Successor to Claude Levi-Strausa at the College de France, Philippe
Descola has become one of the most important anthropologists
working today, and Beyond Nature and Culture has been a major
influence in European intellectual life since its publication in
2005. Here, finally, it is brought to English-language readers. At
its heart is a question central to both anthropology and
philosophy: what is the relationship between nature and culture?
Culture - as a collective human making, of art, language, and so
forth - is often seen as essentially different than nature, which
is portrayed as a collective of the nonhuman world, of plants,
animals, geology, and natural forces. Descola shows this essential
difference to be, however, not only a specifically Western notion,
but also a very recent one. Drawing on ethnographic examples from
around the world and theoretical understandings from cognitive
science, structural analysis, and phenomenology, he formulates a
sophisticated new framework, the "four ontologies" - animism,
totemism, naturalism, and analogism - to account for all the ways
we relate ourselves to nature. By thinking beyond nature and
culture as a simple dichotomy, Descola offers nothing short of a
fundamental reformulation by which anthropologists and philosophers
can see the world afresh.
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