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Department of Social Anthropology


Dr Megan Laws (LSE)

Demanding the capacities of others: How ancestors and shamans govern opacity in the Kalahari

Among Ju|'hoan speakers today, a tension exists between the need to 'give thought' to relatives and to give in to broader pressures to share. Where the former brings people home to their families and territories, the latter compels them to roam--both so they may make demands of others, and so that others may make demands of them.  This dual commitment sustains a situation of radical autonomy that makes the intentions and actions of others opaque, both at home and elsewhere. This opacity generates doubt and suspicion, and leads to ethical transgressions of the basic values of sharing and autonomy the sustain life in the Kalahari. Watching over people as they navigate this uncertainty are the ancestors; late grandmothers and grandfathers who strike their living relatives with sickness and death whenever they see that their living relatives are in pain. Mediating these relationships between the living and the dead are shamans, who draw upon the ancestors have to see so they may ascertain the causes of the pain the motivates ancestors to take their living relatives away from the acrimonious situations they find themselves in. Together, ancestors and shamans thus govern opacity--bringing the right measure of transparency that ensures that relatives 'give thought' to one another, even as they navigate the uncertainty that draws them apart.

Thursday, 17 October, 2019 - 17:00 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Seminar Room, Dept of Social Anthropology, Free School Lane