Anthropology’s conflict over what to take seriously

Gillian Cowlishaw wrote, in an email sent out today over AASNet with the subject ‘Considering Ghassan and Di’s exchange in the latest TAJA’,

“I perceive in Diane’s work a contradiction, or at least a conflict, but one that underlies a great deal of anthropology — between taking the predicament of lives in the world’s remote places seriously, or taking the alternative interpretations of the world in such sites seriously.” Gillian Cowlishaw 5/2/13


Although I find it difficult to agree with some aspects of Deranty’s account of Rancière’s work, I think he describes quite nicely

“the belief, put into practice in every one of Rancière’s political texts, that the role of the philosopher is not to give his/her voice to the silent aspirations of the dominated, but to add his/her voice to theirs, therefore, to hear their voices, rather than interpret them, and to help them resound.” (Deranty 2003: 137).


Of course, people can never truly speak for themselves in texts. I often think of Radin’s Primitive Man as Philosopher when it comes to this. The method of Rancière is, unsurprisingly, better suited to highlighting than resolving the contradictions in disciplines such as anthropology. After all, as he writes about his own work,

“It was due, rather, to discovered necessities and encountered contingencies that I became a historian or philosopher, a critic of sociological science or of political philosophy, a researcher in labor archives or an interpreter of literature. For me, this was not a question of opposing voices from below to discourses from above, but of reflecting on the relation of division of conditions, of grasping the interplay of borders and transgressions according to which the effects of speech that seize human bodies become ordered or disturbed.” (Rancière 2004: 227)



Deranty, J.-P. (2003). Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to The Ethics of Recognition. Political Theory, 31(1), 136–156.

Rancière, J., & Parker, A. (2004). The philosopher and his poor. Durham: Duke University Press.


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