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Society of Others

Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place

Rupert Stasch (Author)

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Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN: 9780520256866
June 2009
$31.95, £21.95
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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
Acknowledgments xi
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

Conclusion 255
Notes 277
References 291
Index 303
Rupert Stasch is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of California, San Diego.
“This well-researched, carefully written ethnography refutes the sensationalist accounts [of the Korowai people] and argues against a popular assumption that human relations in small-scale societies are based on shared experience. . . . The volume contributes to anthropological studies of kinship, social organization, and sociality more generally.”—Choice
“This is an ethnography not to be missed: beautifully written, dense with detail, theoretically innovative. I would highly recommend it to all anthropologists.”—Naomi M. Mcpherson Pacific Affairs
“Powerful”—Comparative Studies In Society And History / Cssh
“A generously provocative contribution to Melanesian studies and anthropology generally. . . . Insightful thinking and great originality.”—Michael Wood Australian Journal Of Anthropology
“A well-written and evocative ethnography of the treehouse-dwelling Karowai people of Papua New Guinea.”—Don Seeman Common Knowledge
“The volume shines as an example of that long-abused and misused genre: the ethnography that . . . sheds a bit of light on our common humanity. As an exemplification of the genre, it will be of wide interest to anthropologists regardless of area. . . . Simply must be read.”—Alex Golub Mitteilungen Des Deutschen
“This book should be read by anyone interested in anthropology, since it forces us to think in new ways about the most central concepts of the discipline.”—Tuomas Tammisto Suomen Antropologi: J Finnish Anthro Soc
“A remarkable book, rich in detail and close to the described Korowai.”—Alexis T. Von Poser Journal Royal Anthro Inst
“[An] innovative study based on an astonishing corpus of Korowai statments, comments, and observations.”—Volker Heeschen Anthropos Redaktion
"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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