Ontologies Project

My work has recently taken me into conversation with various disciplines about the nature of ‘ontology,’ by which different people, even within single disciplines, often mean quite different things (often without realizing it, apparently, and thus much of the discourse speaks past its interlocutors). Some of the work is fascinating, some infuriating, most of it knotty and complicated in ways I either love or loathe, depending on my energy and mood. Much of it is also unnecessarily ornately written, which I never appreciate, and will attempt to avoid, despite recognizing the value of technical jargon.

So, for myself, and intended as a fragment beginning of a project, here is a bibliography of things I have or intend to read, and about which I will eventually probably post a fair number of notes (or at least which will result in some writing of some sort). I’ll edit this as I go, not note the updates within this post [heads up!], and welcome suggestions and critiques in the comments.


Lincoln and Lincoln include an extensive if not entirely complete critical review of the literature, as well as proposing a typology of hauntological projects. Strongly recommended.

Scott’s article attempts an analysis that argues that the anthropology of ontology is a form of Religious Anthropology, intended by him without pejorative connotation.

Castoriadis and the Social Imaginary

Castoriadis is my ‘home base’ much of the time. He insisted that his discourse was ontological. Much of his thinking on these topics seems to respond to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who in turn responds in key moments to Heidegger.


Derrida’s Specters of Marx instaurated (to use Castoriadis’ term) the idea of ‘hauntology,’ which in French sounds identical to ‘ontology,’ and was explicitly intended as a pun/provocation to traditional European ontological thought.

Chakrabarty’s influential Provincializing Europe took up Derrida’s ontological challenge in a historiographic mode. Very indebted as well to Heidegger, Chakrabarty deals with the notion of ‘Fragments,’ so important to Castoriadis, but different from what is intended by Chakrabarty, who receives his notion of the ‘fragment’ from Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Literary Hauntology

Hauntological/Ontological work has often been, as Lincoln and Lincoln somewhat generously put it, deeply ‘idiosyncratic,’ which in this case is another way of saying that it has used as its evidential basis largely literary sources picked for unspecified criteria. I wish to avoid the literary lineage by and large, so intend here to identify only some of the most influential of such examples:

Anthropological Ontologies

I have the largest amount of work to do in this domain, largely in my opinion because what goes by the name of anthropological ontological projects are multiple and often part of unclearly specified projects.

In his 1992 book, Viveiros de Castro, undoubtedly the most influential of contemporary anthropology’s attempts to rethink ontology, fully fleshed out his idea of perspectivism, which he connects to his ontological project in his 2013[2002] essay.

HAU Journal has been the most influential promoter of the discourse of anthropological discourse, and there are too many articles in their excellent open-source journal for me to sort through at this moment. In addition to the excellent colloquium articles on the topic published in Volume 4, Issue 1, I note:

Cambodia-Centric Case Studies

Beban and Work’s article focuses on the reality of spirits in contemporary Cambodia, and deliberately plays with the distinction of is/not is not only in anthropological redescription, but in considerations of anthropological method.

I suppose including my own work here is relevant, since so much of it has led organically to this current project on ontology. In the following series of articles on rebirth memory in contemporary Cambodia, and my forthcoming book-length manuscript “Past Lives Present, Tense,” I argue, much like some of Michael Scott’s anti-cartesian “Relational Non-Dualists,” that what are reborn in the Cambodian social imaginary are not entities, but relationships.


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