Commensurability, bicultural, and domestication: Epistemological grounds and consequences in experimental anthropology

Dmitriy Yu. Doronin
The Russ­ian Pres­i­den­tial Acad­e­my of Nation­al Econ­o­my and Pub­lic Admin­is­tra­tion

Com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, bicul­tur­al, and domes­ti­ca­tion: Epis­te­mo­log­i­cal grounds and con­se­quences in exper­i­men­tal anthro­pol­o­gy

Abstract. This paper focus­es on three con­cepts – com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, bicul­tur­al, and domes­ti­ca­tion, aim­ing to con­sid­er their epis­temic sig­nif­i­cance in socio- cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gy. All clas­si­cal non-rel­a­tivis­tic anthro­pol­o­gy rest­ed on the idea of com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, while the incom­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty as a prob­lem did not even exist there: “sav­age” and “civ­i­lized” cul­tures were assumed by default to be com­men­su­rable. For con­ve­nience, I will refer to such pos­i­tivis­tic “com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty by default”, which is before or out­side rel­a­tivis­tic and inter­pre­tive anthro­pol­o­gy, as “com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty-1”. How­ev­er, there is anoth­er – the hermeneu­tic – under­stand­ing of com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, devel­op­ing in the “post-rel­a­tivis­tic era” of anthro­pol­o­gy; I will call it “com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty-2”. This is a more reflex­ive and crit­i­cal form, which assumes that under­stand­ing comes not through an exact knowl­edge or trans­la­tion of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an alien cul­ture, but rather as an inter­mit­tent process of a con­tin­u­ing “long talk” that changes the inter­locu­tors. This “long con­ver­sa­tion” can be inves­ti­gat­ed, for exam­ple, as a sequence of com­mu­nica­tive sit­u­a­tions.
The ques­tion of com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty in inter­pre­tive anthro­pol­o­gy and inter­pre­ta­tive soci­ol­o­gy involves the study of epis­tem­i­cal­ly obscure, “mud­dy” com­mu­ni­ca­tion sit­u­a­tions between rep­re­sen­ta­tives of dif­fer­ent cul­tures. These are sit­u­a­tions in which uncer­tain­ty, ambi­gu­i­ty, anom­aly, illu­sions and errors in under­stand­ing are con­sid­ered epis­tem­i­cal­ly con­struc­tive, rather than neg­a­tive, phe­nom­e­na (from the pos­i­tivist view­point).
Such sit­u­a­tions can be depict­ed through the con­cept of epis­temic murk (Michael Taus­sig), that char­ac­ter­izes a state of anthro­pol­o­gists on the road to bicul­tur­al­ism, enter­ing into the alien cul­ture. Domes­ti­ca­tion, in all like­li­hood, can be con­sid­ered as a mech­a­nism for achiev­ing bicul­tur­al­ism.

Key­words: com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty, bicul­tur­al, domes­ti­ca­tion, exper­i­men­tal anthro­pol­o­gy, inter­pre­tive anthro­pol­o­gy, “long talk,” “epis­temic murk”, Altai Repub­lic, shaman­ism

DOI: 10.5840/dspl20192228


