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

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Thanks, Huon. This makes the point between us very clear. I feel that over the last two centuries or so, we (the social analyst trade) have privileged the categories and associations that mediate the existence of one and all of us to the exclusion of what Heidegger calls solitude and world, an abstract relationship between an imagined self and all that is relevant to it. He calls the middle ground 'finitude', our relative position and movement in time and space. We should never forget that we exist in finitude, but the idea of an unmediated self-in-the-world also influences what we bring to that. Come to think about it, it may be you that pointed me to Heidegger's late metaphysics! In any case, the totalitarian potential of the self/world pair is, as you say, good reason to insist on the salience of what it leaves out, the intermediate level of social experience. I just wonder if we can get beyond opposing them to some sort of integration of the two. That is what I have in mind when I say that the next human univerdsal will be realised only through giving expression to cultural particulars, not suppressing them. I suppose I am clutching at the promise of the great religions, whose modern expression I see in figures like Gandhi, to achieve a sort of personal connection with the unity of things, without the totalitarian baggage that often comes with it and gives religion a deservedly bad name.

Huon Wardle said:
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.
It is not difficult to maintain that anthropology has a fundamental relationship with history or that it advances toward regions where the human sciences dominate. Nor is it difficult to establish that anthropology seeks to explain the reasons why a peoples history must be cumulative or circular, progressive or floundering, capable of spontaneous adjustments or subject to crises. On the other hand, it could be said that anthropology in its methods of interpretation and analysis suspends the chronological course of history in the traditional sense and instead seeks to reveal a fundamental correlation between the structural invariables of culture and the development of mankind. It has at its roots that which seeks to characterize the processes of a given culture, the knowledge of peoples, their similarities and contrasts, definitions, functions and obligatory forms of exchange. Yet, anthropology for all of its worth is still not capable of coming near to a universal concept of culture.

One can imagine what importance anthropology would hold if it were able to define a system of cultural consciousness and render coherence to that which regulates the needs and norms of life in all of its particular forms.

Further, it may be said that the Western paradigm believed that it could move man from a tangled mass of relations to uninterrupted progress assisted by the aid of advancing economic and technological development. However, at the other extremity of our cultural understanding we know that the development of economics, politics, institutions, and technology did not move into greater forms of unity, that we are not paying less attention to the play of difference, or that we are more sensitive to overall determinations or recognitions.

And, it is in this regard that I agree with Keith:

“…That is what I have in mind when I say that the next human universals (i.e., I understand this to mean in terms of unities of realities not mechanistic theorums and laws) will be realised only through giving expression to cultural particulars, not suppressing them… to achieve a sort of personal connection with the unity of things…”

“…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...”

“…But that should not preclude our using anthropology as one means among several to find new principles of association appropriate to our common plight..”.

Thus, it seems to me that the most important task of the anthropologist is in forging connections that would enable us to grasp human existence in its deepest and most profound conditions.
The Western paradigm believed that it could move man from a tangled mass of relations to uninterrupted progress assisted by the aid of advancing economic and technological development. However, at the other extremity of our cultural understanding we know that the development of economics, politics, institutions, and technology did not move into greater forms of unity, that we are not paying less attention to the play of difference, or that we are more sensitive to overall determinations or recognitions.

This is right, and anthropology has played its part in multiplying the differences as Keith says - at least at the level of academic knowledge. Just now, I came across someone quoting Keith Hart saying (a little tongue in cheek I take it): ‘anthropology is a specialised discipline studying who essentializes what, why, how, when and where’. But, in classic ethnography, the 'who' that essentialises is always a mid-range collectivity. There has been little space for considering the individual who essentialises and the contexts and consequences of that.
Huon writes,

But, in classic ethnography, the 'who' that essentialises is always a mid-range collectivity. There has been little space for considering the individual who essentialises and the contexts and consequences of that.

