Afterword
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231 Afterword Anne Allison In this provocative collection, two questions are continually provoked: what has happened to the human condition in an era of heightened digitality and deterritorialization, and what is happening to the anthropological condition in an era when place-based ethnography has become so out-of-date? Indeed, in these times of “digital subjectivities” and “unhuman subjects,” are we facing a condition of being “human no more” that announces the “end of anthropology ”? In what I take to be a resounding “no” to both questions, the authors overwhelmingly endorse anthropology as an enterprise that not only can but must stretch its notion of place—and the human subject—to the terrain of digitality. They also accord the digital subject a humanness and sociality that has long been the purview of anthropology. Even when this subject is referred to as “posthuman,” as Jennifer Cool does, the intention is not to signal an evisceration or eclipse of humanity altogether but to register a shift in the ways humans inhabit space, negotiate identity, and assemble “life,” including that with other living or virtual beings in the increasingly digitalized world of the twenty-first century. As Cool says, citing Katherine Hayles, DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c13 232 Anne Allison the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice. What is lethal is not the posthuman as such but the grafting of the posthuman onto a liberal humanist view of the self. (Hayles 1999, 286) But what Hayles disdains as a “liberal humanist view of the self” has long been the disdain of anthropology, a discipline built—at least after its evolutionist beginnings—on a much more expansive and elastic notion of the human, a humanness that assumes a variety of forms in the efforts waged to produce and reproduce life in circumstances as diverse as hunting and gathering, laboring as a slave on sugar plantations, or living in a Brazilian favela. And amid terrain of varying kinds, what is identified as “human” may be rigidly personcentric or may barely distinguish between human and, say, a tree or rock, or someone already dead or not yet born. As Lévi-Strauss once said about the logic of binaristic opposition underlying (his notion of) culture , this logic may be culturally universal but it takes locally specific forms, such as with the cannibalistic group that boiled their friends but roasted their enemies. This practice reveals a sociality—and identity—brokered through dead and reanimated body parts, which may or may not be at radical odds to anything in a video game or on an anonymous website. This is not to say that the world has not radically changed or been dramatically altered by the digital makeover that has spread so deeply into life (all of it and all over) that robots now handle surgery and revolutions are plotted on cell phones. Place is certainly transformed, and anthropology, to keep up, must go where people are to grasp “the imponderabilia of everyday life” (Malinowski 2002 [1922], 24). Now many people live a wired existence through their machines, where they hook up and revirtualize their identities online. Therefore, anthropologists should not hold on to a static and stale notion of the village study. “I was there” means going somewhere else today sometimes without leaving one’s office. From the comfort of an office, a researcher can teleport to a virtual or remote world using an avatar that makes sense to the subjects being studied. But shifting the orbit of place remains somewhat a methodological issue. More critical, if related, is the matter I see as much more constitutive of anthropology’s scholarly “condition” both today and always, which is figuring out not only how people live—on the ground (or wired) and in the flesh (or online)—but also how they interact with one another, the interpersonal and trans-subjective pursuit of collectivity, connection , and commonwealth (Hardt and Negri 2009). How precisely do anthropologists tap into and measure these things in an era when, as so many of the authors investigate in their chapters here, belonging and identity are being reworked and all too often frustrated or dispersed? 233 Afterword This issue is deftly handled by Radhika Gajjala and Sue...



Subject Headings

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