Open Anthropology Cooperative

I like the three terms: 'Open', 'Anthropology' and 'Cooperative'. I think they are very important

First the term 'Open': I have been in the AnthroList for quite some time. Fairly boring. Most of them are teaching. Dealing with the established anthro-field. Some sort of school atmosphere. Vertical relation: teachers and students.

This is not my world. I think anthropology must be focussed on the human condition in a new and absolute sense to show where we come from and how we have oranised on this globe. Consequently
I have a rather critical attitude in regard to present anthropology. It can be seen as a set of Eurocentric historisms. Anthropologists are not awareof the fact that their domains have evolved along European history. The disciplines for instance. They apriori dissect foreign cultures into Euro-Western concepts. Religion, Philosophy, Art, Architecture, Social structure, Economy, Politics: we are all formed by Euro-Western history in this regard. Thus we must find entirely new types of questions. For instance: how about interpreting human culture as an evolution of aesthetic concepts? Maybe combined with territorial behavior? How was the human organization in space? Can we find out how humans organized their habitat? Was what we call religion very important because it was rooted in territorial behavior? etc. etc.

Consequently on must get prepared to enter into conflict with with conventional anthropology!
I am working for instance on the nestbuilding behaviour of the great apes. This is against the dominant anthro theories: man the toolmaker. Struggles on and on. I am also working on (traffic-) signs of apes and paleolithic sign systems. This does not exist in Anthro. I am also against archaeology, saying that it is a medieval historism. it has a coverup function. Cultural evolution happened with ephemeral materials. We must study ephemeral culture globally and systematically. This is much more important than durable bones, stones, metals, ceramics etc. etc. The hand was the first tool, binding and knotting were important techniques. Early humans had developed a very important thing: cyclic reproduction of ephemeral signs and so called 'tectiformes'. This must be reconstructed systematically, that is: ethno-pre-historically. In a temporal box of 20 Million years (constructive behaviour of great apes) it makes no sense to separate objects according to 100 years or 1000 years portions! We must put all sources together globally and then start to develop theoretical arguments. What was most importnt....?

We can go on and on in this methodological tohuwabohu of anthropology and the humanities. We know quite well that - in fact - early states were ruled by kings and pharaohs who were legitimated by central state temples and their deities. But we continue to speak of religion in Ancient Egypt, in Mesopotamia and even in the Ancient Testament, instead of politics, ot theocratic constitutions! We would then fairly quickly become aware that this system had evolved during neolithic times on the village level. The transition described in terms of religion as sequence from polytheism to monotheism would then have to be seen as transition from village monotheism to state monotheism, village monotheism being mainly aesthetic, state monotheism suddenly becoming planetary, later universalistic. What happened! Was there some sort of an Akhenaton syndrome which tore the aesthetic polarity apart and translated it into a new type of macrocosmic polarity of 'heaven and earth-harmony'? We would very quickly start to understand what was going on in these phases of early history: lots of fiction created! And that we are still involved in these powerful networks of fictions!

We would also realize that there is a problem of urban civilization and rural prehistory: there is no continuity. History was a verbalized system, it was focused on power, not on truth. And we still believe all that. We are not aware of the huge power step between the neolithic village system (which was great!) and the early extension of the neolithic system into the early states and their new system. In fact this transitional field created a value system of history and tradition, of urban centres and controlled rural surfaces, what we know today in the larger scale as 1st world and 3rd world.

In this framework anthropology becomes very important. Not as it is done today, but with its immanent potential to become a scientific term for what it in fact indicates: humans in their global totality. Is there something we can study in different ways so we can understand the human dimension in new frameworks beyond the conventional frameworks of different cultures, of high civilizations and primitive societies etc. etc....Are there, maybe, historical concepts which disturb our views, like for instance the 'PlatAristontotelistic analytic schism'? A schism which dissolved an earlier harmonious aestheticism? Some sort of a world in which all was considered from an aesthetico-harmonizing point of view (see Heraclitus as the last reprezentant of this world). And this broke down with the Greeks? Empirizm and spiritualism which lasted throughout to the Cartesian split and on until today? Was the spiritual concept originally aesthetic then, thus paired with material conditions? Do we have to find an anthropological fundamentalism in order to free our theories of the established historical fundamentalisms becoming inceasingly powerful and dangerous for our human condition?

