“[There was] something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly an yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or value. But now there was something else in it after all.” Iris Murdock, The Bell, p. 190.

In the 1980s, after a long affair with objectivity, anthropologists, disappointed with the relationship, fell in love with subjectivity, celebrating it, and revelling in it. And yet, after three decades, our fascination with our own belly buttons has waned. We look at each other, and say, “what now?” Indeed: what now?

Have we shifted toward a post-subjective anthropology? Do we have new answers, or at least answers, to the claims of subjectivity? Are we able to address something beyond ourselves? Can we now move on? And, if so, what would post-subjective anthropology look like?

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My fault, I should have written "social antropologists of the subjectivist position."
No fault here ... just friendly discussion :) But I do see your point now.

Johan Normark said:
My fault, I should have written "social antropologists of the subjectivist position."
Johan, thanks for mentioning Greg's post on Neuroanthropology, and Philip, great question.

For me I'd probably say that anthropology has mis-characterized "subjectivity" and that only now are we, ironically enough, engaging the range and depth of human subjectivity. "Subjectivity" was contrasted with objectivity and identified with a constructivist position (i.e., reduced to narrative or over-arching ideology); method became too centered on a knee-jerk reflexivity.

For me subjectivity is rich human ground, and we need to gather better data on subjectivity itself. Unni Wikan's experience-near anthropology and Doug Hollan's person-centered approach come to mind. For some theoretical orientations for myself, here's something that I wrote up last year:

I think the broader point is two-fold, this sense of subjectivity as solipism, as not real, as too contingent and this desire for something outside our own subjective consciousness (beyond ourselves). Good data and finding a middle ground between objective and subjective (or simply doing both!) seems a fairly reasonable solution to the first dilemma, at least to me. For the second, I do think we have a range of "outside ourselves" approaches now - environmental anthropology, public and applied anthropology, biocultural anthropology which looks at inequality and culture but also examines the mechanisms by which those impact specific people, complexity theory as both based on specific processes and interactions as well as emergent properties, and so forth.

Anyway, just my two cents.
So fashion is the measure of truth? :D


Luka : Mimesis is something tooold fashion to be true
Well, yes - memetics is right out there. A different ball-park and very, hm, hypothetical. But evolution as becoming - sure. That's precisely what it is. I'm not sure what you mean by complexity theory though ... if you mean that it works at once on a vast, complex, feedback-linked system of systems, one adaptation affecting another, repercussions reverberating from species to species, population to population, then yes - absolutely.

By the way, I've been reading through the neuro-anthropology post you linked. I agree with point number 1 - the reification issue. My personal position is that culture itself doesn't exist, it's just our theoretical construct to deal with why people act as if it existed. But point number 2 - attributing personality, is based on a mis-reading. So is point number 3 - the critique of self-replication, point number 6 - that a host will not evolve to benefit a parasite is also questionable, because it forgets symbiosis and comensalism, and the continuous mis-comparison of memes and DNA. Some of the other points do have heft - the inability to define a meme is, for me, a problem of the theory.

Johan Normark said:
Not everyone is into memes: http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/12/we-hate-memes-pass-it-on/
I view evolution as part of a more basic process of becoming, and here we also encounter complexity theory that can tell us how things and phenomea emerges from other components. It would not be too difficult to merge Darwin's "descent with modification" with complexity theory. I believe this has already been done in contemporary biology.
Re: Denice - actually evolutionary concepts first came from social theory, ideas of how groups of people adapt to one another and so on. I mean, even the bible couldn't argue that societies change - they go from worshipping false gods to worshipping the one true god. Obvious evolution. Then, during the enlightenment, some bright souls had the idea that animals and plants did the same. Striving and changing according to divine plans or their true, platonic nature, or whatnot.
It was my understanding (albeit a very basic understanding) that change involves intent, whereas evolution does not, but it seems that we often use the words interchangeably. If we start throwing the word evolution at social change again we end up back in the classification of cultures from primitive to civilized, and that's just wrong.

And by the way, welcome to the shallow end. :::chuckle:::

Owen Wiltshire said:
Why call it evolution and not change? Is to evolve, simply to change?
oh crap I just dove into the shallow end,
Well, evolution refers to either the variation/selection/heredity thing - what biological evolution tends to refer to - or more generally, to gradual change.

Early SocC anthropologists ending up with a categorization of societies from primitive to civilized (Western, Victorian, English or American) had very little to do with evolution in the biological sense, and even less with explaining why change happened as it did. Generally some complexifying force (Spencer) or divine providence (Morgan) was postulated.

