Seminars/Colloquia

Our colloquia are sponsored by the Robert A. 1925 and Catherine L. McKennan Fund in Anthropology. April 24, 2014, 317 Silsby Hall, 4:00 - 5:30 PM. James W. Fernandez, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago: The Fate of Fictive Kinship and the Fiction of Culture

Spring Term Colloquia

The Fate of Fictive Kinship and the Fiction of Culture

James W. Fernandez
Department of Anthropology
University of Chicago

April 24, 2014
317 Silsby Hall
4:00 - 5:30 PM

James W. Fernandez (PhD, Northwestern 1962), a prominent American anthropologist, is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College at the University of Chicago.  Prior to his tenure at the University of Chicago, he had been a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, and from 1965 to 1972 had taught anthropology at Dartmouth.

He has done ethnographic research in Africa and is presently working in northern Spain and Atlantic Fringe Europe on regionalism, on shifting lifeways (from agro-pastoralism to mining to reindustrialization) and on revitalization processes. He is interested in short-range, over the last several hundred years, social and cultural evolution and how, by various imaginative devices, local communities narrate their past, understand their present circumstances, and seek to foretell their future. A semantic theory of tropes has been central to the analysis of this “time-binding” of past, present and future.   He is the author of numerous groundbreaking books, edited volumes and articles, including Bwiti: an Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa (1982); Persuasions and Performances: the Play of Tropes in Culture (1986); Beyond Metaphor: the Theory of Tropes in Anthropology (1991); Irony in Action: Anthropology, Practice and the Moral Imagination (2001); En el Dominio del Tropo: Imaginacion Figurativa y Vida Social en España (2006).

This talk bears on the old and widespread notion in anthropology of Fictive Kinship… a notion, since it implies as its counterpart the notion of natural or biological or “real” kinship has been subjected to significant critique in the last several decades by Sahlins, Schneider, Strathern, and others. In an interesting and perhaps contrary way, however, this critique opens us up to the idea that culture, if not natural, is a good deal more fictive than commonly understood. The author here considers the viability of a “fictionalist” perspective on that issue and further brings the even more basic kinship notion of genealogy under critical inspection. This “time binding” notion of genealogical continuity has long been an important organizer of social life in most cultures, inevitably with moral resonance.  That is to say it has the power to point up who and what is to be valued  in our “communicative interaction” in the “moral order”. Genealogies are often so organized so as to bring moral obligation, often hegemonic, to bear upon the present generation. Various well known “moral genealogies”” are examined and the paper ends by suggesting where and in what sort of genealogies we might best , contemporaneously, be investing our intellectual, investigative and moral efforts.

Spring Term Colloquia

Climate Change, Food Production, and Societal Collapse: Considering Sustainability within Ancient Mesopotamia

Alexia Smith
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
Unversity of Connecticut

April 16, 2014
317 Silsby Hall
3:00 - 4:30 PM

Archaeology provides an ideal tool for examining the long-term dynamic relationship between people and their environment. This talk presents how archaeologists reconstruct ancient methods of food production and climate change, providing examples from sites in Northern Mesopotamia. Lessons learned from studies of ancient agriculture are applied and used to consider issues of sustainability and the role that climate change played in collapse of the Akkadian Empire at the end of the 3rd Millennium B.C.

Co-sponsored by the Dickey Center for International Understanding

Spring Term Colloquia

Tracking ancient human migrations in the High Himalayas

Mark Aldenderfer, Professor and Dean
School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts
University of California, Merced

March 31, 2014
001 Rockefeller Center
4:00 - 5:30 PM

Today, Upper Mustang, located in a high elevation valley in northern Nepal, seems remote and isolated. Closed to the world until the 1990s, Mustang is now home to a small but thriving Tibetan Buddhist community that was once part of a much larger world with connections westward into Central Asia and to the east into China and beyond via the famous Silk Road. Yet the origins of this community are very much unknown. The earliest inhabitants are variously described as Aryans, Mongolians, Tibetans, and others. Our research project, composed of a team of archaeologists, historians, bioarchaeologists, archaeological scientists, including specialists in the analysis of ancient DNA, along with a crack team of Alpinists and climbers, is recovering important new data that speak to the origins of the people of Upper Mustang and the ways in which the polity grew and changed over the past 3000 years.

This event is co-sponsored by the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth, the Dartmouth Sustainability Project (DAWG), and the Hood Museum of Art