The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology on view at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery from February 14 through July 7, 2019, explores the hidden histories and complex legacies of one of the most influential books in the field of anthropology, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897). Organized by Bard Graduate Center Gallery in partnership with U’mista Cultural Centre, a Kwakwaka’wakw museum in Alert Bay, British Columbia, the exhibition is curated by Aaron Glass, associate professor at Bard Graduate Center, and features designs by artist Corrine Hunt, a great-granddaughter of George Hunt.
The exhibit’s launch is accompanied by a series of events that explore contemporary indigenous creative practice and raise questions around representation, colonialism and cultural history. A full list of these activities can be found below.
Canguilhem’s historical epistemology continues to inspire historians and anthropologists to attend to how current and former human practices of science shape our conceptualizations and engagement with natural and experimental environments, non-human beings, and human life. Now, with the publication of a translation of La connaissance de la vie ( 2008), which contains many of Canguilhem’s key works, “The Living and Milieu” speaks with new urgency.[ In the spirit of the History of Anthropology Newsletter’s call for multidisciplinary exploration of novel topographies for the history of anthropology, this Special Focus Section gathers five insightful considerations of reversals and collapses in relations between organism and environment for the history of human and life sciences since their seminal characterization in “The Living and Its Milieu.”
Click here to read the full focus section
Amidst ongoing shifts to our environments and biologies, the traditional anthropological and biological objects—human being and life, anthropos and bios—are today twined together in unprecedented ways. Witness the bourgeoning interest from bioscientists in cultural and human affairs, and the even longer standing interest from anthropologists in things biological, as former disciplinary norms are upended and new relations, forms, and understandings of life emerge.
What if we think of a milieu as a medium for living in a strong sense, as in the way that paint or color is a medium for art—both the means of art’s expression and conceptualization and its point of pragmatic-material-noumenal interest, or even obsession? The artist thinks with, in, and about color or sound or lighting or the way musical notes or words relate to each other or build something. Art-thought is a percept (Deleuze and Guattari 1994) fundamentally linked to the things in its milieu because they have qualities like rhythm or intensity, because they react to a prod or a brush stroke or they ring. Conceptualizing a milieu by acting with it and in it is an experiment with a stake, a conceptualizing channeled through form and matter that thereby ventures out, becoming both exploratory and generative. Bruno Latour (2010) tells us this is compositional thought and being, and it extends into all domains of life in which, for whatever reason, there is a sharp, even immersive, attunement to a surround that has become animated or activated enough to create something with what presents. Georges Canguilhem’s “The Living and Its Milieu” moves in this same terrain, deftly mapping out the groundwork.
A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Sitting in her living room. What occurs here, in this space filled up with her? And despite its force, how is it that this space so easily recedes to the background once words are spoken, once words are put to bodily experience and social relations, effaced by the retelling of the things of life that tend to unravel here? These questions are by way of an introduction to moments of coming apart in the household of a woman, Beverly, who I first met in 2002.
The thought of the living must take from the living the idea of the living.Georges Canguilhem
To what extent might one consider Georges Canguilhem a scholar of social medicine? Defined as a field of study that examines health and disease from a social science perspective, social medicine has a long and complex history. It has changed over time and has taken different forms in different parts of the world. Social medicine has relevance and significance today as an interdisciplinary endeavor that includes anthropological, sociological, historical, and philosophical modes of inquiry. This piece is not an attempt to reconstruct the transnational history of social medicine and compare and contrast its various manifestations. Rather, its aim is to explore how Georges Canguilhem’s essay “The Living and Its Milieu” might be useful conceptually for contemporary work in social medicine. Given his concern with the social and the vital, we can easily see Canguilhem’s importance for the question of what social medicine might be as a field of study concerned with questions of health and disease.
The breath you just took contains about 400 parts of carbon dioxide (CO2) per million molecules (ppm) of air. 350 ppm is generally considered safe. People living at the start of the Industrial Revolution would have inhaled about 278 ppm. Since then, levels of CO2—the leading greenhouse gas driving changes in the climate—have doubled from the relentless burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is born of cellular respiration in animals and plants. Its accumulation from anthropogenic emissions in the atmosphere and oceans over the past two centuries now poses a direct threat to living beings on Earth. In a worst-case scenario that is increasingly likely, CO2 concentrations will reach 1,450 parts per million by 2150.
In “The Living and Its Milieu,” Georges Canguilhem tells the story of Jakob von Uexküll’s tick. The tick when mature climbs to a high point, such as a branch on a bush. It falls only in response to a single stimulus, the odor of rancid butter, helpfully explained as a component of the sweat of mammals. If there is no corresponding 37-degree centigrade body to latch on to, the tick climbs back up. Apparently von Uexküll kept a tick in his laboratory for eighteen years before providing this stimulus to it, and it was still able to fall on cue, suck blood, and lay eggs when the opportunity was provided. One has to wonder about the number of ticks, and the frequency of testing. Why eighteen years? There is no detail provided about what happened to the other ticks kept “in a state of inanition” beyond 18 years, if there were any.
On February 1-2, 2019 scholars from the University of Bonn will present their findings of their Volkswagen Foundation research project: “Akteurinnen, Praxen, Theorien: Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Ethnologie in der DDR” [Actors, Practices, Theories: Towards a History of Ethnology in the GDR] at a two day symposium titled: Ethnology as Ethnography: Interdisciplinarity, Transnationality and Disciplinary Networks in the GDR – German Democratic Republic.
In this conference, researchers will discuss the possibilities of access to the history of German-speaking ethnic anthropology in transnational (European and international) spaces.
More information about this event can be found here.
From January 16-18 2019 the Central European University, Institute of Ethnology, RCH, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archeology and Ethnology, and the Polish Academy of Sciences is holding a conference on “Staged Otherness: East-Central European Responses and Context” at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Art.
This event explores the history of ethnographic shows (ethnic shows, Völkerschau), human zoos, cirques, variété, freak shows, and different forms of local shows in Central and Eastern European contexts, where living people were presented in front of an audience.
The full conference program can be found here.