OAC online seminar 26 September - 7 October Ryan Anderson "Landscapes of Wealth & Desire"

Welcome to a new season of online seminars. For those of you who are new to them, these last for 10-12 days. A paper is posted on the OAC Press site, in this case here, where it may be read in html or pdf format. After the seminar, we produce an e-publication with a link to the discussion included. The pace of the seminar is leisurely. There is time to read, reflect and respond to comments made by others. There is a chair who launches and moderates the discussion.

Ryan Anderson is a long-standing member of and contributor to the OAC. He is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Kentucky.  His research focuses on the politics of development and tourism in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is the editor of a collaborative online project anthropologies and blogs at ethnografix, as well as contributing to the collective anthropology blog, Savage Minds (For examples related to this paper, see this link, and this one). Ryan first encountered Baja California Sur in 2005 and is currently seeking funds to carry out his doctoral research there.

The present paper explores the historical background to a proposed study of political disputes over the value of large-scale tourism development in Baja California Sur. It starts with a review of anthropological discussions of value — focusing on the work of Kluckhohn, Graeber, Elyachar and Appadurai. The aim is to use an anthropological approach to value to place current conflicts over land and resources arising from recent developments within a historical perspective.  The paper then investigates how actors in different time periods have contributed to collective and often contradictory constructions of the area as a place of subsistence, adventure, possibilities, salvation, investment, leisure and conflict.  It is not a report on the contemporary situation, but rather it examines some of the key moments and events that have in the past created, reshaped, and defined Baja California Sur as a place of value, meaning, and importance. These episodes start with the Spanish contact period and focus primarily on the southern portion of the peninsula.

The paper concludes with an appendix containing some rather stunning photos of the place. Ryan and I encourage you to treat this as a work in progress. His main field research is still in the future! So we hope that the conversation will help him to clarify what he wants to do, as well as allowing him to share new ideas and information with us. The paper has two main parts: one is a discussion of some anthropological theories of value and the other is an episodic reconstruction of some of the key moments in the region's history. I would like our discussion to focus on these first and especially on how they might be made to illuminate each other . But of course ethnographers are mainly concerned with what is contemporary and our discussion wil inevitably gravitate towards the main point of the research, the politics of tourism development today. Perhaps we could save this issue for later. First let us engage with the paper.

Views: 594

Replies are closed for this discussion.

Replies to This Discussion

Ryan, I would like to congratulate you on your summary of what appeals to you in anthropological approaches to value. I have always suspected that value theory was a way of adding spurious significance to empirical observations or at best to provide an umbrella under which to group disparate inquiries. But your discussion feels genuinely integrated and likely to lead somewhere interesting. I am sure participants in the seminar will want to quiz you on particular authors. I am glad that you acknowledged the importance of Julia Elyachar's Cairo monograph, Markets of Dispossession, which is not usually referred to in this context. But I thought I would kick off by asking you to expand a little on your reasons for including Appadurai here, since you mention that his approach is problematic in some respects, but you like his idea of “regimes of value in space and time”.

For me the exciting feature of your paper is the attempt to frame contemporary events in California Baja Sur within a context of history in the long run. Your focus on landscapes is deliberate, since you plan an ethnography that is truly rooted in a particular place. Yet that place is currently subject to the forces of globalization and in some sense it has been for the last half-millennium. One consequence of the narrative sequence you present here is that it allows you in the end to view contemporary developments almost with an archaeologist's eye -- as another episode when grandiose schemes for accumulating wealth may turn out to be more transient than the protagonists once hoped.

In our recent book, Economic Anthropology, Chris Hann and I argue that the ethnographic revolution in twentieth-century anthropology is irreversible, but it threw out the baby of world history with the bathwater. We also argue for critical theory to be a prominent feature of anthropologists' equipment. You provide both here, but for obvious reasons leave the third party, ethnography, for the future. I wonder if you can reflect some more on what led you in this direction and which examples from the existing literature inspired you to embark on the difficult path of combining ethnography with world history. Or maybe the place itself is so steeped in world history that you felt you could do nothing else than explore it?

First off, I just wanted to drop in briefly and say thanks to Keith, Justin, and everyone at the OAC for the opportunity to take part in this e-seminar.  I am looking forward to everyone's thoughts and comments!

