To make a topic from one of anthropology’s principal means and objects of study, investigating relations through relations, is offered in the spirit of reflexive enquiry. The entry is not confined to anthropological works, touching briefly on certain philosophical dimensions and drawing in writers from other fields. However, it is organized around the way anthropologists have refined and expanded the application of relations through their diverse usages. Emphasis is thus on showing how the concept is used, rather than on prescribing particular versions. Attention is paid equally to the relations through which arguments and analysis are pursued and to the subject matter of anthropological investigation as the relational life of persons and things. The entry also notes a long-standing debate between English-speaking and continental European thinkers in the priority they give to terms (the ‘terms’ of a relation: what a relation holds together) or to the relation as an encompassing totality (of which the terms are a part). This one concept thus embraces whole different sets of assumptions about the nature of social life. Its own relations to other concepts are also relevant, as are changing emphases on what it might purport in a changing world.
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