Long Anthropology Blogs – 15 January 2012
Anthropologists have a tradition of long writing, from the massive ethnographic monograph and the virtually raw data of Franz Boas to contemporary journal articles and blog-posts. Documenting human richness, complexity, and possibility can get wordy.
Contemporary forms prioritize brevity, recency, and “smart phones” but it is important to preserve the longer thoughts and words of anthropologists. At Savage Minds, Alex Golub reminds anthropologists of the importance of Thinking: An Important Part of the Research Process: “Thinking is one of the most important parts of the research process, second only to reading” (and be sure to read through the comment stream).
With thanks to Anthropolaris, additional justification from Veena Das, on how ethnographic writing “requires an excess of description to capture the entanglements of customs, habits, rules, and examples. It provides the context in which we could see how we are to trace words back to their original homes when we do not know our way about” (Wittgenstein and Anthropology 1998:179-180).
In that spirit, here are some of the long anthropology blog-posts collected from the first half of January 2012. Please let me know if there’s something to add. I’ve listed these chronologically, but am seeing some cross-themes for thinking and reading across these entries.
Brainy Trees, Metaphorical Forests: On Neuroscience, Embodiment, and Architecture, Daniel Lende
Embodied cognition is a game changer. . . . Western philosophy has been dominated by Descartes’ mind/body dichotomy, with universal reason on the one side (I think, therefore I am) and robot bodies on the other. Neuroscience has long hewed to that mechanistic view, augmented by a functionalism provided by different types of rationality – the blind watchmaker, the rigors of selection, the computations of brain circuits. Embodied cognition has challenged many of these epistemological underpinnings, much of the Western mind set. But my bet is that the neuroscience will be still more uncanny, more weird than the rationality, embodied or universal, we still cling to in so many ways.
Changing the goal posts: heritability lost and found, Ken Weiss
Most heritability remains unaccounted for despite already very large studies. Hence the demand for ever larger studies. A glib commentary in Nature a few years ago coined the term ‘hidden heritability’ and made the search to find it akin to Sherlock Holmes’ search for Moriarty. That was a fantastic, if anti-science, marketing ploy on Nature‘s part, since it fed an ever-increasing demand for funds for genomic scavenger hunting….and that’s good for the science journal business!
A Brief History of Bioarchaeological Ethics – Part I: America, Kristina Kilgrove
Given that the subject matter of many biological anthropologists is the human skeleton, it is not surprising that ethical concerns have arisen over the years about bioarchaeological research in particular. Images of bioarchaeologists as graverobbers, bent on the desecration of places of eternal rest, are not uncommon, and laws concerning the treatment of human skeletons have only arisen in the past few decades.
It’s About Time This Loophole Was Closed!, Rob Gargett
Native Americans, First Nations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and others of the world’s indigenous people have the trump card in any argument relating to the dead of colonized territories. . . . I respect what I consider to be the fundamental human right to have the final say in the disposition of one’s ancestors’ remains (and their mortuary-associated belongings). To do otherwise would be to abrogate my humanity. Make of that what you will.
The banality of corporate corruption (Risperdal on trial, cont’d.), Kalman Applbaum
The most florid violations lie on a simple continuum with all pharmaceutical marketing practices. The prosecuted cases are distinguished, if at all, by degree and not kind with other examples. If for no other reason than that competitive pressures drive companies to behave in similar ways, one can guarantee that the marketing strategies and tactics for drugs of a single class will resemble each other.
Empathy in Flux
I wonder if consciously tapping into a longitudinal perspective would prove valuable not just in understanding biology and health, but also in increasing empathy, reminding us that single slices of a person’s life are never enough to fully understand the complexity of a person.
Notes and thoughts on the concept and value of ‘autonomy’, Bree Blakeman
My research with Yolŋu mala encourages me to think of autonomy as a cultural understanding associated with emotion and morality that describes a salient, culturally recognized form of interpersonal exchange – or state of relations between two or more people.
Sex workers and Violence against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes?, Laura Agustin
If language is important to social movements, then the language being heard widely on the subject of sexual exploitation and prostitution needs reshaping. At the moment what is heard is disciplinary, which may make sense in the short run, but what we need are long-run, hopeful visions that do not continue to divide the world into two gendered camps in the traditional battle of the sexes.
