This important study upsets the popular assumption that human relations in small-scale societies are based on shared experience. In a theoretically innovative account of the lives of the Korowai of West Papua, Indonesia, Rupert Stasch shows that in this society, people organize their connections to each another around otherness. Analyzing the Korowai people's famous "tree house" dwellings, their patterns of living far apart, and their practices of kinship, marriage, and childbearing and rearing, Stasch argues that the Korowai actively make relations not out of what they have in common, but out of what divides them. Society of Others, the first anthropological book about the Korowai, offers a picture of Korowai lives sharply at odds with stereotypes of "tribal" societies.
List of Illustrations ix
Note on Language xv
Introduction: Otherness as a Relation 1
1. A Dispersed Society: Place Ownership and the Crossing of Spatial Margins 25
2. Pairing and Avoidance: An Otherness-Focused Approach to Social Ties 73
3. Strange Kin: Maternal Uncles and the Spectrum of Relatives 105
4. Children and the Contingency of Attachment 140
5. Marriage as Disruption and Creation of Belonging 173
6. Dialectics of Contact and Separation in Mourning 208
Rupert Stasch is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of California, San Diego.
"In this timely commentary on the ideas of difference, strangeness, and Western contact, Stasch weaves ethnographic materials together with theoretical framing in an exceptionally clear and compelling way. A highly original, important and, in fact, astonishing piece of scholarship."—Bambi Schieffelin, author of The Give and Take of Everyday Life
"In this remarkable ethnography, Rupert Stasch takes us to the lowlands of West Papua and into the lives of people who have built a social world out of their relationships with strange and potentially dangerous others. The Korowai are classic inhabitants of the "savage slot," still dogged by their designation as Stone Age primitives. Instead of flipping the script and arguing that the Korowai are just like everyone else, Stasch draws far-reaching lessons from the particularities of Korowai life. Stasch writes with grace and clarity on the ambivalent ways in which the Korowai confront, evade, and embrace an otherness that resides not just in words, food, places, and human bodies, but also in the pasts and futures brought to mind by these material signs. Analyzing Korowai sign use as a concrete, historical process, he charts the passage between intimacy and alterity that Korowai undergo in their encounters not only with spirits and Indonesian soldiers, but also with children, husbands, and wives. Some of what Stasch describes may seem strange and even disturbing. But in pondering Stasch's findings, one gradually comes to see the making of persons and relationships in an entirely new light. Gone is the old debate between biological determination and cultural freedom; in its place is an approach that affirms the multiple histories that converge in and flow from a life. Erudite, empathetic, and unremittingly smart, Society of Others recasts the very meaning of kinship—and makes a case for the power of what anthropologists do."—Danilyn Rutherford, author of Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier
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