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2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136


Mister D.
Radical comparison, values,
and ethnographic theory
André Iteanu, CNRS/EPHE
Ismaël Moya, CNRS, Laboratoire d’Ethnologie
et de Sociologie Comparative

This article argues that the relevance of Louis Dumont’s work for ethnographic theory
today is his radical conception of comparison as an experiment on difference that collapses
anthropological analysis and epistemology. The text applies Dumont’s own method—
comparison—to his anthropology. In the first part, we follow the trail of Dumont’s
ethnographical encounter with the Indian caste system and the radical contrast he drew
with Euro-America to provide an insight into his comparative method and his core notions
(value, hierarchy, encompassment). In the second part, Dumont’s anthropological strategy
is put into perspective with two other radical comparative projects: Marilyn Strathern’s on
Melanesia and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s on Amazonia. 
Keywords: comparison, value, hierarchy, Dumont, Strathern, perspectivism  

I don’t have any ideas, comparison provides them.
(Dumont 1991: 8)

In a fascinating book, Pierre Hadot (2004) argues that in ancient Greece, philosophy was much more than an intellectual exercise: it was a way of life.1 Those who
practiced philosophy were not isolated individuals responding to one another.
They lived in distinct small communities (the schools) characterized not only by a
1. This special section is a revised version of a larger collection on Louis Dumont’s comparative anthropology edited by Cécile Barraud, André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya, forthcoming in French at CNRS éditions. 
his work is licensed under the Creative Commons
| © André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya.
ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau5.1.006

André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya114

peculiar system of thoughts, but by a global conception of life as well, ruled by specific norms, prohibitions, rituals, bodily exercises, and so forth. For an anthropologist, that ways of thinking matched existential choices in ancient Greece is hardly
surprising. It is even a relief to learn that, unlike today, philosophy was not always a
sheer intellectual exercise geared to devise abstract conceptual systems or doctrines
to explain the universe around us.
Likewise, in line with Hadot’s argument, it may be worth considering that our varied anthropological theories could be associated with contrasted ways of life. At least,
this is the impression that those who knew Louis Dumont had, because his conduct
was often disconcerting. For example, when some student or colleague addressed
him as “Professor”, he often replied: “I am a researcher, not a professor.” This answer
was not sheer bashfulness, but a reflection on the nature of anthropology. For him, a
professor was someone certain of the truth of what he or she taught and able to comment on all anthropological currents and their relation to philosophy. In short, a person who uses well-defined concepts and talks like a textbook. By contrast, Dumont
(1977: viii) argues that anthropological research should be equated to the work of a
craftsman who continually re-works ethnographic materials and only reaches provisional results, permanently relativized by the endless richness of social differences.
Dumont’s institutional position matched his personal thoughts. He hardly ever
taught a single course. At the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, where he
officiated for three decades, nobody did, and allegedly they still do not. The École has
no professors but only Directeurs d’études, “Directors of studies,” in the sense of advisors for those who are developing case studies. Dumont ran a weekly seminar presenting his current research to Ph.D. students and colleagues. He did not speak with ease
and would rather spell out in front of a dozen students a few pages of a book he had
recently encountered or a particular ethnographic point. His presentations were far
less spectacular than those of his brilliant colleagues (Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Barthes,
Bourdieu, etc.) who ran seminars in Paris during the same years. In Dumont’s age,
professors, rather than researchers, were fairly rare in anthropology. Nowadays, as
the institutional situation has changed, they seem to be the overwhelming majority.
What kind of theory, in Hadot’s terms, would match Dumont’s way of life?
To answer this question we would need to vet over five decades of anthropological literature which have commented on and criticized abstract notions held
as “Dumontian,” such as holism, totality, encompassment, hierarchy, value or
ideology,2 to realize that we could add very little.3 However, the purpose of this
2. Dumont’s legacy in contemporary anthropology has expanded to other regions of the
world. Since the 1980s, most writings engaging with Dumont’s orientations have come
from scholars working in the Pacific and Southeast Asia (Barraud, de Coppet, Damon,
Eriksen, Howell, Iteanu, Mosko, Platenkamp, Robbins, Rio, Tcherkézoff, etc.).
3. Giving a review of Dumont’s work would be redundant since Robert Parkin’s Louis
Dumont and hierarchical opposition (2003) has already accomplished this task. That
book offers both a general history of Dumont’s work and a comprehensive and heuristic presentation of his core ideas, their origins (Hertz, Needham, etc.), and their
reception (debates, critics, and followers). André Celtel’s Categories of the self (2004)
discusses Dumont’s conceptions of individualism. More recently, Knut Rio and
Olaf Smedal’s Hierarchy: Persistence and transformation in social formations (2009a)

2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136

Almost every aspect of his views on India has been vividly debated and challenged by numerous authors (e. On the contrary. Robbins and Siikala 2014). His work dealt with economic ideology (1977). of Dumont as the thinker of a grand narrative that reifies the distinction between India and the West. Madan 1982. postscripts. Dumont never produced a methodological text or a systematic formalization since he never ceased to redefine the conceptual repertoire he employed and to refine his analysis and methods. This book also teases out most of the conceptual muddles regarding Dumont’s holism. Raheja 1988). or the Middle East. Dumont never lost touch with the new questions anthropology was confronting. Asia. Dumont moved away from his work on India and strove to understand Euro-American societies and the various facets of the totalitarian regimes they produced during the twentieth century. Each published work presented Dumont’s analytical framework and its critics and confronted it with ethnographies from Oceania. Leach 1971. His last two published pieces of work were critiques of the colonial situation in New Caledonia and of the ecological disaster created by the drying of the Aral Sea. drawing on Wittgenstein and Peirce. 1998. In the second half of his life. Dirks 1993. Dumont’s legacy as a theorist of contemporary processes of cultural interaction and transformation (Robbins 2009. Until the end of his life. The contrast he drew between India and Euro-America (Dumont 1980) fueled the anthropological conversation for several decades. 1980: xi–xlix) and Dravidian kinship (Dumont 1983: 145–71). Marriott 1969. and notes. ignores colonialism. paragraphs. personal commentaries. from an American (cultural) and Weberian point of view. Appadurai 1986.115 Mister D. particularly those who raised issues concerning caste hierarchy (Dumont 1971. Richards and Nicholas 1976. starting with the problems raised by the philosophical notion of intentionality. and justifies social inequalities. Vincent Descombes’ recently translated The institutions of meaning (2014). forewords. Parry 1979. Béteille 1986. gives a sterling defense of Dumont’s anthropological holism. but repeatedly diminishes the contrasts around which comparison revolves.. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . an issue largely neglected by his critics and commentators and immediately relevant to the contributions assembled in this section. especially since the early 1960s. which he considered the source of all anthropological intuitions.g. and German ideology (1994). 1988. individualism (1986). special section is to highlight that Dumont’s principal intellectual legacy and his main achievement lie less in a theory or a set of concepts and much more in his comparative practice. 1976. Yet a misconception still circulates today among many anthropologists. Dumont’s comparative project Louis Dumont was primarily known as a specialist of India and more precisely of the caste system. he added extra chapters. Therefore this introduction aims to unfold Dumont’s radical conception of comparison. triggered by poor textbooks. Needham 1987. Joel Robbins has also reassessed. On comparison. In each new edition of of his books. as on everything he considered essential. He answered some of these critics. Dumont’s comparison does not aim to intensify the differences that distinguish social formations or civilizations.

