Sensus Communis 2019


(Ordered alphabetically after last name)



Ancient Questions on Justice and the Community of Life

Claudia Baracchi (University of Milan)


In this presentation, I wish to explore the questions of individuation, interdependence, the belonging together of the human and other animals, human and other-than-human environments. I address these themes mostly by reference to ancient and archaic Greek thought, but also mythology and poetic imagination. I will highlight the vitality and unsurpassed suggestiveness of ancient reflection vis-à-vis such abiding issues.


Coral Theory: What Corals Can Teach Us about Sociality

Nils Bubandt (Aarhus University)


Let’s imagine that sociality is more-than-human.  Let’s imagine that sociality emerged in the sea with the first animals 2.5 billion years ago.  And let’s imagine that evolution amongst eukaryotes by definition is symbiotic and reticulate; that is, articulates in social networks with other beings.  Corals have recently emerged as a model within biology that brings these three kinds of imaginings together.  This is ironic because corals have repeatedly been proposed (and then forgotten) as models for thinking about culture and human sociality in classical anthropology in both Britain and the US. This paper begins what might be called a “coral theory” of sociality. Coral theory presents an interesting challenge, I think, to the anthropocentric and phenomenological bias in many contemporary debates about sociality.  I introduce this challenge, not to revive some new version of sociobiology, but in the spirit of pushing social theory to reinvent it in response to the “more-than-human” and other related turns.


The Interrupted Community: An Anarcheology

Rasmus Dyring (Aarhus University)


In this paper, I propose an anarcheology of human community. Seeking out a vantage point among those who dwell at the margins of our settled common worlds – in casu, the residents at a dementia ward – I trace the archē of community to certain anarchic, interruptive experiences that unsettle the boundaries and expose the boundless beyonds of these shared worlds. By stressing how the responsiveness to such interruptions, rather than supposedly essential properties such as reason or language, seems to outline a domain that is specifically human, I make a case for a critical phenomenological notion of anthropological difference that safeguards those at the margins against being displaced from the community of “the human”, even when they begin to slip and slide out of the communities of the commonsensical.


Decolonizing Coexistence: A Critical Phenomenology of Carceral-Colonial Space

Lisa Guenther (Queen’s University)


In her essay, “Criminal Empire,” Ojibwe scholar Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark argues that the criminalization of Indigenous resistance to colonization “averts attention” from the criminality of settler states that fail or refuse to honour their own legal agreements with Indigenous peoples.  This essay reflects on the implications of Stark’s analysis for a critical phenomenology of carceral-colonial space.  From this perspective, the prison appears not as a correctional institution for individual lawbreakers but rather as a spatial strategy for the imposition and enforcement of a colonial legal order that naturalizes and normalizes a colonial property regime.  The challenge of decolonization is not only to return stolen land to Indigenous peoples but also to dismantle the structures of propertied personhood and dispossession that the colonial property regime (re)produces.


With Whom Do We Share the World: Relativism, Ethnocentrism and the Hermeneutics of Coexistence

Nicolai Krejberg Knudsen (Aarhus University)


This talk deals with a significant problem for any attempt at grounding a social ontology in the (post-)phenomenological concept of the world: With whom do we share the world? This is significant since the phenomenological concept of the world might just bring us out of the ashes of reductionism and into the fire of full-blown relativism, where ethnic groups, for instance, are deemed to embody their own worlds. Defending the social ontological significance of the shared world, I draw on Heidegger in support of three thesis concerning (i) experiential holism, (ii) social ontological holism, and (iii) what I call a soft universalism about the shared world. Ultimately, I argue that the shared world is community of those who are there, and that the world, as an open-ended field of appearing, should not be mistaken for a collective entity that can be clearly demarcated by some ontic criteria.


Intercorporeality, Sociality, and Culture: A Phenomenological-Anthropological Investigation

Bernhard Leistle (Carleton University)


In my paper, I explore the relevance of Merleau-Ponty’s “phenomenological ontology” for certain fundamental questions in cultural anthropology that have recently been addressed, also from a philosophical perspective, by the “ontological turn” in the discipline. Merleau-Ponty conceptualizes Being as a fundamentally indeterminate, ambiguous in-between-sphere. Self and Other, body and world, seeing and being seen, are not substantial ontological categories, but emerge through incessant processes of differentiation from a primordial intertwining and reversibility. Thought radically, such a being-in-between cannot be assigned properties, or thematized directly, but can only be demonstrated in a form of “hyper-dialectic”, or hinted at in evocative, poetic terms like “flesh”. Of particular interest for anthropology is Merleau-Ponty’s insistence that Being is necessarily culturally particular, opening the door towards a genuine recognition of ontological plurality and cultural alterity. Ultimately, I argue that this kind of phenomenology has the potential to endow us with more refined tools to tackle the problems thrown into relief by ontological anthropology.


