Anthropology as an existential enquiry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Why should pre-fixing ‘existential’ to ‘anthropology’ make any difference? Here we trace a pathway from Kant’s programme for a cosmopolitan anthropology centred on ‘what humans, as free-acting beings, make of themselves’, through the Malinowskian epoché of fieldwork, arriving at a version of anthropology, as described by Gell, where ‘the spaces of anthropology are those which are traversed by agents in the course of their biographies’ and the anthropological task is to ‘articulate … the agent’s biographical “life project”’. In this process, anthropology has needed to liberate itself from an objectivism by which its ‘human subjects of study’ are regarded as ‘the bearers of an impersonal “culture”, or wax to be imprinted with “cultural patterns”’ (Turner). One approach is to re-envision ‘structure’, not only as that which gives ‘objectivity’ to a cultural field, but rather as an emergent property of any human individual’s autobiographical ‘handwriting’—their way of writing themselves into the world. Thus, the ‘existential’ prefix re-orients anthropological conversation towards contingent yet actually observable gestures of personal worldmaking, and away from the hypothetical power of culture or discourse to determine this same individual’s life-path.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge international handbook of existential human science
EditorsHuon Wardle, Nigel Rapport, Albert Piette
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781003156697
ISBN (Print)9780367742317, 9780367742348
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge international handbooks


Dive into the research topics of 'Anthropology as an existential enquiry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this