn to move in a broader horizon, within which what we have formerly taken for granted as the background to valuation can be situated as one possibility alongside the different background of the formerly unfamiliar culture. The “fusion of horizons” operates through our developing new vocabularies of comparison, by means of which we can articulate these contrasts. So that if and when we ultimately find substantive support for our initial presumption, it is on the basis of an understanding of what constitutes worth that we couldn’t possibly have had at the beginning. We have reached the judgment partly through transforming our standards” (67).


“There must be something midway between the inauthentic and homogenizing demand for recognition of equal worth, on the one hand, and the self-immurement within ethnocentric standards, on the other. There are other cultures, and we have to live together more and more, both on a world scale and commingled in each individual society.

What there is is the presumption of equal worth I described above: a stance we take in embarking on the study of the other. Perhaps we don’t need to ask whether it’s something that others can demand from us as a right. We might simply ask whether this is the way we ought to approach others” (72).


“what the presumption requires of us is not peremptory and inauthentic judgments of equal value, but a willingness to be open to comparative cultural study of the kind that must displace our horizons in the resulting fusions. What it requires above all is an admission that we are very far away from that ultimate horizon from which the relative worth of different cultures might be evident. This would mean breaking with an illusion that still holds many “multiculturalists”—as well as their most bitter opponents—in its grip” (73). Continue reading Taylor—The Politics of Recognition

Herzfeld—Cultural Intimacy

Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State

by Michael Herzfeld

[Herzfeld, Michael. 2005. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. 2 edition. New York: Routledge.]


  • big question = “what advantages [do] social actors find in using, reformulating, and recasting official idioms in the pursuit of often highly unofficial personal goals, and how [do] these actions—so often in direct contra­vention of state authority—actually constitute the state as well as a huge range of national and other identities” (2).
  • “the nation-state’s claims to affixed, eternal identity grounded in universal truth are themselves, like the moves of all social actors, strategic adjustments to the demands of the historical moment” (5).
  • KEY POINT (acc. to Herzfeld) = the idea of the polity­—nation-state, local community, or international body—succeeds to the extent that its formal ideology encapsulates (or incorpo­rates) all the inward flaws and imperfections to which it is offi­cially and ostensibly opposed” (220).


  • Anthropologists should adopt the combination of a “top down” and “bottom up” approach, located at what Herzfeld calls a “militant middle ground.” This ground is not only a space where cultural intimacy and its use/characteristics are taken into consideration as coming equally from the state and the individuals, but also a space wherein the anthropologists takes a stance of cultural relativism, while maintaining their own personal ethical and moral beliefs (taking action if deemed necessary).
  • To shrug off binarism as a structuralist conceit is a mistake. Binarism and other essentialism play important parts of social life, and thus should be embraced by ethnography. It is important to note, however, that these binarisms act as convenient ways of describing the world, and should not be used as or confused with an abstract theoretical position.

cultural intimacy—”the recog­nition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality, the familiarity with the bases of power that may at one moment assure the disenfranchised a degree of creative irreverence and at the next moment reinforce the effectiveness of intimidation” (3)

disemia—”the formal or coded tension between official self-presentation and what goes on in the privacy of collective introspection” (14).

structural nostalgia—”the longing for an age before the state, for the primordial and self­ regulating birthright that the state continually invoke” (22). Continue reading Herzfeld—Cultural Intimacy


Entangled: An Archeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things

by Ian Hodder

[Hodder, Ian. 2012. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things. John Wiley & Sons.]

  1. Ch. 1 Thinking About Things Differently
    1. the focus has changed from how things make society possible to the thing itself and its multiple connections. The gaze shifts to look more closely, harder at the thing, to explore how society and thing are co-entangled. That is the shift that I want to try to make in this book. (3)
    2. Themes about things
    3. Not isolated
      1. Since humans have been in existence we have affected the world on a large scale (Roberts 1998) so all things are to some degree human-made artifacts (4)
    4. Not inert – “stand against”
    5. Endure over Different Temporalities
      1. Objects and materials can endure over time spans considerably greater than individual human experience. (5)
    6. Appear as Non-things
      1. The TV is arguably one of the most transformative objects of the 20th century, and yet in our homes, as we watch our favorite programs, the TV itself becomes unnoticed. In fact we might even baulk at calling a TV a ‘thing’, since it is just the medium through which we see images. Unless we are TV repair mechanics, the box itself is of little interest and blurs into the background (6)
    7. The Forgetness of Things – we take for granted
      1. Ex. A watch is a thing, but not only has leather, metal, and glass parts that interact, but also temporal components: changes from early religious to Julian to Gregorian calendar…
    8. What is a Thing?
      1. an entity that has a presence by which I mean a configuration that endures however briefly (7)
      2. We have seen that things are not isolated. It is in their connections, and in their flows into other forms, that theur thingness resides. (8)
    9. Humans and Things
      1. Hodder justifies the separation of humans as a specific type of thing because: human dependence on things leads to an entanglement between humans and things that has implications for the ways in which we have evolved and for the ways in which we live in societies today. (10)
      2. a human is a thing, it is a thing of a particular kind, one that has developed a very large and complex nervous system, body and mind thoroughly dependent on other things to exist. …. In the same way that all living things depend on sunlight, air or water, soil and minerals, so too all sentient beings depend on things to bring their sentience into being. Humans are particularly dependent because their embodied nervous systems need activation by cultural and environmental cues.
    10. Knowing Things
      1. This book aims to look at the relationships between humans and things from the point of view of things. (10)
      2. it can be argued that the operational chains that produce artifacts are continuous sequences, arbitrarily divided up into actions, gestures, objects and residues. (11)
      3. QUESTIONS: how can we define an entity as a bounded essence? Where do we draw the objective boundaries around a thing? Is my computer just the unplugged processor box? Or is it also the connections that allow it to work? (11)
    11. Conclusion: The Objectness of Things
      1. So I have argued that entities (bounded essences) and objects (that stand up against humans) can only be known by humans through their character as things (that gather humans and other things into heterogeneous mixes). So, from such a perspective, we ‘make’ things. (13)

Continue reading Hodder—Entangled