I must probably tell now that I am also an outsider in the field of anthropology. I come from the anthropology of space (the german phenomenologist O F. Bollnow), the anthropology of construction (nestbuilding behaviour of the great apes, Yerkes 1939), the anthroplogy of architecture (earliest: Gottfried Semper 1866), anthropology of the vernacular house (Paul Oliver, Enc. of Vern. Arch. of the World). Anthropology of habitat and architecture, somehow.... This looks back to a revolt of the last 30 to 40 years, a revolt against conventional 'theories of architecture' of the art historians. A global movement!

Architecture is in fact a madhouse where since post medieval Renaissance times designers are considered as some sort of divine creators - omniscient - designing our houses, our cities, without in fact having studied their field, as for instance medecine did for several hundred years. They are just drawing and drawing and drawing (DESIGN!), relying in fact on the progress of increasing technical capacities of the technical industries.

Those who make the so called architectural theories, are the art historians. As their name tells us, in fact essentially Eurocentric historians of art, architecture being some sort of side phenomenon of art. In any case, simply based essentially on aesthetics. Evidently there could not be any more unscientific and highly subjectivistic basis for building our cities. Humans are not considered really. They figure in these design concepts only in regard to physical functions and metric dimensions. In other words, a total misfit. Our environmental life-space is dealt with 'theoretically' like a porcelain vase or like an oriental carpet, if it really comes to architecture, Vitruvius, the Roman specialist is the great theoretician.

Thus, it is a relatively new field which has developed from this ethnocentric calamity, the anthropology of constructive behaviour, of space, of the habitat, the anthropology of the house, of architecture, a fairly large and heterogeneous field. And a very promising field: because it avoids the Eurocentric disciplines and introduces the empirical perspective by dealing with materials, with construction and also with aesthetics as a combination of spiritual and material.

I myself studied 'semantic architecture' in Japan, in fact what the missionaries observed in far off traditional societies and called such objects 'fetish', 'idol' and the like in the framework of primitive religion. Note the implications of the 'value system'! As sources they are also related to what we know archaeologically as 'life trees' and in European folklore as 'maypole's and the like. In fact a global phenomenon.

In my studies they revealed as something highly complex and culturally important, in fact as territorial demarcations which must have been essential in the neolithic development of sedentary life. In addition they were important because they contributed a basic aesthetic principle as a model form, what might be called 'concidence of opposites', which at the same time has also philosophical implications (anthrop. of cognition, generality in heterogeneous forms, creating a harmonious world). Finally they are extremely important in the sense of local politics. They function as the archive of the village founder's local hegemony. The cyclic renewal rites of the ephemeral 'fetish (!) produce an elementary social hierarchy in the village.

Thus it created a distinctive order in the habitat which must have enabled larger clusters of agrarian villages to peacefully develop their sedentary capacities without mutual aggression, until civilisation superseded them with a larger centralized system of similar structure and brought them under control.

Finally I would like to say something in view of the term cooperation. Universities are all vertically organised, therefore tremendously conservative. It is very difficult to approach things as they appear to the independent researcher. See for instance the present american creationism versus Darwinism discussion. What is considered as creation story in the Ancient Testament was in fact - we have Babylonian texts - derived from rites of territorial foundations. What the history of cartography tells us very clearly, that space concepts were extremely limited, is neglected completely: the texts are translated in the macrocosmic context, a perspective which came up in the 14th century when corresponding instruments were available.

Thus, with some justification we can ask: is the world in a bad shape today because we widely support mistaken concepts about our role in this world? For myself, I am deeply convinced of this.

In other words: mutual cooperation becomes an important term.

