chapter  1
28 Pages

Introduction

WithJoanna Overing

The recent debates in Britain on rationality,2 which revolve around reflections on the epistemological presuppositions of anthropological fieldwork, and include the hoary issue of comprehending in general ‘other minds’, began in 1970 with the publication of Bryan Wilson’s edited volume, Rationality. This collection of essays by philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists used as a focus the 1964 article by Winch, ‘Understanding a primitive society’, which challenged Evans-Pritchard’s contention (1934, 1935, 1937) that Azande beliefs about witchcraft and oracles are logical (they obey universal laws of logic), but mistaken. Very briefly, Winch argues that our sense of reality is a social construction based on the conventional discourse of our society, the corollary of which is that unrelated language communities may well have incommensurable world views and rationalities.3