Social Relations as Persons

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Recent anthropological theory has attempted to deconstruct some of the core dichotomies of the study of humans. One of the most central would be the divide between individuals and society.

The Dividual[edit | edit source]

Deleuze coined the term 'dividual' to explain the mechanisms of a 'control society', which he opposes to Foucaults 'disciplinary society' (a stage he says we have left). The basic premise is that the term individual means indivisible, the smallest unit which society can be reduced to. Perhaps people are not whole self contained 'units', but may be broken down (divided), thus not self-contained units.

"The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within... We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," and masses, samples, data, markets, or "banks." Deleuze, 1992, (article on

This concept of the 'dividual' as opposed to the 'individual' has been taken up by various anthropologists and used to explain contradictions within the formation and conceptualisation of identity. Some good examples of this can be found in the collection of essays The Anthropology of Love and Anger: The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, edited by Joanna Overing and Alan Passes. In this collection it is suggested that a society based on aesthetics of community cannot be analysed using the dualisms of Western philosophy, and that persons cannot be understood apart from the social relations they are a part of.

Useful readings[edit | edit source]

Deleuze, Gilles, (1992) Postscript on the societies of Control article on

Ingold, T. (ed.) 1996. Key debates in anthropology. London: Routldge. 1989 debate on the concept of society, pp. 55-98.

Busby, C. 1997. Permeable and partible persons: a comparative analysis of gender and body in India and Melanesia, JRAI 3 (2): 261- 278.

Overing, J. & A. Passes 2000. Introduction: conviviality and the opening up of Amazonian anthropology, in their The anthropology of love and anger: the aesthetics of conviviality in native Amazonia. London: Routledge.

Smith, K. 2012. From dividual and individual selves to porous subjects. The Australian Journal of Anthropology (2012) 23: 50–64.

Battaglia, D. 1983. Projecting personhood in Melanesia: the dialectics of artfact symbolism on Sabarl Island, Man (n.s.) 18: 289-304.

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