Veena Das


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Asian History | Philosophy of Language | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Textures of the Ordinary: Doing Anthropology After Wittgenstein is an exploration of everyday life in which anthropology finds a companionship with philosophy. Based on two decades of ethnographic work among low-income urban families in India, Das shows how the notion of texture allows her to align her ethnography with stunning anthropological moments in Wittgenstein and Cavell as well as in literary texts from India. Das poses a compelling question – how might we speak of a human form of life when the very idea of the human has been put into question? The response to this question, Das argues, does not lie in some foundational idea of the universal as that of human nature but in a close attention to the diverse ways in which the natural and the social mutually absorb each other within overlapping forms of life.

There are four themes developed in the book. First, Das shows that a new mode of doing anthropology after Wittgenstein does not consist in taking over a new set of terms such as forms of life, language games, or private language from Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Instead, what is proposed is a method for learning to see what eludes us in the everyday precisely because it is before our eyes Second, the book shows how ordinary, domestic reality is impaired not only by catastrophic events but also by the repetitive and corrosive soft knife of everyday violence and deprivation. Skepticism toward the world appears here not as a cognitive stance toward the stability of reality but as experiential threat that cannot be expelled from the everyday or extinguished once and for all. The book advances a view of ordinary ethics as attentiveness to the other, and the ability of small acts of care to stand up to horrific violence. Finally, the book also presents a picture of thinking in which concepts and experience are shown to be mutually vulnerable and ethnography is treated as intimately connected to autobiography as a form of reflection emanating from the impersonal regions of the self.



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