Manimism: Worrying about the Relationship between Rationality and Animism

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2021 Number 104 & 105

Manimism: Worrying about the Relationship between Rationality and Animism
James Burton pages 214-237
DOI: 10.3898/NewF:104-105.10.2021


This paper seeks to articulate a series of worries surrounding the seeming convergence of recent critical work on animism with contemporary calls to decolonise thought. Sometimes referred to as the ‘new animism’, these recent approaches valuably question traditional and mainstream notions of Western rationality, perform important critical reforms of formerly dominant anthropological and epistemological perspectives, and open up questions concerning the pervasiveness of something like animism within Western/ modern thought and culture. On the one hand, these effects may be seen as complementing a decolonising imperative. On the other hand, they may also risk contributing to processes of less fundamental epistemological reform, whereby certain elements of the ‘European paradigm of modernity/ rationality’ (Anibal Quijano) are allowed to remain intact. Prominent among these elements, following Sylvia Wynter, is the constructed figure of ‘Man’ around which colonial modernity has built and extended itself. In order to pursue these worries, the paper explores key characteristics of what may be considered, according to the terms it has itself established, the animist character of aspects of Western modernity/rationality. It is argued that a widespread acceptance of the reality and validity of the culturally specific figure of Man as representative of all humans, is dependent on a form of animistic investment on the part of European and Western modernity - referred to as ‘Manimism’. Worrying/being worried about Manimism does not necessitate the abandonment of so-called new-animist work, but may form a worthwhile complement to it, especially in light of the historical capacity of Man and Manimism to survive major socio-political and epistemological challenges and upheavals.

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To cite this article
James Burton (2021) Manimism: Worrying about the Relationship between Rationality and Animism, New Formations, 2021(104 & 105 ), 214-237.

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