Comparison was for Dumont the sole heuristic capable of generating anthropological knowledge. the priests. myths of state. This social reality conformed to a general principle as all castes are hierarchically ordered according to their relative purity. Since Brahmans are superior to Kings. does not entirely support Dumont’s argument. were considered superior to the Kings. We shall thus follow the trail of his ethnographical encounter with India and then compare his perspective with two other radical comparative projects: Marilyn Strathern’s on Melanesia and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s on Amazonia.” but because they were born in castes endowed with the highest purity and status. that is. which made them purer than the carnivorous Kings. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . For this reason. this subordination did not affect the political power of the latter. in terms of a religious value. which was his big scientific achievement. Above all. His doubts never left him. We wish to argue that the relevance of Dumont for ethnographic theory (da Col and Graeber 2011) today can be acknowledged from the standpoint of his comparative perspective and by reflexively applying to it its own method. 4. we touch upon these themes only lightly. Our aim is not to scrutinize the relevance Dumont’s ethnography and analysis of India but to explain and clarify his practice of comparison. but from ethnographic circumstances: in ancient India. the Brahmans.: 9). Although Bruce Kapferer. he strongly assessed that most dimensions of his Southern Indian analysis apply also to Sri Lanka.) that he was very impressed by the sharpness of Kapferer’s analysis and understanding of his work (see also Kapferer 2010). However. did not properly fit the German case (ibid. myths of state (1988). comm. the Brahmans were superior to the Kings not because they were more “powerful. In this introduction. Following the release of Legends of people. What he feared most is that his conceptual framework would become an autopoietic system which might prevent him exploring new conceptual domains. This superiority was expressed in terms of the relative purity of their castes. Therefore. Dumont concluded that in India caste hierarchy ranked according to purity is distinguished from and more valued than the political power of the Kings that it encompasses.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya116 was a step in a research process. Homo hierarchicus (1980) argues that in India. This situation triggered Dumont’s curiosity. It was visible in many ways. comparison. German ideology (1994). he didn’t regard his findings as personal achievements. in his Legends of people. How could we make sense of the fact that political power was not paramount in ancient India? To answer this question. the Brahmans were vegetarians.: 194) and therefore was only a heuristic device fit for certain comparative contexts.4 A man without ideas: The comparative experiment Dumont’s anthropology did not unfold from a philosophical standpoint. but saw them as the products of his comparative experiments. who reigned over everyone. the value of purity was more crucial than political power. he claimed that the opposition between individualism and holism. and most particularly the notions of totality and the subordination of political power to hierarchy (ibid. Dumont reported (pers. and in the final pages of his last book.

It cannot be understood in itself. for Dumont. theories. total social facts] where consistency is found in less extended complexes. in the Marxist trends that led French social sciences at the end of the 1960s. the “total” aspect of the fact means that the aim is not to study discrete elements but to compare “wholes. Dumont (1986: 2) construed the concept of “total social fact” as “a specific complex of a particular society (or type of society). but. “far more than a ‘group’ in the ordinary sense. in Euro-America power and hierarchy seemed inseparably mingled. Compared to India. people. The minimal unity is therefore not the caste as a basic unit. where hierarchy appeared as unmixed with power. in terms of their relative purity. institutions. However. looked to be a most particular Euro-American idea. a single caste is not an independent social reality. seen from India. according to Dumont. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . But there are cases [i. because it is an experiment that brings into play anthropologists’ own ideas (Dumont 1986: 6). Comparison is radical. where the ‘whole’ can be more easily kept within view” (ibid. It is a comparative experiment that involves the subject in the object (ibid. The caste system was not even an explicit and articulated conception as no Indian regards castes as a coherent string of groups clearly ordered along a line of relative purity.: 194). In other words. Mauss’ commitment to ethnographic knowledge enabled anthropology to reach its experimental stage. and implicit ideas with which we approach them. Dumont generalized this conclusion by stating that a whole cannot be constructed by adding elements. According to Dumont.. This state of mind was particularly acute. but only in relation to other castes which are locally superior or inferior. 5. Dumont (1980: 34) accordingly stated that. ordered in a hierarchy. This is. the case all through Euro-America when hierarchical relations are construed as domination.” “How is this [i.” In other words. treated the compound made by power and hierarchy as the natural force underlying every social phenomenon. which cannot be made to coincide with any other. Dumont was a student of Marcel Mauss and took much of his inspiration from his work (with the exception of hierarchy).” Consequently.e. Dumont noted.e. This initial comparison was only the starting point of Dumont’s work. of groups of various orders generally called ‘castes’. And. mostly under the influence of Althusser. In most rural areas only a few castes are present and nowhere in India could one find something like a complete set comprised of all the castes. there is doubt about the result. These authors.117 Mister D. in various situations. the caste system manifests itself in that Indians commonly hierarchize things. each element must be evaluated in relation to its belonging whole. precisely because this fact elicited a difference with the idea and practices of his cultural milieu. secondly.).5 Dumont struggled to understand the superiority of the Brahman over the King. Foucault. and so forth. it implies firstly a stress on difference: facts reacts to the categories. Dumont did not consider the caste system as an empirical reality. On the contrary. according to him. the whole] to be found? In a sense society is the only ‘whole. the caste is a state of mind which is expressed by the emergence. for example.. to understand the caste system. and Bourdieu. the mingling of hierarchy and power was not an objective universal reality. one needs to adopt the perspective of the whole.: 199). In contrast. but a series.’ but it is so complex that however scrupulously we reconstruct it. However. in which “certain fixed principles govern the arrangement of fluid and fluctuating ‘elements’” (ibid.

