Book Review — Freedom in Entangled Worlds, by Eben Kirksey

In Freedom in Entangled Worlds, the first book by anthropologist Eben Kirksey, Mellon Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, the reader is presented with a history of the merdeka movement in West Papua. This tale of magic, nationalism, and human rights in an “out of the way place” unfolds on a global stage as the author treks from the secret hideouts of guerilla fighters in the highland bush country to the seat of corporate power at BP headquarters in London. Along the way we get a master class in how an academic activist might balance post-structural theory with the kinds of strong knowledge claims that may influence political decision makers.

Indonesia formally incorporated West Papua into its nation in 1969 with the fraudulent Act of Free Choice. Since that time West Papuan leaders have pursued independence, or at least increased autonomy, for their region through many, often contradictory, means. From political engagement with the Indonesian state to pleas made before the international community tribal leaders and educated city dwellers have risked their lives through armed resistance, peaceful protest, and magic pursuing their dreams of freedom. The odds seem insurmountable and the movement itself endures near constant crisis, thus the theme of crisis as a sign of hope runs throughout this short, adventurous ethnography.

In a revealing scene towards the end of the book, Kirksey, finding himself in the halls of Washington power (and the crosshairs of an FBI investigation), forms alliances with other activist organizations such as the East Timor Action Network. Frustrated that his investigation into the murders of some American school teachers outside a Freeport MacMoRan mine is largely being ignored by those in positions of power he learns an important lesson every anthropologist who wishes to speak truth to power must learn.

“Politics isn’t about facts but about stories,” the director of ETAN tells him. “Your story is too complicated.”

That complicated story features some big theoretical guns too, principally Derrida and Deleuze, in whom the author finds fertile fields to grow ethnographic insights that criticize and expand some small corners of those theorists’ expansive domains. The result is a productive contribution to political anthropology and social movement studies in a post-structuralist vein that may serve us well even outside the narrow ethnographic focus of Kirksey’s research.

From Deleuze and Guattari is taken the idea of the rhizome, a notion that has grown in popularity lately as a figure of political resistance. Rather than forming hierarchical structures the rhizome develops horizontally, building underground movements that are notoriously difficult to disrupt. But Kirksey sees new possibilities in the figure of the banyan tree, a native of the Papuan forests, “With vast networks of aerial roots that grow into interlocking arboreal structures,” he writes, “banyans exceed the form of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome.” The banyan is both hierarchical and rhizomatic!

The banyan tree is the symbol of Golkar, the political machine of Suharto, the second President of Indonesia who ruled that nation for thirty-one years before resigning 1998. It was also the symbol of royalty in pre-colonial Javanese kingdoms. Beneath their canopies of interlocking branches entangled structures form by the fusion of aerial roots and other plant life is shaded out. But from the margins of the nation in far flung West Papua, local leaders were not dwarfed by Golkar’s banyan. Instead they found possibilities within its structure. These activists, “began to undermine, climb, appropriate, and replicate the architecture of domination… While rhizomes are trapped in plateaus – a steady state where climax is avoided – banyans build on inherited structures to generate novel forms.”

So here is our metaphor of power: banyan trees, known to botanists as structural parasites, are rife with knots, tangles, and physiological fusions; they do not pump nutrients from their hosts as do true parasites, but merely use them for architectural support. Such entanglements are messy and difficult to escape. Likewise in the unfolding narrative of West Papua’s merdeka movement we get this strange political game where, at times, it is difficult to tell if the Indonesian government is co-opting the merdeka movement, or whether the merdeka movement is exploiting the government. Kirksey rightly calls these, “strange collaborations,” with public interactions out in the open and plenty of dirty work going on backstage.

It is ironic that the banyan is a member of the same genus of plants that includes the fig tree. As a model for social movements I found it intriguing to reflect that only some such species of banyan produce tasty fruit that is edible to humans. It is as if to say that only some configurations of the hierarchical rhizome will produce democratic outcomes, others may be totalitarian.

In this ethnography nationalist dreams, whether Indonesian or West Papuan, are frequently marked by magical thinking and ritual performances intent on divining the future or projecting action at a distance. Hostilities between Indonesia and Papua overlap in the supernatural realm as the conflict becomes not just one of humans, but of volcanoes and vampires, earthquakes and unearthly beasts. Paramilitary soldiers take on powers of invisibility while resistance fighters become bullet proof.

