Ontological Conflicts and the Stories of Peoples in Spite of Europe Essays

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Ontological Conflicts and the Stories of Peoples in Spite of Europe:
Toward a Conversation on Political Ontology- Mario Blaser


Talal Asad – Questions Wolfman’s assertion that the global processes set in motion by European expansion constitutes their (non-European) history as well.

(1) To what extent equally their history told?
(2) Is there only one form of history that can be written?

The story of world capitalism = the prevailing world system + dominant history = One historical trajectory

Are their Alternate histories? Other histories have little relevance
What were the histories of those before intervention?
Anthropological accounts needed to investigate

An All Encompassing Modernity

Assumption of an all-encompassing modernity has come to dominate both scholarly + political analysis

General Idea: (1) Culture as systemic, organic and bounded (1970-present) (2)Assumes any given culture is always the historical product of transformative interactions with other cultures. (Mainly Western culture)

Consequently this notion removes other non-western peoples from history and ignores the actual consequences of political representation.

Q. What is the significance of the term modernity? What does it mean?
- What distinctions does it establish among people?
- Little agreement about its fundamental meaning
- Origin? European concept or global phenomenon?

One commonality
European expansion and effects (Always a variable)
Treated as the sole constitutive factor to attain modernity

Must attend to culture as an ontological category that together with the category of nature naturalizes modernity thus making it all-encompassing in practice

McGrane: the concept of culture is merely the most recent way in which, the West conceived and explained “otherness”

As an ontological category, “Culture” is related to but also different from “culture” as the concept through which the otherness of humans is conceived.

As an ontological category, Culture works in tandem with nature to set (among other things) the very basis of what moderns understand by knowledge, that is, a relation of equivalence between a cultural representation and a natural and autonomous reality “out there."

the culture (Western Culture) that uses culture to understand difference has a privileged status because it knows, and it does so because it has a privileged access to reality, one that is not clouded by culture (with lowercase c), and this access is premised precisely on recognizing the ontological difference between what is culture and what is nature: a distinction that other cultures do not have.

THUS, culture contributes to naturalize the very ontological assumptions that allow modernity to produce an “autocentric picture of itself as the expression of universal certainty”

BUT culture is an inadequate concept for dealing with difference

scholars concerned with the interactions generated by the formation of a European-dominated world system tended to consider these works as having little actual relevance—this when not considering those works misguided in seeking to foreground references without giving a privileged attention to that particular (hi)story of “transformative interactions” that, as I have argued before, assumes that everyone has come now into the fold of modernity and its categories.

These works highlight how peoples distribute what exists and conceive their constitutive relations in different ways; or, posed otherwise, that modernity is one way of making worlds among others and therefore that the concepts generated within it (including that of culture) can only go so far.

Culture Vs Ontology

Q. what is the nature of the distinction that the terms seek to highlight, and what do we mean when we speak of different ontologies? Is the term purported to be merely heuristic or is it a description of a state of fact?

SOLUTION: (1) Proposes to…