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.
- Lincoln, Martha, and Bruce Lincoln. 2015. Toward a critical hauntology: bare afterlife and the ghosts of Ba Chúc. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57 (1):191-220.
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.
- Scott, Michael W. 2013. The anthropology of ontology (religious science?). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (4):859-872.
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.
- ———. 1997. The ontological import of the history of science. In World in fragments. Writings on politics, society, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- ———. 1997. Merleau-Ponty and the weight of the ontological tradition. In World in fragments. Writings on politics, society, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Adams, Suzi. 2011. Castoriadis’ Ontology: Being and Creation. Edited by J. D. Caputo, Perspectives in Continental Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Rechter, Sue. 2007. The Originating Breaks Up: Merleau-Ponty, Ontology, and Culture. Thesis Eleven 90 (1):27-43.
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.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the new international. New York: Routledge.
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.
- Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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:
- Davis, Colin. 2007. Haunted subjects: deconstruction, psychoanalysis and the return of the dead. New York: Palgrave.
- Gordon, Avery F. 2008 . Ghostly matters: haunting and the sociological imagination. Second Ed. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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 essay.
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Batalha. 1992. From the enemy’s point of view : humanity and divinity in an Amazonian society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2002. O nativo relativo. Mana 8 (1):113-148.
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, Julia Sauma, and Martin Holbraad. 2013. The relative native. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (3):469.
- Latour, Bruno. 2009. Perspectivism: ‘Type’ or ‘bomb’? Anthropology Today 25 (2):1-2.
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:
- Graeber, David. 2015. Radical alterity is just another way of saying ‘reality’; a reply to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (2):1-41.
- Salmond, Amiria J. M. 2013. Transforming translation (part I): “The owner of these bones”. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (3):1-32.
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.
- Beban, Alice, and Courtney Work. 2014. The spirits are crying: dispossessing land and possessing bodies in rural Cambodia. Antipode 00 (0):1-18.
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.
- Davis, Erik W. 2008. Imaginary conversations with mothers about death. In At the edge of the forest: essays on Cambodia, history, and narrative in honor of David Chandler, edited by A. R. Hansen and J. Ledgerwood. Ithaca: Southeast Asian Program Publications (Cornell University).
- ———. 2008. Between forests and families: a remembered past life. In People of virtue: reconfiguring religion, power and moral order in Cambodia today, edited by A. Kent and D. P. Chandler. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.
- ———. 2015. Kinship beyond death: ambiguous relations and autonomous children in Cambodian Buddhism. Contemporary Buddhism 16 (1):125-140.
- Endes, K., and A. Lauser. 2011. Engaging the spirit world: popular beliefs and practices in modern Southeast Asia. New York: Berghahn.
- Guillou, Anne Yvonne. 2012. Life after collective death in South East Asia. South East Asia research.
- Langford, Jean M. 2013. Consoling ghosts: stories of medicine and mourning from Southeast Asians in exile. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.