and (2) conceptions of the good that stem from the reflexive work of individuals as ethical subjects. somehow exterior to individuals. Indeed. Dumont captured in From Mandeville to Marx (1977) the way in which the economy has gained primacy in Euro-American thought. while Euro-American social life is molded by the contention that power is universal and the source of all hierarchy. the diversity of anthropological perspectives on the question of “value” in the fifteen contributions in Hau’s special issue on “Value as theory” edited by Ton Otto and and Rane Willerslev (Otto and Willerslev. it is futile to attempt to specify whether they are descriptive notions or artifacts (i.” According to Dumont. One obvious such limitation is constituted by the economy.. The “anthropology of value. However. 2013: 235–36) without. Robbins 2007. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 .g.e.” as it were. in our opinion.g. but only differences that appear through comparison. 2013b). 2013a. This is why in his later work on Western ideology (1977. Dumont mused on whether in Euro-America power was actually as powerful as commonly imagined.” As both of them were idiosyncratic ideas. David Graeber critically engaged several times with Dumont’s ideas on value (e. that determines what they are supposed to do or not to do. the two cannot be understood independently from one another. 6. 2001: 16–20. the products of a comparative experiment). one of Dumont’s conclusions was that the “economy” does not refer to any objective domain of social life: it is a construct and not a crosscultural category. what is good or bad. since economics emerged from politics in EuroAmerica. Dumont thought that anthropology was not to decide which of these alternatives was more “objective. This distinction is crucial and is why Dumont’s anthropology of value has very little to do with the recent anthropological current loosely called the “ethical turn”6 or David Graeber’s theory of value (2001). 1994). taking into account in his criticisms the experimental and (radical) comparative aspects of the Dumontian perspective.7 although both of them consider that their main concern is the comparative appraisal of values. for example. Their reality is only constituted by their relation. contra Polanyi’s (1957) idea of a universal “substantive economy.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya118 Furthermore.8 Dumont’s values are neither objective nor subjective facts. Thus. 1986. since in India power appeared as limited by caste hierarchy. See. is actually a much larger and more heterogeneous field. As Ismaël Moya remarks in his contribution to this special section. Dumont’s comparative work on India elicited two radically opposed stances on sociality: the Indian social formation manifests the idea that hierarchy is an utmost value that encompasses political power. Lambek 2010. Fassin 2012) draws on two meanings of the idea of value: (1) values as a given set of norms (a moral order). Following Karl Polanyi’s demonstration of the disembedding of the market economy from society in the nineteenth century (Polanyi 1944). Consequently. the autonomy and the claim to primacy of the economic dimension impinges on the political and challenges its power (Dumont 1986: 104–12). 7. 8. he called them values from a comparative perspective. the constraints that more or less invisibly weigh on political power. he attempted to understand the limits of power: that is. They overcome the distinction between symbolic and real. Laidlaw 2002. The anthropology of morality and ethics (e. Dumont’s notion of value is distinct from the economic notions of value and those of moral obligation and subjective judgment informed by a notion of the good and the desirable..

in this case. let us pause for a moment and focus on Dumont’s assertion.” Thus. with little success. This is partially why the perception of a particular value changes when observed from a different perspective. Therefore. for certain people. In certain domains. facts and values. for example. However. he states that purity (and not power) orders the caste system. as that afforded by power. but. each value may be subordinated to other values.e. what matters for Dumont is not a single value or a set of values but a configuration in which values are hierarchized compared to another configuration. in both cases. value descriptions inevitably leave blank spots unaccounted for.e. which in turn 9.. However. as he was not sure that it would work. Dumont (1986: 235) also explained that he developed the idea of value reluctantly as his next conceptual “bid” after “trying to sell to the profession the idea of hierarchy. each difference elicited by comparison) is only an analytical starting point and never accounts for the “whole. the term value designate synthetically both the relation and the terms elicited by a comparison. the wider contrast between two social formations constitutes the starting point.” He defined hierarchy as the “order resulting from the consideration of value” (ibid. a value can be never homogeneously dominant. the notions of power and hierarchy are not identical. comparison provides them” (Dumont 1991: 8). When ideas develop from comparison only. For example. The comparison between India and Euro-America led Dumont to disentangle these two notions to propose an intelligible contrast. precisely because in each case their relation is different. The difference always appears at the beginning to be very radical: intensified to a point where it seems in many ways unrealistic.9 From such an epistemological position. The distinction between power and hierarchy illustrates this movement. representation and reality. Nevertheless. action and thought. in the two cases. values never built up into an overarching standpoint. the relation (between power and hierarchy) defines their meaning. or ontology and to consider that values only emerge from comparative experiment. the concepts deployed are bound to vary in time to express whatever gradually emerges from the contrast..: 279). each value description (i. according to Dumont.119 Mister D. our appraisal of them is irremediably limited. In other words. progressively. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . In other words. Dumont (1980: 212) confessed that he made a bet when he first decided to center his analysis on the distinction between hierarchy and political power. That purity and hierarchy are different points of view on the same difference (i. His radical perspective led Dumont to dispense with all conventional anthropological themes like ritual. Analysis must unfold from the relative whole to its parts. However. counterintuitive as it is for all those who have gone through an Euro-American style of schooling in which scientific knowledge requires a precise and stable definition of the conceptual apparatus. on the other. Hence his formula: “I don’t have any ideas. from which one could embrace equally all social formations and picture all hierarchical relations as forms of domination. such. further analysis refines and relativizes this initial difference by drawing on contradictions since. the same value) ensues from the fact that although these terms describe comparative wholes. on the one hand. Dumont’s comparison contrasts hierarchy in India with power in Euro-America. In Dumont’s view. religion.

hierarchy distinguishes India from Euro-America. caste hierarchy is contradicted by the extreme individualistic stand of the renouncer (ibid. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . inferior values are included in the configuration at subordinated positions. but is by no means coextensive with it and does not account for every aspect of Indian society. However. hierarchy. where he shows that in India. Each result is nothing but the starting point of a further step that refines. Back again to India. turning back to Euro-America. Dumont’s comparative method only produces provisional results. but conversely values are not globally devalued by the fact that they are at times subordinated or contested. as stated earlier. Or to put it otherwise. the higher castes revere the higher gods while the lower castes revere the lower gods (the black god) as their dominant gods. a mystic who steps outside his caste to invent or adopt a “discipline of salvation. On the contrary.) of the 10.” As the Indian example shows. the radical contrast between two social formations is approached by using the common notions (political power. Repeated reconsiderations sharpen the image fashioned.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya120 can be more locally subordinated to others.: 184–87). Then. let alone perfection. This last formulation accounts for an idea widely spread in Euro-America and also among Marxists. a new distinction emerged. as a function of their context. differences within them. Consonant with his notion of values. and displaces the difference between the two comparative poles that one decided to contrast. in India. but only draws on old and common categories to elicit. if power was somehow to disappear. At first. the renouncer relativizes the caste system by being an “individual-outside-the-world. the hierarchical superiority of one value over another does not rule out that inferior value. The recognition of logical contradictions is therefore integral to Dumont’s notion of hierarchy (Dumont 1980. In sum. In encompassment.” In other words. the diverse alternatives they confront are referred to different values. contrary to what happens when the relation between two values is a matter of choice (or preference). Thus the relative value of the gods does not apply evenly to all castes. etc. that between hierarchical encompassment and exclusive opposition. he first deconstructed his own notion of power by distinguishing power from hierarchy. even when they contradict superior values. according to which power is consubstantial to hierarchy and absolutely opposed to equality: it is either one or the other. Likewise. For example. equality would be achieved. which may be deconstructed again by other ethnographic examples. as stated previously. he tested the distinction only to find that political power was here associated with equality. This third layer of comparison allowed Dumont to reach a more abstract distinction. Thus. Houseman 1984). for Dumont. For the different forms of hierarchical inversions. through comparison. This practice of anthropology does not incite the development of new concepts. Dumont (1970). reformulates.10 For example. see Tcherkezoff (1987). Dumont’s comparison is a process that relativizes layer by layer the massive contrast initially established. but never reach a stabilized position. in Euro-America the relation of power to equality is an exclusive contradistinction. Whereas in India hierarchy encompasses political power. See. for example. Indian hierarchy leaves space to the power of Kings that it only encompasses (Dumont 1980: 152–83). these logical contradictions may not be experienced as such by the members of the cultures considered when. a value can never be dominant in all the domains of social life.