How else could it be? Not a rhetorical question, this, a serious query concerning how, as a practical matter, ethnography that considers individuals can be done. Consider the following scenarios:

1. Classic -- The lone anthropologist arrives in a strange place. Language, customs and habits are all unfamiliar. Within a year or two, the language must be learned, customs and habits recorded and analyzed. One approach, familiar from the salvage ethnography practiced on Native Americans is to find and work closely with an elderly informant (perhaps more than one) who tells you how it was in a "traditional" past. The other, the Malinowski model, requires a lot of watching and cross-checking and notes that focus on customs and habits instead of personal opinions.

2. Long-term-- Paul Stoller, for example. The anthropologist returns periodically to the same place over an extended period of years. Long-term friendships are established, but with, realistically speaking, only a handful of friends. Unless they are powerful people who have made things happen that others agree have happened, the added value is in bringing more intimate, personal perspectives, to discussions of custom and habit.

3. Biographically focused oral history — Shifting the focus to the individual may make a better story. But how do you write biography without the records that historians turn to?

4. Historically embedded — Do what professional biographers do. Write about people for whom extensive documentation exists. Relate their lives to already well-studied historical contexts. Look for new angles in information from interviews with the subject, family, friends and enemies.

What am I missing here?
Well, a few years ago I was ticked off in a footnote to a relatively well-known anthropologist's book for referring to certain kind of current post-structuralist subject matter as 'boring'. So, perhaps I just have a short attention span. However, one example of the kind of theoretical and empirical re-imagining I have in mind is Karen Fog Olwig's Caribbean Journeys: Three Family Networks. This is an outstanding book in the challenge it puts to ethnographers. She first maps out members of the family networks in question; then she goes and finds these people wherever they are (and this takes her to some farflung places). Then she pays close attention to how they understand how they got there and how they think about their situation.

The results are fascinating and often confounding in terms of conventional normative expectations. For example, there are a pair of brothers who share a sense of the formative importance of their middle class Jamaican upbringing (I hope I am remembering this correctly). One is now a very well paid executive in New York, far wealthier than anyone within his family in Jamaica, but deeply resentful of his inability to break through racial barriers. The other brother lives in Britain in a rural, all white, Oxfordshire village. His family live a happy culturally middle-class life significantly akin to the one characterising his colonial middle class childhood in Jamaica. He has supported this lifestyle with a blue collar job. The expectations (and essentialisations involved) are transformed versions of an initial shared (in some sense collective) range of values, but it is precisely how they have been transformed/reformed vis-a-vis one another that is most revealing.

I haven't done the book justice, but it offers one way out of a routine ethnographic vision: it interprets individual lives without resorting to treating these as exemplary in a normative sense; the point is to multiply these alternative methodological/theoretical possibilities.
Huon,

Thanks for this reference. Olwig's research design.

She first maps out members of the family networks in question; then she goes and finds these people wherever they are (and this takes her to some farflung places). Then she pays close attention to how they understand how they got there and how they think about their situation.

exactly parallels what I am trying to do in a totally different context, exploring the world of ad contest winners in Tokyo: mapping the networks, reading what is written by and about the central figures in those networks, and hoping to interview as many of them as possible. Your description has reminded me that it will also be interesting to collect the perspectives of some of the central figures' less successful colleagues.

P.S. It is this kind of stimulation and pointers to stuff I would never have been aware of otherwise that makes OAC so valuable to me.
ZIT: Huon Wardle wrote:

The results are fascinating and often confounding in terms of conventional normative expectations. For example, there are a pair of brothers who share a sense of the formative importance of their middle class Jamaican upbringing (I hope I am remembering this correctly). One is now a very well paid executive in New York, far wealthier than anyone within his family in Jamaica, but deeply resentful of his inability to break through racial barriers. The other brother lives in Britain in a rural, all white, Oxfordshire village. His family live a happy culturally middle-class life significantly akin to the one characterising his colonial middle class childhood in Jamaica. He has supported this lifestyle with a blue collar job. The expectations (and essentialisations involved) are transformed versions of an initial shared (in some sense collective) range of values, but it is precisely how they have been transformed/reformed vis-a-vis one another that is most revealing.


I am really surprised about the elementary character of this discussion.
--On a similar elementary level in zoology animals of all kinds were described independently in their formal outfit, head, ears, hair, size...Often quite funny names are testimony of this phase.
--Later the descriptions of forms, consciousness of relations and physiological types increased, classes and orders were formed.
--Finally the discovery of the cell changed the whole into the system of biology, botany and zoology became comparable.
--Finally an evolutionary theory started to see both systems as one continuity: the history of life.

