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Meenakshi Thapan

THE GROUND BETWEEN: ANTHROPOLOGISTS ENGAGE PHILOSOPHY
Edited by Veena Das , Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman and Bhrigupati 
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2014, pp. 360, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 6 June 2015

This is a book about how anthropologists seek to make sense of the social worlds they choose to understand. And then how they engage with philosophy, if they do at all. Not by looking up to philosophy as providing some kind of an overarching theory about ‘life’ or to anthropology’s claim to address the particularities of everyday life. Rather, the remarkable contribution this book seeks to make lies in Veena Das’s assertion that the ‘philosophical puzzles’ that philosophers like Stanley Cavell bring up, ‘can and do arise in the concrete relations and weaves of life we inhabit’ (p. 281). It is in the ordinariness of the everyday that philosophy may find itself. This makes the relationship between anthropology and philosophy unique; indeed, following Das, we may argue that philosophy would remain disembodied, as it were, without the flesh and blood of anthropology. It is the effort to recreate this relationship anew, from the ground of anthropological work, that makes this collection a significant contribution, not just for philosophers and anthropologists, but also for those from other disciplinary frameworks who seek to make sense of the world, from theoretical perspectives and discourses, as if these alone may provide the explanatory frameworks for what happens. The idea is to move away from looking up to philosophy as theory to viewing it as a response to pressures from below. It is then that we might have a fruitful engagement between anthropology and philosophy in deeply meaningful and significant ways. All the essays in this outstanding collection seek to address this relationship through some form of ethnographic representation, as well as, through auto-ethnography (brilliantly and most poignantly by Ghassan Hage and Arthur Kleinman), philosophical texts, and documentary film. Apart from the four editors, the volume includes essays by Vincent Crapanzano, Michael Fischer, Didier Fassin, Joao Biehl, Ghassan Hage, Michael Pruett, Steven Caton and Clara Han. The ethnographic field sites range from urban and rural India, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Chile, Brazil, Africa, among others. How is the relationship between anthropology and philosophy expressed: Joao Biehl turns to his engagements with the people he encounters and follows in the field. He hopes that philosophy, and indeed, ‘anthropological subjugation’ to philosophy, may be animated, challenged, and contested, through the telling of people’s own stories and their theorizing about them. Biehl narrates his encounter with Catarina, who resides in an asylum in southern Brazil and leads ...


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