Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Persistence
Secondary Theme: Resilience
Paradox—when extracted from the social circumstances in which it operates—presents itself as a problem without resolution. However, for those who live and work with it, paradox binds together otherwise unresolvable cultural principles and, in doing so, can ameliorate ideological conflict as well as stoke it, offering resilience when troubles arise. After all, paradox says “yes, and” to the question of how two seemingly opposing ideas can be true at once: for instance, how some possession can be, at once, kept and given away.
If paradoxes are tend to be institutionally and cosmologically stabilized, they can be and sometimes are taken up as practical problems, as ways not just to adapt to but reorient and revive social worlds. It may be that the very vitality of collectives and institutions hangs in the balance of how paradox is practiced, and it is arguably for this reason that Weiner offers: “The power that [paradox] generates is sought after, yet submerged, proclaimed yet disguised, nurtured yet defeated”(1992: 151; cf. Žižek, 2006).
This panel examines projects that rely upon and practically exploit the bond of inviolable principles, including the actors who take up paradoxes as intellectual challenges. For instance, Inoue explores the paradox of presence in absence, demonstrating that people foreground their experience of matsutake mushrooms through tropes of deferral, substitution, and inversion. Inoue further suggests that the practice of paradox links the otherwise singular and ephemeral experience of matsutake to a nationally shared cultural experience. Carr discusses the role of paradox in scaling endeavors as well. She addresses an American behavioral therapy, which has spread far from its origins in addiction treatment thanks to a dedicated legion of trainers with an uncanny facility for answering “yes and” to the critical queries of their increasingly diverse professional audiences. If paradox facilitates expansion, it may be because it simultaneously defines and disguises boundaries and distinctions, as Tambar suggests in his examination of the paradox of state sovereignty. He focuses on the discourse on minority protection that arose in international law in the 1920s, asking how the notion of “friendship”—and particularly the idea that Armenians were “friends” of the Turks—acted as salve for the disjunctures laid bare after World War I.
This panel also offers methodological meditations on the anthropology of paradox. Lemon focuses on dyadic performances that naturalize binaries. She points out that while social theorists have attacked the limitations of binaries, anthropologists who attend to both sign-forms and embodied techniques are poised to capture what paradox produces in practice. Agrama proposes that reigning logics make it difficult to distinguish theoretical from practical reason, and thus, how paradox can work in social life. Highlighting the temporality of paradox, including its potential to project lived futures in practically intelligible ways, he suggests that paradox can be a resource to projects of resilience and adaptation, if one that might lead participants to revaluate the terms of engagement.
Weiner, Annette. 1992. Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping While-Giving. Berkeley: California.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2006. The Parallax View. Cambridge, MA: MIT.