Hello fellow Open Anthropologists,

This a trial launch of a project to reclaim terminology from the depths of jargon.

Why? I often use this site:  http://dictionary.reference.com/ and I really enjoy one of their features, "word of the day". The day's word is on the homepage, or you can have it sent to you (don't, because it's a daily e-mail). I wonder if we could have something similar here on the OAC? A lot of anthropological terms may be seen as jargon, but arguably sometimes they can help writing to be more precise and accurate. Using  academic terminology can be the most eloquent way to write.

I suggest using this thread to post terms with a definition, example of usage and ideally a reference or two where possible. I would be able to update this perhaps once a week, but I hope anyone will feel free to add, comment or post a term. It doesn't to be one you like and one term may trigger another in someone's mind. We can also take requests for enlightenment!

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You are of course right, John. Jay Forrester found early on in teaching that students cannot just hear about model formulation and system simulation, they have to do it to understand it. They also need to work with models  in social dynamics for a while to learn how to move the method from one field of application to another. I looked at Insight Maker, and I would guess the learning curve is a bit steep. It is also possible, and easier for beginners to build good models in Excel, with appropriate nested macros for resets and other subroutines. But once the students lean to build models, they still have to learn to think about what to put into them, and this is the more difficult task for teacher and student alike. But having students write their own code, however simple, builds a confidence in how models work that can't be achieved by any other method I know. I signed up last fall for a  modeling course in Coursera to see what it was like. It wasn't very good and the worst part was the lack of serious thinking about parameters and relationships.

Beyond this, I would say that in both the original world dynamics/Club of Rome debate, and in the peak oil debate, the models were attacked as absurd by cornucopian "merchants of doubt" as often as legitimate skeptics, though in both cases the basic methods and many of the conclusions have been borne out. So even a very good model will be attacked by people who will want to shoot the messenger if they don't like the news, and by reductionists who don"t want to have to think in systems, and for those who are big staeholders in the status quo. I know you know all this but framing up teaching and working with models about the real world means also advance considerations of model politics, inside and outside modeling communities. 

Mott, I take you at your word when you say that, "It is also possible, and easier for beginners to build good models in Excel, with appropriate nested macros for resets and other subroutines." Personally, I detest Excel in a partly if not wholly irrational way that jumbles together an Apple fanboy's aversion to Microsoft products in general and Japanese clients occasionally handing us translation work in which Excel has been used as a page layout program. When I looked at Insight Maker, I was charmed by the ease of constructing a visualization of the model and, since I have some programming experience, I was not shocked by the formulas lurking inside the images. But this is just intellectual gossip. I have a more serious question to ask. In a previous message you describe Nassim Nathan Taleb as mad. Since I am a great fan of Taleb, I wonder why you think he is crazy— a serious, not merely rhetorical, question, since I am not particularly interested in defending Taleb, more in finding out why a writer I take seriously seems nuts to another reader with intellectual tastes not dissimilar to my own.

For me, Taleb  is crazy not in terms of intellectual dysfunction, but personality disorder, and while it doesn't make his work on true, or unuseful, it makes it so distasteful to read that I can't bear it. That's what I really meant. Taleb  Is narcissistically wounded, always ranting about how stupid academics are, and how smart he is, inventing his own names for well understood concepts to give a patina of originality to stuff that's been around for decades  and sometimes for centuries, his fondness for bloviation  and obiter dicta,  his bad case of Wolfram Disease (the inability to credit others) the  fact that a Zipf analysis of The Black Swan would indicate that the most common word in English is "I",  his name dropping, the way he pursued Mandelbrot  in the latter's old age in the hope of getting both their names on an academic publication, all of these things get in the way of a good popularizer who employed the ideas he popularizes to make a lot of money in the markets. And he has a mean streak, and is always talking about intellectual humility but doesn't have any.  Fooled by randomness was a really good book, the Black Swan unreadable, in my case, for all the reasons outlined above. In a way it's no wonder that he pursued Mandelbrot, who had a lot of the same personality problems. And he can't bear to be questioned and he can't bear to be criticized.  so my problem is with him, and not his ideas about statistics, most of which are not actually "his" but are brought together in a very useful way in Fooled by Randomness. I think he places too much emphasis on Black Swans. Most of the world is nonlinear, and while events above the quantum level are all deterministic most of them are non periodic, and what is interesting is not (for me) the special character of some event, but the way a system can be pushed out of one basin of attraction into another by an input no larger than any other of the millions of inputs that proceeded it. It made me crazy in the Black Swan when he dismissed or minimized Edward Lorenz's  work as an accidental rediscovery of Poincaré, when the equations developed by Barry Saltzman and used by Lorenz  are in the mind of many observers the most important mathematical result since Gödel.,  and far beyond that result in terms of its real-world consequences. So I should learn not to say people are crazy, but that they make ME crazy!

