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Time and Personhood

by: Mariam Nagi

Time and Personhood ANT102

Mariam Nagi
University of Toronto

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Lecture notes.
Sociocultural/Linguistic Anthropology
Todd Sanders
Class Notes
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This 3 page Class Notes was uploaded by Mariam Nagi on Wednesday October 5, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ANT102 at University of Toronto taught by Todd Sanders in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 4 views. For similar materials see Sociocultural/Linguistic Anthropology in Anthropology at University of Toronto.

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Date Created: 10/05/16
Time and Personhood LEC06 Like always, these seemingly natural aspects of our lives are actually sociocultural constructs and are perceived differently around the world. Where did this concept of the ‘self’ come from?  Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, India and China.  Rome: A person is more than their name and role. A person is recognized in various ways.  Greece: supplied a moral weight for the concept.  Christianity turned the ‘person’ into a metaphysical entity. Marcel Mauss  Was a sociologist who studied the Zuni and Kwaikutl groups.  Studied the cultural construction of the self and how it is a recent concept that explains man’s place in the universe.  In these two groups, there was a limited number of forenames and roles.  Many people have to share the same role.  Because of this, the notion of the ‘individual’ is absorbed into the clan—there is no development of the ‘self’.  Everything related to the clan is tied up with notions of the self.  Who you are is determined by the roles you perform. Charles Piot  studied the concept of ‘person’ in Toga  Dividual: emphasis is not about what we imagine as ‘individual’  Individual: being that is constructed from and through social interactions with others.  In Toga, people were dividuals—there was no such thing as a person/self divorced from the links that made it.  A dividual is made from everyday roles and exchanges between people.  Dividuals become fully social only when they are interacting with others.  ‘Self’ is product of interactions—no such thing as ‘self’ that is separate from society, like it is seen in the West (each of us is unique and special). And though the West embodies this sense of individualism, there’s irony in the fact that we become individual by doing the same things. We all listen to music, go shopping, wear clothes— we’re doing the same things and claim we are different from one another because of the specificity in our choices. Edmond Leach  There are two kinds of time: alternating time and time reversals.  Alternating time: oscillation; back and forth movement between opposites—night and day, winter and summer, life and death.  Time reversals: same as the above except that it has a forward motion. This kind of time is divided between secular time (forward) and sacred time (backward). Time reversals are also called circular time because it returns us to where we are.  Rituals are times where people reverse their behaviors; everyday conventions are flipped upside down—death can symbolically mean rebirth. J. Parry  Studied time in India, specifically the holy site of Benares and the Aghori people.  Benares is a holy pilgrimage site, home to Shiva—conqueror of death. People who die here are granted automatic salvation. A lot of people come here to die.  Popular belief about life cycle in India is reincarnation.  The endless cycle of death and rebirth. Death is not because the bodily functions cease to work but because the ‘vital breath’ leaves the body, becoming a ghost and waiting to be reborn. th  During the 5 month of pregnancy, the ghost enters the embryo and is reborn—hence, generation is actually seen as creation.  Hindus see themselves in this endless cycle; spirits moving from finite, physical bodies.  Aghori are people who try to break this cycle; they want to be free. Through everyday actions, they try to short-circuit the cycle and stop time: give away their belongings, smear ashes from the bodies over themselves, they don’t beg, they eat and drink the corpses and eat from the skull of a corpse, etc.  Aghori are considered lucky and have huge respect from the educated people in Benares.  Parry says that by systematically combining opposites, by breaking norms, they’re trying to free themselves of this endless cycle.  They are trying to return themselves back to the time of the creation—the Broma—a time when everything was whole and there were no categories. In short, time and personhood are products of culture. We work hard to develop them and pretend like we’re not—like that’s just how it is; it’s natural.


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