9 Negotiated taxonomy
DOI link for 9 Negotiated taxonomy
9 Negotiated taxonomy book
Fuzzy boundaries and subverted hierarchies may be integral to acephalous political relations but they prompt the question of how these people contrive to order life with their ﬂexible notions of boundary and consequent hazily deﬁned conceptual categories. The suggestion is not that the Wola have their fuzzy-set classiﬁcation of animals because of some social compulsion, less still that it reﬂects the structure of their society. Rather it is embedded in a socio-cultural context that promotes this approach to taxonomy.13 This imperative Ellen (1993a: 229) calls ‘prehension’, commenting that ‘Rather than documenting taxonomies or other kinds of classiﬁcations and categories as so many butterﬂies (Leach 1961: 2), it is necessary to focus upon the processes that generate them; not detached cognitive processes, but those rooted in particular situations.’ Both he and I believe that lepidoptera-like collections are important, witness the ethnozoological catalogues presented here (and see Ellen 1993b). But we still have to explain why the taxonomic system is the way it is and how people contrive to use it. Among the Wola it both reﬂects, and is a response to, the fractious uncentralised social environment. We can expect conundrums, for in some senses we have to cultivate different conceptions, think more ﬂexibly with labile categories, which makes the anthropological task of interpreting such cultures using concepts familiar to us tendentious, for our intellectual tradition customarily draws lines around phenomena to further understanding of them.