  1. Adler, P.A., Adler, P. Mem­ber­ship Roles in Field Research. New­bury Park: Sage, 1987. 95 рр.
  2. Ander­son, B. Perepis, kar­ta, muzei [Cen­sus, Map, Muse­um]. In: B. Ander­son, Voo­brazhaemye soob­shch­est­va: razmysh­leni­ia ob istokakh i raspros­tra­nenii nat­sion­al­iz­ma [Imag­ined Com­mu­ni­ties: Reflec­tions on the Ori­gin and Spread of Nation­al­ism], transl. from Eng­lish by V.G. Niko­laev. Moscow, Kanon-press-Ts Publ., 2001, pp. 180–203. (In Russ­ian)
  3. Barnard, A. Sot­sial­na­ia antropologi­ia: issle­duia sot­sial­nuiu zhizn liudei [Social Anthro­pol­o­gy: Inves­ti­gat­ing Human Social Life], transl. from Eng­lish and com­ments. by Yu.A. Arte­mo­va, M.V. Tendryako­va. Moscow: IEA RAS Publ., 2009. 244 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  4. Batyano­va, E.P. Sev­er­na­ia eks­ped­it­si­ia Insti­tu­ta etno­grafii (1956–1991 gg.) [The North Expe­di­tion of the Insti­tute of Ethnog­ra­phy (1956–1991)], Etno­gra­fich­eskoe obozre­nie, 2013, no. 4, pp. 17–34. (In Russ­ian)
  5. Berg­er, P., Luck­mann, T. Sot­sial­noe kon­stru­irovanie real­nos­ti. Trak­tat po sot­si­ologii znani­ia [The Social Con­struc­tion of Real­i­ty. A Trea­tise on soci­ol­o­gy of Knowl­edge], transl. by E. Rutke­vich. Moscow: Medi­um Publ, 1995. 323 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  6. Brubak­er, R. Etnich­nost bez grupp [Eth­nic­i­ty with­out Groups], transl. from I. Boriso­va; Nation­al Research Insti­tute High­er School of Eco­nom­ics. Moscow: Izd. Dom Vysshei shkoly ekonomi­ki Publ., 2012. 408 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  7. Bour­dieu, P. O simvolich­eskoi vlasti [On Sym­bol­ic Pow­er; French: Sur le pou­voir sym­bol­ique], in: Sot­si­ologi­ia sot­sialno­go pros­transt­va [Soci­ol­o­gy of Social Space; French: Soci­olo­gie de l’espace social]; transl. by French by N.A. Shmatko. Moscow: Insti­tute of Exper­i­men­tal Soci­ol­o­gy; Saint Peters­burg: Aletei­ia Publ., 2007, pp. 87–96. (In Russ­ian)
  8. Coc­chiara, G. Istori­ia folk­loris­ti­ki v Evrope [The His­to­ry of Folk­lore in Europe; Ital­ian: Sto­ria del folk­lore in Europa] / transl. from Ital­ian and ed. By E. Meletinsky. Moscow: Inos­tran­na­ia lit­er­a­ture Publ., 1960. 691 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  9. Dorozhkin, A.M., Tkachev, A.N. Prob­le­ma osno­vanii nau­ki i skep­tich­eska­ia mysl [The Prob­lem of the Foun­da­tions of Sci­ence and Skep­ti­cal Thought], Vest­nik Nizhe­gorod­sko­go uni­ver­site­ta im. N.I. Lobachevsko­go, 2014, no. 6, pp. 105–109. (In Russ­ian)
  10. Doronin, D. An Aero­drome for Putin: Tra­di­tion, Gift, Pow­er and its ‘Domes­ti­ca­tion’ in the Altai, in: Folk­lore of Con­nec­tions, Folk­lore of Con­flict. Abstract of the 5th Inter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence of Young Folk­lorists. Vil­jan­di, Octo­ber 7–9, 2015. Uni­ver­si­ty of Tar­tu, Vil­jan­di Cul­ture Acad­e­my. Tar­tu: Book­mill Publ., 2015, pp. 34–35.
