The idea “to do something about holism” came up during a board meeting of the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography in autumn 2004. Funded by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology, and Innovation, the Research School has as its main task to support and enhance PhD training in anthropology and is a collaborative enterprise between the Departments of Anthropology at Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen.

The idea arose from a discussion about what constituted the special characteristics of anthropological research in comparison to other styles of inquiry within the overall need to specify how one might best train doctoral students for a future of interdisciplinary collaborative work in a world that increasingly challenges the routines of traditional ethnographic fieldwork.

Ton Otto had just taken over as head of the Research School and organized a series of 1-day workshops on holism in 2005, to which he invited Bruce Kapferer, Veena Das, Tim Ingold, and George Marcus as guest professors. Next, holism was chosen as central theme of the biennial conference of the Research School for 2006 under the title”Reinventing the Whole in a Global World”. These biennial conferences – which with a customary Danish sense of ironic self-aggrandizement are called the Megaseminars – are the main forum for anthropological debate in Denmark and gather staff, doctoral students, and guests from abroad. Keynote speeches in 2006 were delivered by Eric Hirsch, Martin Holbraad, Bruce Kapferer, Emily Martin, and Anna Tsing.

From this grew the idea that the theme of holism could work as a diagnostic device to rethink the state of the art of anthropology. Ton Otto and Nils Bubandt decided to join forces to produce an anthology on this issue and collaborated in organizing a conference, “Beyond the Whole? Anthropology and Holism in a Contemporary World,” in 2008. The conference was generously funded by The Research Priority Area Globalisation at the Faculty of Humanities, Aarhus University, as well as by the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography. We thank both institutions for supporting this conference. Without the conference this anthology would not have been possible.

All contributors to the present anthology – with the exception of Daniele Moretti, who joined the project later on – as well as Fredrik Barth, Andreas Roepstorff, and 10 doctoral students, participated in this conference. In addition Veena Das, Kirsten

Hastrup, Emily Martin, and Marilyn Strathern were also invited but were unable to attend, and due to various other commitments were also unable to produce a chapter. We regret this of course but are pleased to note that a number of their ideas are still part of this book.

We would like to thank Rosalie Robertson and Julia Kirk from Wiley-Blackwell for their support of this project, and freelance project manager Nik Prowse and copy-editor Cheryl Adam for their excellent cooperation. Finally we would like to thank the doctoral students and staff of the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography for contributing to a productive and challenging intellectual environment.

The work of editing this anthology and writing the introductions has been shared equally by Nils Bubandt and Ton Otto.

Nils Bubandt, Aarhus

Ton Otto, Cairns

April 2010

List of Contributors

Nils Bubandt

Afdeling for Antropologi og


Aarhus Universitet


8270 Hojbjerg, Denmark

Philippe Descola

Collège de France

Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale

52, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine

F-75005 Paris, France

Jonathan Friedman

Lilla Fiskaregatan 8A

222 22 Lund, Sweden

Eric Hirsch

Department of Anthropology

Brunel University


Middlesex UB8 3PH

United Kingdom

Martin Holbraad

Department of Anthropology

University College London

14 Taviton Street

London WC1H 0BW

United Kingdom

Tim Ingold

Department of Anthropology

University of Aberdeen

Aberdeen AB24 3QY

Scotland, United Kingdom

Bruce Kapferer

Institutt for sosialantropologi

Universitetet i Bergen

Post Box 7802

5020 Bergen, Norway

George E. Marcus

Department of Anthropology

3151 Social Science Plaza

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, CA 92697

United States

Daniele Moretti

Department of Social


University of Cambridge

Free School Lane

Cambridge CB2 3RF

United Kingdom

Mark Mosko

Department of Anthropology

College of Asia and the Pacific

Australian National University

Canberra ACT 0200


Ton Otto

The Cairns Institute

James Cook University

PO Box 6811

Cairns Qld 4870


Morten Axel Pedersen

Institut for Antropologi

Københavns Universitet

Øster Farimagsgade 5, opgang I

1353 København K


Alan Rumsey

Department of Anthropology

College of Asia and the Pacific

Australian National University

Canberra ACT 0200


Marshall Sahlins

5629 S. University Ave.

Chicago, IL 60637

United States

Anna Tsing

Department of Anthropology

University of California

Santa Cruz, CA 95064

United States

Rane Willerslev

Moesgaard Museum

Moesgaard Allé

8270 Hojbjerg