4th Ethnographies of Science & Technology Workshop
Ontologies and Transubstantialist Ontology
(CNRS, French National Centre for Scientific Research)
The new millennium has so far marked an “ontological turning point” in anthropology. “Anthropology of Culture must be coupled with Anthropology of Nature” writes the French anthropologist Philippe Descola in Par-delà nature et culture, in his plan to rethink the Culture-Nature relationship by undertaking a “monistic anthropology” which would put an end to the traditional opposition between Nature and Culture and would then split with its institutional heritage, with its “constitutive dualism”. Another French anthropologist, Albert Piette, has recently criticized the relationist and culturalist “epistemological climate”, and in doing so, descolian anthropology. He foresees a method he calls “phenomenography” or else “ontography” in order to “break free of the socio-cultural focus to observe people, one by one, in their living continuity”. Thus, he proposes to develop an “ontic” perspective. It consists in studying the “existing”, in questioning how those beings are, how they exist in but also beyond their relationship with humans. In this sense, ontic methodology is anti-structuralist, anti-fonctionalist, anti-sociological, and anti-relationist. If P. Descola is a “relationist”, A. Piette could be seen as an existentialist. As for the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who argues that relationship is the “master notion” of anthropology, he advocates the study of the indigenous point of view, ardently criticizing the concept of “agency” and other notions referring to substantiality.In such an epistemological context, what could be said if “relationship” serves as a basis for representations of the world? If, more to the point, exchange is considered as an endogenous flagship concept, if the elements observed in the structure do not serve as markers for anthropological conceptualization, but if it is what links the elements involved in the local discourse that have to be conceptualized? What can one say if in-structure prevails over structure? If the relationship – the link associated with matter, substance – is the bedrock of the belief system? These questions emerge from studying ethnographic material from a Chinese minority, because the rituality of their shamans called “Masters of Psalmody”, bimo, does not fit de facto into the “relationist” theory. In their apprehension of the world, more than the ritual structure, it is indeed the movement/the shifting between bodies inside the ritual structure that prevails. We will try to defend this idea in order to draft a new ontological approach: “transubstantialist ontology”.