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Introduction: Experience and Inquiétude


  • Sarah S. Willen,

  • Don Seeman


In recent decades, human experience has become focus or frame for a wide variety of projects in psychological anthropology and beyond. Like “culture,” which it arguably seeks to either qualify or displace, the concept of “experience” has generated its own interpretive literature, competing schools of analysis, and internal resistances. We propose that the anthropology of experience has achieved a degree of recognition and maturity that renders genealogical reflection, stocktaking, and agenda setting both possible and necessary. Although the anthropology of experience, like experience itself, does not (and perhaps should not) lend itself to easy definition as a singular or unified theoretical paradigm, it does involve a fluid constellation of themes shared by what are traditionally regarded as parallel or divergent lines of inquiry: what might be glossed imperfectly as the phenomenological and psychoanalytic schools within sociocultural anthropology. Here we aim neither for naïve synthesis nor a mathematical sum of parts, but for more adequate ways of depicting and making sense of what Dewey calls “the inclusive integrity of ‘experience.’” This will require more concerted attention to the sources of ethnographic inquiétude—the gaps, silences, limits, and opacities—that either preoccupy or remain overlooked within both traditions. [experience, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, phenomenological anthropology, psychoanalytic anthropology, inquiétude]