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SlowTV carries lecture by Ghassan Hage

7 January, 2010

The Monthly’s online TV channel, SlowTV, is carrying the first annual Distinguished Lecture in Anthropology. Ghassan Hage presenting his talk, ‘Anthropology and the passion of the political.’ As SlowTV describes:

Ghassan Hage is an internationally acclaimed thinker, both as an academic and an arresting public intellectual. In this Inaugural Distinguished Lecture for the Australian Anthropological Society, he looks at the function of anthropology today. He asks, what is the discipline’s potential to help us understand, and be, ‘other than what we are’? Ghassan Hage has held many prestigious visiting professorships including at Harvard University, L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the University of Copenhagen and the American University of Beirut. He is now based at the University of Melbourne. State Library of NSW, December 2009.

Ghassan is charming, and the audio on the TV presentation is better than it was for those of us stuck outside the lecture hall at the State Library of New South Wales. Hage argues that anthropology cannot simply shed its history of studying small-scale, ‘primitive’ societies, that even contemporary anthropology must remain in dialogue with and in touch with these deep traditions in the field.

Prof. Hage’s homepage at the University of Melbourne is here.

You can also find an ‘Up Close’ podcast by Prof. Hage available for download here, and earlier lectures on SlowTV by Prof. Hage, Key Thinkers: Ghassan Hage on Pierre Bourdieu and On Gaza and narcissistic victimhood.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 January, 2010 5:41 pm

    I just know if it was TV online, thank you for posting this article.

  2. 13 January, 2010 2:01 am

    You beat me to it Greg. I’d wanted to post about Ghassan’s lecture as well. I was very happy that it was filmed as I wasn’t able to attend physically, and by the sounds of things I would probably have been outside in the corridor as well.

    I enjoyed the lecture. You’re right that Ghassan is charming, but he’s also a good synthesiser, and someone who gives familiar ideas a slightly new twist, thereby allowing us to reconsider and get a fresh perspective. For example, I liked his take on the gift and how this might be applied to notions of multiculturalism. I think it is correct to question the legalism of multiculturalism — the assumption that all problems of social diversity can be dealt with in law. To think of everyday interactions as a type of “gift economy” helps to move us away from the formalism of multicultural discourse, and at the same time diminishes the stultifying centrality of identity in these debates.

    I also liked the notion that explanations that attempt to reveal power relations and exploitation of one kind or another (inequality, racism, sexism etc) do not exhaust the possibilities of any relationship, i.e. that when we critique we have not told the whole story, we have not dealt with it “once and for all”. Instead of creating more and more critical distance, we need to enter what he calls the realm of negotiation. This has resonances for me of Bruno Latour (2004) and his own critique of critique, when he argues that we need to move from “matters of fact” to “matters of concern”. Such a notion has, I think, direct relevance to discussions of contemporary issues such as global warming. When, for example, global warming denialists are able to point out some (real or imaginary) fault of science or scientists they very often act as though they have discredited the whole theory. Such has been the brouhaha over the emails of the East Anglia climate scientists. The discovery that scientists might indeed be acting politically, rather than being completely neutral, and that indeed there are relationships of power at play, supposedly makes the whole business of climate science suspect. Is this all that different from academic critiques that assume because there is a sexist or racist element to a set of relationships that the relationships themselves are irredeemably tainted? Shouldn’t we also ask what more there is that these things can teach us?

    Moving from matters of fact to matters of concern, or from the realm of critique to negotiation is, as Hage suggests, a strategy to which anthropology is particularly suited. The urge to bring to life other worlds, to be other or at least appreciate the possibilities of otherness, is closely connected to the intrinsic messiness and entanglements that fieldwork entails. In my opinion, anthropological fieldwork is much more about matters of concern than matters of fact. It involves (or should involve) respect for otherness and the desire to appreciate what animates other worlds rather than merely to explain them (away). And this is where I have a problem with the cultural studies cringe, the tendency to recoil from the anthropological project because of inherent differentials of power involved and the fact that anthropology has historically been, and continues to be, associated with colonial projects; the desire to avoid getting one’s hands dirty. Yes, there are valid critiques to be made of anthropology’s historical and contemporary effects, but to return to Hage’s point, such critiques don’t tell the whole story, and nor do they kill the anthropological project once and for all.

    Latour, B., 2004. Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical inquiry, 30(2), 225–248.


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