Best regards,

Nold Egenter

Views: 159

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

POSTSCRIPT:
The Website can be found:
http://home.worldcom.ch/negenter (with about 70 papers)
Lierature:
Nold Egenter: Architectural Anthropology - Semantic and Symbolic Architecture. An architectural ethnological survey into 100 villages of Central Japan. Editions Structura Mundi, Lausanne 1994
Nold Egenter: Sacred Symbols of Reed and Bamboo. Swiss Asian Studies Monograph 4. Lang, Berne 1982
Dear Nold,

It is a tremendous honour that you have joined the OAC and are willing to share your ideas and vast experience with us. I am particularly interested in your advocacy of an architectural anthropology. I spent some time this year with the ETH Zurich architecture studio in Basel. It is run by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron who have some claim to being the premier architects on the planet at this time (Beijing Bird's Nest Stadium, Tate Modern etc). What impressed me was their commitment to education. They take a bunch of Harvard students every year to some world city (this year it was Nairobi whose people live 80% in informal settlements; hence me). They have 300 mainly young people working in their firm and see this as a mass training ground. I spent an hour with de Meuron: we discussed his and my concept of what makes a building human. I came away determined that, if she showed any kind of aptitude and will, my young daughter would grow up to be an architect. It is hard to imagine a profession that uses more fully what anthropology has to teach and a lot that it doesn't or can't. We discussed the stadium design which was only made possible by modern software and 8,000 skilled Chinese workers capable of building a concrete edifice where every piece was bent. We discussed the politics of it all and how the Mayor of Beijing's teenage children persuaded the architects to use a more colourful lighting scheme. And then there were all their other buildings, high-rise apartment blocs that got round the problem of channeling people into elevators and staircases...

You are right to insist that an anthropology that is open to the whole of human history and willing to discard some of western orthodoxy is vital at this time. More power to your elbow. I would just add a gentle note on your style. If you truly wish to engage others in conversation here, it might be better to offer less on the first go. If you stood in a bar and lectured the inmates at length without their prior encouragement, do you think you would have an audience? If you told them that they were all totally misguided, that might not win them over. I think you might experiment with making statements that do not embrace a universal 'we', often in a negative way. Excuse me, please, for this directness, because we need you here; but you have to make some concessions to the culture too.

With respect,

Keith
Good morning Eliza,

thank you for your interesting comment to my maybe a little too emotional discussion proposal. Really I was excited about these three terms 'Open', 'Anthropology' and 'Cooperation'! It was so different from the Anthro-List discussions!

I got interested in the anthropology of space because I came from architecture as modernist practice. Architects are exclusively using the concept of physics, mathematics and geometry. Another contrasting concept is religion, in particular Eliade with his concept that micro- and mesocosmic ideas are defined by macrocosmic topics. Since I dealt with a concept of architecture in religion (lifetree, fetish, maypole complex) I came on Bollnow also from this side. Bollnow is basic because in his book 'Man and Space' (1963, in German) he shows the human condition of space which is quite different from technical space concepts and also from Eliade's macrocosmic primacy.

It is well understandable that you do not know Bollnow's work on space. His book was translated into Japanese very early, into Spanish, but not into English for about 50 years in spite of the fact that in the German speaking world it was intensely discussed, in many contexts, particularly also in urban planning and architecture.

I will send you later the infos about the English publication which at present I have not with me. Maybe for the moment I suggest that you have a look at the book-review in my website:
http://home.worldcom.ch/negenter/012BollnowE1.html

The topic of "the long-term relationship between anthropology and space" is quite a different dimension on which I have some general ideas, but to say something reliable, this would mean quite some work.

Thank you for the "goldmine" compliment. I think the impression comes from the paradoxical fact that architecture has remained to some extent in an Eurocentric-historistic enclave until recently!

Warm regards,

Nold
WHY OAC IS IMPORTANT: A PERSONAL VIEW
By Nold Egenter

You wrote:

“We would very quickly start to understand what was going on in these phases of early history: lots of fiction created! And that we are still involved in these powerful networks of fictions! “

As someone who has spent the last four years reading Foucault (perhaps about hundred books, interviews, essays and interviews), I can unequivocally state, he would enjoy reading your comments on the human sciences and our systems of knowledge.

