CFP: The Appearances of Man

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Civilisations vol. 59 (2)
The Appearances of Man
Reflecting Upon Bodily Objects and Ornaments
Guest editor: Gil Bartholeyns

The present issue of Civilisations aims at rethinking the aesthetic of the body by challenging some of the obstacles that stand in the way of its understanding in human societies in general.

The first of these obstacles, the silent opposition between “adornment” and “clothing” inappropriately separates ethnologists and historians, by attaching objects that are only apparently different to distinct disciplines. Besides, these notions account poorly for the categories actually used in different cultures and time periods. For example, cultus as used by Latin authors regrouped together clothing and jewelry, and ornatus accounted for all beauty care treatments, make-up and hair care combined. A possible connection between specialists should not be associated with a global descriptive taxonomy of bodily interventions and artifacts, as it has already been attempted. It rather requires a higher conceptual level regarding “cultures of appearance”, one which constitutes the aim of the present issue. This level of analysis becomes possible by overcoming a second obstacle.

Secondly, indeed, writings as varied as those of Claude Lévi-Strauss on nudity, or the issue of the Géo journal dedicated to Parures du monde (Adornments of the world, 2005) and passing through the universal Histoire des mœurs (1990) are marked by the interpretation of human appearances according to the dichotomy nature-culture, and because of that based on oppositions like “animal-human” and “naked-civilized”. Such a reading situates most of these scholarships in the wake of old European representations of the Other. Regarding the study of tattoos, markings, textile objects, masks and all physical transformations in general, this distinction, which is in fact absent in most of the societies, is better replaced by another, this time present all societies, that is the distinction between exterior and interior, body and intention, regardless of their names, faculties, and numbers. Thus we clearly situate ourselves in the lineage of the paradigmatic change deployed by the anthropology of nature and figuration as developed, among others, by Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. The intervention upon the body serves less to bring the individual out of a hypothetical natural state than to inscribe the person (and with it the whole society) into the world and into the universe. Both the order and the qualities that societies assign to beings and objects, including materials, largely explain local and historical practices, productions and conceptions of appearances. For instance, this fact is demonstrated as well by the Biblical order of the Creation, than by the mythical conception of ornaments of the Orokaiva in New Guinea, or the transformation masks of the Yupiits in Alaska.

Thirdly, once such ethnocentrism is put aside, we are left with a fundamental anthropocentrism. This angle consists in the arbitrary vision of clothing as “human’s own”, traditionally articulated around such criteria as reason and shame, whereas no technical or functional definition (protection, adornment, camouflage…) leaves aside all the animal cases, while in the meantime remaining viable for human beings in general. It is then legitimate to conceive and study the ornamental and clothing acts of man on an ethological, comparative level. In this respect we should recall that André Leroi-Gourhan regarded human adornments and clothes within the context of a zoological reflection on relational devices used between species and between individuals of the same species.

By bringing together the outlooks of historians and anthropologists, this volume aims towards such a rethinking of the theme, by proposing case studies alongside with more epistemologically-oriented contributions. The texts shall bring a critical view of the present day manner in which bodily objects and ornaments are conceptualized, be it in the historical discipline or in social sciences.

Propositions of articles either in English or French (title + 250 words abstract) should be sent before the December 10, 2009 both to the editorial board of the journal and this second editorial board address as well as and to the guest editor of the journal issue, Gil Bartholeyns.

Civilisations is a peer-reviewed journal of anthropology. Published continuously since 1951, it features articles in French and English in the various fields of anthropology, without regional or time limitations. Revived in 2002 with a new editorial board and a new subtitle (Revue internationale d’anthropologie et de sciences humaines), Civilisations particularly encourage the submission of articles where anthropological approaches meet other social sciences, to better tackle processes of society making.

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