When in an isolated village in Tamil Nadu I see, inside the straw huts (or tin) where people live, a flat-screen TV, turned on, next to a fire made of shrubs with a wobbly pot on it, I I do not think that that television is an incongruous element of modernity compared to a traditional way of life, I think instead that it is our contemporary people in all respects, who share with us horizons of meaning, expectations and desires, even imagined through the screen , or through the inevitable cell phones. The question, before being cultural, becomes political.

Starting from the affirmation of this principle, the “we are all contemporary”, anthropological research becomes a central tool for building a discursive field in which to place cultural diversity, whatever the form it takes and the place or places in which it is manifests, without connotations in terms of exoticism, backwardness, underdevelopment, traditionalism, irrationalism, inefficiency, and more, but only in political terms, that is to say highlighting the hierarchies, inequalities, exploitation, structural violence that still prevails throughout the world, despite, indeed perhaps thanks to globalization, from this point of view a continuation of the conquest, of colonialism, of imperialism, and that the outdated anthropology has often mistaken for cultural waste / differences.

The paradigm of contemporaneity, as an alternative to the paradigm of the inactivity, is the basis for the production of a form of knowledge in which the recognition that all human beings are enveloped by the same space-time frame of simultaneity is central.

For a long time anthropology has concentrated on the study of presumed corners of the world, of those “happy islands” immersed in an eternal present, timeless, therefore rich in an uncontaminated culture and devoid of modern elements that would spoil its harmony, without recognizing the common matrix of contemporaneity that surrounds us all.

Anthropological imagination is that effort of intuition, of creativity that is needed to connect different and distant contexts, to link individual existential trajectories and social, historical and cultural frameworks, and also to risk predictive statements, as far as possible.

Anthropologists have always been reluctant to construct future scenarios, but the anthropological imagination can serve that too, should anyone venture in that direction. The anthropology of the imagination, on the other hand, is a line of research that has recently emerged, in the wake of the rediscovery of Benedict Anderson’s book on imagined communities. In that book Anderson highlights the power, the ability of nation states to stage an abstract entity, imagined precisely, the national community, through tools such as newspapers, books, in general through “press capitalism”. Reading a newspaper and knowing that millions of other individuals are carrying out the same action feeds the sense of belonging to the national community, which is imagined, virtual, because everyone will never meet face to face but a few hundred fellow countrymen, but knows that they all exist. the others and who are like him inside the same “container”.

The anthropology of the imagination is therefore the study of the role played by this faculty, culturally oriented, in the processes of construction of subjectivities and the staging of identities, often multiple, fragile, ephemeral, because they are not based on a firm bond with a place, a tradition, a set of family ties but based on simple imaginative, iridescent, precisely liquid fictions.

It is an attractive scenario, but one that requires caution, because humans are made to walk on solid ground and, if immersed in liquid, they risk drowning. Out of metaphor, it is evident how high the price one pays on the altar of liquidity is, fueled by a boundless imagination, such as the one that expands into the virtual dimensions of life: structural fragility, weak personalities and unable to withstand the first shock a little stronger than usual, uncertainty of the future, inability to plan, suspicion, fear, anxiety for the new, for the unknown, which is often expressed in the barricades against the arrival of a few foreign women and children, disintegration of the social and solidarity fabric, disillusionment.

A future made up of all this would not be a good future.

Vincenzo Matera

For further information: Vincenzo Matera, Contemporary Anthropology. Cultural diversity in a global worldEditori Laterza, 2017. Link to the book and E-book Laterza here

May 21 is UNESCO Day for Cultural Diversity


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