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Cosmopolitics as ontological pluralism

Philippe Descola
College de France
Date and Time: 
Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - 17:30

Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center
424 Santa Teresa Street
Stanford, California USA


The methodological relativism of anthropology, and the political consequences it implies, has been carried through only half-way. For the manner in which we think about institutions, ours and those of other people, is still completely dependent upon the concepts that the Enlightenment has bequeathed to the social sciences to qualify reflexively Europe’s own destiny: society, nature, history, economics, politics, art, religion, etc. These concepts are anything but universal; they are the products of a very specific ontological mapping which other forms of collectives elsewhere did not share (and which quite a few persist in not sharing). Criticism, which has been a hallmark of anthropology from its beginnings, thus does not mean reflexivity alone, it requires a complete revision of the concepts through which we describe and analyze the shared worlds of humans and non-humans so that these concepts may problematize ontological pluralism more aptly and thus provide more efficient intellectual tools to bring about new forms of cosmopolitics.


Bio: Philippe Descola initially specialized in the ethnology of Amazonia, focussing on how native societies relate to their environment. He has published extensively on his field research with the Achuar of Ecuador and on the comparative analysis of the relations between humans and non-humans, including images. He is Professor of Anthropology at the Collège de France and a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Among his books in English are In the Society of Nature, The Spears of Twilight, Beyond Nature and Culture, The Ecology of others. He is a fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.