Thanks for the opening comment, Keith!

 

But I thought I would kick off by asking you to expand a little on your reasons for including Appadurai here, since you mention that his approach is problematic in some respects, but you like his idea of “regimes of value in space and time”.

 

That's a good question.  I actually appreciate where Appadurai took his understanding of value in many ways, for some specific reasons.  But first, the problematic aspects.  The main issue--and this is what Graeber highlights in his book--is that Appadurai focuses his discussion of value on the centrality of exchange.  The important thing to take note of is the fact that Appadurai was looking at value in terms of commodities, which is more focused than what Graeber, Elyachar, or others like Nancy Munn were doing.  Appadurai is looking at objects within systems of exchange, and basing his idea of value upon the wants and desires of consumers.  Appadurai pulls a lot from Simmel, who argued that we call objects valuable when they "resist our desire to possess them" (in Appadurai 1986:3).  So what's wrong, or limiting, by looking at value purely in terms of exchange?  It is, first of all, a shift away from a focus on production--or how things that become valuable are actually made/produced.   So value is not determined in production, Appadurai seems to argue, but through exchange in a market system.  Graeber's big critique is that this turns the discussion of value into a discussion about things, rather than social relationships.  Consumption becomes a big focal point: objects, goods, and services become important or valuable because they are desired by consumers, who are competing to express themselves through consumption.  Value is reduced to a discussion about, well, supply, demand, and social trends.  But what about how people actually work to create and define value in other terms?  What about ways of thinking about value that exist outside of a market-based logic?  What about moral understandings of value?  All of this is swept aside.  But Graeber rightly asks where this kind of analysis of value is really taking us: "But it also serves as an object lesson about why, when one catches a wave, one might do well to think about where it is ultimately heading.  Because the end result is anthropology as it might have been written by Milton Friedman" (in Graeber 2001:33).  So there has to be something more to value.  There have to be other factors that we look at besides the end result of consumption in a market.  And this is where Graeber leads back to Kluckhohn, who was concerned about some of the moral aspects of values and value creation.

 

That said, there is a lot that I do appreciate about Appadurai's discussion of value.  I really appreciate the idea of tracing value through these different social trajectories (this is what he calls "regimes of value").  He also on the importance of politics, and so he is in line with Graeber and Elyachar, even if he looks at things in a different manner.  For Appadurai, the politics of value is all about the politics of knowledge.  He also talked about the need to look at the creation of value in specific social situations (1986:4).  We just need to look at MORE than just purely economic or market situations.  The idea that I pull from in the paper is the "regimes of value," which I think is really fascinating.  I like the idea of focusing on the "life history" of value, but I have to do it in a different way.  My research is about a place, rather than a commodity.  Places don't move around, so I am taking off from Appadurai's idea but reworking it.  In the case of Baja California Sur, the regimes of value are the different individuals and social groups--they are the ones who move.  And what I am trying to trace is how these wider systems of meaning and value come together to define, contest, and create value in one specific place.  I also think it's important to look at both time and space (or geographical space).  These regimes of value have histories behind them, and they also have fascinating geographies behind them as well (this is part of what connects these processes to surrounding global markets, etc).  It sounds endlessly fascinating, but all of this ultimately will be shaped by the realities of fieldwork.  So I have to keep a really open mind, and be ready for the wrenches to start dropping in the middle of many of these ideas!

 

One consequence of the narrative sequence you present here is that it allows you in the end to view contemporary developments almost with an archaeologist's eye -- as another episode when grandiose schemes for accumulating wealth may turn out to be more transient than the protagonists once hoped.

 

I really like how you put that: the idea of looking at the present with an archaeologist's eye.  I might steal that from you if that's ok!  I started off in archaeology, so a lot of that kind of thinking has carried over.  I really appreciate the longer-term, archaeological and historical perspectives.  And this is definitely something that I want to keep focusing on in future work.  Sometimes when we only look at things in terms of the present, as if this is the only way that things could be happening, well, a lot can be missed.  These kinds of questions are at the heart of what I am trying to do with this research in Baja--this is a place that has been peripheral (from some perspectives) from a long, long time.  Now, all of a sudden, it's THE place for international tourism in Mexico.  The question is how long this is going to last.  And this is a good question to ask about some of the international tourism development models, which are heavily based upon the wants, needs, and desires of tourists.  It's a fickle market, and one of my long term questions is what happens to these kinds of places when the market dies out.  What happens to places like Cancun when it no longer attracts masses of tourists? 

