Sympathy, State Building, and the Experience of Empire

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In the February 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Danilyn Rutherford explores Dutch state building in Western New Guinea to understand how sentiment and affective control are key to governance -- how empire “is an affair of the heart, as well as the head.” To do this, Rutherford experiments with ideas from a somewhat unlikely source, the eighteenth century empiricist philosopher, David Hume. “Hume’s discussion of sympathy offers grounds for a more materialist approach to the analysis of empire than has been the norm,” Rutherford argues.  “An official must sympathize with his subjects to invent the artifices that shape their inferences, and hence their sentiments and inclinations… [His] task was not simply to make inferences about the Papuans but to make the Papuans infer,” she writes.  To grasp how this task was carried out and achieved, she says, we must focus on the real time interactions that made up colonial practice.  As a materialist concept, Rutherford explains, sympathy “tracks the intricate pathways through which encounters with objects and others give rise to feelings and thoughts. In its insistence on the passionate roots of reasoning, Hume’s discussion provides the basis for an enriched understanding of the relationship between affect and empire. State-building becomes an affair of the heart in the head, and the head in the heart.”

Danilyn Rutherford is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on postcolonialism. See Anand Pandian's essay "Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India" (2008), Liam Buckley's "Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive" (2005), Ana Maria Alonso's "Conforming Disconformity: "Mestizaje," Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism" (2004), and Deborah A. Thomas' essay "Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica" (2002).

About the Author and Additional Works

Faculty Biography and list of publications

"Why Papua Wants Freedom: The Third Person in Contemporary Nationalism." Public Culture 20(2): 345-373 (2008)

"Frontiers of the lingua franca: Ideologies of the linguistic contact zone in Dutch New Guinea." Ethnos 70(3): 387-412 (2006)

Related Readings

Hume, David 1962. A Treastie of Human Nature. D.G.C. Manabb, ed. Cleveland, OH: Meridian.

Deleuze, Gilles 1991 [1953]. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay in Hume’s Theory of Human Nature.  Constatin V. Boudas, trans. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Masco, Joseph 2008. “"SURVIVAL IS YOUR BUSINESS”: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America." Cultural Anthropology 23(2): 361-398.

Pandian, Anand 2008. "PASTORAL POWER IN THE POSTCOLONY: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India." Cultural Anthropology 23(1): 85-117.

Buckley, Liam 2005. "Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive." Cultural Anthropology 20(2): 249-270.

Alonso, Ana Maria 2004. "Conforming Disconformity: “Mestizaje,” Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism." Cultural Anthropology 19(4): 459-490.

Thomas, Deborah A. 2002. "Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica." Cultural Anthropology 17(4): 512-550.

McCallum, Cecilia 1999. "Consuming Pity: The Production of Death among the Cashinahua." Cultural Anthropology 14(4): 443-471.

Reddy, William M. 1999. "Emotional Liberty: Politics and History in the Anthropology of Emotions." Cultural Anthropology 14(2): 256-288.

Lutz, Catherine 1986. "Emotion, Thought, and Estrangement: Emotion as a Cultural Category." Cultural Anthropology 1(3): 287-309.

Butt, Leslie 2005. ""Lipstick Girls" and "Fallen Women": AIDS and Conspiratorial Thinking in Papua, Indonesia." Cultural Anthropology 20(3): 412 – 442

Lowe, Celia 2004. "Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from "New Form" to "Endemic Species" in Indonesians' Conservation Biology." Cultural Anthropology 19(4): 491-516

Murray Li, Tania 1999. "Compromising Power: Development, Culture, and Rule in Indonesia." Cultural Anthropology 14(3): 295 – 322

Keane, Webb 1997.  "Knowing One's Place: National Language and the Idea of the Local in Eastern Indonesia." Cultural Anthropology 12(1): 37-63.

Spyer, Patricia 1996. "Diversity with a Difference: Adat and the New Order in Aru (Eastern Indonesia)." Culturla Anthropology 11(1): 25-50.

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