12: Are We There Yet?: The End of Anthropology Is Beyond the Human
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217 12 Are We There Yet? The End of Anthropology Is Beyond the Human Neil L. Whitehead For anthropology the recognition of multiple modernities, both now and in the past, and the existence of other globalized worlds beyond that of the Western sensorium and the expansion of that sensorium enabled by new digital worlds (Jones 2006) suggest that many of the central categories of Western intellectual experience, such as the cultural and the natural, the modern and the traditional, and the global and the local are all deeply entwined in any discussion of society, history, environment, and the beings through which such abstractions are constituted. This is true throughout the humanistic and social science disciplines, not just anthropology. In this context the notion of “posthuman ” presents itself as a historical and intellectual judgment as to what is, a revelation as to what we already know and experience. This chapter, in seeking to find an end, a purpose, to anthropology beyond the idea of simply the “human,” looks to what might be the objects of future anthropological enquiry and why anthropology should be directed toward these new purposes. The alternative to rethinking anthropology’s methodologies and objects along these lines would be a collapse into intellectual conservatism and political DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c12 218 Neil L. Whitehead quietism in the face of burgeoning new cultural worlds that, as chapters in this volume show, have become otherwise functionally un-interpretable and un-researchable. This does not mean that such cultural worlds are unimpor­ tant, although such an assumption no doubt would perfectly suit many current regimes of intellectual and political power. Academia does not exist in a cultural vacuum, so our sense of what is a priority and whose experiences are relevant to intellectual understanding are part of wider cultural discussions . In this way an uncritical ethnography practiced as part of a normative anthropological agenda can easily slip into an unthinking co-option by military , industry, and government interests (Price 2008), suggesting that ethnography ’s epistemological ancestry makes this a persistent danger for those, like most anthropologists, who would rather use ethnographic engagements to foster emancipatory and advocacy goals (Whitehead 2009a). However, a critique of ethnographic epistemology alone is not sufficient, because it simply returns us to the question of what anthropology and ethnography are for. It is here that the meaning of the debate about the posthuman becomes all-important because we face a crisis of ontology, not just of epistemology . As all the chapters in this volume show, it is the multiple ontologies generated in online worlds and present in occluded offline worlds that have been overlooked or actively ignored because we lack adequate methodologies to engage immaterial, digital subjects ethnographically or the ethical issues raised by participant observation among violent, drug-taking, insurgent, and criminal subjects seem insurmountable (Whitehead 2009b). The limits of standard ethnographic methodology challenge us to develop new forms of engagement, as the authors in this volume demonstrate. However, beyond methodological questions we still need to consider what the goals of anthropological knowledge are or should be. Assuming that “ethnography” stands outside of social relationships is clearly an untenable position, and although the profession has been questioning the relation between researcher and subject in many effective ways over the last two decades, recent events suggest that much remains to be done. In particular, the avid interest of government security agencies in recruiting anthropologists as a means to “weaponize” cultural knowledge has resulted in important analyses and critique of this kind of co-option (Kelly et al. 2010; González 2009; Price 2008). But if the kind of cultural knowledge that ethnography produces can be “weaponized” in this way, further thought needs to be given about how this can occur, given the largely progressive and emancipatory aims of most anthropological practice. In these ways anthropology faces fundamental challenges to its unexamined epistemological and ontological assumptions. Without rethinking both the goals of anthropological knowledge and the forms of ontology ethnography needs to engage to achieve such knowledge, anthropology risks becoming a mere catalog of the exotic and diverse. At the same time ethnography risks 219 Are We There Yet? becoming a generalized methodology, stripped of the complexities arising from long-term subjective engagement and reduced to little more than the protocols that institutional review boards require to govern human-subject interview techniques. The chapters here amply illustrate important forms of collective association and practice that highlight such issues, and the authors’ responses to these challenges of ontological...

Subject Headings

  • Anthropology -- Philosophy.
  • Cybernetics -- Philosophy.
  • Online social networks.
  • Computers and civilization.
  • Virtual reality.
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