 

I wonder if you can reflect some more on what led you in this direction and which examples from the existing literature inspired you to embark on the difficult path of combining ethnography with world history. Or maybe the place itself is so steeped in world history that you felt you could do nothing else than explore it?

 

The first I already mentioned above: archaeology.  That's really where I come from.  UC Santa Cruz converted me to cultural anthropology in some ways, but the archaeological perspective never lost its appeal.  I had a great class with Diane Gifford Gonzales that I'll never forget--we were reading everything from Pitt Rivers to V. Gordon Childe to Walter Taylor, Binford, Alyson Wylie, Joan Gero, Ian Hodder.  Good stuff.  And I kept taking archaeology classes in grad school to keep up on things.  For me, people like Michael Shanks are a really fascinating bridge for archaeology and cultural anthropology.  His essay "Three Rooms" is tremendous.  I like a lot of his work.  And there are some earlier figures like Kroeber and Steward who walked the line between cultural anthropology and archaeology in some ways--I was always drawn to Julian Steward for some reason, and that led me to Eric Wolf (which then led to Roseberry, Mintz, and many others).  I first read Wolf at Santa Cruz, when one of the profs gave us Europe and the People Without History--that was a key moment, along with the introduction to Foucault.  History and power are key concerns for both Wolf and Foucault, although they approached things in some different ways.  These are two strands of thought that I have followed ever since my undergrad, and I never get tired of either of them.

 

As for the second part of your question--did the place itself compel me toward this historical framework--I'd argue yes, but that's also how I like to approach things.  I think that someone could certainly do an ethnography that was not very historical at all, and they could undoubtedly produce something very worthwhile.  I just think it's really fascinating and important to make some wider connections.  As the old folk singer Utah Philips said, "Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it."  I like to think about how things that we're seeing now have foundations and connections to these deeper histories.  I think it adds a really valuable way of looking at the present.

 

Keith Hart said:

Ryan, I would like to congratulate you on your summary of what appeals to you in anthropological approaches to value. I have always suspected that value theory was a way of adding spurious significance to empirical observations or at best to provide an umbrella under which to group disparate inquiries. But your discussion feels genuinely integrated and likely to lead somewhere interesting. I am sure participants in the seminar will want to quiz you on particular authors. I am glad that you acknowledged the importance of Julia Elyachar's Cairo monograph, Markets of Dispossession, which is not usually referred to in this context. But I thought I would kick off by asking you to expand a little on your reasons for including Appadurai here, since you mention that his approach is problematic in some respects, but you like his idea of “regimes of value in space and time”.

For me the exciting feature of your paper is the attempt to frame contemporary events in California Baja Sur within a context of history in the long run. Your focus on landscapes is deliberate, since you plan an ethnography that is truly rooted in a particular place. Yet that place is currently subject to the forces of globalization and in some sense it has been for the last half-millennium. One consequence of the narrative sequence you present here is that it allows you in the end to view contemporary developments almost with an archaeologist's eye -- as another episode when grandiose schemes for accumulating wealth may turn out to be more transient than the protagonists once hoped.

In our recent book, Economic Anthropology, Chris Hann and I argue that the ethnographic revolution in twentieth-century anthropology is irreversible, but it threw out the baby of world history with the bathwater. We also argue for critical theory to be a prominent feature of anthropologists' equipment. You provide both here, but for obvious reasons leave the third party, ethnography, for the future. I wonder if you can reflect some more on what led you in this direction and which examples from the existing literature inspired you to embark on the difficult path of combining ethnography with world history. Or maybe the place itself is so steeped in world history that you felt you could do nothing else than explore it?

Thanks for these really open-minded comments, Ryan. I should just mention, since the culture of this unusual seminar is not evident, that it is not a condition of participating in this discussion that someone should have read the posted text exhaustively. There is enough substance in these comments alone to provoke making one.

Ryan, allow me to join Keith in congratulating you to bringing this degree of historical depth to your research. Our ability to situate our arguments in the deep perspective of historical developments and conversations is, I believe, critical to moving beyond the fragments of occasional insight that ethnography alone tends to offer. 