But there’s a congruency between the magical worldviews of the natives and the “speculation, fantasy, and fabulation” on the part of multinational corporations such as Freeport MacMoRan and BP. Claims that are just as spectral and hard to pin down. Corporate promises and slick talk are another performative genre of divining the future and projecting action at a distance. It’s a classically surrealist move, making the civilized into the primitive and it’s a move that sets the stage for the second half of the book.

What good are the likes of Derrida and Deleuze for the freedom fighters of West Papua? One of Kirksey’s informants sees such posturing as useless. Instead he advocates for the kind of knowledge production that will have currency among official channels. “Don’t use your data as a pillow,” he warns. It’s a brilliant moment of metacommentary where the author and his interview subjects are commenting on the text as we’re reading it and it signals a transition into a kind of ethnography of ethnography. Through the lens of West Papuan human rights issues Kirksey pivots to address methodological issues by documenting his collaborative work with local movement leaders.

If we were cynics we might say that this is primarily a rhetorical move by which the author creates an authentic identity for himself, a sort of diplomatic passport that lets him pass between the world of academe and that of the activist. It is, however, quite well done. Here Kirksey reflects on his personal professional development and becomes a central character in the book. The author does a fine job of making this into a page-turning adventure of murder, massacre, and interviews conducted under the cover of darkness driven by the inherent urgency of human rights and his own passion for the cause, but without sensationalizing it.

For example, in the so-called civilized world’s heart of darkness at BP headquarters in London he meets with the CFO and senior VP for Indonesia, “Suddenly face-to-face with some of the most powerful men in Europe, I felt adrenaline rush through my veins,” but they challenge his credibility. He helps to write a news story for the Sunday Times and gets interviewed by BBC World Radio, broadcast live. In Washington he gives presentations to the staff for Congressional committees and the State Department. He gets stalked and harassed by the FBI, and “Suddenly my own entanglements with West Papuan political projects had become extremely personal and uncomfortable.”

In other words our post-structural anthropologist needs to learn how to operate in spheres dominated by positivists with the goal of producing sets of strong objectivity claims. The reader is brought along with him as he practices and hones this ability. His growth is our growth. This section of the book exemplifies how one might navigate the treacherous politics of knowledge, documented so well by Said and Spivak, and still emerge with something that can influence those in positions of power.

“A palm tree that has been engulfed, but not choked to death, by a strangler fig illustrates the awkward, yet enduring, relations that persist among entangled ‘enemies’ when a clear endgame is not in sight.” West Papua is a small nation under pressure from larger nation-states (Indonesia, the U.S.) and global capital. But in the spirit of the theme of entanglement the Papuans are neither resisting nor capitulating to these superior forces. This is an indigenous strategy of confronting power that like the banyan retains the capacity for surprise.

With its highly creative, mid-range theoretical innovations Freedom in Entangled Worlds will be of special interest to theoretical anthropologists studying social movements. Its brevity and adventurous tone will make the book an excellent fit in a theory class for talented undergraduates or junior grad students. Although I enjoy dabbling in French post-structural literary theory and psychoanalysis it has never been clear to me until now just how we are to connect that to the ethnographic. I felt that I came away from this book with a clearer understanding of some difficult primary authors and an appreciation for how anthropology can be relevant on a global stage.

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

12 thoughts on “Book Review — Freedom in Entangled Worlds, by Eben Kirksey

  1. It’s amazing how some anthropologists undermine existing traditional symbols, metaphors, and motifs just to forward their own kind of interpretive anthropology and misinterpretation.

    The etymology of banyan or banian–from “bania”, the community or caste of merchants in India–alone is enough to tell this author that its symbolism is about congregation, assembly, and unity. It is where people take shelter from the scorching sun and converge to conduct meetings. This is about unity not power, if we are to disregard its religious significance that is about immortality and gods’ caring nature.

    The state emblem, Garuda Pancasila, of Indonesia says it all:

    “The Meaning of the Garuda Pancasila Emblem

    The Garuda bird symbolizes strength. The golden color on the Garuda bird symbolizes glory. The shield in the middle symbolizes the defense of the Indonesian nation. Each symbol on the shield symbolizes each precept of the Pancasila, namely:

    The Star symbolizes the principle of Belief in One Supreme God [1st precept].