From the Archives: Power, Confidence, and High Heels, Krystal D’Costa
While it’s true that an individual woman’s presence is so much more than the footwear she has chosen for the day, shoes can influence our interactions with others: they change how we walk, how we stand, and how others perceive us.
Phonosymbolism and Phonosemantics in Chinese, Victor Mair
Since Westerners first encountered Chinese characters centuries ago, they have been confused over how the characters convey meaning. . . . It is now generally recognized that phonology is a key component in the process by means of which the Chinese writing system represents linguistic utterances.
Does corporate ethnography suck? A cultural analysis of academic critiques of private-sector ethnography, Sam Ladner
Much of private-sector ethnography is as banal as it is ironic. In its bland quest to “understand the consumer,” it reduces culture to mere consumerism and thereby fails to achieve its own stated goal of understanding. This cynical veneer of cultural research disregards the truly transformative effect of “going native,” which is the first step to deriving both deep insight and innovation. Private-sector “ethnographers” are frequently ignorant to what ethnography actually is.
Public interests in data from federally funded research
The public has repeatedly invented surprising uses for digital data that can complement or enhance the scientific record. But much more important, open access to digital data serves the scientific values of transparency and independent replication, essential to maintaining public trust and investment in the research enterprise.
Das Brand, Boris Popvic
If brand is king, what happens to poor people’s brands? If Fiji wanted to embark on what China has its sights set on, or Ethiopian fine coffee producers are struggling to put together, it would stumble upon its intangibles already half seized.
Digital Money, Mobile Media, and the Consequences of Granularity, Adam Fish
The human consequences of the bitification of atoms go far beyond bourgeois consumption. This shift, or what is could simply be called digitalization, when paired with their very material transportation systems or networked communication technologies, combines to form a powerful force that impacts local and global democracies and economies.
The long, slow sexual revolution (part 1) with nsfw video, Greg Downey
The 60s and 70s, including the ‘Sexual Revolution,’ feminism, divorce, and more and more diverse family structures, should instead be seen as a recent round of a longer-running, ongoing pattern of sexual change . . . Becoming human over the last five million years has included sexual changes almost as monumental as transformations to other aspects of our bodies, cognitive abilities, tool use, and social life.
Jack Goody’s Vision of World History and African Development Today, Keith Hart
Jack Goody has excavated a new anthropological vision of our world that is bound to become even more salient as the present century unfolds. His anthropological legacy will last, even if the contemporary rise of Africa is not prefigured in his writing on the continent. I have tried to show here that Goody’s extension of the tradition that I call “the anthropology of unequal society” is indispensable to understanding what really happened in Africa during the twentieth century and may happen there in the twenty-first.
Wittgenstein and the “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” question, D. Alexander Phillips
In Iraq this past summer, I was part of a discussion/friendly debate with a group of people centered around the question “Do Muslims and Christians worship/pray to/talk about the same God?”
Renaissance critiques of scholarship and ironic reflexivity, Eli Thorkelson
It is historically interesting to reflect on the fact that, not only are the existential absurdities of humanistic scholarship still in some ways quite similar to what they were in 1511, so too is the ironic attitude that we use to fend off this absurdity. Irony is what allows us to detach from our milieu in order then to better attach to it. What luck for academia that it has writers like Erasmus to help strengthen our collective resolve!
Subjective, objective and indigenous history: Seediq Bale’s take on the Wushe Incident, Darryl Sterk
A favorite topic on the blogosphere is whether or not Seediq Bale is an historically accurate take on the Wushe Incident. . . . In assessing Seediq Bale’s historical accuracy it’s helpful to distinguish between subjective and objective: between 1) immediate, indigenous perspectives on history as it unfolds as current event on the one hand, and 2) distantiated, contextualized interpretations of historians on the other hand.
Wittgenstein and Anthropology, Veena Das
This essay explores the theme of Wittgenstein as a philosopher of culture. The primary text on which the essay is based is Philosophical Investigations; it treats Stanley Cavell’s work as a major guide for the understanding and reception of Wittgenstein into anthropology. Some Wittgensteinian themes explored in the essay are the idea of culture as capability, horizontal and vertical limits to forms of life, concepts of everyday life in the face of skepticism, and the complexity of the inner in relation to questions of belief and pain. While an attempt has been made to relate these ideas to ethnographic descriptions, the emphasis in this essay is on the question of how anthropology may receive Wittgenstein.