It is argued in this text, that by looking at representations as concrete practices we may find them to be thoroughly entangled in the tensions and hazards of social existence. The book explores the performances and transactions that lie at the heart of public events in contemporary Anakalang, on the Indonesian island of Sumba. Bringing together sharply observed narrative, close analysis of poetic speech and valuable objects, and theoretical discussion, this work explores the risks inherent in representational practices. An awareness of risk is embedded in the very forms of ritual speech and exchange. The possibilities for failure and slippage reveal people's mutual vulnerabilities and give words and things part of their power. The author shows how the dilemmas posed by the effort to use and control language and objects are implicated with general problems of power, authority and agency. He offers a different view on ideas of self material object and social action. Intergrating the analysis of words and things, this book contributes to a range of fields, including linguistic anghropology, cultural studies, social theory, and the studies of material culture, art and political ecomy.
Webb Keane is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.