Knut Rio and Olaf Smeldal (2009b: 12–15) addressed these issues. and so on. when Dumont (1980: 239–45) developed the idea of hierarchy as “encompassing of the contrary. Engaging with them (e. However. What singles them out is the accusation they share. Foucauldian. orientalism. neo-Marxist. Some proponents of these theories deemed Dumont’s ideas unacceptable. This contrast is then further refined via a juxtaposition with facts pertaining to other familiar categories. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. and Mister D. anthropologist’s language. their meaning fluctuates with every new finding obtained through analysis. when one aspires to stabilize this theory. “Les obvious is the inadvertent similarity between Dumont’s homo hierarchicus/homo aequalis contrast and the pointed comparisons I make between ‘relativized’ modern American society and the dialectically balanced social orders of older civilizations” (ibid. whose ideas on comparison are discussed later on. comparative results may be generalized and formalized. that is. and Bourdieuan approaches. particularly with regard to gender and historical relationships between Melanesia and the West” (Street and Copeman 2014: 8). and so forth. As a consequence. Instead. This is developed in Michael Houseman’s account of “The hierarchical relation” in this issue. we have narrowed its focus to Strathern’s work on Melanesia and Dumont’s on India. 1988) would thus inevitably turn into an endless round of hermeneutic quarrels. These two 11. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Dame M. The latter was influenced by Dumont. 12. To render our comparison more telling.”11 This gives rise to theory as a byproduct of comparison.121 Mister D. for example. Strathern has also been widely criticized for not acknowledging the “relationships of power and inequality. colonialism. the notions used by Dumont fall short of being well-defined concepts. occupied most disciplinary debates. among others. 13.13 Like Dumont. a series of anthropological approaches have also come to the forefront of the discipline and they reveal a set of germane elements to Dumont’s thought. However.12 However. Marilyn Strathern never engaged with Dumont’s ideas.g. mostly because they relativized political power and therefore seem to support all kinds of “domination-ism”: capitalism. postmodernist. Appadurai 1986. Over the last twenty years. that an epistemological (Great) Divide has been generated between the West and the rest. Momentarily. The closest and most systematic intellectual enterprise of this kind is Marilyn Strathern’s relational anthropology. at least when he built up the distinction between modern American society and older civilizations. In our reading. as. sometimes even evil. after which their thought takes a diametrically opposed direction. she constantly acknowledged her debt to Roy Wagner’s The invention of culture (1975). Strathern’s conceptual premises resemble those of Dumont to a certain point. the very possibility of comparison may be jeopardized. has also been deeply influenced by Wagner. Both authors wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects and have modified some of their ideas over the years.: 8). essentialism.

Like Marilyn Strathern. thus comparable to an individual) is not essential in itself. Dumont is not terribly interested in the Indian person qua agent.e.: 13). but a “dividual”14 person formed out of relations. the relation between two persons is the minimal unit in which a relation can be manifested. turning his back to India. i.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya122 thinkers’ theoretical apparatuses are very articulate and nuanced. Strathern. a pair of higher and lower empirical agents. but it may be useful for our understanding of the system. from this point on. Indians refer to it in the guise of a hierarchized caste system. Dumont’s contention is that the former vision refers to an integrated whole while the latter posits a collection of elements. In Strathern’s words. However. Dumont and Strathern elicit differences between the social formation they study and Euro-America. the two authors bifurcate. Dumont (1965: 91) argues that in India the individual in the normative sense does not exist because the smallest ontological unit (or normative agent) is that in which order (or hierarchy) is still present. Strathern (1988: 13) asserts that Euro-Americans define society as a whole that mirrors their totalized idea of the individual. exchanges and. For Strathern. while Euro-Americans describe it as a set of individuals. they both problematize the opposition between the individual and society (Dumont 1980: 4–19. which is his main concern. who coined the term about India in his critique of Dumont. Dumont noted that Euro-Americans and Indians tend to conceive differently the social configuration they live in. Dumont makes a similar contention when he deconstructs the EuroAmerican notion of the individual by separating two of its meanings (an “abstention. on the contrary. Her only concern is to draw the systematic consequences of this fact. In parallel with Strathern. On the contrary. To begin with. Strathern 1988: 11–15). When forced to encounter the topic. more broadly. This Indian multiple conception of the person echoes the consubstantiality between exchange partners that Strathern evidences in Melanesia. Dumont defines it (see above) in the light of the Indian hierarchical system. Since caste hierarchy characterizes India. Dumont conceives the Euro-American normative individual as an indivisible element. according to us. social life as it is practiced in Melanesia are incompatible with the Euro-American notion of the individual. complementary to each other in a particular situation. “conceptually distinct from 14. Nevertheless. In short. This is so because in Melanesia the agent is not a closed totality. On this point Marilyn Strathern explicitly follows McKim Mariott (1976).” in Holbraad and Pedersen’s terms: 2009: 379): the empirical agent and the normative concept (Dumont 1980: 9). yet the comparison that follows radicalizes their contrast in order to make it explicit. makes no hypothesis as to why the Melanesian person is dividual. “persons are frequently constructed as the plural and composite site of the relationships that produced them” (ibid. to paraphrase Viveiros de Castro (2004: 7). To do so. Strathern’s crucial inquiry is: “What would a world which has such a definition of the person look like?” In a second move. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . this academic irony has eclipsed how close Strathern’s and Dumont’s orientations actually are (see also Kapferer 2010: 224). This consideration (of the smallest unit.

