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Commensurability, bicultural, and domestication: Epistemological grounds and consequences in experimental anthropology

Journal: The Digital Scholar: Philosopher’s Lab (Vol.2, No. 2)

Publication Date:

Authors : ;

Page : 104-124

Keywords : commensurability; bicultural; domestication; experimental anthropology; interpretive anthropology; “long talk; ” “epistemic murk”; Altai Republic; shamanism;

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This paper focuses on three concepts – commensurability, bicultural, and domestication, aiming to consider their epistemic significance in sociocultural anthropology. All classical non-relativistic anthropology rested on the idea of commensurability, while the incommensurability as a problem did not even exist there: “savage” and “civilized” cultures were assumed by default to be commensurable. For convenience, I will refer to such positivistic “commensurability by default”, which is before or outside relativistic and interpretive anthropology, as “commensurability-1”. However, there is another – the hermeneutic – understanding of commensurability, developing in the “postrelativistic era” of anthropology; I will call it “commensurability-2”. This is a more reflexive and critical form, which assumes that understanding comes not through an exact knowledge or translation of a representative of an alien culture, but rather as an intermittent process of a continuing “long talk” that changes the interlocutors. This “long conversation” can be investigated, for example, as a sequence of communicative situations. The question of commensurability in interpretive anthropology and interpretative sociology involves the study of epistemically obscure, “muddy” communication situations between representatives of different cultures. These are situations in which uncertainty, ambiguity, anomaly, illusions and errors in understanding are considered epistemically constructive, rather than negative, phenomena (from the positivist viewpoint). Such situations can be depicted through the concept of epistemic murk (Michael Taussig), that characterizes a state of anthropologists on the road to biculturalism, entering into the alien culture. Domestication, in all likelihood, can be considered as a mechanism for achieving biculturalism.

Last modified: 2020-03-02 02:52:07