 

Reading "Some Notes on Value," I was struck by the sentence,

 

Foremost was Kluckhohn’s drive to find a way to push anthropology toward a study of social life that paid close attention to moral desires—or what individuals “ought to want” out of their lives (Kluckhohn 1958: 469; Graeber 2001:3).

 

I was instantly reminded of the great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's epic volume Sources of the Self, in which Taylor traces the development of the modern Western notion of the self through an exploration of moral horizons and conceptions of the good life from Homer down to the present. It occurred to me that you might find Taylor's conceptual framework stimulating.

That thought evoked another. I remembered Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, especially the fourth essay that deals with genres, setting out a series of classic distinctions between myth, legend, romance and the modern, realistic novel. This also struck me as potentially useful, especially given your later observation that,

 

Before a single European even set foot on the territories of present day Baja California Sur, the imagined possibilities of the place had already been influenced by a powerful source: literature. In 1510, Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo first published Sergas de Esplandian (the exploits of Esplandian), a sequel to his previous successful series calledAmadis de Gaula. All of these books were written in a genre that was widely popular in 16th century Spain: the “romances of chivalry.”

 

Then, through a kind of twisted richochet, I found myself wondering how the palimpsest of overlapping layers of history you describe, is (or is not) exploited in the marketing of Los Cabos, noting to myself that from a marketing perspective, the exchange value of luxury products is often derived from a product's legend, the customers being willing to pay more for that legend. "Conquistadors," "pearls": I wonder if, or how, these elements are used to add value to the Los Cabos experience. Also, what, if anything, do they mean to the residents of the colonia, who provide the low-cost native help on which the resorts' economic viability depends?

 

Once again, congratulations. You have set the grey cells in motion in all sorts of interesting ways. I look forward to seeing how others respond to what you have written and how this project develops.

Thanks for your comments John.  Looking into the work of both Taylor and Frye sounds like a good plan.  The interesting thing about the term value is that it refers to some very different ways of talking about meaning/worth.  There is a strong tension between the moral aspects of value (as in cultural, social, religious values etc) and economic value.  It's interesting that the same word covers such a wide territory.  Sometimes it seems that certain economic value systems are amoral, but then, there is a certain utopian kind of morality going on (i.e. not participating in a certain kind of economic system is wrong).  Anyway, Taylor's work sounds like a good source for extending my understanding of some of these moral discussions.

 

Frye's discussion sounds useful as well.  What really fascinates me about some of the early Spanish literature that was being circulated is how it was a confusing blend of fantasy and reality.  Authors would even add in real details they heard from travelers to make their story sound more authentic.  What also interests me is how those who read literature went around the world seeking to find places and legends they had read about.  That's really fascinating to me. 

 

Then, through a kind of twisted richochet, I found myself wondering how the palimpsest of overlapping layers of history you describe, is (or is not) exploited in the marketing of Los Cabos, noting to myself that from a marketing perspective, the exchange value of luxury products is often derived from a product's legend, the customers being willing to pay more for that legend.

 

That's another really interesting question.  The promotion of Los Cabos takes a different route than many other parts of Mexico.  They do promote some of the history of the region, but in a kind of generic way.  They promote a kind of romantic version of the colonial period--but many of the narratives don't get very specific.  Maybe that's because many of the missions were burned down and sacked during revolts!  The other issue is that the basic historical account of the southern portion of the peninsula is that the native inhabitants were pretty much wiped out.  So there is a certain amount of promotion of history, but it's often in a kind of generic, passing reference kind of way.  The video in this post is a good example:

 

http://ethnografix.blogspot.com/2010/04/mediated-los-cabos.html

 

