Anthropology as speculative realism

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Photo by Ashley van Haeften on Flickr

By Younes Saramifar            In the following blog, Younes Saramifar responds to Matthias Teeuwen’s contribution to Standplaats Wereld of 13-2-2017, titled “Is Anthropology the most Humanistic of the Sciences and the most Scientific of the Humanities?“.

It was amusing to me to be asked if I have always enjoyed to ‘do science’ whenever I met Western European youngsters. I understood the implications and why they assumed ‘doing anthropology’ is something scientific but I never took my manner of practicing anthropology as something scientific. This is not to imply that ‘anthropology’ is not scientific. But what is scientific perplexes me because it immediately brings to mind a red line between everyday life practices and the study of those everyday life practices. So, my amusement at the question of the ‘scientific-ness’ of anthropology is due to the fact that we are the part of the phenomena around us and we are entangled in the hermeneutics of its making. It is this that distinguishes us from other disciplines. However, this statement brings an avalanche of theoretical, philosophical and psychoanalytical debates, or if you like, ‘scientific’ problems.

This avalanche of problems rises from the theoretical orientation that I inhabit which is known as ‘speculative realism’. This new theoretical habitus of mine proposes that there is a left-over from the reality of each phenomenon because this reality cannot be accessed in its entirety by other objects (both human and non-human are objects within this school of thought). Therefore, there is something of both the researcher and the researched, which is left out of that hermeneutic entanglement that the discipline of anthropology (whatever that is) and the anthropologist (whoever that is) are placed in.

To take the very writing that has been read as an example: there is a Matthias who has written the piece, there is a Younes who is responding to it and then there are anthropologies that they both assume to practice. There is a hermeneutic entanglement between all three because each of these elements finds the other side ‘other’ of themselves to write about and even turn it to their own- like the way I try to turn my approach to anthropology to my own brand of anthropology.

However, something is left out of this entanglement and that is what anthropology is about in its raw, bare and unqualified disciplinary form. The very anthropology that was coined by colonial masters for political gain, the very anthropology that was formed by missionaries to guide the lost souls of natives to the Holy See, the very anthropology that was imagined by Malinowski and etc. It is the fundamental discipline of studying the world (within and without) that is left out whenever we get entangled in hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics does not account for the left over (the surplus). And it does not focus on the ways of new emergences including those that ask about ‘the-rest-of-what-it-is’. I just gave the example to state that there is always a surplus that is left out of any approach toward the world under study, even in hermeneutical anthropology. Therefore, the anthropology that is entangled in the network of protean and elastic phenomena misses the reality that is speculative because we are the other of ourselves as soon as we touch the keyboard or bring pen to paper to write about the other that is the resulting entanglement of the researched and the researcher.

So, I ask: what about that other that begins to write whenever we become lost in various modes, realities, networks and interpretations? Hermeneutics does not account for that other who tries to deny ‘othering’, however, anthropology that is speculative in its simplest form without any adjectives and definitions does so.  I end my response with a cautionary remark by Deleuze ‘if you are trapped in the dream of the other, you’re fucked’ (cf Zizek 2008).

Younes Saramifar is PhD student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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