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Size Matters!: The Scalability of Modern Hunter-Gatherer Animism

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Cultural anthropology has for decades been committed to the multiculturalist tenet that all cultures should be equally approached, regardless of their population and community size. In this talk, I will highlight the unintended distortive effect of this approach when studying modern hunter-gatherers. I argue that the miniscule size of hunter-gatherer communities, shaping how they scale their world and imagine it, is a cardinal factor that should not be overlooked. I will examine the distortive effect of scale-blind studies of indigenous animistic beliefs, a long-studied topic that now enjoys much renewed interest. Key terms in the analysis of animism too often derive from large-scale modern social ontologies, as a result of which we fail to appreciate the intimate nature of interpersonal and interspecies relationships prevailing in the miniscule communities of hunter-gatherers.


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