Mott, what can I say? I cannot deny that what you point out about Taleb may be true. Where I to defend him, I could only make up possible excuses: The family history, growing up in Lebanon when it seemed like a miracle of ethnic harmony in the Middle East and experiencing it fall into chaos would, I suspect, leave a mark on anyone. A bit of old-fashioned stereotyping might add that people from that part of the world often seem narcissistically wounded, angry that, as Don Rickles used to put it, "I can't get no respect," which leads to raw pushiness and self-promotion forgivable in a comedian, but nothing you'd want to live with.

But, I don't want to defend him. I observe that when I read The Black Swan, I was blown away. It struck me as the most original and thought-provoking book I had read in a long time. I wasn't put off by the style or the self-promotion: I work with people in advertising and read enough business books by Don Draper wannabes that the style is like polluted air. Live with it long enough and you get used to it. But looking beyond the style and self-promotion, I didn't, and still don't, know anything about Edward Lorenz's work or the equations developed by Barry Saltzman. If what you say is true, my education has a large hole in it. Could you tell us a bit more and point me in the right directions to fill this gap?

Mott, just did what I should have done in the first place. A Google search for "Edward Lorenz Barry Saltzman" brought me to this Wikipedia page. What I still lack is the context that makes these "in the minds of many observers the most important mathematical results since Gödel." What can you tell us?

So after a very informative digression into the murky world of statistics, power curves etc. which seems to have tailed off somewhat..... I thought it might be worth revisiting the point that Keith made about the etymolygy of terms.

I was reminded this week that "kinship" is very old hat in terminology, being now usurped by "relatedness", this being a perfect example of what Keith mentioned earlier about greek replacing Latin replacing germanic words in academic writing (and English as we know it in general). Apart from kinship I can't think of many other terms used in anthropology which stick with the presumably unfashionable germanic word...

Elaine, why do you think it is that "kinship" is being usurped by "relatedness"?  Could this be the result of anthropology succumbing intellectually to the market-fundamentalist world view in which homo economicus, the economic actor, is, in the proper Greek sense of the term, an idiot — a social monad freed from ascribed relationships and the moral obligations they entail?

Good question, Elaine. Here's my take on it. Agrarian civilizations divided power between three classes: warriors, priests and merchants. From these we get the abstract domains of politics, religion and economics. How are the masses to be characterized in such a system? in the case of India it was as servants, which was still the usual word for wage workers in 17th century England. So the four varna are Kshatriyas, Brahmins, Vaisyas and Sudras. The Romans divided citizens into classes according to property qualifications. Citizens without property just contributed children to society (and presumably their own labour), hence were proles or reproducers.

So picking on kinship as the key domain for social anthropology (and it was a British thing in the main) elevated the concerns of ordinary people above those of the masters. This was consistent with Morgan's argument that before society came to be dominated by states, cities and class divisions, it was based on kinship. From this Radcliffe-Brown developed a special expertise which Malinowski dismissed as kinship algebra and which gave the anthropologists something to practise that other professions didn't understand.

It is worth recalling that kinship is from the same root as kind which implies that we should be kind or humane to people of the same kind as ourselves, a sameness rooted in shared biology. In British social anthropology it was allied to a notion borrowed from comparative jurisprudence, that in non-state situations people live through a great variety of particular institutions, many of them based on quite specific rules of kinship and marriage. These should not be collapsed into more abstract and general categories if we want to understand the particularity of their societies. As a result they produced the classic ethnographies of the interwar period.

Why has all this gone now? I hope I have indicated why in the above description. It is not just that relatedness has replaced kinship. In fact I don't know enough of contemporary anthropology to judge if this is so. It is an awkward portmanteau word which combines Latin and Germanic elements. Rather, what gets funded is research on ethnicity, gender, AIDS, informal economy, transnationalism etc. What has gone is the emphasis on particular local institutions and of course the idea that anthropologists study primitive or simple societies without states.