Dumont (1953) showed that affinity and consanguinity were treated equally. for Dumont. However. for Strathern (1988: 12–16). the equality in question here is not that associated with the individual in Euro-America. The limit of her method is that the comparative endeavors she produces never add up. Dumont’s position is symmetrically opposed: since Euro-America has individuals. Dumont does not face the same problems of scaling as Strathern.123 Mister D. he can extract the relative value of each element he studies from the ethnography. In Dumont’s terms. since Melanesia has no individuals. in order: Strathern ([1991] 2004) stated on several occasions that notions of parts and whole are a heuristic and do not “represent” Melanesian sociality. irrespective of scale. this strategy confronts her repeatedly with a problem of scaling that could be formulated as follows: under which condition(s) can one compare elements pertaining to different societies and selected from an external point of view? To answer this question. their interpretation of such a common conclusion differs. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . the relations that brings them together. as we have seen. A clarification is. it invokes a totality. in an incommensurate world of parts and wholes. their relative position to other things. same-sex and cross-sex) within a global social context. something like an island of equality in an ocean of caste” (Dumont 1983: 167). for Strathern. In sum.)—following Wagner (1991)—resorts to the fractal paradigm. By contrast. Strathern (ibid. Rather. “South Indian kinship presents us with a contrast .  . where affinity is only present at one generation and then transforms into consanguinity at the next. For Dumont. She thus gains tremendous freedom to compare any two elements. both agree that Euro-Americans conceive society as a collection of individuals linked by relations external to them. that is. the value of things. India is an integrated hierarchized whole. she dispenses locating the Melanesian relations she engages with (e. in this context. However. Her work thus expands comparison’s possibilities considerably and elicits unexpected analogies: “an imaginative device through which to think about connections if we could dispense with its attendant presumption of integration taking place within a single entity” (Strathern [1991] 2004: 25). incommensurability. but a form of equality encompassed in the caste system and thus subordinated to hierarchy. however.g. the two authors face quite different problems. which posits that each level of certain objects replicates all the others levels in terms of complexity. In other words. Cogently.  . “That the English imagined themselves living between different orders or levels of phenomena. there can be no society in the Euro-American sense of the term. In this example. However. it can have no totality in the Indian hierarchical sense. in contrast to Euro-American kinship systems.. From there on. parts and wholes. which confrontation produces interesting results. both created and was itself a precipitate of the manner in which they handled perspective” (Strathern 1992: 87). Since. In his seminal study of South Indian Dravidian kinship terminology. but remain pure liberating experiences. The contrast is quite striking as Strathern invokes here several notions that Dumont would only use to describe India: orders or levels. the Euro-American conception of society refers to a collection of individuals. as Cécile Barraud remarks in her contribution to this section. is “included” in them. as everywhere else. because his analysis operates at once as a twofold movement: comparing India and Euro-America and contextualizing each value within the whole to which it belongs. her goal is to keep her analysis in between the two poles.” In sum.

As his terminology never perfectly fitted his purpose. persons and things (i. However. Strathern and Dumont anchor their anthropological practices on comparative differences and achieve a deconstruction of Euro-American theories of knowledge.” and can therefore best be thought of as residing “within them. the unity is neither in the part nor in the whole.) and thus generates a feeling of inaccuracy. 2009: 375) Dumont also resorts to a recursive comparative strategy.” (Holbraad and Pedersen. concepts. they can adopt a circumventing strategy by rendering visible their analytical process. Rousseau. . contrary to Strathern’s intensification. gift and commodities). True to his relativizing method.. but places it in a different framework. This contrast between the two authors is also manifested in their style. In contrast. displacements. Euro-American anthropologists. A first reading of some major political philosophy texts (Hobbes. We illustrated how Dumont initially established a radical contrast between India and Euro-America. Mandeville. reproduction. . Dumont subsequently attempted to discover in Euro-America whether the individual as a value was contradicted by other values. Here again. Both also collapse the distinction between epistemology and comparison. for Dumont. compared to Indian hierarchy. wholes. So comparisons are things that act as their own scales—things that scale and thus compare themselves. kinship. he often slides from one problematic metaphor to another (value. Each axis intensifies a difference by pushing it to its limit.. The differences that plural comparisons measure “between things” now emerge as constitutive of those very same “things. Euro-American equality. cannot escape the creation of merographic connections. no matter what they do. Euro-American knowledge production is held hostage by parts and wholes discourses. It also creates totalities: the values initially drawn from comparison become wholes when set in relation to subordinated values. implies also that the plural distinction between things and the scales that measure them also collapses into itself. but in the hierarchical relation that binds them.e. he recursively relativized this contrast by concentrating on encompassed values. At best. in that each stage partially contradicts the previous one. and so forth. .e. ownership. irrespective of all the unpleasant and even immoral revelations that could emerge from it. hierarchy.” This . Locke. Strathern tackles recursively along multiple comparative axes the distinction between Melanesia and Euro-America: gender (i. etc. . etc. As exemplified in Strathern’s work. For Strathern. Marx. and so forth.) appeared to show that this was untrue and that the individual claimed to spread a homogeneous shadow over every sector of the ideology. elicits individuals conceived as wholes and social formations as sets of individuals. Afterwards. Smith. anthropology and feminism). This procedure produces successive purposely unimaginative revolutions.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya124 although Dumont never foresaw any conclusive result to anthropology. Thus. Instead of building up a global unity. further investigation revealed a more nuanced configuration in which the overarching individual was perpetually and irremediably haunted 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . whereas Dumont always sticks to ordinary language. . Strathern produces many dazzling images. he expected comparisons to cumulate toward a better understanding of social life. this produces imaginative and aesthetic results (Strathern 1992).

They are present but implicit in the midst of equality. these hidden values opposed to liberty and equality do not manifest mischievous intentions. and devoid of centralized authority—all qualities also associated with Strathern’s work—the caste system is linked to hierarchical and pervasive structures. The allusions to the ontological turn are very limited because it is a very diverse current and a more complete consideration of it would have rapidly exceeded the ambition of this introduction. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Strathern’s and Dumont’s anthropologies reveal the differences between Melanesia and India. such as the limitation of economic liberalism by governments. human and nonhuman. His contention is therefore that. Finally.”15 Dumont. Holbraad. by its opposite (Dumont 1986: 17). and others Viveiros de Castro (1998: 469) once defined perspectivism as the conception “according to which the world is inhabited by different sorts of subjects or persons. This is the most striking and dramatic conclusion of Dumont’s comparative practice. thus blurring the distinction between the methods and the social formation studied. all attributes lumped in with Dumont’s orientation. They are a structural feature that at time evolves into an intensified form. To refine and relativize it. where anthropology conventionally pictures Melanesian social configurations as fluid.. they are not encompassed by it. According to Dumont.” which inspired by extension the broader current that now goes by the name of the “ontological turn. For a definition of the ontological turn and of three different ethnographic strategies within it. or (3) be the outcome of the interaction between cultures (Dumont 1994: 8–10). anthropological multiculturalist ontology is founded on the mutual implication of the unity of nature and the plurality 15. when values contradict the superior individual.” In perspectivism as in Strathern’s anthropology. We mostly discuss here the work of Viveiros de Castro and the people inspired by his “perspectivist” thinking (e. and Viveiros de Castro 2014). a particular form of personhood plays a central role. Pedersen. endowed with human figures and habits. “where our modern. (2) result from the application of the very individualistic principle. that of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s “perspectivism. dervishes. Dumont thus concluded that in Euro-America. seeing their bodily and behavioral aspects in the form of human culture” (Viveiros de Castro 2004: 6). plural. in Euro-America. we require a third point of view on radical comparison. which apprehend reality from distinct points of view. Viveiros de Castro make use of the Western notion of the person as it is. Our contrast therefore falls short of being conclusive. see Salmond (2014: 160–68). Consequently. 1986: 149–79). as is well known. Unlike Strathern and Dumont. In other words. these non individualistic aspects may: (1) manifest the survival of traditional practices and institutions such as the family or gender inequality. totalitarianism (Dumont 1977: 12–14.125 Mister D.g. generating contradictions. only inverting the characteristics associated with each of its elements (soul and body) and expanding its points of application: “Individuals of the same species see each other (and each other only) as humans see themselves.

