Anthropology of Nothing in Particular, An

Anthropology of Nothing in Particular, An

A journey into the social lives of meaninglessness.


There have been claims that meaninglessness has become epidemic in the contemporary world. One perceived consequence of this is that people increasingly turn against both society and the political establishment with little concern for the content (or lack of content) that might follow. Most often, encounters with meaninglessness and nothingness are seen as troubling. "Meaning" is generally seen as being a cornerstone of the human condition, as that which we strive towards. This was famously explored by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning in which he showed how even in the direst of situations individuals will often seek to find a purpose in life. But what, then, is at stake when groups of people negate this position? What exactly goes on inside this apparent turn towards nothing, in the engagement with meaninglessness? And what happens if we take the meaningless seriously as an empirical fact?


Frederiksen's book is a well written and very interesting anthropological experiment. Not only does it address meaninglessness and the challenge it poses to the venerated tradition of looking for meaning and structure behind all kinds of everyday phenomena and personal life stories, Frederiksen also searches for a style of representation (or perhaps rather presentation) that resonates with his object of study. I really appreciate the way he takes his informants literally, not only in the sense of taking them seriously. Boldly and with success, he employs literary means in order to describe how nothing in particular takes place among them. ~ Anne Line Dalsgaard, University of Aarhus, author of Matters of Life and Longing

This is a beautifully written piece of work; it deals with the kind of existential concerns that anthropology normally deals with so badly by approaching them through thickets of deep theory that all too often become the focus of attention rather than the questions of being that such theory is allegedly intended to illuminate. Instead, the author takes the direct route of explaining in clear and simple, yet never simplistic terms, why an endless quest for meaning may carry downsides and blindsides if relentlessly pursued. The text uses examples from fieldwork and literature in a manner designed to cut to the heart of these concerns, again in contrast to so much ‘experimental’ writing in anthropology, where the feeling all too often is that such tropes are clumsy additions stuck on top of pointlessly meaningful papers with sellotape. I think this book would be a suitable candidate to teach on a number of postgraduate courses; in particular those aiming to help students develop clear writing and avoid the pitfalls of needless obscurity. It’s enjoyable, clear to read and most of all clearly written for the right reasons, a deeply felt desire on the part of the author to explore his own experience of nothingness in an honest and open manner, and that honesty communicates from the page and is likely to communicate itself to readers as well. ~ Keir Martin, University of Oslo, co-editor of Journal of Extreme Anthropology

It is a rare pleasure to read about nothing in particular with the constant notion of wanting to read more about nothing! The chapters of this book meander around nothing, leading the reader back and forth between observations on a place in its non-existence and detailed being, references to and analysis of nothingness versus nothing and the importance of a counterpart of nothing in everything. Like with its contents the author transforms language into a form of questions and in between – is it poetry? is it theory? – contesting those blind spots in a caleidoscopic manner. A text one reads so fast just to start over again when through in order to not have gotten lost on any of the details! ~ Katharina Stadler, conceptual artist and independent researcher

Martin Demant Frederiksen
Martin Demant Frederiksen Martin Demant Frederiksen is postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo. He holds a PhD in an...
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