The problem for us is not that we do not know – the problem lies in the fact that we know too much that is simply not true.

Parabens...(congratulations i.e., for having the courage to speak forthright about these issues - this is a great piece.)
Nold, I am glad this thread has been revived. I was struck this time by the loss of the German tradition of anthropology, world history and philosophy when it was Americanized after WW2. Most of the founders of American anthropology were deeply immersed in this tradition and in 1939 a third of all scientific articles published was in German. No more.

Neil, I look forward to hearing more about your research on Foucault. I was reminded of his important reflections on the role of ethnology and psychoananlysis in the human sciences at the end of The Order of Things, especially his notion of anthropology's historicity.
You said:

”I have a rather critical attitude in regard to present anthropology. It can be seen as a set of Eurocentric historisms. Anthropologists are not awareof the fact that their domains have evolved along European history. The disciplines for instance. They apriori dissect foreign cultures into Euro-Western concepts. Religion, Philosophy, Art, Architecture, Social structure, Economy, Politics: we are all formed by Euro-Western history in this regard. Thus we must find entirely new types of questions.”

This statement prompted me to do a re-reading of Foucault’s viewpoint on ethnology and psychoanalysis in an attempt to make some sort of a breakthrough concerning his ideas on the subject. And, it seems to me that Foucault is thus presenting a call to motivate social scientists in general, and those practicing ethnology and psychology in particular, to look beyond the seemingly obvious dimensions of our research methods and analyses. By that, I mean he argues that ethnology is situated within the realm of history and that in and of itself is contradictory for the simple fact that ethnology proposes to study those cultures that are “without” a history according to the traditional Western definition (“…It is no doubt difficult to maintain that ethnology has a fundamental relation with historicity since it is traditionally the knowledge we have of peoples without histories…”). But more important, he suggests that the study of other cultures is endlessly compared, correlated, analyzed and situated within the Western paradigm (“…so ethnology can assume its proper dimensions only within the historical sovereignty – always restrained, but always present – of European thought and the relation that can bring it face to face with all other cultures as well as with itself.”).

Foucault goes on to explain that this relation is restricting but on the other hand provides ethnology with a unique challenge and opportunity to “…find a way round that danger…“ by placing the forms and processes of a given culture relative to the needs of life rather than rules and theories that explain and define culture. Of course, this begs the question how can research methods, regardless of their objectivity, be anything more than representations? Indeed, the work of the pioneers of anthropology from Malinowski to Turner (et al.) discovered different approaches to the study of culture making their contributions unique or at the least, they asked new questions and presented new perspectives. It seems to me the general problem for our generation is to continue to search for new approaches to the analysis of culture.
Neil Turner said:
Of course, this begs the question how can research methods, regardless of their objectivity, be anything more than representations? Indeed, the work of the pioneers of anthropology from Malinowski to Turner (et al.) discovered different approaches to the study of culture making their contributions unique or at the least, they asked new questions and presented new perspectives. It seems to me the general problem for our generation is to continue to search for new approaches to the analysis of culture.

One way past the endless circuit of representation is to adopt a pragmatic perspective. Then the question isn’t so much, can knowledge help us gain an adequate representation of the world, but rather, can it help us to get something done. And it doesn’t matter so much if it’s true or not. It just matters if it works.

But I would also like to share some thoughts on that passage of Foucault.

In Closed Systems and Open Minds, an anthropologist (Max Gluckman) and an economist explored “the limits of naivety” in social anthropology. They argued that anthropologists, given their pretension to address humanity as a whole, are obliged to open themselves up to the full complexity of social reality. At some stage they must seek analytical closure in order to draw simple patterns from these open-ended inquiries; and these abstractions may often seem to be naïve from the perspective of other disciplines. Specialization can be an obstacle to the growth of knowledge; for specialists become prisoners of their expertise (Popper). Anthropologists have long enjoyed a certain intellectual freedom that can be invigorating for the more conventional sciences. We just have to be more explicit about how this comes about.