Spectral Care

Maria Louw (Aarhus University)


Although care permeates social life it tends to escape attention and, as has been pointed out in feminist critiques, has been relegated to a peripheral place in Western political and philosophical thinking. Paradoxically, the significance of care in human life – the relational qualities of what we usually conceive of as personal and individualistic - may become more visible when focusing on spectral forms of care. Reflecting on the presence of ancestor spirits in the lives of elderly Kyrgyz who become old in the absence of younger relatives and their care, in this paper I will discuss what ghosts may tell us about care and being-with. Among the Kyrgyz, the presence of the ancestor spirits is indeed constituted through care: they care for the living – and demand to be cared for. While some people may ignore their demands, ancestor spirits often have a strong presence in the lives of the elders whose existence, in turn, in the absence of care-relations with the living, is lend a ghostly quality.


Aging Beyond Individualism:  Inter-bodies, Alterities and the Ethics of Care

Cheryl Mattingly (University of Southern California)


Focusing on the ethical relationality of care has the potential to bring the second person perspective into vivid focus.  It can also, in a very basic way, trouble notions of the self.  In the case I present, Nicholas, a severely cognitively and physically impaired boy who is almost blind, cannot talk, and is nearly paralyzed, is being collectively raised by his great-grandmother, his grandmother and his great-aunt.   Old age, in this household, is something shared among the three women rather than an attribute attached to a particular body or individual. While the women certainly experience their bodies as in one sense their own, they also share an inter body-self because of their shared project of care.  Who is getting old here?  Who is the "aging self"?  By contrast, Nicholas, the centripetal force that has propelled this intensively intertwined mothering, is decidedly different.  His body and its vulnerabilities are not shared. To be connected to him demands cultivating unusual avenues of relationality.  Touch assumes vital importance. Rubbing noses, for example, is a shared pleasure between Nicholas and his grandmother; relationality emerges across deep bodily divides.  Drawing especially upon feminist phenomenologists, I consider aging in this household as an ethical project that both complicates an ethical emphasis on self-cultivation and calls for an ethics of alterity. 


Together Apart. Fences and Selves in Elderly Ik Lives

Lotte Meinert (Aarhus University)


Based on current fieldwork among elderly Ik in Uganda I explore troubles with selves and others: Elderly interlocutors’ practical problems with intimate others and with sustaining themselves; and conceptual trouble of delineating self and other in this context. Taking the intersubjectivity of bodies and spaces as a starting point for a phenomenological exploration, I consider the elderly’s efforts of creating separate spaces and selves of their own. Often those who are considered important others by elderly Ik are close kin, neighbors and friends who are proximate in space. Paradoxically this space is created with lots of physical barriers – not only external stockades around the village for protection – but also internal fences which separate intimate spheres between kin, houses, kitchens and granaries. Keeping important others at some distance, but still close is particularly essential, but also troublesome for the elderly as they grow increasingly dependent on others. In this intersubjective sphere the elderly share and keep wisdom, blessings, cash, alcohol, and tobacco, in exchange for intimate others’ food, water, firewood and care.   The sharing and keeping speaks to larger questions of relationality as a basic human condition. I discuss this relational condition with Lisa Guenther’s work and highlight the deeply ambiguous features of practical relationality and elderly Ik people’s work of cultivating relations to important others - keeping close, but still at some distance - as a way to sustain themselves.


The Origin of Coexistence: Heidegger’s Archipelagic Thinking of Greece

Andrew Mitchell (Emory University)


In 1962, Heidegger made his first trip to Greece, returning five times in as many years. The first and last trip are commemorated in the texts, Sojourns and “To the Aegean Isles” (GA 75) respectively. Through these travels, Heidegger comes to see the origin of the west, Ancient Greece, as nothing self-contained or independent. Rather, as Sojourns shows, Greece is always in relation to the “other” of the East. In “To the Aegean Isles” this is driven further home in Heidegger’s construal of Greece as an archipelago, thereby fracturing any presumed homogeneity of the origin. In this talk, I pursue these transformations in order to propose what I am calling Heidegger’s “archipelagic thinking” of Greece, a thinking of the Greek origin as insular, i.e., exposed and scattered. My claim is that only such an archipelagic origin can allow for co-existence.