In similar ways human culture can be seen in a systematic way. If for the moment we consider the formation of the Neolithic village as an important step in the evolution of human culture we can, on one side, cluster many new elements together and discover that they form a basic system with important characteristics. We have described this in various papers as the "settlement core complex". This basic 'system' can be taken as the prototype of the formation of early states, of early "civilisations". However, in this perspective, the evaluations change completely. The early state formations exploited the "neolithic inventions" and used them to subdue the agrarian village culture and to exploit their "system" on a territorially more extended level. This highly problematic connex between Neolithic village culture and early state formation might contribute to a better understanding of many modern problems because the systematic structure of the early states, in spite of elementary differentiations, develops a striking continuity in its systematic components.
In support of Huon’s position, I would say that my own failure as an ethnographer came from trying to conform to the model of collective representation that was standard when I was starting out. I spent a couple of years during the 60s in a West African slum. I learned that it was a criminal badlands on the edge of the city that had only been settled by a flood of migrants in the last 10-15 years. I wanted to study politics, but Ghana then was a police state and everyone kept their heads down. So I turned to the street economy which was lively enough, but here too life was being made and remade on the hoof from day to day. I could hardly study ‘the culture’ and I turned instinctively to focusing on what particular individuals made of it all, building up portfolios on some 70 ‘entrepreneurs’ and turning the main cases into life histories. So, when I returned to Cambridge to ‘write up’ my fieldwork and was asked to present papers to our graduate seminar, I automatically produced individual case studies as my contribution. This emphasis shaped my thesis.

I felt I understood Accra’s street economy as well as, if not better than, most of its inhabitants, but like them I knew nothing of the great events that transformed Ghana while I was there: the collapse of the world cocoa price, an army coup, rapid deterioration of the economy. So I decided to join a development studies unit in order to gain experience of life at the level of states and international organizations. Now I had to learn ‘economese’ – how to speak and write like an economist without formal training in the subject – and to put my ethnography to more general ends. If the ‘Third World urban poor’ were not unemployed, as I claimed, what were they up to? I wrote two articles, in one of which addressed the development consequences of informal attempts to generate income; the other examined positive and negative stereotypes of enterprise in the light of individual strategies of accumulation. The first became a classic and the second disappeared from view. At least I managed to include one of my favourite stories (‘Atinga’s bar’) as vivid illustration in the former.

Almost four decades later, when the informal economy is now seen as the dominant sector in Africa, if not around the world, I feel that did violence to my original ethnographic vision, sacrificing the perspective of individuals to collective representations which served mainly to grant bureaucratic elites a measure of intellectual and administrative control over a world that they did nothing to create and could never understand. If Africa is to develop, the forces contained with the informal economy must be released. But we will only find out what they are by joining the people who generate them and discovering the emergent social forms they have made. It may be that the best way to do this is to study individual cases. After all, German economic historians (and their British branch in Manchester between the wars) studied individual business histories as a method for understanding the causes of economic growth.

Armed with hindsight, I now see that many examples of biography illuminate the ethnographic tradition. Paul Radin’s The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian is outstanding. Chief among them for me is Sidney Mintz’s Worker in the Cane, not just for the insight it provides into Puerto Rico’s political economy, but also for the modest account of callow young fieldworker’s collaboration with someone who knew a lot better what he was doing and why. I can relate to that. But the example of Karen Fog Olwig’s book reminded of other examples of collective biography: Dick Werbner’s magnificent memoir of a family that lived through genocide in Zimbabwe, Tears of the Dead, and Brian Alleyne’s prize-winning account of a group of North London activists, Radicals against Race. Where biography wins, I believe, is avoiding the pitfalls of collective representation, often under circumstances where structural norms have broken down or life is being made anew too fast for notions like ‘culture’ and ‘society’ to be applicable, if they ever were.
I am really surprised about the elementary character of this discussion.