Foucault explained in the passage Neil cited why psychoanalysis and social anthropology (ethnologie) “…occupy a privileged position in our knowledge”:
“…because, on the confines of all the branches of knowledge investigating man, they form a treasure-hoard of experiences and concepts, and above all a perpetual principle of dissatisfaction, of calling into question…what may seem, in other respects, to be established...[They] are not so much two human sciences among others, but they span the entire domain of those sciences, they animate its whole surface…[They] are ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences."

Foucault was sure the human sciences had reached their limit and this was doubly true of a discipline whose premises were being undermined by the collapse of European empire. Given the disappearance of the traditional object of anthropology, we have to find not only a new one, but also a theory and method appropriate to it. This means identifying the historicity of our own moment, as well as complementing ethnographic fieldwork with world history and humanist philosophy.

I propose that the object of anthropology should be the making of world society or "the new human universal". One name for this is “humanity”, at once a collective noun, a moral quality and a historical project for our species. Another is “the people”, whom contemporary ethnographers have studied assiduously in all their differences, but without much sense of what makes them the same. Anthropology’s object in the nineteenth century was world history, but this became discredited by its evolutionary racism. Before that, the liberal philosophers found speculation about humanity as a whole indispensable to the making of democracy. Kant established “anthropology” as the scholarly name for this project. How might these older traditions be reconciled with the fragmented cultural relativism of twentieth-century ethnography? We should not repudiate the revolutionary principle of joining the people where they live in order to find out what they think and do. Contemporary anthropologists have justly celebrated cultural variety in the here and now; but they have neglected longer term perspectives on human history and have privileged collective norms over the personal experience of individuals.
In addition to drawing on the historical sequence of paradigms for anthropology, I would add the existentialist or romantic quest for understanding how individuals make sense of their relationship to the human predicament in general. Humanity is after all facing a highly uncertain future affecting all life on this planet; and we are increasingly aware that each of us is a unique personality with the chance to make a difference. Such a focus could be labeled “self in the world” or “subjects in history”; and it should lead anthropologists to take a greater interest than before in biography, autobiography and fiction.
To Keith Hart, and Neil Turner,
please excuse my silence in regard to the interesting discussion you have continued in the 'importance of OAC' topic. A person of my family circle had died after an operation, a sad event which kept me away from my work.

Neil, thank you for your positive comment. To a great extent these perspectives have to do with Japan as a new and ideal field of anthropological research. As a highly civilized Asian culture it shows many continental Asian influences, but on the other hand as an island archipelago in a rather marginal location in relation to the continent, it shows very ancient traditions, similar like the "islands" in the European North. In addition it kept Western influences under control, particularly the influences of Western economy and Christian religion and further it was kept in isolation for about 200 years. It is thus an ideal field for anthropological research in the sense that it provides a dense network of agrarian village cultures with very autochthonous agrarian habitat organisation and highly complex cultic events provoking new interpretations different from Western schemas. The Japanese case provides also an interesting example of how this basically agrarian village culture had formed its imperial super-structure in the 8th century.

Keith, I found your hint to German anthropology very important. Very likely this has to do with researchers like Herder and Humboldt, and the many other prominent figures at the end of the 18th century. The concept of "Volksgeist" was always an integrated part of German humanities and philosophy, much more than in France or England. And: I have had my introduction into anthropology with Wilhelm Mühlmann's "History of Anthropology" and was always surprised to what extent he presents anthropology intensely interwoven with the history of philosophy and culture as well as, of course, with processes in the history of natural sciences. And doubtless this wider perspective has influenced my "postulate" that anthropology should adapt to the wider angle of a global "ethno-pre-history" of the Greek concept of 'anthropos' as an evolution theory of his habitat (See also 'Strukturgeschichte' by Wernhart, K. R. 1981)
____________________________________________________
Reference: An important study that suggests a new combination of 'cultural history and 'ethno-history' as 'structural history'.
Wernhart, K. R. 1981, Kulturgeschichte und Ethnohistorie als Strukturgeschichte. In: Grundfragen der Ethnologie. Beiträge zur gegenwärtigen Theorien-Diskussion, W. Schmied-Kowarzik und J. Stagl (Hg.), 233-252. Berlin, Reimer Verlag.
CONTINUED:

