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Dossier - Ethnographier la liberté

La possibilité de ne pas être soi

Sujet, spiritisme et libre‑arbitre au Portugal
The Possibility of Not Being the Self-Subject, Spiritualism, and Free Will in Portugal
Christophe Pons
p. 111-129


The issue of freedom is approached from that of the subject, both as a learned concept and as a vernacular conception (Christian, mediumnic, witchcraft), questioning the epistemology of the human sciences and the prevailing moral ideology concerning freedom. Based on ethnographies carried out in Portugal in various spiritual therapy contexts, the article points out alternative perspectives from which a recurrent contradiction arises about what a subject is. On the one hand, a conception valuing the shaping of true subjectivity as a return to an authentic and original self. On the other hand, the pragmatic and painful experience of the vacuity of this Self, its uncertainty and the frightening possibility of its disappearance. It is suggested that the question of freedom is often caught in tension between these two perspectives – both in the vernacular and scholarly conceptualizations – and an attempt is made to show how contemplating the disappearance of the Self it is not an aberration.

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Author's notes

Cet article est issu de recherches de terrain conduites au Portugal en 2019-20, avec le soutien d’un financement SMI de l’INSHS-CNRS, France. Je remercie J. Hayem et P. Sorrentino pour leur relecture.

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Bibliographical reference

Christophe Pons, « La possibilité de ne pas être soi », Journal des anthropologues, 164-165 | 2021, 111-129.

Electronic reference

Christophe Pons, « La possibilité de ne pas être soi », Journal des anthropologues [Online], 164-165 | 2021, Online since 02 January 2024, connection on 20 September 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Christophe Pons

CNRS, IDEMEC. Aix-Marseille Université
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Journal des anthropologues

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