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The Forms of the Visible

June 8, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Lecture by Philippe Descola, Emeritus Professor at the Collège de France.

Practices of visualisation are not entirely determined by the imagination of those who visualise. We only visualise what we perceive or imagine, and we only imagine and perceive what habit has taught us to discern. The visual path that we spontaneously trace in the folds of the world depends on our attachment to one of the four regions of the ontological archipelago: animism, naturalism, totemism or analogism. Each of these regions corresponds to a specific way of conceiving the framework of the world, of perceiving its continuities and its discontinuities, in particular the various dividing lines between humans and non-humans.

A Yup’ik mask from Alaska, an Aboriginal bark painting, a miniature landscape from the Song dynasty, a seventeenth-century Dutch painting of a domestic interior: by what it shows or omits to show, and by its formal conventions, any image reveals a particular figurative scheme. Identifying that scheme is key to understanding how images release their power to act. Images allow us to access — perhaps better than words — the major fault lines of the human condition. Through his masterful comparison of a huge range of images, Descola lays the theoretical foundations for an anthropology of figuration and outlines a persuasive grammar of figurative representation.

In his lecture at Durham University, France’s most acclaimed anthropologist, Philippe Descola, will talk about his new work on visual forms that builds on his comparative study of the relationships between humans and non-humans. In recent years, his distinctive approach to comparison has not only shaken up the social sciences and the environmental humanities in a number of ways but has also profoundly reshaped the way we look at some of the pressing ecological issues of our time.

If you have any question please email Paolo Fortis (paolo.fortis@durham.ac.uk) and Istvan Praet (istvan.praet@durham.ac.uk).



June 8, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


CLC407 (Calman Learning Centre)


Dr Paolo Fortis, Anthropology

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