Cognition and Representation of Living Kinds:
Towards a New Ecological Anthropology
The Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Kent will be organising during Lent Term 1997 a Seminar Series entitled Cognition and Representation of Living Kinds: Towards a New Ecological Anthropology
. This series is generously supported by the RAI (ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSITUTE) Committee on Biological and Social Anthropology.
The programme will address key issues in the perception and representation of the environment. From its beginnings, anthropology has concerned itself, not only with the ways in which human societies interact with their natural environments and use natural resources, but also with the ways in which natural processes are conceptualised and the natural world classified. Anthropologists have long debated the fact that cultures as symbolic systems derive meanings largely from natural elements. Ever since the seminal "Essais sur quelques formes primitives de classification" by Durkheim and Mauss, they have debated the social origin of the human representations of natural categories, as well as the conditions for the emergence of objective natural history.
A growing number of anthropologists, discontent with earlier reductionist and dualistic analyses of the relationship between nature and society, are re-thinking this relationship in terms of engagement, practical experience and perceptual knowledge. They argue that there can be no break between social and ecological relations, for the social order and the natural order are co-variant, and their interaction reciprocal. Relationships between humans and other living organisms form a single social field, which, for some, also includes tools and other artefacts considered as extensions of the human mind-body.
As anthropologists no longer think that natural categories can be interpreted simply as metaphors for social categories, the mechanisms by which humans symbolise the biological world will be fully discussed. The new thinking about the social world, now enlarged to include beings with which humans interact, raises two fundamental questions: 1)- the relationship between lived experience and knowledge of the natural environment; and 2)- the extent to which the social field comprising human-environmental relations is structured by moral and political considerations.
One objective of the seminar series is to create a space for debate between anthropologists, biologists, cognitive psychologists and cognitive philosophers. Speakers include among others Scott Atran (University of Michigan), Brent Berlin (University of Georgia), Pascal Boyer (CNRS, France), Philippe Descola (Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale, Paris), Claudine Friedberg (Musée d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris), Paul Harris (University of Oxford), Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge), Tim Ingold (University of Manchester), and Frank Keil (Cornell University). The seminars will be on every Tuesday between the second week of January 1997 and the last week of March 1997. They will take place from 4:30 pm to 6 pm in Eliot College, University of Kent at Canterbury. Travel grants for graduate students currently registered in an English university will be available on a first come, first served basis
. Details can be obtained from:
Dr Laura Rival, Eliot College,
University of Kent,