TBA: Tuberculosis Anthrṓpou Lógou

Jens Seeberg (Aarhus University)


To Be Announced: Tuberculosis Anthrṓpou lógou, or TB Anthropology. What kinds of logic and/or learning does tuberculosis offer regarding the human condition? This is the guiding question for this paper, addressed through three different perspectives. First, through the notion of multispecies existence, the paper discusses the organic co-habitation of humans, bacteria and (other) animals as a way to question what could possibly constitute anthropology. Second, through Derrida’s notion of the pharmakon, I explore how this relationship is mediated by medicines. And third, through the notion of temporality, I compare scales of time at levels of microbe, human becoming and the global health polis, represented by WHO, an organization that regularly announces the current state of TB-human engagements and their future projections. The Organization has announced the End of TB. But what about the humans? TBA.


Care and Asymmetric Sociality: What Social Ontology Can Learn from Social Robotics

Johanna Seibt (Aarhus University)


Philosophical notions of ‘sociality’ and ‘being-with’ as well as the notion of ‘care’ in the health sciences operate on certain assumptions concerning the distribution of potential and actual capacities of caregiver and care-receiver. At the level of principled endowment and potential manifestation, the capacities of both agent roles are taken to be reciprocal, which there are factual asymmetries in capacities which the interaction is supposed to address.  Social robotics and specifically the program of ‘care robotics’ challenges this assumption, offering to care-receivers a new species of intelligent agents in the role of caregivers that do not have normative understanding and other principled capacities philosophers traditionally have associated with subjectivity.  In this talk I raise the question whether there may be situations where simulated care may be preferable to authentic care.


A Phenomenology-Based, Transdisciplinary Investigation of Dwelling Together and Environmental Ethics of Aboriginal Australians

Andrew Turk (Murdoch University)


Dwelling involves physical, utilitarian, cultural, spiritual and ethical relationships with landscape as place.  In his second PhD dissertation, the author is exploring a phenomenology-based, transdisciplinary approach to investigation of place.  Dwelling in landscape involves synergistic integration of the physical attributes of an area of topographic environment (terrain and ecosystem) with the particular socio-cultural characteristics of a group of people, including their language, to produce a topo-socio-cultural-spiritual mode of dwelling (TSCS-MOD).  In a non-deterministic and emergent manner, a particular TSCS-MOD facilitates development of lifeworld tasks, protocols, attitudes and affects. The Australian Aboriginal holistic law/lore system called Jukurrpa is a very long-standing, strong example of such a framework, including kinship relationships and ethical responsibilities for ecosystems. The paper discusses Aboriginal peoples’ attachment to ‘country’ and suffering caused by colonial displacement. The author has developed and trialled a contingent, transdisciplinary methodology for landscape language (ethnophysiography) case studies, using phenomenology as the over-arching paradigm.


Kant and the Ivory Tower

Thomas Schwarz Wentzer (Aarhus University)


On April 30 2016, Kenya burned 105 tons of elephant ivory that were confiscated by rangers. It was the biggest event of ivory burn hitherto. With the ostensive and public action, President Kenyatta wished to give a signal to the world: "Ivory belongs to our elephants." What kind of signal is this? How are we to understand it? What kind of sense or rationality does such a signal appeal to? – Drawing on Kant and Jonas, the talk suggests understanding the event as a collective appeal to sharing a common attitude or attunement. Its destructive aesthetics exhibits the power of humankind and invites to share a cosmopolitan sense of environmental responsibility that goes against the predominant logic of global capitalism.


How Is It between Us? Some Thoughts on Relational Ethics

Jarrett Zigon (University of Virginia)


Perhaps the most fundamental of all ethical questions is to ask: how is it between us?  Such a seemingly simple question is almost immediately differentiable from more standard ones such as – what is the good? – or – did she act rightly? – and in this differentiation its radicality is revealed.  In this paper, I contrast what I call relational ethics with the anthropological notion of ordinary ethics.  In so doing, I argue that ethics is best understood as an ongoing attunement rather than an accomplishment of a telos or acting according to a pre-defined measure articulated in terms of criteria or grammar.  In asking the question of how it is between us, in other words, a relational ethics is asking the question of the how of coexistence.