Ethnographic Machine: An Experiment in Postplural Anthropology

TiP Seminar

Atsuro Morita

Department of Anthropology, Osaka University

Date: Friday 16 April 2010, 13.00 – 15.30

Location: TBA

Abstract: Marilyn Strathern has been one of the leading figures of anthropology since the 1980s. Since her recent works are closely connected with Actor-Network Theory, she has been a major source of inspiration for the recent development of anthropology of science and technology.
This paper tries to explore and extend the methodological contrivance of her ethnography in an experimental way. Her strongest methodological claim is that ethnography is a kind of artifact that evokes in its readers responses rather than representations of an outside reality. As is well known about her comparative argument on “Euro-American” and “Melanesian” perspectives, juxtaposition of different points of view is an outstanding feature of her methodology to evoke creative responses in her readers. In her ethnography, the juxtaposition of the different views is designed to reveal the unthinkable basis of each perspective and destabilize conventional ways of thought, thus opening up new analytical possibility.

This paper tries to destabilize the meanings of ethnography and artifact by juxtaposing the Strathernian methodology itself and another artifact, namely a “machine.” There is an interesting homology between Strathern’s argument on ethnography and Marcel Mauss’s and Franz Reuleaux’s discussion on the definition of machine. By drawing on the interpretation of their argument and ethnographic descriptions of machines and technical practices in the small-scale engineering industry in Thailand, the paper tries to destabilize the meaning of both ethnography and machines and explore a way to assemble ethnography as a machine to make future.

(This paper is an English translation from author’s chapter of the Japanese book titled as “Anthropology as Critique of Reality” (edited by Naoki Kasuga). The original version is being published in the latter half of 2010.)

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