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1st Li Yih-yuan Memorial Lecture



Paul Steven Sangren: Hu-Shih Professor Emeritus, The Department of Anthropology, Cornell University, USA


SPATIAL IMAGINATION: Skinnerian “Human Interaction Systems” and the Roles of Spatial Imagery and “Subjection” in Chinese Rituals


10:00 AM ~ 12:00 PM


R323, The Old Wing, Institute of Ethnology


G. William Skinner’s complex apprehension of China as a nested hierarchy of regional (“human interaction”) systems revolutionized subsequent understanding of what “China” is in temporal and spatial terms. The prodigious spatial imagination embodied in Skinner’s project develops from an explicitly objectivist-cum-behavioralist perspective. For the most part, Skinner argued that emic perceptions – for example, of local identities, the structure of imperial bureaucracy, pathways for social and economic mobility – reflect these “natural systems” (i.e., emergent mainly on the basis of rational economic decisions, on the one hand, and the logic of political control and extraction, on the other). Spatial imagination figures importantly, but very differently, in the structure of ritual production of subjectivities (in the sense, broadly speaking, developed in Judith Butler’s Psychic Life of Power). Based on analysis of a variety of ritualized contexts (individual worship, domestic architecture, territorial-cult celebrations, pilgrimages, imperial rituals), I propose that Skinner’s framework nonetheless possesses potential insights regarding how emic spatial imagination figures in the production of these subjectivities. This juxtaposition of emic and etic vantages, on the one hand, troubles the distinction between ideology and social reality, but on the other hints at an encompassing theoretical synthesis.

Lecture PowerPoint


Lecture Recording