Department of Social Anthropology

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2018: Michael W. Scott

The title of this year's lecture is "The Future of Prophecy: Transforming Temporalities in Melanesia and Anthropology".

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture
The invited speaker for the Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2018 is Dr Michael W. Scott, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen

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We are happy to announce that Dr Michael W. Scott, London School of Economics & Political Science, will give the Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2018.

The Future of Prophecy: Transforming Temporalities in Melanesia and Anthropology

In Cosmologies in the Making, Fredrik Barth staged a playful yet illuminating comparison between the way anthropologists write about cultural others and the way they write about themselves.  Anthropologists, he observed, write about others as though they were always repeating received cultural forms, but portray themselves as always composing ‘an emerging...tradition of knowledge with no pre-set and over-arching order’ (1987: 18-19).  This comparison, he said, was about getting ontology right.

In a similar spirit, this lecture aims to get temporality right by staging a comparison between the thing the Arosi people of Solomon Islands call kastom profesi (traditional prophecy) and contemporary discourses about prophecy in anthropology.  The latter, I suggest, announce a temporality of pure duration in which prophecy proliferates a limitless variety of new and unpredictable futures.  In contrast, Arosi kastom profesi indexes a spatialized temporality in which prophecy reveals the coming realization of a hidden but intrinsically complete whole.  In light of this comparison, and in keeping with an agenda I have developed for the comparative study of ontology, I argue that Arosi kastom profesi warrants theorization of what I call ‘totemic prophecy’.

Were the theoretical implications of Barth’s playful comparison at odds with those of my own, or did he prophesy the different trajectories the anthropology of ontology would take in the twenty-first century – or both?

About the lecturer

Michael W. Scott is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  He conducts field research in Solomon Islands, chiefly among Arosi speakers on the island of Makira.  His research has contributed to the development of theory in diverse subfields, including the study of human-land relations, comparative cosmology and ontology, Christianity, ethnogenesis, and wonder. 

He is the author of the monograph, The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands.  Among his current projects are a pictorial history of Makira (co-authored with Dr Ben Burt) and an ethnography of the ways in which Arosi compose their island as the site of a mysterious and powerful subterranean urban-military complex.

Refreshments and drinks will be served after the lecture. All interested are welcome!