History gets a kind of guest appearance, but then they move on.  Folks like Dina Berger and Grant Wood argue (in Holiday in Mexico, 2010) that the promotion of tourism in Los Cabos isn't actually about being in Mexico as much as it is about being at an exclusive, luxury resort (they argue that it creates a kind of place-less feeling).  Some promotion does focus more on history, but this is very different from places like Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Oaxaca, where history and archaeology are really part of the main attraction.  Another interesting thing going on in Los Cabos is that there is this portrayal of a sort of generic "Mexican" history in a lot of the tourism venues, stores, etc.  They sell history, but it's often from other parts of Mexico, and this leads to a certain displacement.  Overall though, I'd say that things like exclusion, luxury, and adventure are promoted much more than history.  Those are the primary draws, which makes this an interesting comparison to some other mass tourist destinations.  An important fact to mention in all this is that while there is certainly a deep archaeological past, there is not any monumental architecture--they're all hunter-gatherer sites.  And these kind of archaeological past doesn't get too much attention, interest, or press from the Mexican government or the tourism media (which are often connected).  One of the most interesting things about all this is how tourism media actually serves to do a kind of end run around the actual histories of the place, in order to sell this idealized, generalized "Mexico" just enough to provide a nice backdrop.

 

Also, what, if anything, do they mean to the residents of the colonia, who provide the low-cost native help on which the resorts' economic viability depends?

 

Here's the thing about the colonias.  Many of those people are actually from other parts of Mexico.  This kind of internal migration is really common around these tourism zones.  The possibility for work brings lots of migrants.  In Cancun, this migration is fed by the interior of the peninsula in Quintana Roo, Yucatan, and Campeche...there are also people coming from places like Chiapas.  In Los Cabos, there are many migrants from right across the Sea of Cortez, from states such as Sonora and Sinaloa.  Even many of the "native" residents of this part of the peninsula have relatively recent histories.  Many of the land-owning families who live in the region are connected to land grants in the very late 19th and early 20th century.  But this is something I want to learn a lot more about--where everybody comes from, and when. 

 

Thanks again for your comments, John!

Authors would even add in real details they heard from travelers to make their story sound more authentic.

 

You might want to check out another golden oldie idea, T.S. Eliot's objective correlative. It may have been where Vic Turner got his ideas about the sensory pole of symbols through which emotion is evoked.

 

Also, a tangential but possibly relevant observation: While in Virginia this summer, we watched some episodes of Battlestar Galactica with our daughter and son-in-law, whose careers include time spent on aircraft carriers as a Navy helicopter pilot and Marine Corps jet fighter jock respectively. They both commented that one thing the creators of the show had got right was the sounds and feel of life on a carrier, the constant and diverse bits of mechanical noise and the bustle of purposeful-looking people moving around in the background in scenes set in the corridors. 

Thanks for this enjoyable paper, Ryan. Your recent comments brought to mind the fact that there was a long distance traffic up and down this coast before the Europeans arrived; including large cargo bearing rafts that the Spanish met with as they went South. This would add a further narrative of value to your Euro-centred one.

I suppose one problem may be that the disappearance of the indigenes in the 18th Century makes it easier to talk in terms of a European projection of values onto an empty space. Unlike the indigenous populations in the Andes, say, the Pericu seem to have made very little realistic dent in the lives of the sequence of arrivants here. I am curious to know, did the Jesuits write a dictionary of their language or collect mythological narratives as they did elsewhere in the New World, for example?

Thanks for your comments, Huon.

Your recent comments brought to mind the fact that there was a long distance traffic up and down this coast before the Europeans arrived; including large cargo bearing rafts that the Spanish met with as they went South. This would add a further narrative of value to your Euro-centred one.

Ya, there is definitely more going on archaeologically than I talk about in the paper. This was partly because I had to make some decisions about when to start. There's at least 10,000 years of occupation. Deep histories, even if they aren't always all that clear in some cases. I picked the colonial period because it was a good example of the introduction of externally imposed value systems. In the first draft of this paper I explored the archaeology much more, but the paper was getting really, really long. So it was also an editorial decision to reign things in a bit. There is definitely way more to discuss archaeologically about this region--the territories that I am talking about would have included both the Pericu and the Guaycuras. There's a relatively new book edited by Laylander and Moore (The Prehistory of Baja California, 2006) that has a lot of good information about the archaeology of this peninsula, which is really fascinating.

I also agree that a lot of the narrative about values/place I present focuses on either a Euro-centered perspective, or the perspective of the Mexican state itself. There's a gap going on here that I think both archaeology and future ethnographic work can help to fill in. I might not be able to pull ALL of this together for my dissertation, but this is definitely something that is part of my longer-term plans. I already have some good contacts with INAH archaeologists and others who have worked in the region, and I want to spend a lot more time talking to them. And the ethnographic part, well, that's coming up really soon. Can't wait for that!

