I’m participating in a reading group here at the University of Vermont entitled “Ontology Across the Disciplines.” (More than just participating… I’ve been gently arm-twisted by the organizers, anthropologists Parker Van Valkenberg and Ben Eastman, into chairing the discussions. Thanks, guys 😉 )
Since I know there are folks out there who may be interested, I thought I’d invite online readers to read along with us, and to have a parallel conversation here or on other blogs.
We’ve started a wiki of potential readings, but most of these duplicate other lists that are out there, for instance, Somatosphere’s “reader’s guide to the ontological turn” series, which included contributions by Judith Farquhar, Javier Lezaun, Morten Axel Pederesen, and Annemarie Mol.
We are considering beginning with readings of two sets of short contributions by a variety of (primarily) anthropologists, since that is the field that has been most fervently recognizing the “ontological turn” recently (and because the organizers of the reading group are anthropologists):
1. Cultural Anthropology‘s 2014 online series on “The Politics of Ontology,” curated by Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen, with contributions by Ellizabeth Povinelli, Eduardo Kohn, Mario Blaser, Helen Verran, Marisol de la Cadena, Annemarie Mol, and others.
2. the Hau Colloquium on “The Ontological Turn in French Philosophical Anthropology,” in Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4.1 (2014), featuring contributions by Philippe Descola, Marshall Sahlins, Bruno Latour, Kim Fortun, Michael M. J. Fischer, and John D. Kelly.
Beyond that things are wide open.
At the organizing meeting, two books elicited particular interest as potential readings: Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think (and see the Hau book symposium on it here), and Brent Plate’s A History of Religion in 5½ Objects (because Plate will be coming here later this semester; see here for a summary). A few “social ontologist” philosophers were brought up. I mentioned the special issue of Social Studies of Science devoted to ontology as a possible set of readings as well.
More generally, there was concern expressed that the group keep a focus on the link between theory and practice/fieldwork/ethics, so as not to become too abstract and theoretical; and that we stick to things — bodies, objects, and material practices (e.g., idol or icon use, bicycling, sweeping) — and how they get theorized in cross-cultural fieldwork contexts.
What happens will depend largely on what the participants — who come from fields including anthropology, archaeology, geography, sociology, science and technology studies, environmental studies, religious studies, and philosophy — decide.
I’ll keep readers of this blog updated.