Anthropological Knowledge and Local Cultural Theory: Reformulating the Anthropological Subject Through Tuareg Spatial and Temporal Concepts

Prof. Susan Jane Rasmussen
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Recently in social/cultural anthropology and ethnography, there have been discussions concerning revisions of the old culture concept and its European philosophical bases (Marcus and Fischer 1986; Moore 1996). There have been efforts to incorporate emergent global and local cultural spaces and post-colonial indigenous intellectual traditions into critical reformulations of the anthropological subject (Said 1978; Rabinow 1989; Ong and Nonini 1996; Nandi 1992; Safi 1993). In these efforts, significant work has been done in African philosophy and folklore (Hountondji 1982; Mudimbe 1988; Masolo 1994; Ag Erless 1998; Ag Soliman 1999). The proposed essay will contribute to these efforts, examining local philosophical discourses and concepts relating to cultural identity and difference among the Tuareg (also known as Kel Tamajaq, after their language) in the northern regions of Niger and Mali, where this researcher has conducted cultural anthropological field research.

The essay will analyze Tamajaq language categories of space and time and Tuareg cosmological and mythological categories of geography and identity, in terms of their longstanding meaning and use in practice as well as their changing meanings and uses by local intellectuals. The goal is to facilitate a local re-reading and revision of Euroamerican regional, cultural, social, and national categories underlying the classical anthropological culture concept.

The analysis will proceed on two levels: epistemological and infrastructural. Epistemologically, a specifically Tuareg vocabulary of representation will be compared to anthropological concepts of cultural spaces. Infrastructurally, wider conditions and dynamic processes of knowledge-power relations will be explored in order to assess how a viable Tuareg concept of culture can impact anthropology. More broadly, the essay attempts to expand the possibilities for knowledge production in the humanities and social sciences concerning cross-cultural comparisons of individual subjectivity and collective identity.

Keywords: Africa, Philosophy, Cosmology, Mythology
Stream: Knowledge
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Anthropological Knowledge and Local Cultural Theory

Prof. Susan Jane Rasmussen

Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology
McElhinney Hall
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-5020 USA, University of Houston


Susan Rasmussen is a social/cultural anthropologist whose interests include ritual; healing systems; verbal art; the life cycle, rites of passage, and cultural elaborations of the menopause; performance; and African Humanities. She has conducted field research for many years among the Tuareg people of northern Niger, and more recently, Mali, and briefly, among Tuareg expatriates in France. Her publications include three books: Spirit Possession and Personhood among the Kel Ewey Tuareg; The Poetics and Politics of Tuareg Aging; and Healing in Community, and a fourth book currently in press, Those Who Touch: Tuareg Medicine Women in Anthropological Perspective. Her articles have appeared in journals such as American Anthropologist; American Ethnologist; Africa; Anthropological Quarterly; Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute; The Journal of Anthropological Research; and the Journal of American Semiotics.

Ref: H06P0173