The “Ontological Turn” in Anthropology: Self-Silencing Irrealism

In: Public Anthropologist
Eldar BråtenProfessor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway,

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This article calls attention to problematic effects of the so-called “ontological turn” that now gains ground in academic anthropology, especially the entailments of perspectival multi-naturalism. I argue that a consistent embrace of this approach challenges public anthropology at its core. The irrealist grounding of perspectival multi-naturalism encourages withdrawal from both analysis and engagement, rendering the application of anthropological knowledge dubious. In order to counter this development, I suggest a reorientation in terms of realist principles, notably those of Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism. The diverging theoretical and ethical implications of these approaches are exemplified through a discussion of threats to health and life in Java, Indonesia.

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