Memory History, Patrimony, Personhood

The course treats anthropologically the presence of the past, from the autobiographical narratives by which individuals construe their lives as chronotopic journeys episodically fusing time and space, to mythic narrative and historians' narratives accounting for, justifying, or challenging the current shape of peoples' presents. Beyond narrative, it focuses especially on activities of commemoration and amnesty, or forgetting, as quintessentially social productions. Engaging treatments within anthropology, symbolic interactionism, the dramaturgical approaches of performance studies, pragmatic linguistics, geography, and phenomenology, the course focuses on the experience and poetics of time, on the sedimentation of social pasts that transform space into place, and on the cultural patternings of landscape, built form, and cityscape as settings for meaningful social action. The course queries the "location" of culture as a collective repository of "received wisdom" and finds it in the intersection of meta-communicative poetic forms of narration and ritualized "practices about practices." Attending to variable understandings of patrimony, property, and personhood, it also draws on recent theorizing on the concepts of person and kinship, seeking to understand how material things (from keepsakes to houses, mountains, and territories) are transformed through regimes of possession into the immortal bodies of always partly-mortal (some dead and some not yet born) trans-personal beings or collective persons (families, lineages, communities, nations, corporations). The course ranges over a variety of contexts for such analysis: heritage regimes such as UNESCO's monumental, natural, and intangible forms of humanity's patrimony; the exhumation of victims of state violence as efforts to resurrect the forgotten; struggles over memorials and commemorative practices aiming to erase or erect new figures and episodes of social genealogy; the branding of place and tradition (heritage sites, wines with terroir, commodities tied to particular places or peoples) by which "authentic" places and things are marketed, and certain life-ways are destroyed or guaranteed when their objectifications are consumed. Readings range across wide swaths of social theory, which are then applied to a variety of particular cases treated in depth

Theoretical topics selected by students and faculty in consideration.

Course Information



4 Points

Term Section Instructor Schedule Location

Spring 2018

Thomas A Abercrombie
R: 2:00 PM - 4:45 PM 25WV 102