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1 Introduction: Engaging Radical Egalitarianism Felicity Aulino and Miriam Goheen This book represents a form of historically grounded, ethnographically driven anthropology that seeks to understand social phenomena by dialogically engaging global and local perspectives.As a whole, it promotes an approach to scholarship that actively avoids privileging any one conceptual framework or cultural form at the expense of recognizing another—a style of engagement that we are calling radical egalitarianism. The papers collected here provide examples of such an approach through original ethnographic and theoretical contributions that stem from research in Africa, Europe,Asia,and the Americas. Assembled into a single volume, these chapters allow for a comparative examination of contemporary societies along several avenues of inquiry. All of the contributors to this volume are in conversation with some aspect of the work of Stanley J. Tambiah.1 From his earliest research on village agriculture and land tenure in Sri Lanka to his recent engagement with issues of reproductive technologies and perceptions of the self among Sri Lankan immigrants, Tambiah’s work has demonstrated remarkable breadth and depth in both topic and theoretical F5920.indb 1 F5920.indb 1 12/17/12 3:00:35 PM 12/17/12 3:00:35 PM 2 Felicity Aulino and Miriam Goheen approach. Ethnographically focused primarily in South and Southeast Asia, his work includes studies of religious syncretism, kinship and marriage systems, the relationships between religion and politics , ethnonationalist politics, multiple forms of rationality, theories of ritual, meaning in non-Western thought systems, and communal violence. A cosmopolitan figure in the larger worlds of the social sciences and humanities, Tambiah has produced a corpus of work that is drawn on by scholars in a wide range of disciplines. Throughout this variegated field are two overarching concerns: (1) respect for creative human differences, what Tambiah has called “multiple orientations to the world”; and (2) the political potentialities of difference (both positive and negative) as historically constituted . From this standpoint, Tambiah has offered related insights into the historical development of social scientific categories and sociopolitical categories, and has raised vital questions regarding the possibilities of achieving equality and justice in the presence of competing realities. These matters lie at the heart of radical egalitarianism and form the backbone of the concerns of this volume. Interlocking Themes This introduction is intended as a brief guide to key themes in Tambiah ’s work, themes that are not only at the root of the articles presented here, but are also critical for the future of the social sciences and area studies alike. First and foremost, Tambiah’s anthropology insists on historical analysis. World Conquerer and World Renouncer (1976) is a prime example . In that monograph, Thai religion and society come into clearer focus as Tambiah traces the history and logic of Thai kingship and corresponding political structures. Drawing on historical data in this way counters would-be scholastic presumptions. For instance, Tambiah deploys the phrase galactic polity to depict a decentralized constellation of influence that typifies administrative realities in the past without relying on contemporary presumptions regarding bureaucratic hierarchy. This is but one of many examples; history figures large in many of Tambiah’s writings, including Bridewealth and Dowry (co-authored with Jack Goody, 1973), The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets (1984), Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka (1992), and Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Con- flicts and Collective Violence in South Asia (1996). F5920.indb 2 F5920.indb 2 12/17/12 3:00:35 PM 12/17/12 3:00:35 PM Introduction: Engaging Radical Egalitarianism 3 Such a method goes beyond the comparative tradition of Boas and his students and adds a dimension of movement, of trajectory, to historical accounts, without losing sight of primary contradictions and meanings as they are negotiated through time.2 Due to the dialogical nature of Tambiah’s work, he is able to describe the complex realities of global discourse,composed simultaneously of flows and structures, with its relentless interplay among various social formations and ceaseless negotiations between internal and external meanings and forms of power.In cinematic metaphor,this is akin to seeing the moving picture when all you have at any given point is a snapshot. Tambiah conceptualizes continuity and change acting simultaneously, necessary as they both are to any description of the social totality or formation in question.3 He recognizes some continuities as more potent than others, forming ongoing dialectics of necessary contradictions that...


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