The Ground Between

Anthropologists Engage Philosophy

The Ground Between

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 2 photographs Published: May 2014

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy

The guiding inspiration of this book is the attraction and distance that mark the relation between anthropology and philosophy. This theme is explored through encounters between individual anthropologists and particular regions of philosophy. Several of the most basic concepts of the discipline—including notions of ethics, politics, temporality, self and other, and the nature of human life—are products of a dialogue, both implicit and explicit, between anthropology and philosophy. These philosophical undercurrents in anthropology also speak to the question of what it is to experience our being in a world marked by radical difference and otherness. In The Ground Between, twelve leading anthropologists offer intimate reflections on the influence of particular philosophers on their way of seeing the world, and on what ethnography has taught them about philosophy. Ethnographies of the mundane and the everyday raise fundamental issues that the contributors grapple with in both their lives and their thinking. With directness and honesty, they relate particular philosophers to matters such as how to respond to the suffering of the other, how concepts arise in the give and take of everyday life, and how to be attuned to the world through the senses. Their essays challenge the idea that philosophy is solely the province of professional philosophers, and suggest that certain modalities of being in the world might be construed as ways of doing philosophy.

Contributors. João Biehl, Steven C. Caton, Vincent Crapanzano, Veena Das, Didier Fassin, Michael M. J. Fischer, Ghassan Hage, Clara Han, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, Michael Puett, Bhrigupati Singh


“Resisting the impulse to recognize one discipline in service of the other, The Ground Between collects ethnographic writing that sharpens dialogue between anthropology and philosophy.” — Paul Schissel, Anthropology and Humanism

The Ground Between is a welcome and valuable addition to the literature on the relationship between anthropology and philosophy. It convincingly encourages us to seek new ways for two disciplines concerned with an important common subject -- the nature and limits of the human -- to talk with, rather than past, each other.” — Michele M. Moody-Adams, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“The authors do a consistently good job of blending original research with primary source material to present a holistic picture of the interplay between the disciplines. Vincent Crapanzano does a masterful job elucidating epistemological philosophies through a series of ethnographic vignettes. On the whole, I found the anthology challenging in places but enjoyable and thought provoking. The diversity of writing styles and approaches to anthropology keep the reader's attention while also making it possible to excerpt chapters for assigned reading.” — Misty Luminais, International Social Science Review

"The Ground Between is a distinctive collection of cases of philosophical influence in shaping some of the most important and prominent ethnographic research of recent times." — George E. Marcus, coauthor of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary

"Twelve distinguished anthropologists engage with the writings of particular philosophers to illuminate their own particular fieldwork (and in a couple of cases, their personal life experiences). What we get are insightful reflections on what philosophy and anthropology share–such as the problem of the Other, the viability of transcendental categories across variable life forms, and the limits of the human. This is a thought-provoking book that will greatly reward careful readers." — Talal Asad, author of Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity

"This generous, eclectic book bears all the marks of a classic. Most of the leading anthropologists of our time come together in the 'ground between' anthropology and philosophy to explore problems that emerge from our disciplinary deliberations but lead us beyond them. This work deeply immerses us in the ethics of analytic thinking while questioning what it means to participate in life, language, custom, and contingency. How to act upon a world that never stands still? This immersive work that addresses several peoples and cultures convinces us that there is no convenient or consensual 'middle ground' on which to base our judgments or rest our cases."
— Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

"This is a perfect time to stage new encounters between philosophy and anthropology. These essays make a compelling case for doing so, exploring affinities and tensions across diverse modes of work rather than re-debating whether anthropology or philosophy should have primacy. More than that, at its best the writing awakens us again to the task of thinking. A fascinating set of explorations." — William E. Connolly, author of The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at The Johns Hopkins University and author of Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary.

Michael D. Jackson is Distinguished Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.

Arthur Kleinman is the Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University.

Bhrigupati Singh is Assistant Professor of Anthropology Brown University and the author of Gods and Grains: Lives of Desire in Rural India.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction. Experiments between Anthropology and Philosophy: Affinities and Antagonisms / Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, and Bhrigupati Singh vii

1. Ajàlá's Head: Reflections on Anthropology and Philosophy in a West African Setting / Michael Jackson 27

2. The Parallel Lives of Philosophy and Anthropology / Didier Fassin 50

3. The Difficulty of Kindness: Boundaries, Time, and the Ordinary / Clara Han 71

4. Ethnography in the Way of Theory / João Biehl 94

5. The Search for Wisdom: Why William James Still Matters / Arthur Kleinman 119

6. Eavesdropping on Bourdieu's Philosophers / Ghassan Hage 138

7. How Concepts Make the World Look Different: Affirmative and Negative Genealogies of Thought / Bhrigupati Singh 159

8. Philosophia and Anthropologia: Reading alongside Benjamin in Yazd, Derrida in Qum, Arendt in Tehran / Michael M. J. Fischer 188

9. Ritual Disjunctions: Ghosts, Philosophy, and Anthropology / Michael Pruett 218

10. Henri Bergson in Highland Yemen / Steven C. Caton 234

11. Must We Be Bad Epistemologists? Illusions of Transparency, the Opaque Other, and Interpretive Foibles / Vincent Crapanzano 254

12. Action, Expression, and Everyday Life: Recounting Household Events / Veena Das 279

References 307

Contributors 329

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5718-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5707-0
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