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Anthropologically Critiquing Reality: Virtual Realities and Actual Realities

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Anthropologically Critiquing Reality: Virtual Realities and Actual Realities

Course Info:

Instructor: Jeffrey Vadala

jvadala at

Contact on Slackboard

Virtual office hours: by appointment

Non Virtual office hours: 2:45-4:00

Term Spring 2018

Meeting 1:00-2:200 Franklin Patterson Hall ELH

As our world is becoming more and more globalized, human societies are finding that their conceptions, assumptions, and approaches to the ultimate existence of reality can widely differ with profound consequences. Many of us are familiar with disputes over the nature and meaning of human life, and how these disputes can escalate into widespread social conflict, war, and community violence. Despite the wide variety of disagreements and conflicts that occur between human societies over these questions, within societies, people do not often question their basic assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality. Since the early 1900s, Anthropologists have emphasized that people perceive and view realities in widely varying ways.

These questions have come to the foreground of Anthropology once again, with the work of theorists and anthropologists of the “ontological turn”, who have begun questioning the ways that people’s assumptions about reality(ies) shape how they feel, live in, and interpret their daily lives. With this “ontological turn,” anthropologists are increasingly exploring how realities can make critical interventions on one another---such as when anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro applied indigenous Amazonian models of personhood to critically explore individualistic and dualistic Euro-American models of identity. Increasingly, anthropology is turning to indigenous theories, non traditional philosophies, and “forgotten theories” of reality to more deeply understand how conceptions and beliefs about reality shape our experiences, memories, and values in profound ways.

With all this in mind, this class will explore how culturally different core assumptions regarding the nature of reality---that which philosophers call metaphysics---exist in societies, objects and artifacts. In anthropological terms, this course will introduce students to the concepts of metaphysics and ontology while demonstrating that critical understandings of metaphysical systems can lead to fuller and more critically informed anthropological knowledge production. Class work will involve online activities, video production, readings from anthropological and philosophical texts, and a virtual reality class project that will demonstrate the lessons learned in class in the digital domain.


  1. Anthropological Research on how people see the world as worldview

  2. Epistemology and Ontology

  3. Understanding past Archaeological and Anthropological Approaches to Reality: Nature versus Culture, Nature Versus Nurture, Body and Mind, Non Dualist and Process based Approaches

  4. Philosophical Approaches to Metaphysics: Deleuze, Kant, Whitehead, Plato and more

  5. The importance and difference between virtual and actual existence

  6. The production of informed and critical virtual reality anthropological objects

Learning Objectives

  1. From an anthropological viewpoint, students should be able critique taken for granted assumptions about the world, the cosmos and the nature of reality itself.

  2. Students should be able to describe how metaphysics impact western and non western societies.

  3. From a philosophical and anthropological viewpoint students should be able to question and critique western metaphysical notions of reality (e.g. nature versus culture, dualism, naturalism, mind/body, rationalism)

  4. Students will critically assess how conventional and naturalized assumptions about reality are built into the world, objects, habits, cultures and societies

  5. Students will measure and critically assess how they do or do input western metaphysical assumptions in a virtual reality simulation of their own making.

Combined, these goals will allow students to critique the viewpoints and assumptions regarding reality, and the social theories and media objects that are produced using conventional notions of western metaphysics. Consequently students will be better equipped to question taken for granted power structures, natural orders, and ideas of historical progress that create and protect massive gulfs of inequality to this day.

Evaluation Criteria

You will be evaluated on the basis of attendance, participation, writing assignments, and a final produce on assignment due dates. You should demonstrate through your participation, your writing, and your project that you have read and thought about the course readings. Your portfolio should demonstrate engagement with several of the class topics at the analytical and critical level. Any missed, late, or inadequate assignments or demos will be noted in your evaluation. If you fail to submit 2 or more assignments, or to miss 2 or more classes, and do not produce a final project then you should not expect to receive an evaluation.