    The Chain symbolizes the principle of Just and Civilized Humanity [2nd precept].

    The Banyan tree symbolizes the principle of The Unity of Indonesia [3rd precept].

    The Bull’s Head symbolizes the principle of Democracy that is Guided by the Inner Wisdom in the Unanimity Arising Out of Deliberations Amongst Representatives [4th precept].

    The Rice and Cotton symbolize the principle of Social Justice for the Entire People of Indonesia [5th precept].”

    I have now a reason to read this book. Maybe my rage against interpretive anthropology, which is really an anthropology of misinterpretations, will have its second round. I’m interested to learn though how Islam and Christianity play their roles in the freedom struggle or the political compromise of West Papua.

    Terima kasih!

  2. I got that sense too in the first half of the book. You’re reading a history of events that not very many people know about, which is interesting in and of it self, but then these are being arranged and used as examples essentially to teach the reader something about post-structural theory. Sure all of this is very thought-provoking, but what is it really telling us about Papuans?

    What it comes down to is whether or not you buy this methodological move he makes in the second half of the book which is really a kind of applied anthropology. Like I said in the review, you can read this cynically as a kind of heroic “atonement” for the interpretive work which comes before. I don’t think that’s necessary because its forwarding a methodological agenda to unpack the politics of knowledge, but done in a way that’s more than just hand ringing.

    I guess I’m saying I don’t really do justice here in the review to his method and politics of knowledge. It’s interpretive anthropology tangled up in applied anthropology.

    P.S. I don’t think he says anything about Christianity or Islam. When he mentions religion its in terms of native traditions of animism and magic.

  3. @ M Izabel

    “The etymology of banyan or banian–from “bania”, the community or caste of merchants in India–alone is enough to tell this author that its symbolism is about congregation, assembly, and unity. It is where people take shelter from the scorching sun and converge to conduct meetings. This is about unity not power, if we are to disregard its religious significance that is about immortality and gods’ caring nature.”

    There are similar troubles in your own interpretation. First, the etymology you write of was of colonial origin. Apocryphal or not, there’s no narrative that I know of that makes the interpretive associations you make. People do indeed sit/congregate under some bargad trees in India–say for panchayat meetings and whatnot–but their practical and/or phenomenological function is only a minor part of the story. I’ll return to this in a moment. What’s more, no one today associates banyan trees with the banias, unless the latter happens to have set his shop up underneath one somewhere. The baniyas (some of whom I conduct fieldwork with) also have very little symbolic efficacy in terms of “unity” or “assembly.” In fact, most baniyas (when not stereotyped as stand-alone misers in expressive or popular culture) are often referred to as hierarchical particulars, viz. “mahajan” (lit. great life, but more often than not, simply means “rich man” or “big man” — in fact a close translation of mahajan into Malay might be “orang kaya.”). Whether negatively or postively evaluated, baniyas have nothing to do with a sense of unity or congregation.

    Second, you complete the hermeneutic wiffle-bird circle in writing that, “This is about unity not power, if we are to disregard its religious significance that is about immortality and gods’ caring nature.”

    Trouble is, the moment we disregard the incredibly salient and sub-continent-wide religious symbolism of the banyan tree, we not only “misinterpret” but also impart a quasi-functionalist reading of the trees themselves as if their practical qualities were the most important. In fact, most banyan trees are not simply shade trees and/or congregational sites. Anyone who’s spent some time in India will note that almost every bargard tree one comes across has been marked as a sacred space. Spend a little more time there talking with locals (esp. Hindus) and they will tell you that “God lives there.”

    Or, take the most famous of all banyan trees, the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya. That tree itself has its own mythology and histories (e.g. the current tree is a putative sapling of the original that made its way from Sri Lanka), and these cannot be reduced to the Buddha’s practical reasons for sitting under it. The symbolism of the Bodhi Tree is so rich and varied that one could write a new version of The Golden Bough based upon all the mythic variations of the tree’s place in the Buddhist ecumene (and then one would also have to include its place in local Saivite folklore — Saivites used to control the Mahabodhi temple complex — and the Vaishnavite cosmology as well — Buddha being one of the avatars of Vishnu).