I suppose one problem may be that the disappearance of the indigenes in the 18th Century makes it easier to talk in terms of a European projection of values onto an empty space.

Yes, exactly. That's why a deeper attention to archaeology matters. This wasn't just empty space, even though it is often framed that way. It wasn't a clean slate, and it wasn't just something sitting there waiting for modernization or whatever...not in 1533, and not in 1974 (when it became an official state of Mexico). I tried to make this point in a somewhat subtle way with the discussion about the clashes between Cortes and the native people in La Paz...but I think I could weave this point in quite a bit more, because it matters. Value did not just come from outside on the sails of European ideas, desires, and imaginations, that's for sure.

Unlike the indigenous populations in the Andes, say, the Pericu seem to have made very little realistic dent in the lives of the sequence of arrivants here. I am curious to know, did the Jesuits write a dictionary of their language or collect mythological narratives as they did elsewhere in the New World, for example?

This is a really interesting question. The basic story about this is that conflict and disease pretty much wiped out the Pericu before anyone documented their language, mythologies, etc. William C. Massey wrote a short paper called "Tribes and Languages of Baja California" (1949) that gets into some of this. Laylander mentions this as well in the intro to the 2006 text I mentioned above, saying that Pericu language was largely undocumented. There is a lot more known about peoples who lived further north, though. But the cape region definitely presents a very different case than somewhere like Peru, or even mainland Mexico, where there was a lot more extensive documentation and preservation of languages (despite the people who took great pains to destroy many cultural and religious practices). Harry Crosby's text "Antigua California" makes it pretty clear that there was pretty severe conflict going on between the missionaries and the people who lived at the tip of the cape (the burning of the four missions is testament to this). This is yet another issue that I would like to look into more at some point.

An interesting twist is that the idea of the Pericu has actually been incorporated into the discourse of some contemporary activist groups on the peninsula. References to the Pericu are used in some contemporary protests/debates about development and access to public space in and around Los Cabos. Pretty fascinating how the past gets put to use in so many ways.


Thanks again for your comments!  I know have all of my Baja California archaeology books and articles out everywhere and am perusing through them.  This is definitely an aspect of the peninsula's past that I have a lot more to learn about, and I'm definitely looking forward to it...



Huon Wardle said:

Thanks for this enjoyable paper, Ryan. Your recent comments brought to mind the fact that there was a long distance traffic up and down this coast before the Europeans arrived; including large cargo bearing rafts that the Spanish met with as they went South. This would add a further narrative of value to your Euro-centred one.

I suppose one problem may be that the disappearance of the indigenes in the 18th Century makes it easier to talk in terms of a European projection of values onto an empty space. Unlike the indigenous populations in the Andes, say, the Pericu seem to have made very little realistic dent in the lives of the sequence of arrivants here. I am curious to know, did the Jesuits write a dictionary of their language or collect mythological narratives as they did elsewhere in the New World, for example?

Ryan, I have already said that I found your review of some anthropologists' treatment of value enlightening. Yet I can't shake the feeling that value is a weasel word, perhaps the weasel word, an expression "aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated". In this case, an abstract term touches on a wide range of human meanings and activities, as you acknowledge. Anthropologists are drawn to the word because we engage in so many disparate concrete inquiries, it helps to have some bridge such as this to at least the idea of a common discourse.

So what to do? You have been selective in your sources and have explained in a quite detailed way how a value approach might inform your research method and focus. I really do hope that some of our members will take you up on aspects of this argument, but I am not too sanguine about the chances. What I have to offer are two methods: recourse to etymology and Collingwood's principle.

You mention that David Graeber refers to the use of value in Saussurian linguistics. I have never been taken with structuralism, but I do believe that historical linguistics has more to teach us than is currently fashionable. By exploring the origins and development of particular words, we sometimes gain a vantage point from which to critique presentday usage. At the very least we may be forced to ask why we use words as we do and how it came to be that way.

