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Sounding the Limits of LifeEssays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond$
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Stefan Helmreich

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164809

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164809.001.0001

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Theory Machines, Anthropology, Oceanization

(p.94) Chapter 8 Nature/Culture/Seawater
Sounding the Limits of Life

Stefan Helmreich

Sophia Roosth

Michele Friedner

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines how the nature/culture binary imposes particular qualities on water, which water is then sometimes imagined to overflow. In asking after water this way, the chapter retools the historian of science Peter Galison's notion of a “theory machine,” an object in the world that stimulates a theoretical formulation. According to Galison, networks of electrocoordinated clocks in European railway stations at the turn of the twentieth-century aided Albert Einstein's thinking about simultaneity. The chapter considers how water has operated as a theory machine in anthropology, how it has been framed by nature/culture, and how it has in turn reframed nature/culture. It also discusses seawater imagery and metaphors in early ethnography, in maritime anthropology, and in recent social theory. It argues that seawater has moved from an implicit to an explicit figure for anthropological and social theorizing, especially in the age of globalization, which it also terms “oceanization.”

Keywords:   nature, culture, water, Peter Galison, theory machine, anthropology, seawater, social theory, globalization, oceanization

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