  11. Doronin, D.Yu. Gonzo: strakh i nenav­ist v antropologii [Fear and Loathing in Anthro­pol­o­gy], XII Kongress antropol­o­gov i etnol­o­gov Rossii [The Twelfth Con­gress of Anthro­pol­o­gists and Eth­nol­o­gists of Rus­sia]: Col­lect­ed Papers. Izhevsk, July 3–6, 2017 / ed. by A.E. Zagre­bin, M.Yu. Mar­tynov. Moscow; Izhevsk: IEA RAS, UIIYAL UB RAS, 2017, p. 222. (In Russ­ian)
  12. Doronin, D.Yu. Mikroissle­dovanie kak metod v sot­siokul­turnoi antropologii [Micros­tud­ies as a Method in Socio­cul­tur­al Anthro­pol­o­gy], Metody i kontsept­sii v folk­loris­tike i kul­turnoi antropologii (konets 20 – nacha­lo 21 veka) [Meth­ods and Con­cepts in Folk­lore Stud­ies and Cul­tur­al Anthro­pol­o­gy (Late Twen­ti­eth – Ear­ly Twen­ty-first Cen­tu­ry]: Pro­ceed­ings of the 16th Inter­na­tion­al School-Con­fer­ence on Folk­lore Stud­ies, Soci­olin­guis­tics and Cul­tur­al Anthro­pol­o­gy / Ed. by A. Arkhipo­va et al. Moscow: RGGU Publ., 2016, pp. 120–123. (In Russ­ian)
  13. Doronin, D.Yu. Tvort­sy illi­uzii: shamany, snovidt­sy, antropolo­gi [Cre­ators of Illu­sions: Shamans, Dream­ers, Anthro­pol­o­gists], Illi­u­zornye miry i medi­u­mich­eskie prak­ti­ki v pros­transtve kul­tu­ry [Illu­so­ry Worlds and Medi­um Prac­tices in the Space of Cul­ture]: Abstracts and Pro­ceed­ing­sof the All-Russ­ian Con­fer­ence with Inter­na­tion­al Par­tic­i­pa­tion, Moscow, Decem­ber 1–2, 2017 / Ed. by N.V. Petrov, O.B. Khristo­forov. Moscow: Delo Publ., pp. 47–58. (In Russ­ian)
  14. Erik­sen, T.H. Chto takoe antropologi­ia? [What is Anthro­pol­o­gy?]: Tuto­r­i­al / transl. from Eng­lish by Zh. Kormi­na. M.: Izd.dom Vysshei shkoly ekonomi­ki Publ., 2014. 238 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  15. Fey­er­abend, P. Zamet­ki o relia­tivizme [Notes on Rel­a­tivism], in: P. Fey­er­abend, Proshchai, razum [Farewell to Rea­son] / transl. from Eng­lish by A.L. Niki­forov. Moscow: AST, Astrel Publ., 2010, pp. 30–117. (In Russ­ian)
  16. Firth, R. Ele­ments of Social Orga­ni­za­tion. Lon­don: Watts & Co., 1951. Chaps. I, II. 294 рр.
  17. Fou­cault, M. Intellek­tu­aly i vlast: Izbran­nye politich­eskie statji, vys­tu­pleni­ia i inter­vjiu [Intel­lec­tu­als and Pow­er: Select­ed Polit­i­cal Arti­cles, Speech­es and Inter­views (French: Dits et ecrits. Arti­cles poli­tiques, con­fer­ences, inter­views 1970 -1984)] / transl. from French by B.M. Sku­ra­tov. Moscow: Prak­sis Publ., 2002. 384 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  18. Fou­cault, M. Volia k istine: po tu storonu znani­ia, vlasti i sek­su­al­nos­ti. Rabo­ty raznykh let [The Will to Knowl­edge: Beyond Knowl­edge, Pow­er, and Sex­u­al­i­ty. Works of Dif­fer­ent Years] / transl. from French and com­ments by S. Tabach­niko­va. Moscow: Kastal Publ., 1996. 448 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  19. Geertz, C. Local Knowl­edge: Fur­ther Essays in Inter­pre­tive Anthro­pol­o­gy. New York: Basic­Books, 1983. 245 pp.
