Below is a talk I gave at the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair earlier this month, Notes Toward a Critique of Autonomy. It’s ‘notes toward’ because it is not a polished synthesis/analysis, but more in the spirit of throwing ideas out there.
Thanks to the organisers of the bookfair, including Jura Bookshop and Black Rose Anarchist Library, for having me. It was such a fantastic event, full of interesting and challenging ideas.
It’s true that I often get excited by anthropological theory, but it’s rare that I am this excited and impressed. If you haven’t yet come across ‘Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism’ by Laura Bear, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing and Sylvia Yanagisako, then I highly recommend it.
Gens here refers to ‘a collective with feminist ancestry for the study of capitalist inequality.’ The manifesto is published in Cultural Anthropology as part of their Generating Capitalism series. The manifesto begins as per below: Continue reading
I was thinking about categories of types of people/relations’ the other day, as in English we have family, friends, colleagues, team-mates etc. etc., and as my brain is oft want to do started thinking of the Yolŋu matha equivalents or comparisons – of ‘categories of types of people and relations.’ I was surprised to realise that there are so few (although more in a sense).
Reproduced below is a list of categories of types of relations in Yolŋu matha. It is probably not exhaustive, but a list of all those that I could think of at the time:
Gurrutu is the ‘main category’ of types of relations, for want of a better description. The term gurrutu is generally translated as ‘kin[ship]’. The Yolŋu kinship system is universalistic or ‘classificatory’, which means that everyone in the Yolŋu social world is and relate to each other as kin. But while it is all encompassing in this sense, there are many different ‘types’ of reciprocal kin relations within it. Continue reading
I’ve been reading David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: on technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy lately. Slowly I should say – I’ve been reading it slowly. I’ve only just finished the second essay, ‘Dead Zones of the Imagination,’ which I found particularly ‘great for thought’. The ideas in the essay are great to ‘think through other thoughts with,’ if that makes sense. I guess that’s theory, huh. Anyway, this is a comment on one of the key theoretical contrasts that Graeber draws between the political ontology of the right and the political ontology of the left vis-à-vis’ reality and the parameters of social existence. I want to cast a gender[ed] light on it. Continue reading
‘The array of distinct assumptions about issues regarding moral variability, the nature of the moral domain, and how individual freedom factors into moral action can all result in the study of different theoretical ideas that end up being cast as if they were the same topic.’
– Cassaniti & Hickman 2014:252.
I read Cassaniti and Hickman’s New Directions in the Anthropology of Morality the other day and really enjoyed it. The authors put forward some great points, chief among which is their argument for a pluralistic approach to moral variation – one which seeks to ‘reconcile humanity’s propensity toward moral realism with overwhelming ethnographic evidence of moral variability’ (253). I also found merit in the argument for better defining the moral domain – figuring out what counts as moral, ‘what kinds of thing are uniquely moral in each ethnographic setting’ (257) and identifying domains of experience that are ‘morally saturated’ in each ethnographic context (with an understanding that domains of experience that become heavily moralised will necessarily vary cross-culturally). The points I found most interesting and compelling, however, were also those that I found myself critically mulling over days later.
This is all well and good, I found myself thinking, but Yolŋu people have been advocating for a pluralistic approach to morality and law since balanda (white people, Europeans) would listen.’† When is anthropology going to start taking Indigenous theories seriously instead of subjecting them to their own analyses and theorising about them? (I’m sure it’s not just Yolŋu people who have been advocating for such an approach or stance.) Beyond advocacy, in fact, Yolŋu have been doggedly persistent in their attempt to educate balanda about the necessity of such a stance – not only how it is possible, but why it is both necessary and just. And they continue to do so in good humour despite our blunt, closed ears. The video below is but one example of this. Continue reading
Proud to feature in the first issue of the new Upswell Magazine with an archival/ethnographic piece on alienation – GOVERNMENT TIME, MISSION TIME, AND THE NATURE AND VIOLENCE OF ALIENATION.
Congratulations to the Upswell collective and best wishes for the future of the project. x
Rest in Peace amala, my old Mummy, who always told me that I didn’t treat my husband right, whose company I adored. (If one could explain the art of witty, acerbic conversation in Yolŋu-matha, and the skilful play on words, switching across and back between languages.) Countless hours together in company under the mango tree, weaving, talking, smoking and drinking tea (and amala would often break into song, so quietly, half facing away). She taught my dhuway what it meant to be a son-in-law and he duly avoided her as his mokul, sending gifts and care through his galay, my brothers and sisters. She was my amala and I was her waku.
It was amala’s Mother’s country that I came to call my own. It was her father’s country that we footwalked to, to scour the rocks for oysters. To stop in the dry and rest. I was never the most adept hunter, or gatherer, for that matter, and so often stayed behind to look after amala (her brain already slightly gapu-mirri). Chattering away even when I dozed off. Sometimes amala mistook the shower for a toilet and sometimes I’d wake up just in time to catch her trying to light a fire inside to keep the sandflies from biting me as I slept. One could only half sleep, but I so loved this time that we spent together.