Reflections on Imagination: Human Capacity and Ethnographic Method, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Reflections on Imagination

Human Capacity and Ethnographic Method, 1st Edition

Edited by Mark Harris, Nigel Rapport


316 pages

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In this innovative volume, anthropologists turn their attention to a topic that has rarely figured as a focus of concerted investigation and yet which can be described as an intrinsic aspect of all human knowing and part of all processes by which human beings process information about themselves, their identities, their environments and their relations: the imagination. How do anthropologists use imagination in coming to know their research subjects? How might they, and how should they, use their imagination? And how do research subjects themselves understand, describe, justify and limit their use of the imagination? Presenting a range of case studies from a variety of locations including the UK, US, Africa, East Asia and South America, this collection offers a comparative exploration of how imagination has been conceptualized and understood in a range of analytical traditions, with regard to issues of both methodology and ethnomethodology. With emphasis not on abstraction but on imagination as activity, technique and subject situated in the middle of lives, Reflections on Imagination sheds new light on imagination as a universal capacity and practice - something to which human beings attend whenever they make sense of their environments and situate their life-projects in these environments - the means by which worlds come to be.


’An important and timely volume that brings together different perspectives on the surprisingly little explored topic of the imagination. In its ambitious scope and rich ethnographic detail, it promises to become essential reading for anthropologists and those working in related fields of enquiry.’ Anna Grimshaw, Emory University, USA ’Arguably the single faculty that sets humanity most decisively apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, the imagination enters into our lives at every stage, enabling humans to create invisible connections, conjure up possible and impossible worlds, expand their horizons and produce metaphors and theories. This strikingly original volume convincingly demonstrates the importance of the imagination in ethnographic observation, anthropological analysis and the local lives under scrutiny. It showcases anthropology as a fundamental humanistic discipline.’ Thomas Hylland Eriksen, University of Oslo, Norway ’The contributors to this intriguing collection of essays criss-cross the terrain designated by the English terms imagination�, the imagined�, and the imaginary�, and their (approximate) equivalents in other languages. The reader is guided helpfully through a variety of learned genealogies of the imagination and treated to much evocative ethnography. Classic views, going back to Kant and beyond, are brought into conversation with the most contemporary anthropological theory, and anyone who aspires to practise ethnography will be challenged to rethink the role of the imagination in that rather peculiar enterprise. Highly recommended.’ David N. Gellner, University of Oxford, UK

About the Editors

Mark Harris is Reader in Social Anthropology and Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, UK. He is the author Life on the Amazon: The Anthropology of a Brazilian Peasant Village, and Rebellion on the Amazon: Race, Popular Culture and the Cabanagem in the North of Brazil, 1798-1840, the editor of Ways of Knowing and co-editor of Some Other Amazonians. Nigel Rapport is Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies and Director of the Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies at the University of St. Andrews, UK. He is the author of Transcendent Individual: Towards a Literal and Liberal Anthropology, The Trouble with Community: Anthropological Reflections on Movement, Identity and Collectivity, 'I am Dynamite': An Alternative Anthropology of Power, Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts, and Of Orderlies and Men: Hospital Porters Achieving Wellness at Work and editor of Questions of Consciousness, British Subjects: An Anthropology of Britain, and Democracy, Science and The Open Society: A European Legacy?

About the Series

Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception

The books in this series explore the relations, in human social and cultural life, between perception, creativity and skill. Their common aim is to move beyond established approaches in anthropology and material culture studies that treat the inhabited world as a repository of complete objects, already present and available for analysis. Instead these works focus on the creative processes that continually bring these objects into being, along with the persons in whose lives they are entangled. All creative activities entail movement or gesture, and the books in this series are particularly concerned to understand the relations between these creative movements and the inscriptions they yield. Likewise in considering the histories of artefacts, these studies foreground the skills of their makers-cum-users, and the transformations that ensue, rather than tracking their incorporation as finished objects within networks of interpersonal relations. This series is interdisciplinary in orientation, with the concern of the titles always being with the practice of interdisciplinarity: on ways of doing anthropology with other disciplines, rather than doing an anthropology of these subjects. Through this anthropology with focus, they aim to achieve an understanding that is at once holistic and processual, dedicated not so much to the achievement of a final synthesis as to opening up lines of inquiry.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General