R. G. Collingwood was a historian, philosopher and archaeologist who came up with a methodological principle: when confronted with an object, one should ask "What question could this be the answer to?" This advice is very relevant to academics, since we often forget why we began a project and are soon overwhelmed by its existence and the pressing need to find a way out. As a research tool he found it useful, when contemplating a Roman statuette, to ask who made it and with what end in mind. But the principle goes far deeper. It is almost always harder to find the question than the answer.

The English language has several registers from different layers of its history, but mainly Germanic and Latin/French. The latter flourishes as jargon in the law, religion, academy and bureaucracy and generally carries more weight than Germanic equivalents. Here we are talking about value and worth. Value comes from the past participle of the French verb, valoir. Its prime meaning is the quality of being valued as someone who is strong and well. What question is this meaning the answer to? Do people take me seriously? or something like that. The word only came to mean social principle in 1918, perhaps borrowing from the language of painting.

Worth is related to the German Wert (which is usually translated as value, e.g. Werturteil, value-judgment) and shares a root with the Latin versus, against, from to turn. It means being toward or opposite something else and hence equal in value or equivalent to it. What question is value in this sense the answer to? What is it worth in exchange? We might speculate on how value moved from personal standing to equivalent as its dominant meaning. But of course all the layers of a word's history are present at some level.

None of this departs significantly from your review. But I would suggest that anthropologists often use words like value to obscure differences of meaning and the kind of exercise I have just carried out should make us more wary of doing that. At least I believe so. It's one reason why I prefer great literature to social science. I would be interested in how many fundamentally distinct questions you might find your review is the answer to.

Hi Keith, let's see if we can get this value discussion going after all.


Ryan, I have already said that I found your review of some anthropologists' treatment of value enlightening. Yet I can't shake the feeling that value is a weasel word, perhaps the weasel word, an expression "aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated".

Ha. I think you might be right about the term value, because it's definitely all over the place. When I first started looking into the term I was a bit reticent about it (and I still am) because of the ambiguity and slipperiness of its meaning(s). But that ambiguity is actually pretty fascinating, really. I mean, it can refer to everything to economic and financial value all the way to "values" in the moral sense. That's a pretty wide range...but also a strange and interesting overlap. How did this happen? Why would a term that originally meant "strong and well" come to be used in a moral sense, as in having "moral values"? And how did the term start getting used to refer to measures of relative worth in a capitalistic economic system? Elyachar argued pretty strongly that we really need to keep these different meanings separate, to pay close attention to the distinctions:

"In an anthropological approach to value, the reader might have already noticed, the central analytical concept--value--can easily become a metaphor for too many things at the same time. Are we talking about economic value, cultural values, or moral values? It is easy for those three to become murky. That is a pity. Value in politics, value in ethics, and valie in economy are different things; the distinctions among them should, and can, be upheld" (2005:8).

She goes on to argue that those different meanings of value are crucial for her project because of the "strange ways" that they are intertwined in the communities she studies in Cairo. This was one part of Elyachar's argument that really drew me in to her work, because I think there are some similar issues going on here with these development politics in Baja California Sur. I was originally thinking in terms of "land values" and real estate, wondering what factors could come together to cause such a dramatic rise. But then I started thinking about some very different social or cultural values, even ethical values, about conservation, development, and even attachment to place. There are many different ways of "valuing" this same location, and the often run up against one another in some contradictory ways. So these tensions are at the heart of what I am trying to look at, and my goal is to get some answers through fieldwork. That's the hard part, but also the really interesting part.

By exploring the origins and development of particular words, we sometimes gain a vantage point from which to critique present day usage. At the very least we may be forced to ask why we use words as we do and how it came to be that way.

I agree. Eric Wolf does something like this in his "Contested Concepts" chapter when he explores the histories of terms like culture, ideology, etc. Exercises like that are really important. Sometimes we use terms, and start to conflate meanings, and forget to look at their roots, where they come from, and how they have been used in the past. So ya, I am definitely on board with you.

Value comes from the past participle of the French verb, valoir. Its prime meaning is the quality of being valued as someone who is strong and well. What question is this meaning the answer to? Do people take me seriously? or something like that. The word only came to mean social principle in 1918, perhaps borrowing from the language of painting.