Writing Assignments

Two writing assignments will be given. These are two-three page critical reflections on the readings that require you to produce and defend a thesis with class material.


This will require you produce a short 3-4 page research paper that describes a virtual reality representation of a metaphysical system that you will create. For this assignment, virtual reality software and hardware will be provided in a on campus lab. Students will need to sign up for time to use the VR Lab which will be available upon request of the instructor. The instructor will be provide assistant and technical expertise while using the lab.


Assigned PDF readings will be given periodically.

Books (Buy or Download)

DeLanda, Manuel. A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity. A&C Black, 2006.

Descola, Philippe. Beyond nature and culture. University of Chicago Press, 2013.


Successful completion of this course satisfies the Division I distribution requirement in Mind, Brain, and Information.

Class Communication

We will be using Slack for the majority of Class communications. This means group communications and presentations will occur on Slack. Instead of emailing, you will communicate with the instructor on Slack.


If you have a fever, please stay home, take good care of yourself, and contact me by email or phone. If your illness makes it impossible for you to meet the course deadlines then contact me and we will negotiate an accommodation. ADAPTATIONS AND ACCOMMODATIONS If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, or if you have a medical condition that may impact your performance or participation in this course, then please let me know. If you have approved accommodations then please go to Accessibility Services in CASA to pick up Letters of Accommodation to facilitate a proactive discussion about reasonable accommodations for this course. If you have documented disabilities but have not already already contacted Accessibility Services, the I encourage you to do so. Accessibility Services can be contacted via email:, via phone: 413-559-5498, or in person at CASA


All Hampshire College students and faculty, whether at Hampshire or at other institutions, are bound by the ethics of academic integrity. The entire description and college policy can be found in Non Satis Non Scire at under Academic Policies/Ethics of Scholarship. Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s work as one’s own. Both deliberate and inadvertent misrepresentations of another’s work as your own are considered plagiarism and are serious breaches of academic honesty and integrity. All sources used or consulted in the process of writing papers, examinations, preparing oral presentations, course assignments, artistic productions, and so on, must be cited. Sources include material from books, journals or any other printed source, the work of other students, faculty, or staff, information from the Internet, software programs and other electronic material, designs and ideas. ... All cases of suspected plagiarism or academic dishonesty will be referred to the Dean of Advising who will review documentation and meet with student and faculty member. Individual faculty, in consultation with the Dean of Advising, will decide the most appropriate consequence in the context of the class. This can range from revising and resubmitting an assignment to failing the course. Beyond the consequence in the course, CASA considers first offenses as opportunities for education and official warning. Multiple or egregious offenses will have more serious consequences. Suspected instances of other breaches of the ethics of academic integrity, such as the falsification of data, will be treated with the same seriousness as plagiarism and will follow the same process


Week 1: 1/24 -Syllabus and What is reality

Week 2: 1/31 -Class: Basics of Metaphysics

Reading:Metaphysics of Modern Existence -Page 31 - page 65

Week 3: 2/7 -Assemblage Theory

Reading Delanda Chapter 1

Week 4: 2/14 - Assemblage Theory

Reading: Delanda Chapter 2-3

Week 5: 2/21 - Virtual and Actual Realities

Reading: Deleuze

Reading Delanda 2011

Week 6: 2/28 - Beyond Natural and Culture

Reading: Descola

Week 7: 3/7- Beyond Nature and Culture

Reading: Descola

Spring Break 3/14

Week 8: 3/21 - Beyond Nature and Culture

Reading: Descola

Week 9: 3/28 - Beyond Nature and Culture

Reading: Descola

Week 10: 4/4 - Maya Metaphysics and Perspectivism

Reading: Harrison-Buck

Reading DeCastro

Week 11: 4/11 - Study and Project Week

Week 12: 4/18 - Aztec Metaphysics

Reading: James Maffie

Week 13: 4/25

Whiteheadian and Latourian Metaphysics

Reading: Excerpts from - The Concept of Nature and We’ve Never Been Modern

Week 14: 5/2: Project Presentations

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