Nold, 'elementary' is a high compliment if the observation in question is new. What Olwig does is triangulate kinship network with individual life narrative and recent theoretical work on migration/transmigration. It is the combination of these perspectives that makes this a step beyond much of what has gone before. If your social evolutionist theory can be applied to this type empirical material, I would be fascinated to hear about it.

Along the lines Keith describes, Oscar Lewis' book Pedro Martinez is his most satisfying historically contextualised life story.
I would like to bring attention to the following statements by Keith:

“…I would say that my own failure as an ethnographer came from trying to conform to the model of collective representation that was standard when I was starting out…”

“…but like them I knew nothing of the great events that transformed Ghana while I was there: the collapse of the world cocoa price, an army coup, rapid deterioration of the economy…”

“…I feel that did violence to my original ethnographic vision, sacrificing the perspective of individuals to collective representations which served mainly to grant bureaucratic elites a measure of intellectual and administrative control over a world that they did nothing to create and could never understand…”

“…But we will only find out what they are by joining the people who generate them and discovering the emergent social forms they have made. It may be that the best way to do this is to study individual cases…”

“…Where biography wins, I believe, is avoiding the pitfalls of collective representation, often under circumstances where structural norms have broken down or life is being made anew too fast for notions like ‘culture’ and ‘society’ to be applicable, if they ever were.”



I completely support Keith’s point of view. At least, this is similar to some of the situations I have encountered in my ethnographic research in Brasil. For example, the “ghosts” of the military regime that existed in Brasil (circa 1964 – 1985) left most of the people with the fear of talking to strangers. After all, during that time, no one could be certain who they were talking to with so many people being tortured, murdered, and simply disappearing. As a result, I was forced to search for different approaches to gathering information i.e., non-traditional approaches.

A more dramatic example: Last week, I met the father of one of my students who is a medical doctor that fled the country during the military regime. He told me stories of how the intellectuals were rounded up for questioning, tortured for information, some murdered and many just disappeared. As a result, he fled the country on two separate occasions; once to Germany for a number of years. After 3-4 years, when he thought things had calmed down, he returned only to flee again to Cuba for another self-imposed exile of several years.

It is on the basis of this kind of necessity that one must search for different approaches to cultural analysis. Against this background one must establish different types of relationships (family ties, knowledge of the language, one’s skills to assist others in the things they need such as education or training – all help); in short “joining the people” in order to conduct any form of critique that claims to be an accurate examination. Finally, I want to reiterate my comment of December 12th.

…”It seems to me the general problem for our generation is to continue to search for new approaches to the analysis of culture.”

Again I agree with Keith, I think it is going to take a combination (not necessarily a triangulation) of new approaches, (i.e., history, humanistic philosophy, context sensitive frameworks, etc.) that are capable of describing the rapid cultural transformations that are taking place. It is a question, then, of thinking about the relations of experiences such as these to our existing tools of representation. And, it is also a question of how our existing approaches and methods respond to such difficulties.
Thanks for your generous comment, Neil and Happy Christmas from the Swiss mountains. When I was a kid, I dreamed of spending Xmas on Bondai Beach in Australia, since I heard it was sunny there. The nearest I came to it was spending Xmas in Salvador in 2000, with the moon playing on silvery waves and the smell of palm oil wafting in the breeze. I know where I would rather be now.

I still think that the idea of anthropology's project being something to do with culture is disputable, given its origins in the class-ridden courts of Europe and German xenophobic nationalism.

Neil Turner said:
I would like to bring attention to the following statements by Keith:
Foucault would agree with you...

Have a Happy New Year, Keith.

Keith Hart said:
Thanks for your generous comment, Neil and Happy Christmas from the Swiss mountains. When I was a kid, I dreamed of spending Xmas on Bondai Beach in Australia, since I heard it was sunny there. The nearest I came to it was spending Xmas in Salvador in 2000, with the moon playing on silvery waves and the smell of palm oil wafting in the breeze. I know where I would rather be now.

I still think that the idea of anthropology's project being something to do with culture is disputable, given its origins in the class-ridden courts of Europe and German xenophobic nationalism.

Neil Turner said:
I would like to bring attention to the following statements by Keith:

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