Marilyn Strathern, ontological multiplicity and partial connectionsFebruary 8, 2008
In ANT-oriented STS literature, Marilyn Strathern is often referred to as a major source of inspiration.
It is especially her argument about the world being fractal rather than fragmented that is central. She has presented this argument in her book “Partial Connections” (2004 - updated edition). Strathern argues that we always only have access to making partial connections. There is (according to Strathern) no such thing as parts and wholes. When enacting the living world, we also enact holes. She argues that the world is always both one and multiply enacted – it is always both a container and what is contained. We cannot see it all at once.
Strathern’s point about the world being ontologically multiple is pursued further in Annemarie Mol’s original book “The Body Multiple” – see my reference to this here: http://mikalasklumme.wordpress.com/2007/11/18/science-and-technology-studies-sts-and-actor-network-theory-ant/).
ANT literature is critical towards a focus on what Mol calls “the politics of who” which is also called “perspectivism”. Perspectivism is the argument that there is epistemological multiplicity. The radical suggestion made by both Strathern’s and Mol’s (and other ANT literature) work is that there also exist multiple realities.
If that is the case, then realities/worldmakings are political, because other variations possibly exist and may be enacted (enactments of realities, however, are always socio-material workings, and thus not just a matter of free will and choice). To Mol and Strathern, worldmakings are not just a matter of multiple (subjective) perspectives on one and the same world (and hence, some perspectives are more likely to be judged more right/better than other). Researchers participate in worldmakings. This is why Mol in The Body Multiple call’s for both a “politics of who” and a “politics of what (a politics that includes ontology rather than presuming it)” (Mol, 2002, p.184). She emphasizes a focus on “coexistence” – hence the title The Body Multiple.
These are two quote’s (and Strathern’s book “Partial Connections” is filled with them) that has made me think:
“Certainty itself appears partial, information intermittent. An answer is another question, a connection a gap, a similarity a difference, and vice versa.” (Strathern, 2004, p. xxiv).
“A world obsessed with ones and the multiplications and divisions of ones creates problems for the conceptualization of relationships.” (Strathern, 2004, p. 53)
Strathern, Marilyn (2004): Partial Connections: Updated Edition. AltaMira Press. Originally published in 1991 by Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania.
I’ve also found an interesting lecture held by Marilyn Strathern at the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2004: Strathern, Marilyn (2006): A community of critics? Thought on new knowledge. The Huxley Memorial Lecture, given to the Royal Anthropolocial Institute, 8 December 2004. Royal Anthropological Institute. Also to be found on World Wide Web: http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/DO/filmshow/strathern_fast.htm. Localized on February 6th 2008.
And I’ve found a paper “Abstraction and decontextualization: An anthropological comment: Or e for ethnography” presented by Marilyn Strathern at an interesting conference bearing the provoking title: “Virtual Society? Get Real!” (see: http://virtualsociety.sbs.ox.ac.uk/GRpapers/strathern.htm). Localized on February 8th 2008.
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