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Ethnographic Theory and Hospitality in the South

Centro de Estudios Sur Global, Universidad San Martín, Buenos Aires 28-29 March 2016

Ethnographic Theory from the South: the case of hospitality

Conveners: Ruy Llera Blanes, Giovanni da Col, Juan Obarrio

In recent times, much has been said about epistemological hegemonies and the recognition of centers and margins in the academy. Interestingly, despite the recurring calls otherwise (Ribeiro and Escobar 2006), anthropology has not yet moved beyond the circular discussions concerning how our ethnographic and theoretical production is biased by logics other than mere science – ever since Malinowski’s plea against what he called the rationalization of anthropology and administration (1930).

Recently, other social sciences have engaged in a critical deconstruction of such a disciplinary history, thinking about southern epistemologies in an attempt to counterbalance hegemonic thinking and disciplinary practices, as well as its political implications. However, despite anthropology’s characteristic concern with alternative knowledges, a similar meta-reflection that offers the possibility of a plural epistemological setting remains somewhat of an academic taboo: the same politics of citation and intellectual authority remain as stable now as they did decades ago, when autochthonous anthropologies lacked voice and visibility vis-à-vis the ethnographic depictions conducted about them from the major “anthropological traditions”: UK, France, North America. But, considering the current anthropological cosmopolitics, can we afford the status quo? Or is an authentically plural anthropology indeed a utopia, an abstract, ethereal configuration that ultimately removes us from the sphere of action and intervention? What do anthropological theories from the South (or East, for that matter) offer to Northern and Western anthropologies? What kind of relationalities, directionalities and mimetics are involved in the process? Do we still have to necessarily engage in the ‘native versus Western’ anthropology dualism when we engage in ethnographic theory?

In this workshop we propose to address these problems with a particular test-drive: that of the problem of hospitality, and how it is conceived from outside the mainstream Western intellectual genealogy. As recently noted by Candea and Da Col (2012), hospitality is the invisible ‘significant other’ of one of the major tropes in the history of the discipline, that of reciprocity and the gift. The recent exposure of hospitality in the anthropological forum has indeed helped us rethink our own disciplinary biases, and re-read major theories from Mauss to Pitt-Rivers and Roy Wagner. However, we are still thinking of hospitality, as with many other concepts, from the disciplinary center. We need to go further in the effort of de-localizing and re-localizing anthropology, and discuss other points of view on hospitality. We wish the participants to explore how certain parts of the world are imagined as sites of hospitality and why and whether a theory of hospitality from the South – the main donor of ‘guests’ – would look like. Evans-Pritchard long ago pointed out the fact that “home” in English and “cieng” in Nuer refer to entities of different sizes depending on the context: “home” may be England to an Englishman in Germany, and Oxford to the same person when in Cambridge (Evans-Pritchard, 1940). Since hospitality expressed as a simple structure is the relation between a host “at home” and a guest who is not, and since “home” is a relative term reflecting an essential homology between different levels of identity, hospitality emerges as a particularly interesting object from the purview of scale: a structural format which can slide up and down to accommodate entities of different sizes. Herzfeld has questioned hospitality in light of Ardener’s notion of ‘englobing’: the process or condition of dominance whereby “one structure blocks the power of actualization of the other” (Ardener 1975:15; Herzfeld 1987:88). In Herzfeld’s analysis, hospitality enables the “moral englobing of political asymmetry” (1987: 86), giving the host moral advantage despite political subordination. How can this work towards an idea of a theory of hospitality from the south? And what happen when hospitality leaves the safe realms of Kantian humanist universalism and cosmopolitanism and become a cosmopolitics which would radically recast the domain of the domestic. Concepts such as the Tibetan base-owners (zhidak) or Amerindian owner-masters (Fausto 2008) extends hospitality to sacred mountains and earth beings (de la Cadena 2015) or ghosts (Kwon 2008) and suggest that ‘hosts’ are everywhere and eventually “all ‘nature is domestic because it is always the domus of someone’ (Fausto 2008: 3).

We challenge the participants to discuss ethnographies and theories of hospitality as seen from ‘the south’ – to be understood here in both geographical, political, and epistemological terms.


MONDAY 9.30-12.45

Introduction: Guests who cannot be evicted Giovanni da Col (HAU and Centre for Ethnographic Theory, SOAS)

Generously Taken In: Sanctuary and Mis/recognition along the North-South Divide.

Andrew Shryock (University of Michigan)

The Kanamari couvade as Hospitality: Birth Rites and Danger in Amazonia. Luiz Costa (Museu Nacional/UFRJ)

Unescapable Courtesy and the production of immunio in Angola. Ruy Llera Blanes

(University of Bergen)
The Reception of the Native in South Africa. Hylton White (Witwatersrand University)


TUESDAY 9.30-13.00

Sovereignty, Vulnerability, Hospitality. Danilyn Rutherford (University of California, Santa Cruz)

The postcolonial differend: enmity and hospitality in Mozambique. Juan Obarrio (Johns Hopkins University , Centro de Estudios Sur Global UNSAM)

The social rules of anti-hospitality: the case of the fight against marriage of convenience in Brussels. Maïté Maskens (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Hospitality, the inhospitable and the meanings of home-building among urban squatters in Buenos Aires. Valeria Procupez (Johns Hopkins University, UBA)
Hosts and Parasites: Hospitality as a Lens for Understanding the Imps of Language.

Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University)

Final discussion

Workshop sponsored by

University of Bergen (Norway). HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory and the Society for Ethnographic theory (SET) Centro de Estudios Sur Global of the University of San Martín (Buenos Aires, Argentina).