This is in some ways a spin-off from a discussion we were having before the summer vacation on the anthropology of irrationality where we were trying to pin down the unpindownable irrationality of contemporary cultures. Part of the problem seems to be that expectations of the bizarre and the mercurial have in certain ways become normalised or institutionalised in contemporary global society. But what can anthropologists fruitfully say about that situation that would help us understand it? Certainly the discussion we had did not get too far toward clarity...
I was left cogitating on our discussion -- a small rivulet in the great 'runaway world' as Edmund Leach called it, but I couldn't help noticing that as anthropologists we are so involved in talking about ourselves that we have forgotten that our difficulties in understanding what is going on are only one little part of a much wider problem in 'social science'.
Obviously, it was economics as a social science discipline that hit the buffers most spectacularly over the last years with its utter failure to predict or indeed to have anything useful to say about the 2008 global financial crash-- and its various aftermaths including the continuing crisis in Euroland.
More recently it has been Psychology that is in crisis if these recent headlines are anything to go by: because it wasn't enough that the main association of U.S. psychologists had involved itself in U.S. government torture--
a study now suggests that, in terms of their verifiability at least, claims made by psychologists in their top journals are more likely to be wrong than right:
Whatever happened to the 'science' in social science?
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Thanks also Huon for valuable thought supplements. Off the hand, I'd say, based on my participant observation-intuition, that the most plausible of your explanatory variables are Q2, Q3/second part. Future horizons seem very narrow; there's still a lot of reactive fire-extinguishing, though institutionalization is thickening by the day.
At a deeper level, the case and research question concerns the topic of how social life shapes, constrains and defines cultural expression. So at heart it regards how we theorize inter-human power. By far, I'm relying on a recent anthropological contribution to power theory heavily inspired by late developments of the culture concept in cognitive anthropology. As the idea goes, individuals learn and hold a wide range of cultural knowledge, a lot of it contradictory. At the same time, being social animals, we are keenly aware of,(and store internal templates for navigating) social feedback cues defining which particular cultural expressions are contextually appropriate and which not here and there. So even though I hold cultural reportoires about how baba should be treated so as to have his individual needs sufficiently covered, the social environment is thus organized that I will have to face unpleasant consequences should I act on these reportoires. So I end up avoiding to enact cultural reportoires. Instead I act on that other more detatched fairness-reportoires, which I know are socially rewarded (through lived feedback loops). In aggregation, the frequency by which I and my colleagues realize system conform reportoires accede, even though we also share and exchange anti-system reportoires backstage. See the behavioral economics John? See the ordered social framing of individually expressed contradictions Lee?
This way of thinking about culture and power flies in the face of most psychodynamic culture-behavior theory, which tends to assume some form of indoctrination, false consciousness, habitus (or other Freudian ghosts) etc . It makes it completely sensible why I can laugh along to the witty remarks from my colleagues about the hopelessness of changing the refugees careless cultural behaviors, then to return to backbite about them to you a few hours later.
Here's a book chapter that sort of lays out more properly the theoretical foundations of the approach I'm indicating. It's not open source, but I guess I could get it sent across privately if some of you are interested. If it catches your fires, it's another text I'd really like to discuss in more depth through empirical case projections.
[At a deeper level, the case and research question concerns the topic of how social life shapes, constrains and defines cultural expression. So at heart it regards how we theorize inter-human power.]
Culture and Power are original characteristics of the species Homo sapiens. Human social science is also necessary there.
BTW, Kristian: I´m interested in the chapter you mention above.
Regarding Agar forum, please see my comment on John’s forum, “Are We Ready for The Lively Science”?
As far as I am aware, the case study Kristian is bringing to the discussion represents the first time on OAC that 'live' ethnography has been discussed and unfolded as it happens. This is a very important step, because the only way that anthropology can demonstrate that it is 'alive' in this kind of medium, other than by disputing theoretical perspectives is by repeatedly making contact with observed social reality as it happens. So, I would encourage Kristian to bring his unfolding case study to the 'Lively Science' thread so that we can use it to test out ideas there.
On the issues Kristian raises I don't necessarily think we necessarily need shiny new models from cognitive science to explain how the use of categories like 'equality' goes with particular exercises of power -- we already have a pretty big armoury in the work of Mary Douglas, Barth, Gilsenan and many others. But more of that on the other thread, perhaps. Thanks everyone for participating in this phase of the conversation.