As in "aesthetic values," or value in terms of tone, etc? Both? This is interesting. Looks like I need to dig deeper into the roots of all these meanings. One interesting thought is that the economic value of real estate--particular places--is also tied to what might be called "aesthetic values" about landscapes, space, certain arrangements that appeal to buyers and tourists. Developers seek to increase the market value, or economic value, by creating certain kinds of destinations (with hotels, golf courses, etc). And some of the value is linked to a certain amount of exclusion--places that have secluded beaches and exclusive hotels are high value. People pay a lot for the experience to go to these places. But those places have to be produced, and those productions have certain histories behind them (often contested). Part of what I am looking at is this process of creation, and the role that these competing conceptions of value, worth, or importance play in all of this.

There's a lot to think about here. I really like the idea of looking closer at what meanings can get obscured--by social scientists and also by others who put certain understandings of value to use. Good stuff to think through, Keith. Thanks.


Keith Hart said:

 

Ryan, I have already said that I found your review of some anthropologists' treatment of value enlightening. Yet I can't shake the feeling that value is a weasel word, perhaps the weasel word, an expression "aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated". In this case, an abstract term touches on a wide range of human meanings and activities, as you acknowledge. Anthropologists are drawn to the word because we engage in so many disparate concrete inquiries, it helps to have some bridge such as this to at least the idea of a common discourse.

So what to do? You have been selective in your sources and have explained in a quite detailed way how a value approach might inform your research method and focus. I really do hope that some of our members will take you up on aspects of this argument, but I am not too sanguine about the chances. What I have to offer are two methods: recourse to etymology and Collingwood's principle.

You mention that David Graeber refers to the use of value in Saussurian linguistics. I have never been taken with structuralism, but I do believe that historical linguistics has more to teach us than is currently fashionable. By exploring the origins and development of particular words, we sometimes gain a vantage point from which to critique presentday usage. At the very least we may be forced to ask why we use words as we do and how it came to be that way.

R. G. Collingwood was a historian, philosopher and archaeologist who came up with a methodological principle: when confronted with an object, one should ask "What question could this be the answer to?" This advice is very relevant to academics, since we often forget why we began a project and are soon overwhelmed by its existence and the pressing need to find a way out. As a research tool he found it useful, when contemplating a Roman statuette, to ask who made it and with what end in mind. But the principle goes far deeper. It is almost always harder to find the question than the answer.

The English language has several registers from different layers of its history, but mainly Germanic and Latin/French. The latter flourishes as jargon in the law, religion, academy and bureaucracy and generally carries more weight than Germanic equivalents. Here we are talking about value and worth. Value comes from the past participle of the French verb, valoir. Its prime meaning is the quality of being valued as someone who is strong and well. What question is this meaning the answer to? Do people take me seriously? or something like that. The word only came to mean social principle in 1918, perhaps borrowing from the language of painting.

Worth is related to the German Wert (which is usually translated as value, e.g. Werturteil, value-judgment) and shares a root with the Latin versus, against, from to turn. It means being toward or opposite something else and hence equal in value or equivalent to it. What question is value in this sense the answer to? What is it worth in exchange? We might speculate on how value moved from personal standing to equivalent as its dominant meaning. But of course all the layers of a word's history are present at some level.

None of this departs significantly from your review. But I would suggest that anthropologists often use words like value to obscure differences of meaning and the kind of exercise I have just carried out should make us more wary of doing that. At least I believe so. It's one reason why I prefer great literature to social science. I would be interested in how many fundamentally distinct questions you might find your review is the answer to.

Just a quick note: Classifying value as aesthetic, political, or moral or regarding valued stuff as cultural, social or economic capital is one useful way to enrich the discussion. I have found that it also clarifies things a good deal to examine all of these categories in terms of their implicit mathematics. If a value x draws a distinction, what is the nature of this distinction? Are we talking about a nominal scale, in which elements are simply sorted into sets, like red balls in one box, white balls in another? Are we talking about ordinal scales, in which the boxes are ranked? White balls better, red balls balls less so, brown balls less good than either? Are we talking about integer or real number scales? Do we have a metric that allows us add and subtract or divide and multiply values?

 

Thus, for example: Is Los Cabos in a class by itself (nominal scale)? Have beaches better than Waikiki (ordinal scale)? Have measurably smaller waves or more days with sunshine than the resorts on the north side of Oahu (integer or real number scale)?

 

Just brainstorming....

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2017   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service