I once met an American graduate student working on the Busanga who straddle the border between Northern Ghana and Bourkina Faso. I was excited to meet him since they had not been intensively studied. He said he was studying mask cults. I asked why not kinship and he said "Goody and Fortes have already done all that". So this is one reason why kinship was invented as a focus in the first place and why it is displaced now: each new generation has to find a way of producing distinctive knowledge that is not encumbered by deep intellectual history.

So this is one reason why kinship was invented as a focus in the first place and why it is displaced now: each new generation has to find a way of producing distinctive knowledge that is not encumbered by deep intellectual history.

With one possible result being the increasing inability to comprehend the lives of people for whom kinship and marriage remain hugely important concerns, at least most of Asia. Also reduces to incoherence discussion of social class, not simply as a ranking system for individuals but a set of institutions by which wealthy families and households perpetuate themselves.

Yes, John. Not just in Asia. An example, I once attended a lecture by a historical anthropologist who specialised in gender. She presented on some court cases involving Ashanti market women under British colonial rule around 1900. They had brought adultery charges against some clients and this was adduced as evidence for their cultural independence as a class. No mention was made in the talk of matrilineal kinship in Ashanti or of its consequences for the accumulation of male power.

In patrilineal systems, elders easily control the work of their young male descendants; but in matrilineal systems, a man's successor is his sister's son and, as Meyer Fortes demonstrated brilliantly, this perhaps intentionally weakens intergenerational control of men by men. In Ashanti one solution was for a big man, often a chief, to marry many women and set them up selling palm wine. These women often slept with their clients. Then, with the collusion of their husband, they brought adultery charges against some of them in British courts which were as ignorant of local kinship norms as today's anthropologists. Large fines were slapped on the adulterers who could only pay it off by working for the husband.

One solution to the labour problem was thus debt slavery. With the collapse of the external slave trade (which had been the basis of Ashanti's regional dominance), this internal mechanism for coercing work became more important. Kinship is not just about being kind after all.

Elaine Forde said:

I was reminded this week that "kinship" is very old hat in terminology, being now usurped by "relatedness"


I would concur with Robert Barnes in his review essay of Godelier’s big book when he wrote that

However, instead of disappearing, [kinship] has just migrated to other domains of anthropology, seized by new questions which reshape it. The analysis of kinship has simply deserted the place where anthropology roamed for decades, entangled in false problems that in principle are insoluble. The voids left by this desertion are not necessarily a sign that the announced death has already taken place.

I'm not sure that anthropology has succumbed to this way of thinking, John, as Keith says it is hard to know enough about contemporary anthrpology, there seems to be just so much of it. But certainly some writers are talking about relatedness where they may have talked about kinship in the past.

The example I was thinking of is Janet Carsten's work in general, which seems mostly to focus on kinship, although she calls it relatedness. Whether the substance of the work remains the same or not, the way of talking about it has changed and become almost a little neutral-sounding.

I do think though, that the fact that "anthropology at home", or at least in this sort of amorphous "Western" context has become more commonplace has led English-speaking anthroplogists to look to new terms which can be used to describe situations where kinship is not reckoned through the primacy of the biological idiom.

Where it appears, as Matthew points out, that Barnes thinks kinship hasn't "disappeared", just migrated, Carsten indicates that she thinks it has, if her book title "After Kinship" (which must surely be a nod to Strathern's After Nature??) is anything to go by. Another issue which emerges from this, and certainly the links between Strathern and Carsten's work is the move away from biology as the matter of kinship- if kinship is no longer about people of the same "biolgical" kind then perhaps we do need a new, or at least extra, term?

If as Keith says the centrality in Social Anthropology on "kinship" was a way to focus attention on the ordinary folk, perhaps keepng the term germanic reinforced its ordinariness?


John McCreery said:

Elaine, why do you think it is that "kinship" is being usurped by "relatedness"?  Could this be the result of anthropology succumbing intellectually to the market-fundamentalist world view in which homo economicus, the economic actor, is, in the proper Greek sense of the term, an idiot — a social monad freed from ascribed relationships and the moral obligations they entail?

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