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Stasch, Rupert 2001 Figures of alterity among Korowai of Irian Jaya: Kinship, mourning, and festivity in a dispersed society (Indonesia), PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.
    © Rupert Stasch, 2001. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.

Preface

This dissertation is an ethnography of social personhood among southwestern Korowai speakers of Irian Jaya/West Papua, Indonesia. I argue that Korowai reflexively affirm a dyad-centric model of subjectivity and social life, according to which persons are foundationally constituted through their bonds with strange others. I develop this argument through detailed examination of a series of exemplary dyadic social relationships, including ties between hosts and guests, between joking partners, between mothers-in-law and sons-in-law, between spouses, between maternal uncles and sister's children, between grandparents and grandchildren, between parents and children, between the living and the dead, between human and witch and between donors and recipients of feast prestations. These different dyadic bonds of simultaneous intimacy and estrangement are wrought in such media as linguistic person reference, eating, vision, touch, and geographic proximity or separateness. Hence, this study is also centrally concerned with Korowai understandings of these media themselves, as reflected in people's recurrent patterns of action in them. By showing how social relationships are represented, constituted, and transformed in these media, I show also that people's preoccupation with alterity in dyadic social relationships is indistinguishable from their preoccupation with alterity in processes of representation as such. Social otherness is met through the deformity of signs, and vice versa. Thus dyad-centrism as a model of social personhood is linked to a larger reflexive model of sociocultural order and performance, one emphasizing that the creativity, uncertainty, and subject-bound character of signs' application are central elements of those signs' own makeup.


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