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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Joe Ellis (University of Cambridge)

When Apr 26, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room, Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge
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Dr Joe Ellis (University of Cambridge)

The Structure of Freedom: Cosmology, Exemplarity and the Subject in Mongolia

This paper will argue that the ontological turn and the anthropology of ethics, while initially appearing as radically opposed paradigms, are remarkably similar in their diagnosis of wide swaths of anthropological theory. Authors at the heart of both turns identify the tendency to reduce subjectivities to emanations of wider structures, and in different ways, redirect the analytical lens onto forms of self-identification, whether conceptual self-determination or reflective self-fashioning. Accordingly, this paper will present ethnographic cases that ‘exemplify’ three aspects of life that are of great concern to Mongolians. It will show how the phenomena must be explained with reference to the moral horizons of my interlocuters, rather than structures that are assumed prior to analysis. Yet through a discussion of shamanism and domestic abuse, ethnicity and mythic-histories and the interplay of rumour and deception in Ulaanbaatar and Khovd province, the necessity for an analytical structure with which to situate these areas of life will become clear. In response, this paper offers an abstraction of an ethnographically salient form of moral exemplarity to produce a model of Mongolian cosmology that might begin to tease out what unifies behaviour in seemingly unrelated spheres of life. It does by redeploying the ontological turn and anthropology of ethics’ warnings of the reductive tendency of analytical structures not as a cause to abandon them, but rather to rehabilitate them. It closes with a second abstraction that constitutes a speculative call for the sustained theorisation of structures that emancipate as much as they determine.

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