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Is there any Body out there? Love and loneliness in anthropology

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Peter Gow once wrote of the Piro social body that it assumes ‘multiple other selves’ through whom the life of the person is made meaningful. This, he continued, is ‘a sustained and generalised form of compassion’ where knowing the hunger, the loneliness and the love of every other body in one’s world is the primary requirement for becoming human. In this cosmology the only being is relational being. Gow’s insight is repeatedly echoed in ethnography from diverse hunter-gatherer groups living in diverse regions and climates, from the Hadza to the Bayaka and Ju/hoan, from the Huaorani to the Piro, from myriad Native American and First Nations peoples to the Arctic Inuit: survival is a matter of empathy, of sharing and being touched by the lives of others. In an age of increasing social isolation, asks Morna Finnegan, what can this ethnographic commentary teach us about the nature of human loneliness and love?

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