PUBLIC LECTURE 'Anthropology, Philosophy and Symmetrisation'

by Philippe Descola, Emeritus professor, Collège de France, Paris

This event is part of Anthropology’s departmental seminar convened by Akanksha Awal.

The event at the Maison Française is now sold out. However, those of you who haven't managed to register can come on the day and we will offer you any available seats.

You can still register to access the event on Zoom by clicking here.

More than in other national traditions, French anthropology developed in the wake of philosophy, not in an ancillary manner, but as an attempt to take on problems that philosophy had long ignored or disdained. French and European anthropologists have been engaged in this process for a little more than a century, striving to symmetrise modes of thought and intellectual constructions radically foreign to Western philosophy with the problems and entities characteristic of its metaphysics. Three main approaches have been used to do this: the generalization of the operative value of a local concept (mana, taboo...) thus invited to join the intellectual toolbox of the philosophical heritage, the systematisation of an autochthonous thought promoted, implicitly or explicitly, as a counter-model to European philosophy, and finally the integration of a great diversity of local forms of thought – including Western metaphysics – within a structural combinatorial system in which they are treated as variants of each other. While none of these efforts at symmetrisation is fully satisfactory for reasons that will be examined, each of them involves different types of bifurcation from ethnographic circumstances, which are always particular, to forms of anthropological generalization, bifurcations that call upon conceptual resources characteristic of the philosophical exercise: induction and deduction. The last part of the lecture will be devoted to an exexamining the use of these two methods in contemporary anthropology and explainingthe speaker has deployed the combination of induction and deduction in the transformational model proposed in Beyond Nature and Culture (2013).