the Amerindian conception would suppose a spiritual unity and a corporeal diversity—or. and Amerindian nature is multiple and constructed while culture is given and unique. and it is not the sum of the given and the constructed either. of the referential alterity between homonymic concepts. but adds value to it. Viveiros de Castro applies to hierarchy the same dervish move that he previously made with the opposition between nature and culture: he retains the parts 16. In our view. Viveiros de Castro (2001) explicitly draws on Dumont’s idea of Dravidian kinship (Dumont 1983) and develops the idea that affinity as a value is paramount in Amazonia.. The “whole” is. any notion of totality should not be rejected indistinctly: I am not suggesting that we should shun any notions of totality. just that we be wary of a fallacy of misplaced wholeness. Dumont’s contention is based on structuralism: practices and classifications in any social formation are imbued with values.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya126 of cultures. rather. anthropology. I venture to suggest that in Amazonian cosmologies the whole is not (the) given. jaguars’ or peccaries’). body and soul) but makes them whirl. Hence. nature and culture. One cannot oppose any couple of categories. in other words. that which humans strive to bring forth by means of a reduction of the Given as the anti-whole or pure universal relation (difference). In a seminal article on Amazonian kinship. Equivocation appears thus as the mode of communication par excellence between different perspectival positions—and therefore as both condition of possibility and limit of the anthropological enterprise” (ibid. or move from one to the other. the fact that Dumont is more concerned with praxis and agency than Lévi-Strauss. as if these were wickedly un-Amazonian. Euro-American nature is given and unique while culture is constructed and multiple. while the distinction between reality and representation is collapsed. they strive—with the help of shamans who act as mediators and translators of worlds—to understand what their rules are. In short. thus transforming it into a hierarchy (a configuration of values).16 For Viveiros de Castro (2001: 28). Accordingly. But from this it does not follow that every cosmology thinks everything that is under the category of totality—that it poses a totality as the “objective correlative” of its own virtual exhaustiveness. While agreeing with Dumont (contra Needham) that all classificatory relations carry a value asymmetry. like “indigenous perspectivism. according to Robert Parkin (2003). one ‘culture. Dumont reassessed Lévi-Strauss’ idea of structure. Viveiros de Castro parts from him when it comes to conceptions of totality. In effect..g. Viveiros de Castro has acknowledged Dumont’s work more than Strathern’s. Notably.g.: 5). the constructed. that is. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . In sum.” According to Viveiros de Castro. Any cosmology is by definition total in the sense that it cannot but think everything that is. is a theory of the equivocation. As anthropologists do.’ multiple ‘natures’” (ibid.). this might be called a “dervish move. The author thus considers that the world of anthropology stands in a relation of continuity to the Indian multiworlded reality. Amazonians scrutinize multiple juxtaposed worlds (e. without attributing them unequal value. and think it according to a limited number of fundamental presuppositions: holistic approaches are thus amply justified. Viveiros de Castro thus preserves several Euro-American conceptual oppositions (e.

nutritious and heady brew)” (Viveiros de Castro 2004: 6) 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 .” or at least for Viveiros de Castro. the meaning of things can only appear through an equivocation such as the one “implied in imagining that when the jaguar says ‘manioc beer’ [i. In her contribution to this section. For the “ontologists. all collapse anthropological analysis and epistemology..g. the coexistence of values produces no moral conflicts but rather a dualism in perpetual (or dynamic) disequilibrium.127 Mister D. the reversals that Viveiros de Castro performs in his comparative practice do no generate asymmetric relations but equivalent inversions. In the perspectivist model. According to us.e. Viveiros de Castro 2001. it strikingly differs from Dumont and Strathern’s method. this absence of hierarchy renders these ontological configurations elicited by Viveiros de Castro comparable to a Lévi-Straussian mythology (Viveiros de Castro 2008). Strathern argues that the “things” (i. Thus Viveiros de Castro can replicate (recursively) the same operation of inversion (e. while Viveiros de Castro (and other ontological turnees such as Martin Holbraad and Morten Pedersen) radicalizes comparison. Viveiros de Castro deals with ontologically framed questions. necessarily rely on a “radical alterity. for example between compatriot and enemy or consanguine and affine oppositions (Viveiros de Castro 2001: 30). the notion of totality that Viveiros de Castro advocates does not generate hierarchical relations. to follow the perspectivist inspiration: How does one put in perspective these three perspectives on perspective? Viveiros de Castro. 2009) in a move that we see as a conceptual whirl. While radically distinguishing Euro-America from the social formation(s) they study.) while Dumont relativizes radical differences through the incorporation of encompassed values. but the latter is constituted by the nature constructed in Amazonian fashion. Yet they all present distinct forms of comparative methods For example. as it were. there is no whole to incorporate them all. and the whole distinction. and Dumont all share a common ground. the terms of the relation of differences or.e. if categories have any value. given–construct. Holbraad and Pedersen 2009). he generates new radical concepts by “transmuting ethnographic exposures recursively into forms of conceptual creativity and experimentation” (Holbraad. and Viveiros de Castro 2014). he hyperbolizes differences by reversing logical oppositions (nature–culture.e. As a consequence. In sum. it stands outside of them. “what” is compared) contain their relation and their own scaling (Strathern [1991] 2004.. In opposition to Dumont. Aparecida Vilaça comments on Viveiros de Castro’s appropriation of Dumont and also notes that in Amazonia.. what the human see as blood] he is referring to the same thing as us (i. Threesome: Mapping How does one compare comparisons? In other words. The categories he inverts are placed at the same level. as he states. as Laidlaw (2012) remarked. Strathern. the definition of the person in India). a tasty. On the contrary. which.” Secondly. Pedersen. Finally. affinity–consanguinity etc. for Dumont. the meaning of these “things” emerges when juxtaposing their hierarchical relations to other “things” (see above. Firstly.. structurally speaking: one category does not encompass the other and.