    Point being — I agree with you that the hermeneutic approach to anthropology can be incredibly bogus, but there’s always an interpretive dimension to what we do. It’s how we approach it that matters. And from what you’ve written, you haven’t escaped the treachery of the hermeneutic circle. You’ve exchanged one blunt concept (“power”) with another (“unity”). And, you’ve used this exchange to proffer a more functionalist reading of the trees themselves that, in fact, sits in opposition to your initial statement that anthropologists shouldn’t ignore “traditional” meanings in order to make symbols work for their own theoretical ends. And in your description of the Indonesian state emblem, one must wonder how a statist interpretation of the banyan tree could serve as sufficient evidence for a generalized cross-cultural theory of the banyan symbol. An alternative approach would be to place the Banyan tree within its myriad cultural-cosmological frames, from which the political, ecological, and interactional orders that take place under the shade of the trees acquire their practical values. After doing so, there might actually be some purchase to the idea banyan trees are minimally and cross-culturally about “unity” — but demonstrating that is the real trick.

  4. I thought this one is enough:

    “This is about unity not power, if we are to disregard its religious significance that is about immortality and gods’ caring nature.”

    Traditional symbols, metaphors, and motifs have many contextual uses that are also traditional–meaning, they have histories in language and literature. It is not the case that one can use them at his whim, and voila they are in context.

    Banyan is a religious symbol for immortality and eternal life as presented in Vedas, Puranas, Hindu scriptures, and Sanskrit epics. Krishna saying “Of all trees, I am the banyan tree” in Bahgavad Gita shows that.

    The use of banyan trees in panchatantra, a collection of inter-related ancient animal fables, is about knowledge or wisdom, which is what the fables impart.

    Tagore’s use of banyan in this context is about cultural and spiritual diaspora:

    “To study a banyan tree, you not only must know its main stem in its own soil, but also must trace the growth of its greatness in the further soil, for then you can know the true nature of its vitality. The civilization of India, like the banyan tree, has shed its beneficent shade away from its own birthplace. India can live and grow by spreading abroad – not the political India, but the ideal India.”

    Letters to a Friend: Rabindranath Tagore’s Letters to C. F. Andrews (1928)

    Even Tagore’s banyan poem shows how the tree is a center of life.

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-banyan-tree/

    Check how this Indian politician used banyan to characterized their party leader yesterday:

    “Swaraj said Advani was a like a banyan tree under whom several people have found shelter.”

    http://www.rediff.com/news/report/despite-differences-bjp-leaders-come-together-for-advani/20120612.htm

    Did she mean unity and knowledge when she said “shelter”? It’s definitely not about power. Their party lost in last general election, and their leader failed in its quest to become India’s prime minister.

    The use of banyan as the center of village life, yes, where people–traders or common folks– meet, talk, and negotiate is obvious in Indian folk literature. This Rajasthani folk tale shows that:

    http://www.dimdima.com/khazana/stories/showstory.asp?q_storyid=253&q_catid=18

    India’s cultural department also uses banyan as its national tree to symbolize national unity.

    I hope I have covered much.

    The issue I’m really interested in is Kirksey’s denial of these existing symbolizations. Did he invent his own because using existing traditional meanings would go against the veins of his subject? I just don’t think Indonesia’s banyan as a symbol of unity is appropriate in West Papua’s freedom struggle. So, the banyan has to be a parasitic and invading power so the political narrative where Indonesia invades and exploits the resources of West Papua is clear and meaningful. Isn’t this contrived or deliberately manufactured? I wonder if it was Guatari and Deleuze’s ideas that pushed him to make his own symbolization. That’s the danger when we allow theories to control us.

  5. I haven’t read Kirksey’s book yet, but I’m in full agreement with you that (1) we shouldn’t discount the myriad meanings a symbol like the banyan tree has for people, (2) philosophical abstractions like those of D & G should not guide our analyses (I am a huge proponent of ethnographic theory), and (3) the examples you culled from various aspects of folklore, religious symbolism, and political metaphor are absolutely crucial toward gathering a sense of what kind efficacy and significance the banyan has in South Asian history and contemporary cultural politics. Nor would I be foolish enough to reduce the meaning (or even the theoretical potential) of the tree to one of “power” or indeed to any other abstractions — like “unity,” for example.

