The Stakes for Anthropology in 2012

The Stakes for Anthropology in 2012

The Stakes for Anthropology in 2012
Thinking of What is Anthropology as the study of humanity is a good beginning, but anthropology’s documentation of human life is not just a neutral exercise. More than any other academic discipline, anthropology’s documentation of human history and creativity can now tell us about human possibilities at a time when the previously unquestioned is being challenged. Anthropology affirms that unprecedented concentration of wealth and power is not part of “human nature” but particular to this capitalist moment; that cult-like devotion to “the market” as the measure of all value corrodes human potential and threatens the planet we share; that humans are capable of cooperation, sharing, and kindness, and of coming together across difference to make the world more beautiful.

From Keith Hart’s reflections on “The Human Economy in a Revolutionary Moment” to parenthropologist’s efforts to question the economic calculus of closing a school to taking down the new book by Charles Murray, anthropologists use the study of humanity to re-frame the most pressing issues of our times. These are the stakes for anthropology in 2012.

The human economy in a revolutionary moment: political aspects of the economic crisis, Keith Hart
Three things count in our societies–people, machines and money, in that order. But money buys the machines that control the people. Our political task–and I believe it was Marx’s too–is to reverse that order of priority, not to help people escape from machines and money, but to encourage them to develop themselves through machines and money. To the idea of economic crisis and its antidotes, we must now add that of political revolution. I have argued here that the dynamics of revolution require active consideration in this context. Revolutions give rise to digital contrasts and rightly so, but human societies are built on analogue processes. This is not just an academic debating point. A lot hinges on how humanity responds to the contradictions of the turbulence ahead.

The Human Economy, Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani (editors)
The global financial crisis has renewed concern about whether capitalist markets are the best way of organizing economic life. Would it not be better if we were to treat the economy as something made and remade by people themselves, rather than as an impersonal machine? The object of a human economy is the reproduction of human beings and of whatever sustains life in general. Such an economy would express human variety in its local particulars as well as the interests of all humanity. The editors have assembled here a citizen’s guide to building a human economy. This project is not a dream but is part of a collective effort that began a decade ago at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has gathered pace ever since.

Money and Morals, Paul Krugman
Conservatives have started telling us that the growing inequality is about a decline in morals. But it’s mainly about money.

The poor are different from you and me…, Jessica Mason
Ugh, Charles Murray again? This week US bloggers and news commentators are rehashing Ye Olde Culture of Poverty argument.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber
Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it.

Why this is not a foregone conclusion
Simply closing a school will not solve the problem by itself. If only it were that simple, then the many communities that already have had to close their schools should be better off, expanding the opportunities for students and restoring the programs that were cut, but this is not necessarily the case. I am afraid that the research that I have been reading about school closures contradicts the comment about children not being affected and closing a building being simple.
For those interested in school financing issues, especially in New York but across the country, please consider “liking” and joining with Support Oneonta Schools.

Human Nature, Humility, & Homosexuality, Patrick F. Clarkin
“Human nature” is a very slippery thing, and for anyone to claim that they know exactly what that is reeks of arrogance. I may be biased as an anthropologist, but I think this is doubly arrogant if one only views humanity through the lens of their own culture (or their own idiosyncratic view of their own culture) and only over a very limited period of history. It also implies that there is a single human nature, while ignoring the fact that human beings are quite diverse in genes, phenotypes, beliefs, and behaviors. . . . I would recommend that if we have a choice, then choose humility. Choose tolerance. Choose love.

Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World, Michel-Rolph Trouillot
We owe it to ourselves and to our interlocutors to say loudly that we have seen alternative visions of humankind–indeed more than any academic discipline–and that we know that this one . . . that constructs economic growth as the ultimate human value . . . may not be the most respectful of the planet we share, nor indeed the most accurate nor the most practical. We also owe it to ourselves to say that it is not the most beautiful nor the most optimistic. (139)

The Bongobongo and Open Access, Jason Antrosio
Trouillot is then outlining a vision of anthropological duties and risks, include making native voices more full interlocutors, identifying the ultimate targets of anthropological discourse, and publicizing the stakes of anthropological exchange.

The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century, Immanuel Wallerstein
“It is precisely in periods of transition from one historical system to another one (whose nature we cannot know in advance) that human struggle takes on the most meaning” (3).
“We must most of all lower our arrogance decibels. We must do all these things because social science really does have something to offer the world. What it has to offer is the possibility of applying human intelligence to human problems, and thereby to achieving human potential, which may be less than perfection but is certainly more than humans have achieved heretofore” (156).
“Why are we so afraid of discussing the possible, of analyzing the possible, of exploring the possible?” (217).
“We can make the world less unjust; we can make it more beautiful; we can increase our cognition of it” (250).

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