for example.17 Viveiros de Castro collapses the distinction between reality and representation in the notion of ontology to maintain the equivalent value (continuity) of every form of existence. the ontological approach would be closer to Dumont than to Strathern. to propose a nonmoral (as tenable) anthropological reading of Mein Kampf (Dumont 1986: 149–79). Strathern is caught in issues of scaling and the ways they generate forms of discontinuity. a resemblance matched by the fact that both Strathern and Viveiros de Castro center their work on the person. given–constructed. and so forth. Dumont invested in multifarious notions of value and hierarchy—a liberty which has won him many critics. However. her writings are at times quite abstract and easily drift away from their initial concerns as her analysis unfolds. notions of exchange and production. Ontologists hold on to the radical difference because they consider it as real as it gets. as. Each orientation also generates its own obstacles. Viveiros de Castro generalized the ontological perspective and thus engaged in a recursive conversation with philosophers (especially Gilles Deleuze) who questioned oppositions such as subject–object. Strathern relativizes the difference by combining it with other comparative questions. while Dumont only pays moderate attention to it. as these seem to be back in style nowadays (see Descola 2013): Strathern Dumont Ontologists Power Radical difference Relationality Value Ontology nil19 Comparison practice Different axis Encompassment Equivocation Domination Result Postplural Hierarchy Liberation Metaphysics 17. The perspectivist Arawete’s world is a better model for anthropology than the Euro-American. nature–culture. reproductive technologies. For heuristic purposes. methodologically. Gregor and Tuzin 2001). in that respect. which he deems as the source of a comparison free of any value judgments. Strathern is closer to Dumont than to Viveiros de Castro in that their analysis originates from comparison but does not engage ontologically with the difference it elicits. 19. Where Dumont first posits a radical difference then relativizes it. Finally. Dumont conflates values and facts under the notion of value. Dumont dared.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya128 Each orientation collapses different distinctions. in Viveiros de Castro’s words.18 Finally. inasmuch as they admit the hierarchical nature of categorical oppositions and the necessity of the concept of totality in certain circumstances. Strathern collapses the distinction between parts and wholes to escape Euro-American epistemology and shed light on crucial contemporary debates on kinship. we may summarize the distinctions outlined above in a naïve chart. Power is universal. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Amazonia has often been often compared to Melanesia (cf. 18. drawing on locally subordinated values. these diverse worlds cannot be kept valueless from the point of view of anthropology. Consequently. Yet conceptually. is the Jaguar’s. and so on.

In this sociality. etc. Dumont believed. As we outlined above. As Iteanu remarks in his contribution. power. He argues that change is a process of recycling values rather than radical creation. Strathern seems to adopt a more “leftist” strategy.129 Mister D. has a subordinated value: it is necessary to establish new relations with the outside from which the objects and rituals essential to sociality are elicited. the history of individualism from Stoicism to Hitler (1986). Africa. Finally. For change puts values in motion. it reveals the contradictions and relations between them. Even individualism always combines with holistic values that contradict it in one way or another (Dumont 1983: 17–19. In this section. People act to slow down and temporarily stabilize this movement: relations must be reactivated for a time by ritual and especially exchanges. comparison draws on a radical difference between social formations but never promotes symmetry since no social formation is coextensive with the paramount value that characterizes it.). especially that of the ancestors. or should we say behave as a “contemporary artist. whether it was the relationship between castes and Vedic texts in India. and dualism Since modes of comparison are intimately linked to the social formation regarding which they have been created (India. The contributions in this section aim to engage with Dumont’s comparative project and method in Melanesia. On the contrary. it is crucial to put these methods to the test away from their context of origin. that anthropological knowledge was a cumulative enterprise. everything flows in Melanesia: objects as well as persons. Values in motion: Hierarchy. the emergence of the economic category in eighteenth. Dumont’s method assumes that no single value can be fully hegemonic: a paramount value always coexists with other values that contradict it. the contributions provide an understanding of the contradictions between values which aims to relativize the overstated contrast which grounds the comparative enterprise Indeed. Viveiro de Castro and the ontologists pursue political goals: to place indigenous people’s ontologies and the Euro-American philosophical tradition on an equal footing. 1994: 3–16). the meaningless movement. Dumont mostly dealt with changing value configurations in times of historical transition. or dualism? André Iteanu is concerned with the emergence of new configuration of values in Melanesia.and nineteenth-century Euro-America (1977). the coming of the “Whites” and Christianity were synonymous with an unprecedented potential expansion of sociality that 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Taken together. and Indonesia. The main question at stake in the contributions gathered in this section is the nature of the relations between values: Is it hierarchy. giving way to a world without limits and direction. rituals or ancestors. villages.” as her knowledge is consumed in the very act of its production. In this configuration. According to him. Amazonia. relations wither. Over time. power. quite conventionally . or the transformation of German ideology between 1770 and 1830 (1994). Dumont’s Indian findings are neglected yet his comparative approach is not. Melanesia. Dumont’s comparative project does not only focus on the question of what are the differences in our world(s) but also inquires into their becoming. Amazonia.

and even God. the Whites. the dynamism driven by the struggle between contradicting values is inherent in social life. money does not only circulate in commodity relations but is involved in every meaningful relation. In the wake of the arrival of the Whites and Christianity. Hierarchy is essentially the recognition of the importance of subordinate values. Yet a comparative experiment allows us to recognize that the relations at stake in exchange ceremonies are highly valued on another level. individualism as a value introduced by Christianity became paramount. Muslim rituals are systematically articulated to the exchange in birth and marriage: women’s exchange ceremonies combine hierarchically with Islam. especially those introduced by a universalist religion. Moreover. One could argue that such configurations are peculiar to transitional phases in which remote social formations have recently encountered individualistic values. In Dakar. all meaningful relations (those in which objects flows) have withered. as in Euro-America. Africa. However. Dakar. their hopes were progressively dashed. exchange ceremonies of birth and marriage in which women honor kinship relations with lavish gifts are condemned as a local custom (aada) that prevents the full realization of two universalistic and individualistic values: Islam and economic rationality. Robbins draws on Dumont’s notion of encompassment of the contrary. nor politics or even religion can synchronize the financial relations that compose this sociality: only life-cycle ceremonies (especially birth and marriage) successfully manage to do so. its full realization is limited by the importance of other values. converted to Christianity. and Amazonia. However.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya130 initially gave rise to high hopes of creating new fruitful relations of exchanges. Neither economics. Joel Robbins’ contribution on hierarchical dynamism analyzes the competing relation between individualistic and holistic values generated by the recent conversion to Christianity in Melanesia. Obsolete or subordinated values are recycled to build the new configurations. in the former.). Ismaël Moya deals with a context. Following massive conversions. etc. Whereas in the Euro-American configuration. the value that was previously subordinated now holds sway over sociality. and especially among the Wari’. this process in not a mere inversion: the hierarchy gave way to a configuration in which values (openness and relationality) struggle against each other on the same level. the proliferation of new churches. In this case. the dynamism of social life is driven by this struggle between values. The ancestors migrated abroad. namely relational ones. and embarked on various modern projects. finance is king. offers a challenging counterpoint that introduces a perspectivist point 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . the capital of Senegal. They are now as unresponsive as the politicians in the capital. the primacy of the economic dimension impinges on the political (Dumont 1977). Aparecida Vilaça’s paper on Christianity in Amazonia. in which Islam has been present for centuries. According to Robbins. Instead of understanding the contradictions between values as being caused by power relations or failures of the social order. However. According to Robbins. the reconfiguration of mythology to include relations to the Whites. the paramount order of value: that of absolute submission of the individual to God. In spite of the people’s creative efforts (letters to the dead. People abandoned their rituals. However. the economy in Dakar is subordinated to women exchange’s ceremonies.