    [Nor do I really like scholarly discussion on blogs (maybe I'm just a luddite). But, because I'm an anthropologist who works in India, has lived here (I'm there now) on and off for the past 10 years; in that I speak several regional languages, and that I'm overall committed to regional expertise, I feel that I have a stake in this discussion. So I only ask that you take my minor criticisms as collegial rather than schismogenetic.]

    My point was simply to say that it seems odd that one would rail against interpretive anthropology and then adopt its own methods. Take for example, what you write here:

    “The use of banyan as the center of village life, yes, where people–traders or common folks– meet, talk, and negotiate is obvious in Indian folk literature.”

    This is purely interpretive. So is your take on the description of Advani–the example of which doesn’t disprove that hierarchy and power are at play here, and indeed were one to make this claim one would have to show what kind of power or what sense of power is actually at play. But, back to the folk-tale. You provide a link to an English translation of a Rajasthani (who in Rajasthan?) folk-tale with no apparent source on the website. But, let’s assume that this story is indeed a particular lok-katha from a particular place. It is not obvious from this tale (or from any other sources I am familiar with) that banyan trees are places where differently classed (indeed, casted) peoples necessarily meet to talk and negotiate–although it could easily be the case for some villages. Indeed, I don’t deny this possibility–I’ve just never seen it. But why should we infer that the banyan is the center of village life from this folk-tale? It is indeed a center, but not necessarily the center. Second, note the relationship between the three main characters–all upper caste: a Rana (a kingly figure–probably a Rajput), a Thakur (a landed aristocrat), and a Bania (merchant/moneylender). Each are hierarchically-classed with relationship to one another–and indeed the baniya (in typical mischeviousness) calls upon the higher power of the Rana (outside the former’s contractual relationship to the Thakur) to up the ante, so to speak (here we are dealing with a schismogenetic relationship). The cutting of noses, too, is a dominant theme in the literature on peasant insurgencies against the power of baniyas (but, in this case, it is a Thakur — a superior — who threatens to do the cutting). Now what of the banyan tree? A “witness?” The personification of the tree in this tale is puzzling, but not unusual given the profuse connection of the tree with divinity. One could take it as a symbol for a variety of things, or indeed as a non-human agent itself — and if one wanted to do a serious analysis of it, one would have to work through comparative material. But, what we could take away from this story — instead of assuming the tree is simply a central place of congregation/negotiation, or only emphasizing its political or religious significance — would be to cool our interpretive impulses and attempt to grasp how relationships to the tree itself relate to the other relationships between the characters. That’s a starting place. To get to the heart of the matter requires some good ethnographic work. What symbols are salient when and where? Which ones do social work? How might we know the importance and cosmological significance of the tree prior to its social-symbolic efficacy?

    Long post, shortened…I do agree with the heart of your comment and I agree that asking “why” the banyan tree should be so significant at all is a wonderful question. But, your use of examples do not point a way beyond a hermeneutic approach — rather, they fall into the same trap of simply showing that it’s “turtles all the way down.”

  6. *to characterize
    *his quest

    Okay, Sean. Banyan tree symbolizing unity is not my interpretation. Cultural managers of India and Indonesia use it to symbolize national unity.

    Taken from David Smith’s “Hinduism and Modernity” (page 189):

    “The Vishva Hindu Parishad Neither the BJP nor the RSS includes the word Hindu in its name. That omission was remedied in the creation of another organization affiliated to the RSS. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), was founded in 1966 to counter secularism, with Swami Chinmayananda as president and S. S. Apte of the RSS as general secretary. It was first mooted at a conference in 1964 con- vened by Golwalkar, head of the RSS. The five Shankaracharyas were present, along with Jain and Sikh leaders, and the Dalai Lama. Golwalkar explained that the aim was to unite all faiths of Indian origin, ‘all those faiths and beliefs that have sprouted from the banyan tree’. The word Hindu applied to the followers of all those faiths. Those present were told by Apte: ‘The world has been divided into Christian, Islamic and Communist; all these three consider the Hindu society as a very fine rich food on which to feast and fatten themselves. It is therefore necessary in this age of competition and conflict to think of, and organise, the Hindu world to save it from the evil eyes of all the three.’”

    http://www.scribd.com/search8819/d/30835631-smith-hinduism-and-modernity

    It’s obvious that the group’s use of banyan is about unity and unification. Don’t misread me in this one. I don’t support the fundamentalist ideology and politics of RSS and VHP. I cannot support the ideology that murdered the Mahatma.

