The Detachment Collaboratory

Interdisciplinary experiments in disconnection
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Audio Files from the 2010 Detachment Conference

Below are audio files from the July 2010 conference Reconsidering Detachment

Panel One: Divesting and Reconstituting the Social

Penny Harvey Producing Data to Shape a Better World: Mathematics and Engineering in Southern Peru

Bob Simpson & Salla Sariola Stabilising Science: Reflections on Detachment and Collaboration in the Conduct of Trials in Developing World Contexts.

Evelyn Ruppert Social Traceability: Being in Data. (followed by Q&A)


Panel Two: Academic Detachment and/as Engagement

Thomas Yarrow Introduction: Engaging through Detachment?

Alberto Corsin Jemenez The Baroque Enhancement

Ann Kelly Will He Be There? A meditation on projects, immobility, and responsibility

Dan Hicks Intimate Distance: Three Kinds of Detachment in the Archaeology

Adam Reed Discussant, followed by panel Q&A


Paul Du Gay “Stay Frosty”: On the Ethics and Politics of Bureaucratic Detachment


Panel Three: Investigating Inter-Species Detachment

Matei Candea Introduction

Eduardo Kohn Relation Through Confusion: Indistinction and Enchantment in a Living Amazon Forest

Kim Baker Intercourse-Intervention: Working Relationships on Indoor Intensive Pig Farms

Ben Campbell Being Reminded From the Other Side: Himalayan Eco-Sentience in the Age of Climate Change


Jo Sechell An Introduction to Primatological Method

Frédérique Jankowski Detachment as a Way of Being Engaged: Human Observer-Primate Relations in the Field




Panel Four: Detached Legality and Legal Engagement

Melissa Demian The Double Life of Papua New Guinea’s Repugnancy Clause: Separating the Criminal from the Customary

Simon Roberts On the Nature of Legal Detachment

Allen Abrambson Disconnective Wholes: Stretching Disjunction through Legal Articulation in the Fallen Chiefdoms of Eastern Fiji


Gerhard Anders Managing Doubt on the Frontline of International Humanitarian Law: Outreach Events of the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Caroline Humfress Discussant



Antoine Hennion Bodies and Things: From ANT to Attachment/Detachment


Panel Five: Faith as Detachment

Joel Robbins Engaged Disbelief: Problematics of Detachment in Christianity and in the Anthropology of Christianity

Soumhya Venkatesan Liberation and the path of the Householder

Stuart Mclean Out of the Invisible Crowd: Memorialisation and the Cult of the Dead as Practices of Detachment


Morten Axel Pedersen Detaching the Spirits in Mongolia: A post-Relational Analysis

Rane Willerslev The Enigma of Distance in Sacrifice

Alberto Corsin Jimenez Discussant



Michael Carrithers Irony as Method


Panel 6: Rhetorics and the Practices of Detachment in Contemporary Buddhists Ethics

Joanna Cook & Jonathan Mair Introduction

Gustaaf Houtman Vipassana: A reflection on Detachment in the Context of Van Gennep’s Theory of Rites ode Passage in the Unpartitioned House.


Ven. Chueh Ru Shih The Carefree Life

Steven Collins Discussant



James Laidlaw Detachment, Disinterest, and Indifference


Matei, Joanna, Thomas, Catherine Concluding Remarks

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Albert Piette, the minor mode and detachment

I have recently been introduced to the writings of Albert Piette, anthropologist at Nanterre University. His work on the minor mode provides a fascinating alternative way into questions of detachment, distance, and ‘partially involved’ sociality. Most of this work is in French, however the following draft piece might be an entrance-point into this work for non-francophones:

For francophones, Piette’s work has touched on a range of topics which have also been explored by contributors to the detachment project, such as
- human-animal relations:

- The relationship between belief and the minor mode:

- As well as the relationship between the minor mode and Gofmanian sociology:

See for further details and texts.

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What exactly did we mean by ‘detachment’?

Reconsidering Detachment: The ethics and analytics of disconnection

Conference, Girton College Cambridge, 30 June – 3 July 2010

Different definitions of detachment:

1.Detachment as objectivity
2.Detachmment as impartiality
3.Detachment as explanatory reductionism
4.Detachment as disinterestedness
5.Detachment as lack of prejudice
6.Detachment as ‘blinding’ (in ‘blind trials’)
7.Detachment as technology-mindedness
8.Detachment as high-mindedness (remoteness from everyday life)
9.Detachment as refusal to be co-opted
10.Detachmment as ethos of bureaucratic office/personality
11.Detachment as removal of parts from a whole where other parts stay in place
12.Detachment as interest created by ‘external’ incentives (e.g. research funding)
13. Detachment as not caring
14.Detachment as bracketing an issue or analysis to avoid openness to criticism
15.Detachment as the closing off of/turning away from something in pursuit of an end
16.Detachment as a pathology/disorder (e.g. social phobia)
17.Detachment as a bulwark against moral zealotry and managerial enthusiasm
18.Detachment as inter- patience/disengaged participation (the integrated, but non-interfering observer)
19.Detachment as forgetting
20.Detachment as non-differentiation
21.Detachment as industrial mechanization
22.Detachment as distancing
23.Detachment as autonomy/freedom
24.Detachment as cognition/judgement (as opposed to affect)
25.Detachment as invisibility/absence
26.Detachment as untouchability
27.Detachment as excess of scale for being intuitively grasped
28.Detachment as rationality
29.Detachment as division/separation (e.g. of soul from body)
30.Detachment as exclusion/expulsion
31.Detachment as disgust/repugnance
32.Detachment as removal from public view
33.Detachment as mediation
34.Detachment as separation (e.g. of property)
35.Detachment as discipline/order/security
36.Detachment as abstraction (e.g. of concepts)
37.Detachment as a sign of the sacred
38.Detachment as disbelief
39.Detachment as observation
40.Detachment as death
41.Detachment as safe distance (e.g. from spirits)
42.Detachment as the untying of a knot
43.Detachment as sacrifice/giving up something
44.Detachment as using a substitute rather than the real thing
45.Detachment as balancing
46.Detachment as oppression
47.Detachmment as liberation through confession
48.Detachment as irony
49.Detachment as spiritual renunciation
50.Detachment as anti-spiritual renunciation(e.g. cutting off from religious practices)
51.Detachment as meditation/prayer
52.Detachment as equanimity
53.Detachment as living without property (’the carefree life’)
54.Detachment as freedom from strain/having a balanced mind
55.Detachment as seeing without acting
56.Detachment as fasting to death
57.’External’ detachment: NOT [A is related to B]
58.’Internal’ detachment: A is [NOT related to B]
59. Stronger, third, reading: A is related to NOT B]
60.Detachment as mutual accommodation/co-operation.