  20. Kierkegaard, S. Papir­er / ed. by P.A. Heiberg, V. Kuhr and E. Torsting, 2nd ed., 20 vols. Copen­hagen: Gylden­dal, 1968–1978. A. 182. 437 pp. (In Dan­ish)
  21. Kuhn, T. Struk­tu­ra nauch­nykh revoli­ut­sii [The Struc­ture of Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tions] / transl. from Eng­lish by I.Z. Nale­tov. Moscow: Progress Publ., 1977. 300 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  22. Kozyrkov, V.P. Kharak­ter domestikat­sii sovre­menno­go obshch­est­va [Char­ac­ter Domes­ti­cates a Mod­ern Soci­ety], Vest­nik Nizhe­gorod­sko­go uni­ver­site­ta im. N.I. Lobachevsko­go. Seri­ia Sot­sial­nye nau­ki, 2009, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 86–92. (In Russ­ian)
  23. Levi-Strauss, C. Tri vida guman­iz­ma [Three Kinds of Human­ism] in: C. Levi-Strauss, Per­vobyt­noe mysh­le­nie [The Sav­age Mind (French: La Pensee sauvage)] / transl. by A.B. Ostro­vsky. Moscow: Respub­li­ka Publ., 1994, pp. 15–18. (In Russ­ian)
  24. Luh­mann, N. Poni­atie obshch­est­va [The Con­cept of Soci­ety; Ger­man: Der Begriff der Gesellschaft] / transl. from Ger­man by N.A. Golovin, in: Prob­le­my teo­retich­eskoi sot­si­ologii [The Issues of The­o­ret­i­cal Soci­ol­o­gy] / ed. by A.O. Boro­no­ev. Saint Peters­burg: Petrop­o­lis Publ., 1994, pp. 25–42. (In Russ­ian)
  25. Mar­cus, G. O sot­siokul­turnoi antropologii SShA, ee prob­le­makh i per­spek­ti­vakh [On the Social/Cultural Anthro­pol­o­gy in the Unit­ed States, its Prob­lems and Per­spec­tives] / transl. from Eng­lish by A.L. Elfi­mov, in: Antropo­logich­eskie tra­dit­sii: stili, stereotipy, par­a­digm [Anthro­po­log­i­cal Tra­di­tions: Styles, Stereo­types, Par­a­digms]: Col­lect­ed Papers / ed. by A.L. Elfi­mov. Moscow: Novoe lit­er­aturnoe obozre­nie Publ., 2012, pp. 48–67. (In Russ­ian)
  26. Misko­va, E.V. Vnu­tridist­si­pli­nar­na­ia kri­ti­ka anglo-amerikan­skoi antropologii v 80–90-e gg. 20 v. [ Intra-dis­ci­pli­nary Crit­i­cism of the Anglo-Amer­i­can Anthro­pol­o­gy in the 80–90-ies. of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry]: Can­di­date in His­tor­i­cal Sci­ences Dis­ser­ta­tion Resume. Lomonosov Moscow State Uni­ver­si­ty, Moscow, 2004. 28 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  27. Nik­ishenkov, A.A. Lek­t­si­ia № 11. 17 dekabria 1997 goda. Inter­pre­ta­tivnyi povorot. Kul­tur­na­ia kri­ti­ka, fem­i­nist­ska­ia antropologi­ia, kri­ti­ka eksper­i­men­tal­nos­ti, zaver­she­nie krizisa [Lec­ture no. 11. Decem­ber 17, 1997. The Inter­pre­ta­tive Turn. Cul­tur­al Crit­i­cism, Fem­i­nist Anthro­pol­o­gy, Crit­i­cism of Exper­i­men­ta­tion, the End of the Cri­sis], Istorich­eskie issle­dovani­ia. Zhur­nal Istorich­esko­go fakul­te­ta MGU imeni M.V. Lomonoso­va [His­to­ry Stud­ies. Jour­nal of Fac­ul­ty of His­to­ry of Lomonosov Moscow State Uni­ver­si­ty], 2016, no. 4, pp. 29–45. (In Russ­ian)
  28. Niko­laev, V.G. Sravnitel­na­ia sot­si­ologi­ia A.R. Red­d­kliff-Brau­na [A.R. Radcliffe-Brown’s Com­par­a­tive Soci­ol­o­gy] in: A.R. Rad­cliffe-Brown. Metod v sot­sial­noi antropologii [The Com­par­a­tive Method in Social Anthro­pol­o­gy]. Moscow: Kanon-press-Ts Publ., Kuchko­vo pole Publ., 200, pp. 297–390. (In Russ­ian)
  29. Oit­ti­nen, R. Trans­lat­ing for Chil­dren. New York: Gar­land Pub­lish­ing, Inc., 2000. 205 pp.
  30. Rorty, R. Filosofi­ia i zerka­lo prirody [Phi­los­o­phy and the Mir­ror of Nature]. Novosi­birsk: Izd-vo Novosib. un-ta Publ., 1997. 320 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  31. Shtein­berg, I., Shanin, T., Kovalev, E., Levin­son, A. Kach­estven­nye metody. Polevye sot­si­o­logich­eskie issle­dovani­ia [Qual­i­ta­tive Meth­ods. Field Case Stud­ies]. Saint Peters­burg: Aletei­ia Publ., 2009. 356 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  32. Schutz, A. Col­lect­ed Papers 1. The Prob­lem of Social Real­i­ty. Kluw­er Aca­d­e­m­ic Pub­lish­ers, 1990. 364 pp.
