Welcome to the publication page of the Symposium:
Linda Connor, Sebastian Job (eds)
Welcome to the online conference proceedings of the Symposium, ‘Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds’, hosted by the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology, 25th-26th March 2010. All the papers published here were originally presented at the Symposium and have been anonymously peer reviewed and revised by the authors. In keeping with their exploratory nature, they preserve something of their original character as oral presentations. Our heartfelt thanks to the authors and reviewers for the seriousness and rigour of their work, and to the many staff and student volunteers who contributed to making the Symposium a genuinely worthwhile event.
How should anthropologists think about the ends of worlds? Could this be merely one theme among others? Or does it place us in the most difficult situation, as thinkers and as people? As thinkers, because this situation also entails us as people? It seems in retrospect that the ‘situation’ was already there. That it has been unfolding itself and enfolding us for quite a while, whether we cared to address it directly or not. Indeed, the problem of endings has long afflicted some peoples much more than others. Often professionally occupied with western history’s losers, anthropologists have been forced to grapple with what exactly ends when ‘The End’ looms up before a people or a culture, a language an era or a civilization. Yet whatever looms now looms not only for the cultural others, the dominated and outmatched, the small peoples whose plight takes place elsewhere. Nor are we faced with a mere prolongation of the self-cannibalisation and ecocide correctly diagnosed as inherent to modern capitalist society by conservative and radical critics at least since Burke, Marx and Engels. Something qualitatively larger is in the offing. Ours is a time in which yesterday’s extravagant imaginings about threats to quality of life regularly appear modest in the light of today’s relentlessly mounting evidence of new losses of species and habitat, on the accumulation of pollutants in soil and sea, on food shortages, energy crises, hyper-consumption, weapons sales, pandemics, population growth, inequality and urbanization. Over and again, pessimistic calculations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prove, on re-examination, to be too optimistic. So the urgent word goes out: ‘Do something!’ But little is done. Climatologists issue deadlines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on pain of large-scale destruction, while the really ‘inconvenient truth’ is that the deadlines will not be met and immense pain is being stored up. To speak of ‘paranoid reactions’ in these circumstances is correct and hardly unexpected. We can see them in many areas and they form part of the phenomenon that must be understood. Yet with equal justice we might heed the reply: ‘Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean the end is not coming!’
We are all of us, to be sure, in an increasingly intractable predicament. It is a cultural and existential predicament as much as a technological or political one. Its causes and dynamics, its local forms and contraflows will be understood by social scientists or they will not be understood at all. The papers here collected represent an initial, very modest, attempt to build on anthropological understandings of life worlds encountering irreversible transformation. Each tackles a specific domain while also, in different ways, wrestling with what is involved in reflecting upon that domain. Attempting to enter into the experiences of situated peoples themselves, these are papers, which approach the broad and polyvalent topic of the ends of worlds from diverse perspectives. Michael Taussig’s keynote address poses the question, “How will the human body reconnect with the body of the world?”, invoking the mythic and poetic resources that might make this possible. The performance piece by John von Sturmer and Slawek Janicki have made these resources forcefully present, inspired by the ‘public performance of rage’ by Wik at Aurukun in Northwest Queensland. These ideas are embraced in various ways by the papers published here. Carla Stang’s paper focuses on threats to the invisible archetypal presences that constitute the Mehinaku worlds, and the wider implications of taking this knowledge seriously. The contradictory and disrupting temporalities of Aboriginal Australia are explored by Emma Kowal and Gaynor Macdonald, the former dwelling on the settler-colonial imaginary of tradition, death and modernity, and the latter examining the end of cultural meaning when descendants die before their elders. Gillian Cowlishaw, in an orally presented paper, challenges us to think about the demise of Indigenous cultures as a ‘necessary phenomenon’, an escape from politically enforced post-colonial resuscitations. Jon Marshall and Linda Connor illuminate ‘end questions’ of the myths surrounding modern technology, and cultural imaginings of immortality, and the chimeras of consumer capitalism in the face of planetary heat death. Sebastian Job, like Carla Stang, challenges us to take seriously the strivings of cultural others (in this case the neo-Aztec Los Concheros cosmogenic dancers in Mexico City) to diagnose and heal planetary malaise. Grant McCall explores Polynesian myths of original mana protection then loss, leading to cultural dissolution and death. Thomas Reuter develops a critique of modernist rationality, based on Javanese mystical traditions of prophecy and the encounter with truth beyond linear time. In her oral presentation, Veronica Quinteros discusses the early Polish proto-ethnographer Ignacio Domeyko’s writings on the Mapuche of Chile, reflecting on the personal and historical reverberations of this encounter between a famously proud and intransigent people refusing colonisation and an exiled European grieving for his beloved Poland.
The materiality and immateriality of ends is the subject of Erin Taylor’s paper, based on her research in a Santo Domingo barrio – a place where ends brought about by economic crisis and the second coming of Christ intersect and interweave in the visioning of new worlds in mundane and otherworldly planes. Similarly, Robbie Peters discusses the realities of poor city dwellers in Surabaya, where the destruction of social worlds culminates in the disruption to the ritual commemoration of death by a municipal government intent on the redundancy and simulation of urban renewal.
