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The opposite of witchcraft: Evans-Pritchard and the problem of the person


Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, King's College, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UB, UK.


The principal legacy of Evans-Pritchard's 1937 ethnography Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande has been to associate debates over the rationality of witchcraft with its social categorization as a facet of misfortune and enmity. In combination with Evans-Pritchard's own scepticism regarding witches, this allowed the rationality debate to isolate witchcraft as a distinctive special case. This logical exceptionalism was at odds with Evans-Pritchard's own assertion of witchcraft's ordinariness, and is not supported by comparable ethnography from the Ladakh region of the Himalayas or by the unabridged versions of Oracles, both of which point towards an indigenous understanding of witchcraft as one variation on a spectrum of everyday action and craft. Instead, a revised reading of Oracles suggests that even the most basic quotidian representations of personal agency raise larger questions as to anthropology's understanding of how humans ascribe action and personhood, a debate which stands at the heart of its status as a science.