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Individualism and Community, Detachment and Connectedness

Just a quick note on something I’ve been thinking about. It’s not altogether new, but it is something that I think the idea of detachment as it has been developed by this project really adds to.

Individuals vs Societies/Communities

In short, the thing I’ve been thinking about is the idea that some societies have ‘individualist’ ethics and others have ‘collectivist’ or ‘communitarian’ or even simply ’social’ ethics/ontology/worldview — this idea is a perennial one, a problematic one, it seems to me, and one whose problems can be understood well if we think about detachment as being about more than disconnection.

Individuals vs Dividuals

A strong version of the individualist/social dichotomy claims that, for example, ‘Chinese people have no idea of the individual’ – I’m claiming the blogger’s right not to supply references, but take it for me, for now at least, that I have been told this many times by people, including Chinese people and anthropologists, and Chinese anthropologists. This idea always struck me as incoherent, because to conceive of a collectivity as a collectivity it must surely be thought of in relation to its elements. It doesn’t make sense to think of a ‘whole’ without an idea of whole, and vice versa. (I’m sure Matt will be able to supply relevant Tardean thoughts on this point.)

One way of making sense of the dichotomy is to see the individualist and collectivist positions not as different ontologies (there are people vs there are groups) but as different concerns over the dangers of relating. This is how I read the individual vs dividual literature (warning: INAM*). If we begin with individuals then people are basically unconnected and the work than needs to be done is work of creating relations, and the danger is that our work will fail and people will remain insufficiently connected. And if we start with dividuals, then they are all interconnected to start with and we need to work to cut those relations, with the risk that we will be unsuccessful and that inappropriate or inconvenient relations will remain.

Certainly this has always seemed to me to apply well to Britain, where the emphasis always seems to be on the dangers of social breakdown, disintegration, and how to sure up and re-establish the relationships that have been lost. For example, I am reading a draft outline of a funding body scheme that is shot through with the idea that inter-connectedness is a good thing, and the danger, as always is that those fragile connections will fail: “…despite the emergence of new forms of interconnectedness, significant disconnections remain between some individuals and groups in our increasingly diverse societies and pose threats to social cohesion and wellbeing.”

Britain does seem a rather extreme case of the individualist way of thinking (not in the value placed on individuals but in the constant paranoia about the failure of connection. But I’m not sure the model is so helpful in other places. For example, in China, it seems to me, although some relationships are taken for granted and one needs to manage them carefully and sometimes extricate oneself from them (difficult), when people talk about society they are also sometimes concerned with ’social breakdown’, as well as the societal problem of too many/too intense relationships (for example the historical and contemporary practice of rotating senior officials in order to minimize their personal relations to the people they govern).

What detachment offers is a rather more nuanced way than the individual/dividual model to get at these issues: people in most situations are actually rather concerned with establishing both certain kinds of proximity and certain kinds of distance, and it is not necessarily the case that the latter = disconnection. What we need to understand is how people work to establish relations of various intensities and valences, including minimum intensity (no relation?) and negative valence (possibly intense relationship of negative affect?), and how their actual relationships are represented rhetorically through metaphors of connection and disconnection.

Individualism and Community in China

Yunxiang Yan’s excellent Malinowski Lecture (2001 I think) is a good place to start thinking about these questions. I don’t have time to go into it in detail, but briefly, he compares contemporary ideas of individualism in China (it’s a good thing now, or at least a necessary one, according to some people) with ideas of Enlightenment philosophers who coined the term, and finds that the assumptions are very different.

I have more thoughts on this, but must get on, may add more later.

* I’m Not A Melanesianist.

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Detachment as a Corporate Ethic

Detachment as as Corporate Ethic

Jamie Cross, Goldsmiths, University of London

A paper given at the LSE Seminar series, Ethnographic Perspectives on Work and Labour

Download a pdf version of the paper here: CrossJ2010_DetachmentasCorpEthic

ABSTRACT: This paper examines efforts by De Beers, the world’s monopoly supplier of rough diamonds, to better regulate the conditions under which its stones are cut and polished across a global network of buyers, contractors and subcontractors. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at an offshore processing unit in South India that was built to service De Beers’ buyers, the paper explores how ethical accounting regimes are materialised on the floor of a global factory and how they are grounded in an industrial bureaucracy. In a global supply chain like this one, I show, documents like codes of practice and audit checklists are material technologies that afford companies and their managers new purchase on what might be called an ethic of detachment.

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Academic Detachment and/as Engagement – long abstract

I posted the long abstract for my paper in Tom Yarrow’s Panel, Academic Detachment and/as Engagement, here -

Dan Hicks

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