The papers published here represent a foray into issues whose national and international significance hardly needs stressing. These anthropological perspectives challenge dubious generalizations based on familiar but parochial perceptions and experience. With any luck the social and human sciences will not wait too much longer before giving priority to the problems of the fragile future of our planet and the deep interdependence of all its life forms and life worlds.
The Peer Review Process
Dear Authors and Referees!
This online publication fulfils the requirements of a peer review process. If you want to find out more about particulars, paper length, deadlines and other requirements … “click here”
Below you can find a list of all papers and their abstracts in the order of their presentation at the symposium. If you want to access the paper in full as pdf file just follow the link and click “abstract” or “full paper” after each title.
Papers from this online publication can be cited as:
[Author] 2010 [title] In: Online proceedings of the symposium ‘Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds’, edited by Sebastian Job and Linda Connor. Sydney: University of Sydney 25-26 March 2010.
Wanting and Denying the End (Fri 26/03/2010; 9.30-11.00am)
Erin TAYLOR: ‘Crisis is Coming’ Visions of material and immaterial ends
This paper explores secular and spiritual responses to recent economic and social crises within one Santo Domingo barrio. An examination of Dominican history – slavery, two revolutions, two American occupations, a violent dictator and … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Linda CONNOR: Climate Change and the Challenge of Immortality: Faith, denial and intimations of eternity
To understand the cultural significance of climate change (CC), I examine two dimensions of CC knowledge and action: the growth of CC science and politics; and the rise of CC scepticism and denial. These phenomena are linked to … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Prophecy and Eschatology (Fri 26/03/2010; 9.30-11.00am)
Thomas REUTER: The Time of Madness and the Return of the King: The prophetic imaginary and societal change in Indonesia
Most Indonesians are familiar with prophecies attributed to 11th century king Jayabaya and 14th century king Brawijaya V, and consider prophesy as a means both to apprehend and to shape the future. … The popularity of these prophecy texts consistently increases in response to a crisis such as … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Grant McCALL: The End of the World at the End of the Earth: Retrospective eschatology on Rapanui (Easter Island)
Accepting Death (Fri 26/03/2010; 11.30-1.00pm)
Robbie PETERS: Death and the City: Mortuary Rituals and Urban Renewal in Surabaya.
Death ceremonies have long constituted a rich vein of analysis for ethnographers of Indonesia. In addition to noticing the continued centrality of these ceremonies, I noticed during my own recent fieldwork a constant philosophical orientation towards death and the end of life among poor urban dwellers in the large metropolis of Surabaya… (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
The Future of Myth (Fri 26/03/2010; 11.30-1.00pm)
Jon MARSHALL: Technology, Disorder and the Ends of Work
Technology opens a mythic field. It is often perceived as a mode of salvation, a set of procedures by which any problems can be solved or even a new humanity created. Cultures have been ranked in terms of a linear technological development. Alongside this vision there has been a long-standing tradition which sees technology as a form of damnation … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Sebastian JOB: Without Ends Facing the End: of Aztec Revivalists and Anthropologists
This paper opens a discussion of anthropology’s relationship to mythic practices endeavouring to bring contemporary urbanites into a more harmonious relationship with the natural world. I give a summary account of one such mythic practice, the dance of the contemporary danzantes (popularly known as Los Concheros)of Mexico City. My argument will be that the danzantes (no doubt like many others), can help us … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Aboriginal Ends (Fri 26/03/2010; 2.30-3.00pm)
Emma KOWAL: Perpetual Ends and Perpetual Beginnings: Temporalities of Indigeneity in Australia
The beginning of colonisation was the beginning of the end of Indigenous cultures. They have been in a perpetual state of ending ever since… Theories of the end of culture have ranged from social evolution to assimilation, while a counter-discourse of continuity and self-determination contests the notion that culture is ending. But there is complete agreement over what is ending… (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Gaynor MACDONALD: Death as the end of a future
This collection offers an opportunity to reflect on one largely unacknowledged experience emerging in communities suffering social crises: that of older people living through the death of their children, their grandchildren and their cultural heirs.… (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Perilous Indigeneity in South America (Fri 26/03/2010; 2.30-3.00pm)
Carla STANG: ‘Anthropokaluptein’: The End as Anthropological Revelation
The Mehinaku Indians, an Amazonian people, believe, put simply, that the current state of affairs in the area where they live is destroying their lives and if it continues the entire world will soon be completely destroyed. … (“Abstract” / “Paper”)
Further links and information
View the contents of the symposium, read up on contributors, keynote speech and compare abstracts to the revised papers.
To view the full symposium programme, “click here”
Symposium Welcome Message
This will be, we are sure, one and half days of lively, varied and perhaps urgent discussion. “Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds” is theme to set the hares running and the sheep huddling! Each of our speakers and discussants knows …more
For the full symposium schedule, “click here”
Complete list of abstracts
To download the full list of paper abstracts as pdf, “click here”
To view all author biographies, “click here”