Seeking Personhood: Anthropological Accounts and Local Concepts in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea

By Strathern, Andrew; Stewart, Pamela J. | Oceania, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Seeking Personhood: Anthropological Accounts and Local Concepts in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea


Strathern, Andrew, Stewart, Pamela J., Oceania


INTRODUCTION: CULTURAL TRANSLATION AND ANALYSIS

The triad of terms, person, self, and individual, has been variously deployed in anthropological writings to approximate concepts and experiences in people's lives and to match these with the resources of the English language. Some writers have made clear distinctions between these terms, others have blurred them or highlighted one term rather than another or declared that one or more does not find a counterpart in the culture under study. Some have used ideal-type distinctions to contrast 'Western' notions with those of 'others'. Some have per contra argued that, e.g., ideas of individuality are found everywhere. The discussion is in one sense about cross-cultural translation and in another about the creation of analytical categories for the purpose of making comparisons and generalizations. Further, arguments about 'personhood' have been succeeded by those about embodiment (A.J. Strathern 1994, 1996), and embodiment theory can theoretically be used to re-examine the issues of translation and analysis implicit in the earlier work on personhood. In this paper we look first at these earlier debates, and conclude that the diversity of usages by authors suggests that straightforward distinctions are hard to maintain. Consequently, we must take seriously the need to base our discourse in local concepts to see how these may engage with our own concepts rather than how they are to be subsumed by these. We use two sets of life history materials from the Mount Hagen area of Papua New Guinea to show how such an approach can be exemplified. We argue that the local (Hagen) theory of noman ('mind') underlies the narratives here and helps to explain the actions and reflections of the protagonists. Such a theory constitutes a set of ontological pressures that also bear on people's actions and ideas.

THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF A TRIAD

We summarize the views of several authors here to illustrate the fluidity and diversity of usages found in the literature on 'personhood'.

1. Grace Harris (1989) argues that person, self, and individual should be clearly distinguished. For her, person refers to human beings in society who have agency; self to human beings as centers of experience; and individual to living human entities. 'Individual' is thus a universal term with little content, self appeals to the idea of interiority and subjectivity, and person to the social actor living in a moral context. She suggests that one or more of these concepts may be muted or highlighted in a particular culture, but 'person' tends to occupy center stage in her account.

2. Nancy Rosenberger examines these concepts in relation to Japanese data. Her purpose is to challenge the putative dichotomy between the Western 'autonomous' individual and 'others' who are supposedly swayed by emotion and context (Rosenberger 1992:2ff.). She argues instead for a view of the self that attains meaning in embodied relations to other people, implying also that people are 'creative, and they produce as well as reproduce culture' (p.3). In line with this view, she presents the sense of the self in Japan as an interactive process, molded through social relationships. The self thus, for her, subsumes both person and individual, and allows for contradictory and ambiguous aspects (cf. Mageo 1995 on Samoa).

3. A.L. Epstein, writing primarily about the Tolai of Papua New Guinea, also finds that universal distinctions between person, self, and individual are hard to maintain, but suggests that they are tools needed to address issues. For the Tolai he notes that their kind of individuality is seen as needed for the achievement of personhood and that the idea of an 'inside' versus an 'outside' self is needed to understand Tolai dreaming (A.L. Epstein n.d.; cf. Stephen 1995 on the Mekeo).

4. Anthony Cohen (1994) stresses the universality of concepts of self and individual, and argues against the denial of individuality to 'others', focussing on consciousness and the authoring of the self within social contexts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Seeking Personhood: Anthropological Accounts and Local Concepts in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.