‘“Moreness” in Motion: Toward an Anthropology of Intensity’ (Wed, 7 February 2018)

Speaker: Dr. Andrew M. Carruthers (Max Weber Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS)
Date: Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


Indonesia’s Bugis people are a mobile, seafaring ethnic group who have long migrated to neighboring Malaysia in search of kelebihaŋ or “moreness.” Nominalized from Malay lebih or “more,” “moreness” is the meta-quality of being “more” in some respect or capacity. It is a quality that Bugis predicate about some (unstated yet semiotically salient) quality whose perceived intensity exceeds imagined typicalities. In three expository sketches, this talk examines the relation between “moreness” and mobility among a people in motion. Throughout, I argue that discernments, evaluations, and characterizations of “moreness” are causally linked to Bugis patterns of movement, and hinge upon acts of “grading” — a process prior to measurement or counting whereby semiotic agents evaluate the qualitative intensities that suffuse everyday life, characterizing them as “more” or “less” relative to a ground of comparison or “point of departure” (Sapir 1944). First, I attend to “moreness” as an object of aspirational desire, describing how “moreness” materializes across entities and events. Second, I approach migrants’ clandestine border-crossings as movements across virtual thresholds, examining how borders qua “thresholds” serve as points of departure for processes of commensuration. Third, I address practical challenges faced by the Malaysian state as it seeks to police so-called “illegal” Indonesian immigrants whose habits of talk and comportment are “more-or-less the same” (lebih kurang sama) as those of “genuine” Malaysian citizens. These three sketches serve concluding observations about “intensity” as a mediating concept and object of ethnographic analysis, and what an anthropology of “intensity” — of the “mores” and “lesses” of everyday life — might look like.

About the speaker

Andrew M. Carruthers is Max Weber Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at NUS. A linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist specializing in Indonesia and Malaysia, he studies the relation between language, mobilities, and infrastructures as a source of insight into the ways people navigate shifting and potentially hazardous terrains in their everyday lives. His essays have appeared in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology and SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia. He holds an A.B. (magna cum laude) in Anthropology and Southeast Asia Studies from Cornell (2009), and an M.Phil. (2012) and Ph.D. (2016) in Anthropology from Yale.