Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies, and Effects

Berghahn Books: New York, 2005

Reason is a matter of the raisons d’être people ascribe to their actions, the mundane rationales they offer for doing what they do, as well as the rationalizations they provide in defense of what they have done.  And so I write, not against reason per se, but against the fetishization of a logocentric notion of reason, born of the Enlightenment, that has eclipsed our sense of the variety of ways in which human beings create viable lives – emotional, bodily, magical, metaphorical, anthropomorphic, practical, and narrative.

Inspired by existential thought, but using ethnographic methods, Michael Jackson explores a variety of contemporary topics, including 9/11, episodes from the war in Sierra Leone and its aftermath, the marginalization of indigenous Australians, the impact of new technologies, the magical use of language, the sociality of violence, the prose of suffering, and the discourse of human rights.  Jackson argues that existentialism is not necessarily a philosophy of individual being; it enables us to explore issues of social existence and coexistence in new ways, and to theorize events as sites of a dynamic interplay between the finite possibilities of the situations in which human beings finds themselves and the capacities they possess for creating lives they call their own.

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