Webb Keane – “On Spirit Writing: Materiality, Words, and their Magic”

Part of the Joan Carlisle Irving Lecture Series "The Politics of Materiality and Matters of the Bio-political".

Webb Keane grew up in New York City, graduated from Yale College, where he concentrated in art and philosophy, and received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. After several years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined the University of Michigan in 1997, where he is now Professor and Director of Graduate Studies. In the Department of Anthropology he is associated with both the Social-Cultural and the Linguistic Anthropology subfields. His other affiliations include the Interdisciplinary Program in Anthropology and History, the program in Culture and Cognition, and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

He carried out two years of fieldwork on the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia, which led to his first book, Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society. Drawing on historical records and contemporary fieldwork, he has also undertaken research on Dutch Calvinism from colonial mission to postcolonial church. This is the subject of his new book Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter. His major ethnographic project at present is about Indonesian language, media, and national culture. He is also writing about morality, ethics, and virtue as special, even constitutive, problems for social science.

His writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences. In particular, he is interested in semiotics and language; material culture; gift exchange, commodities, and money; religion; media and public cultures.

Professor Keane has received fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, CA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He has been a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and a recipient of the Henry Russel Award for scholarship and teaching from the University of Michigan, where he is presently a Senior Fellow in the Society of Fellows. In fall 2007 he delivered the Edvard Westermarck Memorial Lecture in Helsinki. In 2009, he gave the D. R. Sharpe Keynote Lecture on Social Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, a plenary address to the annual conference of the Theoretical Archaeology Group, and the Eleventh Annual Annette B. Weiner Memorial Lecture at New York University.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory.