Issue 4.4, November 1989


Essay Excerpt

What makes this attempt novel is its explicit and central concern with ontology. Every anthropological rendering of another culture necessarily comports the anthropologist's particular sense of reality. This observation may seem trivial, but if it is taken to heart, then -as against common anthropological understanding- it must be the case that what anthropology does in the first place and at bottom is ontology. It seems to me, therefore, that we ought to do it knowingly rather than, as has been our wont, uncritically. We ought to take advantage of, in contrast to the wonderful intellectual puzzles produced by the clash of artificially accelerated particles, the jarring existential anxiety that results when our "reality" bumps hard against another.

In order to transcend the dualism that has arrested our progress in the study of kinship, my argument, then, logically begins not with another culture's sense of reality but with a radical revision of our own. By "our own" I intend the dualist conception of reality that is normatively general in Western discourse for purposes of the logical articulation of ourselves and the world. It is only by altering this received "reality"- along with which moder science and modernity in general have arisen- that we can position ourselves to grapple with the deeper problems involved by the study of kinship.

The "reality" of which I speak presents the world as basically constituted by entities that exist outside of each other. And, where things have between them absolute boundaries, as in this "reality," the study of the world must proceed by means of either empiricism or intellectualism. For, on the one hand, such boundaries describe the world in the clean-cut terms of what are called objective facts, making it a world of impressions alone, while, ironically, on the other, these same boundaries ever the object from the subject so perfectly that the only facts of the matter are those projected, not received, by the subject, making a universe of determining thought. Under this epistemological regime, the world of kinship must be construed as either a matter of concrete relations or of intellectual or symbolic designs.

In order better to come to grips with the anthropological challenge the study of kinship presents, in this article I abandon our received "reality" in favor of a basically ambiguous holism, that is, in favor of a "reality" that, though dual, remains unitary. (323-324)

T.M.S. Evans. "The Nuer Incest Prohibition and he Nature of Kinship: Alterlogical Reckoning." Cultural Anthropology 4 no. 4 (1989): 323-346