 which corresponds to the animal side of the Wari’ and the human pole of the animals. warfare. recursive movements in opposing directions which are integral to the perspectivist paradigm.) nor on the elaboration of generic crosscultural categories. the constitutive difference between affinity and consanguinity was replaced by the extension of Christian fraternity to everyone. secondly. We would conclude by observing that Dumont’s comparative project. Traditional rituals. From a perspectivist point of view. However. tend toward a paralysis of the world. of view on the issues at stake in this section. and shamanic action) in which relations of alterity were objectified and stabilized. disappeared. worlds. has not been made obsolete by social changes. although not fully realized. On the contrary. Dumont’s comparative practice focuses firstly on the radical but relative (and thus never absolute) contrast between hierarchies of values but also. she explores different meanings of the ideas of equality and hierarchy that suggest a comparative perspective on the “equality of the sexes” as distinguished from gender equality. another aspect of Christianity introduced an oscillation: the presence of the devil. Instead. she foregrounds his idea of the equivalent value of the sexes. as they did before through kinship. In other words. and especially shamanism. it has been clarified and revivified. a place of superlative animality. Cécile Barraud’s contribution deals with Dumont’s fascination with equality in the context of Dravidian kinship categories. religious conversion. illustrated by the Wari’ interpretation of the Christian afterlife as a dualism made absolute between heaven. on the dynamic contradictions between values. radical comparison draws on differences. or globalization. However. The model here is not that of hierarchy but of oscillation. Christianity was initially appropriated in this configuration. Vilaça shows that the Wari’ perceived Christianity as an additional way to eclipse alterity (the animal/prey component) of human selves. the everyday ones of eclipsing alterity and producing kinship relations among humans and. 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . on the other. but depends neither on the preservation of an alterity between bounded societies (or wholes. eclipsed in the anthropological conversation by Dumont’s argument of equal value between affinity and consanguinity. ritual movement (collective ceremonies. Persons and animals are composed of human (predator) and animal (prey). Rituals are now aimed at the production of identity. which are especially intensified by social changes and the interaction between cultures. For example. whether urbanization. hierarchy exists but is perpetually reversing. composed of endlessly roasting prey. and the devil shifted from acting through animals to enter the person directly. that is. Wari’ sociality is characterized by interspecific transformability (see above). Wari’ pre-Christian sociality was composed of two movements in opposing directions: on the one hand. a place of superlative humanity composed of individuals deprived of any relation.131 Mister D. The devil reconstituted dividuality by restoring to the animals the agency taken from them by God (who also was originally dividual before detaching the devil). This configuration progressively transformed after the Christian revivalism of the twenty-first century. the changes introduced by Christianity. etc. As we have seen. and hell. as we understand it. to stabilize the human component. in contrast with the hierarchical principle of caste. Through a examination of sex distinction in different kinship terminologies. thereby suppressing his or her animal pole.

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André Iteanu is Directeur de Recherche at the CNRS and Directeur d’Études at the EPHE in Paris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mister D. 159-73. valeurs et théorie ethnographique Résumé : Cet article suggère que la pertinence des travaux de Louis Dumont pour la théorie ethnographique contemporaine réside dans sa conception radicale de la comparaison comme une expérimentation sur la différence qui abolit la distinction entre analyse anthropologique et épistémologie. Le texte applique donc la méthode de Dumont—la comparaison—à son anthropologie. ———. la stratégie anthropologique de Dumont est mise en perspective avec deux autres projets de comparaison radicale: celui de Marilyn Strathern sur la Mélanésie et celui d’Eduardo Viveiros de Castro sur l’Amazonie. New York: Berghahn. 1975.  André Iteanu  Centre Asie du Sud-Est . http:// digitalcommons. “The gift and the given: Three nano-essays on kinship and magic. He recently edited a volume.CNRS  190 Avenue de France  75013 Paris France iteanu@msh-paris. “GUT feelings about Amazonia: Potential affinity and the construction of sociality.: Comparaison radicale. “Claude Lévi-Strauss.edu/tipiti/vol2/iss1/1. La cohérence des sociétés (2010). ———. 2009. “Perspectival anthropology and the method of controlled equivocation. France.revues. Wagner Roy. a suburb of Paris.” Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 2 (1).trinity. 19–43. nous suivons le fil de la rencontre de Dumont avec le système des castes indien et le contraste radical qu’il a établi avec l’Euro-Amérique pour proposer une perspective sur sa méthode comparative et ses principales notions (valeur. 2004. edited by Maurice Godelier and Marilyn Strathern. edited by Laura M. Œuvres. The invention of culture. He has worked for many years with the Orokaiva of Papua New Guinea and with troubled youth in Cergy-Pontoise. The man who would not die (2013). 2001. hiérarchie.fr 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Bamford and James Leach. 1991. 237–68. and translated an Orokaiva autobiography written by Lucien Vevehupa. Whitehead. org/1215?lang=en. http://gradhiva. englobement).135 Mister D. “The fractal person.” Gradhiva 8. Dans la seconde partie. Rival and Neil L. 2008.” In Beyond the visible and the material: The Amerindianization of society in the work of Peter Rivière. Dans la première partie. ———. ———.” In Big men and great men: The personifications of power in Melanesia.” In Kinship and beyond: The genealogical model reconsidered. edited by Sandra C.

social hierarchies. and forms of representation. France). France). Islamic reformism. His current research interests includes ritual.fr 2015 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (1): 113–136 . Allée de l’Université  92023 Nanterre cedex France ismael. He is Chargé de Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS. and a member of the Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative (Université de Nanterre.moya@cnrs.André Iteanu and Ismaël Moya136 Ismaël Moya is a former economist who converted to social anthropology under the influence of his ongoing fieldwork in a poor suburb neighborhood of Dakar. gender. Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative. UMR 7186  Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie René-Ginouvès  21. Senegal.  Ismaël Moya  CNRS.