Nils Bubandt, The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island
…Bubandt’s book is … a highly original contribution to debates around the ontological turn. The witch does not only raise a problem of knowledge and belief, but of what we mean by being, since it cannot itself be. It remains invisible and is capable of appearing in many different forms. The witch cannot be known, but in the final analysis, this is because the witch is not an entity like people, animals or any other ontological category. In this sense, one might say that witches are doubted, and knowledge about them is always suspect, because they are the source of doubt. Their powers threaten existence, and so their spectral presence induces a constant ontological insecurity. So called ontological anthropologists have argued for abandoning the anthropocentric division between epistemology and ontology, and challenge ethnographers to reveal a wider range of entities produced through human life, rather than simply finding new and different cultural beliefs about a supposedly constant, universal nature. Bubandt’s contribution lies in going back to the question of how people know and the different ways that people both produce and make use of their knowledge, while still being sensitive to many of the insights from the ontological turn. The result is a very different kind of ethnography which sheds fresh light on a number of fascinating issues in anthropology, including religious change and relationships of rural societies to the state, as well as studies of cosmology. No doubt many students of anthropology will find much to ponder and debate in the book for many years to come.