Neil, in regard to Foucault you write: "By that, I mean he argues that ethnology is situated within the realm of history and that in and of itself is contradictory for the simple fact that ethnology proposes to study those cultures that are “without” a history according to the traditional Western definition (“…It is no doubt difficult to maintain that ethnology has a fundamental relation with historicity since it is traditionally the knowledge we have of peoples without histories…”). "

This is an interesting part of Foucault, and, of course I can fully support it. But, it makes me conscious that I have been working in a very paradoxical situation: studying these "fetishes" of so called "primitive religion" shows that they are, in fact, a "traditional type of history"!

The fibrous signs are "primitive" in the sense of construction, but extremely complex in their function!
--The "territorial signs and symbols" are the founders archive of the settlement foundation.
--Thus they document the origins of the local hegemony (and social hierarchy!).
--They created local law, village order and government structure.
--They autonomously form an aesthetic model,
--which was used as a model for cognition of natural forms (tree as top and trunk) and
--as a model for the production of harmonious forms in the sense of architecture and art.
--Its aesthetic structure in the sense of categorical polarity was used to define the territory from inside out
--thus producing what we called "nuclear border-markers".
--It an also be interpreted in the sense of creating a local world of harmoniously organised relations of any kind.

In short, a local world concept is indicated in which the ephemeral sign and symbol annually reproduced in the same form represents some sort of a temporal linearity which in some sense implies a highly condensed "history"!
Of course this is quite different from what is conventionally understood as "verbalized" and "written" history.
But, if we think of it in a global sense as the >"lifetree" (or "tree of cognition") - "fetish" - "maypole" complex<
we could come to a rather new surprising and paradoxical conclusion! Mainly, that there was a history in prehistory. Traditional societies have had their history! They "historically" conserved the "Creation" of their habitat 'ritually', that is by annually re-creating the form that created the order of their settlement! Linear time within a temporally cyclic system! The paradoxon of a non-durable "monumentality" obtained by cyclically recreating the ephemeral form, the foundation sign and symbol of the settlement creation.

Since ethnology considered these forms as "religious" and at the same time devalued them as "primitive religion" they were not really understood nor studied in depth but left in their negative system of (d)evaluation as 'primitive religion'!

But, on the other hand: because they are "history" within a traditional society, we suddenly gain new insights into the 'history of the traditional habitat': THESE TERRITORIAL DEMARCATIONS WERE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE FOR THE INITIAL 'CREATION' OF NEOLITHIC SEDENTARY CULTURE. Suddenly there was a culture which had a "place", a spatially stable society which could produce its nutrition on this place, which could accumulate material culture at this place. A culture which had a fixed spatial order and a clear concept of organiZation of its work. A culture which had aesthetics, which had ideals, harmony of opposites for instance etc. etc.!

In addition there is a fairly surprising thing, maybe the most important aspect in a theoretical sense: We have to do with a global fact! We have mentioned this before: we call it the "life-tree - fetish - maypole" - complex.
The tradition is of a global relevance, reasons to construct a global theory!

Of course, there is a considerable literature on the origins of Neolithic sedentary settlements and agriculture (most prominent: Gordon Childe). But, evidently, they missed the point we have just described! Very likely because it figured as "primitive religion"!
Keith, My first reaction to the thought that we should return to thinking about how people are 'the same' was pessimistic. Ethnographers assiduously studied people in their differences - and indicated the intricacy of human arrangements and contracts and emotional connections - in part as a reaction to Twentieth Century totalitarianism. In the face of totalitarian systems, neither individuality nor difference counted for much. Registered in the millions of lives mobilised and destroyed, the projects of totalitarianism were very successful in showing what made people the same. The model of science of the time meant that if the ethnographer could show that their insights were normative then they had a basis on which to claim that their counter-knowledge was 'scientific'. Hence the lack of interest in given individuals. There is a certain hankering after that in latterday ethnography, but it is neither 'necessary nor sufficient' as the wise folk say - times have changed, to an extent.