My position is that we can look at social evolution - say how adaptation to a changing environment affects social forms - but we can't actually make a step-ladder of evolution.

Owen Wiltshire said:
Why call it evolution and not change? Is to evolve, simply to change?

oh crap I just dove into the shallow end,

YOU SAID : My personal position is that culture itself doesn't exist, it's just our theoretical construct to deal with why people act as if it existed.

Why you don't write a book on this idea? Maybe some millions will rush to buy it.Does anybody in this forum could agree to that ?

About mimesis and its fashion I never said that TRUTH IS MADE OF FASHION. Unfortunately fashion is putting false ideas in the actuality. One of them has been MIMESIS meaning that when there is not ORIGINALITY must be imitation. Now , this idea has been simply replaced by SIMULATION that is a heavier case of MIMESIS. To say it better SIMULATION IS THE TECHNOLOGICAL PERFECTION OF THE OLD MIMESIS. Ufortunately simulation is brought by fashion to the most of our post modern life manifestations ( including some discussions also here in this forum).

To come back to your quotation on culture I insist that what u define as culture in reality is nothing else than CULTURAL SIMULATION ( MIMESIS if u prefere). BUT REAL AND ORIGINAL CULTURE MUST BE RESEARCHED FAR FROM BLOGS AND ETHNOLOGICAL DISSERATIONS, and maybe this is for the best.
I do not know if I am an expert on complexity theory but I do use it in two different contexts: (1) in my current research on climate change and cave use in Mexico (here I deal with climatic and ecological complex systems) and (2) trying to create a new project focusing more on neuroscience and Maya iconography. These seems to be quite different but I have found Manuel DeLanda (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/delanda/) as a usable source for creating a flat ontology of assemblages (such as cave-human-climate) that works on different scales. This is to me a way to approach everything from present subjective experiences to past climate changes. Of course this is somewhat simplified in my comment.

Jeremy Trombley said:
I'm interested in a complexity theory approach as well. In fact, I recently posted to my blog on the topic - I was hesitant to link to the post since my own research is very limited and the post was written primarily for a small group of friends, but I would appreciate any expansions, explanations or critiques from those of you who are more knowledgeable of complexity theory. I have listed some further resources at the bottom, including a book which gives a general overview of the field and a few articles that use complexity in the social sciences. I'd also suggest looking into William Connolly's books Neuropolitics and Capitalism and Christianity American Style - he also has a video here.
G. P. Murdock produced one of the strongest early positions on the existence, or otherwise, of culture.

In 1971, Murdock presented his enigmatic Huxley Memorial Lecture to the Royal Anthropological Institute, ‘Anthropology’s Mythology’ (Murdock 1971), with a pair of dramatic claims: neither culture nor social structure can be reified to serve as an explanation. These were, to the extent they existed at all, our characterization of patterns of interactions between individuals, not the source of these interactions. He concluded that anthropologists must abandon subjects of a super-organic nature and deal with individuals and their productions to explain what we described as social and cultural phenomena. After a half century in anthropology, Murdock was introducing a program for much of the next half century—focusing ethnography, cross-cultural research, and theory on diversity of the individual experience and choice, not commonality and conformance.

The culture concept is a central component of anthropological theory, but that does not mean our concept of 'culture’ can remain undisturbed or that applications of the culture concept emerging within and outside of anthropology be unexamined. Reexamination has been proceeding apace for well over five decades, and although we are no closer to general acceptance of a ‘core’ to the culture concept, a compelling arguments against the culture concept has not emerged. In the midst of this swirl of reflection, self-reflection, and contemplation, culture actually has grown more pervasive as a concept, if not a clearer one.

But if ‘culture’ does not exist except as a description of emergent patterns, how can the culture concept contribute to our understanding of human systems?

From: Fischer, Michael (2005). Culture and Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Emergent Order and the Internal Regulation of Shared Symbolic Systems, Cybernetics and Systems: an International Journal. 36(8), pp. 735-752.

Murdock's 1971 Huxley Lecture can be read at:

A short version of the full paper prepared for a symposium can be read at http://grok.anthropology.ac.uk/CultureIK/Fischer_EMCSR2004.html

A more 'evolved' stance has been recently published:

Michael D. Fischer (2008) "Cultural dynamics: formal descriptions of cultural processes", Structure and Dynamics: eJournal of Anthropological and Related Sciences: Vol. 3: No. 2, Article 6.


BTW Structure and Dynamics is an Anthropologically oriented online journal focusing on Complexity.
Sorry, the reference to Murdock's 1971 Huxley Lecture was omitted. It can be found at: http://anthropunk.com/xwiki/wiki/anthropunk/view/Publications/



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