Emotion, theory and time: mutual inflections of the human and more-than-human in India's 'last truly wild place'

Aisher, Alex (2016) Emotion, theory and time: mutual inflections of the human and more-than-human in India's 'last truly wild place'. In: Wild or domesticated: Uncanny in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives to Mind, 20-22 Sept 2016, House of Science and Letters, Helsinki.

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Abstract

It is widely recognised among anthropologists that fieldwork does not end when you leave the field. For many, theoretical interpretation of field experiences continues to evolve over the years following fieldwork, in part through exposure to comparative data and diverse theoretical frameworks. This paper explores autoethnographically just such transformations over the decade following the author's first fieldwork with the Nyishi, an animist tribe in the cloud forests of Arunachal Pradesh in India's extreme Northeast, recently described by the WWF as 'one of India’s last truly wild places'. The paper traces the transformations over time of the author's theoretical and emotional understanding of Nyishi villagers' oral accounts of their uncanny, highly-charged, often traumatic, conflicts with powerful master-spirits locally conceived to underpin the ecological dynamics and biological diversity of the dense forests surrounding upland villages. The paper offers a reflexive account of the transformations over the years following fieldwork of the author's theoretical interpretation of uncanny more-thanhuman encounters of tribal informants, and how such interpretive transformations were influenced by the author's own personal life experiences, emotional investments in the field, duty to informants, and exposure to successive waves of anthropological theory. In short, the paper explores how emotion, theory and language are intertwined and coevolve over time. The paper traces a movement through three distinct stages of ethnographic interpretation of uncanny phenomena. This begins with an interpretative stance during and immediately after fieldwork that is closely aligned, even identified, with villagers' own perceptions of humanspirit conflicts and the associated trauma, suffering and fear of spirit-revenge. It then outlines the factors driving a later reductive historical interpretation of spirit-revenge as a cosmological product of centuries of clan warfare in the uplands. This leads to a later interpretation, held in the present day, that is more closely aligned with a 'rational' - comparative, historical, systems based - view of such human-spirit conflicts. The paper culminates in reflections on the value of a new wave of multispecies scholarship for developing a more nuanced understanding of both uncanny phenomena and the worked wild: an understanding grounded in the material agency of the landscape and more-than-human energies of animals, plants and holistic entities like forests, mountains and river catchments, and which bridges the divide between the otherness, aliveness and fertility of the more-thanhuman world and its vitality, immediacy and significance in human life.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for World Environmental History
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0511 Affection. Feeling. Emotion
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology > GN406 Cultural traits, customs, and institutions > GN502 Psychological anthropology
Depositing User: Alex Aisher
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2017 11:10
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2017 11:12
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/66233

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