    The Rajasthani folktale is a cultural project of dimdima.com, which is a unit under Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

    Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

    Founded by a great Indian visionary Dr. K. M. Munshi on November 7, 1938, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is an educational institution of national eminence. The Bhavan functions through its nationwide network of Kendras or centres in India and overseas centres in New York, London, Singapore and Sydney. The Bhavan strives for reintegration of Indian Culture and interfaith harmony. Bhavan’s activities include, formal education through its schools and colleges, informal education through children’s supplements and Pages produced for newspapers and periodicals in India, e education through Dimdima On Line.

    http://www.dimdima.com/links/about_us.asp

    People here who have read my India-related Online posts and comments can tell you that my interest in anything Indian is not shallow and fleeting. If I were in foreign service, my regional expertise would be the Indian Subcontinent. Now that I am a chef, I’ll just master my cooking of biryani.

    Thanks for engaging.

    Namaste!

  7. If this were a literature forum, I would post my thesis on literature and reality. You surprised me with your question regarding the author of the Rajasthani folktale. Folktales are oral literature, and you know that.

    Going back to the post, even though the ideological and idealist in me supports West Papua, I question the intent of the author in writing this book. Is it to present how a subjugated culture struggles under a subjugating culture or to show Guatari and Deleuze’s theoretical illustrations as operatable and relevant?

    Anyway, I just ordered the book from Amazon.

  8. You misunderstood my question about the context of the folk-tale — Who in Rajasthan? I was not referring to an author–as in an individual author. Rather, I was slightly annoyed at the website for not specifying among whom this tale comes from or from what oral source (or even language) it was collected from. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of communities in Rajasthan, many with their own particular oral traditions. Rajasthani is a blanket term that, partially because of the necessities of using nested partonomies in indexical reference, glosses over local distinctions. To someone in Assam (where I work), all Bhils, Marwaris, Shekhawati-valas, Bikaner-valas, saperas, Meos, rajputs, etc. are all “Rajasthani” — and among varied people who trace their ancestry to Rajasthan, they often identify with the title “Rajasthani” when they are away from “home.” (Similar to Val Daniel’s point in his essay “The Lost Ur”)

    But none of that really tells me much about the context of the folk-tale. If it is (or was) popular across Rajasthan, among several groups, okay, we’ll call it Rajasthani…but again, I am not given any further idea of where this version was taken from.

    Back to your point about “unity” not being your interpretation, but that of statist cultural managers and/or ideologues. OK, point taken, but it didn’t seem that you were making that point in your initial post. Perhaps I misread what you originally wrote. If I did, my apologies.

    In any event, cultural management is such a rage in India. One of my favs is how the Tourism Ministry now uses the Sanskrit verse Atithi devo bhav (or, “the guest is god”) as an epithet to its “Incredible India” brand. Hocart had a wonderful essay about this concept — and now, things are getting interesting and reified as many of the “tribal” communities in the Northeast find this to be a concept that appeals to their own (non-Sanskritic, non-Brahmanical) cultures. Luckily this is not a place where gods are ritually sacrificed…eh?

  9. Interesting conversation, even if most of its detail is over my head. You two are obviously more versed in this Indian/ Hindu material than I am (having been busted by a different reader for my ignorance in my review of Sita Sings the Blues).

    I am concerned that I have mischaracterized the book in my review. Kirksey’s analysis is not “guided”, as you say, by the philosophical abstractions of Deluze or Derrida. Rather he’s using ethnography to critique those theorists. Anthropology does have something interesting to say about how we read and use philosophy, but in doing so the author necessarily must make an interpretive turn. Essentially he’s using the ethnographic materials for his own ends: honestly what Papuans think of banyan trees is beside the point.

    It’s more about how sitting with Papuans under banyan trees is a transformative experience for the anthropologist, causing him think “Hmm… Deluze was onto something, but maybe he was too hasty.”

    As for the question of the author’s intent (I mention this in the review and in the comments section above), the second half of the book is like applied anthropology. Its a chronicle of various activist undertakings the anthropologist participated in, collaborating with Papuan leaders. But its also about the difficulties of navigating a world dominated by positivists who demand simple explanations for a complex world. The reader will have to decide how to balance the post-structural theory with the testifying before Congress. It’s certainly ironic!

Comments are closed.