Exploring continuous change across cultures

Edited by Haidy Geismar, Ton Otto, and Cameron David Warner


ISBN: 9781787358706

Publication: March 01, 2022

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The concept of impermanence or continuous change refers to an ontological condition, a set of existing and developing theories, and a multitude of cultural practices dealing with transience and disintegration alongside aspirations of certainty for the future. As such, the term opens up a range of timely questions and discussions that speak to our shared experience of global transformation. Until relatively recently, social theory has conceptualized the future primarily through notions of permanence such as structure, identity, and cultural heritage, rather than notions of inevitable decay, loss, rupture and ending.

Impermanence engages with an emergent body of social theory, inspired in part by recent work on the Anthropocene, that has a broader perspective on flux and transformation, and bring this into a dialogue with non-western traditions of thought, notably Buddhist philosophy, which has sustained a long-lasting and sophisticated meditation on impermanence. In cases drawn from all over the world, this volume investigates the role of impermanence in social death, atheism, alcoholism, migration, ritual, fashion, oncology, archaeology, museology and art. In addition to research findings, the volume includes numerous photographs, artworks and poems that evocatively communicate impermanence.

Haidy Geismar is Professor of Anthropology in the UCL Department of Anthropology.

Ton Otto is Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and James Cook University, Australia.  

Cameron David Warner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark.

List of figures
List of contributors

1. Introduction
Haidy Geismar, Ton Otto and Cameron David Warner

Section One. Living with and Against Impermanence

2. Heavy Curtains and Deep Sleep Within Darkness
Tsering Woeser

3. Disinheriting Social Death: Toward an Ethnographic Theory of Impermanence
Carole McGranahan

4. Atheist Endings: Imagining Having Been in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan
Maria Louw

5. Encountering Impermanence, Making Change: A Case Study of Attachment and Alcoholism in Thailand
Julia Cassaniti

6. Holding On and Letting Go: Tanzanian Indians’ Responses to Impermanence
Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen

Section Two. States of Being and Becoming

7. A Melanesian Impermanence
Joe Nalo

8. ‘We are not an emblem’: Impermanence and Materiality in Asmat Lifeworlds
Anna-Karina Hermkens and Jaap Timmer

9. The Unmaking and Remaking of Cultural Worlds: The Reinvention of Ritual on Baluan Island, Papua New Guinea
Ton Otto

10. 'Do What You Think About': Fashionable Responses to the End of Tibet
Cameron David Warner

Section Three. Structures and Practices of Care

11. Negotiating Impermanence: Care and the Medical Imaginary Among People with Cancer
Henry Llewellyn

12. Caring for the Social (in Museums)
Haidy Geismar

13. Transitional Sites and ‘Material Memory’: Impermanence and Ireland’s Derelict Magdalen Laundries
Laura McAtackney

14. Photos and artist statement from Alison Lowry

Section Four. Curating Impermanence
15. 'Neurosis of the sterile egg': Permanence and Paradox: Museum Strategies for the Representation of Gustav Metzger’s Auto-destructive Art
 Pip Laurenson and Lucy Bayley

16. Culturing Impermanence at the Museum: The Metabolic Collection
Martin Grünfeld

17. Screenshooting Impermanence
Sarah Schorr and Winnie Soon

18. The Museum of Impermanence: The Making of an Exhibition
Ulrik Høj Johnsen, Ton Otto and Cameron David Warner

19. Epilogue: On Aspiration and Absolution
Caitlin DeSilvey


‘Impermanence? Nothing in life can originate or grow without other things’ perishing. But to call this “impermanence” is to pit the passage of life against the human desire to keep. The creative tension between living and keeping, between generation and conservation, even between metabolism and culture, runs through all the chapters of this book. They touch on matters of life and death, of care and curation, of holding on and letting go, in settings ranging from family and religious life to art-making and museum exhibition. With so much original thinking lovingly conserved on its pages, the book powerfully exemplifies the many paradoxes of which it speaks.’ – Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

360 Pages

54 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2022

ISBN: 9781787358706

Publication: March 01, 2022

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