Vectors, direction of attention and unprotected backs: Re-specifying relations in anthropology

Caroline Gatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropological accounts struggle to incorporate both subjectivity and supra-personal structures. Focus on the shape and type of relations neglects giving attention to the transformations that emerge as a result of relationships. This article proposes a toolbox of concepts that re-specify the notion of relations in a way that takes into account the transformative effect of relationships. The concepts are force fields, vectors, direction-of-attention and unprotected backs. These notions incorporate directionality and transformation into the notion of relations and provide three key understandings of i) shifts in personal effectiveness; ii) the limitations of personal power without undermining the subject; and iii) intentionality without undermining the effectiveness of structures. Each of these understandings is illustrated by means of the strivings of environmental activists members of a transnational environmentalist federation. Vectors make it possible to take seriously the subject and inter-subjective sociality and, simultaneously, the effects of history and impersonal structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-369
Number of pages23
JournalAnthropoloigcal Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • direction of attention
  • agency
  • force fields
  • relational anthropology
  • subjectivity
  • supra-personal entities
  • vectors


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