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Contributaries. From confusion to confluence in the matter of water and agency

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2014

Extract

I am happy to see that my essay has generated a lively discussion, and am most grateful to the respondents for their insightful contributions. Their comments express varying levels of agreement regarding the agency of things. Vernon Scarborough revisits anxieties about whether agency implies intentionality. Using the term ‘agency’ is indeed problematic if we assume that it entails sentience or intentionality (and I do not), but if we define it more precisely as a capacity to act (upon), it is possible to excise intentionality from the equation. This simultaneously allows us to acknowledge the agentive capacities of things without proposing or implying a form of faux animism. Anthropology has indeed drawn imaginatively on specifically cultural beliefs and knowledges, for example in composing more relational visions of human–other interactions than Western science tends to allow (see Strang 2006a), but this is not tantamount to assuming that things contain spiritual presence, or have ‘their own sense of agency’.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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References

Boivin, N., and Owoc, M., M. (eds), 2004: Soil, stones and symbols. Cultural perceptions of the mineral world, London.Google Scholar
Strang, V., 2006a: A happy coincidence? Symbiosis and synthesis in anthropological and indigenous knowledges, Current anthropology 47 (6), 9811008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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