As a first step in my ‘pocket research program’ “Pre-modern forager societies vs Spinoza’s polis” (read more here), I am reading French anthropologist Philippe Descola’s book Beyond Nature and Culture (published 2013. Original title: Par-delà nature et culture (2005)). This is my selective pocket summary.
I am reading this mammoth work from a very selective viewpoint, in accordance with my pocket research design, namely to “find out more about the cosmologies of the Amerindian peoples, and whether they can be said live according to ‘proto-ecological guidelines’”.
I am publishing this draft while reading and writing. Here are my reading notes. Feel free to pitch in with your ideas, suggestions, comments, etc.
Beyond Nature and Culture
What is this book about? In the foreword to the English edition, American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins’ short summary of the entirety of the work comes in handy:
“The project is a comparative anthropology of ontology. Four basic ontological regimes of wide distribution―animism, totemism, analogism, and naturalism ― are developed from an investigation of the identities and differences between humans and other beings and things in matters of their physical makeup and subjective or mental capacities. Each of these major ontologies is associated with specific ways of forming social collectives and characteristic moralities, as well as distinctive modes of knowing what there is. Further, the major ontological configurations are cross-cut by several types of relationship―exchange, predation, production, and so on―that are variously compatible or incompatible with them.”
He also adds that
“Such is the general architecture. To thus state it, however, only betrays the richness of the text, which is marked by carefully described and analyzed ethnographic demonstrations, including much from the author’s own fieldwork among the Achuar of Amazonia”
This last point is of course relevant to my ‘pocket research question’, which is also why I have selected Descola as my primary reference. However, the overall project of the book is immensely relevant to my question, since it lines out a framework to rethink our current Western model in comparison with other ontologies – in my case notably the Amerindian cosmology, which I guess will be labelled as animism (I haven’t read that far, yet).