On Centrism and Dualism. House Societies in Southeast Asia Reconsidered (PDF)


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This book provides an overview of the anthropological debate on house societies, pertaining particularly to Southeast Asian social formations. The book’s point of departure is a comparative model of social formations in Southeast Asia outlined by Shelly Errington. Although this model features prominently in anthropological discussions of the region, no detailed analysis of this comparative approach exists. This might be attributed to the fact that Errington’s model is theoretically dense, alluding to the rather complicated anthropological field of kinship studies. Errington’s model combines premises of Lévi-Strauss’ Structural Anthropology with Clifford Geertz’ symbolic or interpretative paradigm and situates the synthesis in the anthropology of insular Southeast Asia. This book traces the genealogy of this model and provides detailed explications of its basic theoretical premises before it explores the concept of house societies and how it is applied by Errington to approach and compare Southeast Asian social formations. The book reveals the structuralism that speaks through Errington’s comparative approach by discussing the concept of transformation and indicates the potentials and limitations a typology of different house societies has for the anthropology of Southeast Asia.

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Publication Date

July 2020

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Benjamin Baumann is a transdiciplinarily working anthropologist focussing on Mainland Southeast Asia. He is currently postdoctoral associate at the Anthropology Department of Heidelberg University. Trained as a socio-cultural anthropologist at Free University Berlin, he holds a PhD in Southeast Asian studies from Humboldt University in Berlin, where he was working until April 2020 as Assistant Professor and research fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies.