Mounce and Winch on Understanding (or Not Understanding) an Indigenous Society


Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK,


Howard Mounce and Peter Winch both made novel and illuminating contributions to discussions about how, or whether, we can understand societies very different from our own – societies that would, these days, be referred to as “indigenous,”“tribal,”“traditional” or “small-scale.” This paper aims to elucidate some disagreements between Mounce and Winch while also critically engaging in the debate. The concepts of “practice” and “language-game” are considered in connection with magic-related activities among the Azande of north-central Africa, and Mounce's contention that the Azande's whole way of speaking about magic and witchcraft is “hardly intelligible” is examined. I challenge Mounce's interpretations of certain analogies that he uses, and propose that his argument relies on what is probably an underestimation of the degree to which magic and witchcraft are integral to Azande culture as a whole.