Stuart McLean

Associate Professor of Anthropology University of Minnesota

Stuart McLean's work focuses on theorizing the intersection between the material world and the human elaboration of cultural meaning. He approaches this by considering the variety of ways in which human beings have understood and articulated the relationship between their own acts of imagination, remembrance and self-identification and the material processes giving form to their bodies, their material environments and their world. His work seeks to accord no a priori explanatory privilege either to “nature“ or “culture“ as conventionally defined but to focus instead on their intersection and overlap, as revealed through particular sites, histories and material practices. His book, The Event and Its Terrors: Ireland, Famine, Modernity (2004) address one of the key episodes of modern Irish history – the Great Famine of the 1840s, which claimed more than a million lives and continues to inspire intense academic and popular debate. He is currently working on a second book project, tentatively entitled A Poetics of Emergence; Imagining Creativity beyond “Nature“ and “Culture.“ This explores the possibility of conceiving of creativity, not as an exclusively human capacity (a view sometimes advanced in Euro-American reflections on the topic) but as a relational process operating across the domains of “nature“ and “culture.“ The book argues that human beings in diverse times and places have intuited such a continuity between human creativity and the processes shaping the natural world and that these intuitions have found a variety of expressions through mythology, folklore, literature, art, philosophy and science. It also aims to challenge more restrictive definitions of creativity and to open a space for transcultural and transdisciplinary dialogue by developing a comparative account of human imagination and creativity as informed by and participating in the self-creation of the material universe. Portions of this work have already appeared in the volume Landscape, Memory and History: Anthropological Perspectives (2003), in a special edition (2007) of the Irish Journal of Anthropology (which he co-edited with Steve Coleman of the National University of Ireland) and articles in the journals Trames (2008) and Cultural Anthropology (2009).