  33. Sokuler, Z.A. Kontsept­si­ia “dist­si­pli­narnoi vlasti” M. Fuko [M. Foucault’s Con­cept of “Dis­ci­pli­nary Pow­er”], in: Z.A. Sokuler, Znanie i vlast: nau­ka v obshch­estve mod­er­na. Saint Peters­burg: RHGI Publ., 2001, pp. 58–82. (In Russ­ian)
  34. Ssorin-Chaikov, N.V. Two Lenins: A Brief Anthro­pol­o­gy of Time. Chica­go: HAU Books and Chica­go Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2017. 150 pp.
  35. Strauss, A., Corbin, J. Osnovy kach­estvenno­go issle­dovani­ia: obosno­van­na­ia teori­ia, protse­dury i tekhni­ki [Basics of Qual­i­ta­tive Research: Ground­ed the­o­ry, Pro­ce­dures and Tech­niques] / transl. from Eng­lish by T.S. Vasil­je­va. Moscow: Edi­to­r­i­al URSS Publ., 2001. 256 pp. (In Russ­ian)
  36. Taus­sig, M. Shaman­ism, Colo­nial­ism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Ter­ror and Heal­ing. Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1987. 517 pp.
  37. Ted­lock, B. Bikul­turnoe snov­i­de­nie kak mezh­lich­nos­t­nyi kom­mu­nika­tivnyi prot­sess [Bicul­tur­al Dream­ing as an Inter­sub­jec­tive Com­mu­nica­tive Process] / transl. from Eng­lish by S.V. Sokolovsky, Etno­gra­fich­eskoe obozre­nie, 2006, no. 6, pp. 16–30. (In Russ­ian)
  38. Vakhsh­tayn, V.S. Kat­e­gori­ia “soob­shch­est­vo sud­by” v sot­si­ologii [The Cat­e­go­ry of “Com­mu­ni­ty of Fate” in Soci­ol­o­gy], Post­nau­ka, May 19, 2017. Avail­able at: (accessed on March 12, 2018). (In Russ­ian)
  39. Vakhsh­tayn, V.S. Soob­shch­est­vo sud­by. Ekzis­tentsial­nye osno­vani­ia goro­da [Com­mu­ni­ty of Fate: Exis­ten­tial Foun­da­tions of the City], YouTube, August 28, 2017. Avail­able at: (accessed on March 12, 2018). (In Russ­ian)
  40. Vakhsh­tayn, V.S. Objekt i pred­met v sot­si­o­logich­eskom issle­dovanii [Object and sub­ject in the soci­o­log­i­cal study], Post­nau­ka, June 22, 2015. Avail­able at: (accessed on March 12, 2018). (In Russ­ian)
  41. Vakhsh­tayn, V.S. Peres­bor­ka goro­da: mezh­du iazykom i pros­transtvom [Reassem­bling the City: Between Lan­guage and Space], Soci­ol­o­gy of Pow­er, 2014, no. 2, pp. 9–38. (In Russ­ian)
  42. Vasil­je­va, T.V. Osnovy kach­estvenno­go issle­dovani­ia: obosno­van­na­ia teori­ia [The Basics of Qual­i­ta­tive Research: A Valid The­o­ry], in: Metodologi­ia i metody sot­si­o­logich­eskikh issle­dovanii: Ito­gi rabo­ty, poiskovykh issle­dova­tel­skikh proek­tov za 1992–1996 gody [Method­ol­o­gy and Meth­ods of Soci­o­log­i­cal Research: The Results of the Research Projects for 1992–1996]. Moscow: RAS Insti­tute of Soci­ol­o­gy Publ., 1996, pp. 56–65. (In Russ­ian)
  43. Venu­ti, L. The Translator’s Invis­i­bil­i­ty: A His­to­ry of Trans­la­tion. Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1995. 365 pp.

Comments are closed.