From Nold's discussion, I take as central an anthropological antipathy to the fantasy of society by central 'design' (a fantasy evidenced recently in the political project of using unaccountable violence to create 'democracy'). By contrast, the ethnographic knowledge that groups of people need to reproduce their relationships with each other over time in order to survive, that these interpersonal relationships are subjectively necessary and intrinsically meaningful (not simply manipulable as some kind of abstraction), is a strong argument against society-by-diktat.That ethnographic truth should be irreducible in any notion of humanity and intrinsic to a 'new human universal' - however much the emphasis may be on creating new forms of social potential. From that perspective, what seems most promising in the new types of transgeographical network is the potential, not so much for total social transformation, but for an extension of social forms in ways that are sensitive to human relations and lived environments that already exist (with an emphasis on 'the potential'). Likewise, the insight that interconnection does not imply everyone thinking the same thoughts. The notion of sameness can be refigured, in other words, just as we no longer have to write ethnography in terms of sytematically shared norms.





I propose that the object of anthropology should be the making of world society or "the new human universal". One name for this is “humanity”, at once a collective noun, a moral quality and a historical project for our species. Another is “the people”, whom contemporary ethnographers have studied assiduously in all their differences, but without much sense of what makes them the same. Anthropology’s object in the nineteenth century was world history, but this became discredited by its evolutionary racism. Before that, the liberal philosophers found speculation about humanity as a whole indispensable to the making of democracy. Kant established “anthropology” as the scholarly name for this project. How might these older traditions be reconciled with the fragmented cultural relativism of twentieth-century ethnography? We should not repudiate the revolutionary principle of joining the people where they live in order to find out what they think and do. Contemporary anthropologists have justly celebrated cultural variety in the here and now; but they have neglected longer term perspectives on human history and have privileged collective norms over the personal experience of individuals.
Huon Wardle said:
Keith, My first reaction to the thought that we should return to thinking about how people are 'the same' was pessimistic. Ethnographers assiduously studied people in their differences - and indicated the intricacy of human arrangements and contracts and emotional connections - in part as a reaction to Twentieth Century totalitarianism.

Max Weber closed the Battle over Methods (Methodenstreit) in 19th century Germany. This was about whether ancient and modern economies were the same or different, a rather futile argument recapitulated in 1960s America as the formalist-substantivist debate. Weber said we could not study Greek economy unless they were in some measure like oursleves and there would be no interest in it unless they were different. The point being that Kant's dialectical pair are inseparable, but vulgar debate poses one side against the other.

Something similar seems to be happening in your opposing difference to sameness, as if they were meaningful without each other. When I argue for a new human universal it is for a means of us all living together on this planet. I also argue that, whereas earlier universals imposed sameness from above, the next one would recognize, with great literature, that we can only reach universal truth through the cultural particulars of personality, time and place. This still requires us to articulate what we have in common as human beings.

It is rather heavy-handed to invoke the totalitarian regimes of the early 20th century in defence of ethnographic particularism. Nationalist reliance on ethnography and folklore produced an endless fragmentation of humanity that would not serve human unity well. I agree that the forceful imposition of 'democracy' by means of war shows that old habits are alive in our world. But that should not preclude our using anthropology as one means among several to find new principles of association appropriate to our common plight.

Allowing for
That is fair enough; my aim was simply to clarify what we mean by 'same' under current circumstances. My point was that, once we take individual and world as the two points to be connected, then it is the space in between that will become the arena of debate. So, it is understanding which differences make a difference that becomes crucial. Which was why I heavy-handedly invoked totalitarianism as the most inescapable instance of the systematic disregard for the complex kinds of mid-range human differences that, say, Fortes talks about in his discussion of the developmental cycle of domestic groups. At one level, Nold has been describing the reiterativeness of lived environments. From my point of view that requires us to think in depth about the reimagining of the situation that would need to take place in order to do justice both to current geo-social changes in human connectedness and at the same time give due to the social forms experienced by the Quechua speaking llama herder; Nanchang factory worker; Canadian schoolmaster.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2017   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service