"Critical studies of environmental modernization offer a number of useful examples about how social scientists might approach the investigation of regional and global scale-making. 'Bioregions' have been a central feature of environmental policy; how are they made? I think of Warwick Anderson's (in press) research on the hygiene-oriented experiments that helped define 'the tropics' as a zone of challenge for scientific modernism..."
From Anna Tsing's 2000 article The Global Situation, in Cultural Anthropology 15(3); P. 348.
It seems to me that one approach to transcribing theory over into anthropology would involve metaphor or analog. The best example, of course, would be the organic analogy, though I seem to recall that Paul Radin came up with a theory of oscillating historical trends based off of the model of an electromagnetic wave.
However, Tsing seems to have suggested that theory can follow topic and lead to anthropological theory that is non-analog in form.
I want to say that Pual Rabinow and others are forging in this direction, in terms of bioethics. However, I'd have to go back and read some more Rabinow to comment better on his works specifically.
J. Dumit's Picturing Personhood was quite interesting, and entertaining to read because he explained PET scans well enough so that a non-neurosurgeon such as me could understand how it works. Even farther, Dumit uses his investigations as a means of exploring issues of personhood and thought in a way that is quite powerful and expressly anthropological. That is, he adds to the Western philosophical discourse on such through the substantive means of ethnographic investigation. (I find ethnographic investigation to be more substantive at least than philosophical thought-experiment).
Should we proffer the importing of theory from outside of anthropology as analog, such as Radin had? Or, should we only be pulling theory from outside anthropology to explore concepts anthropologically? Is theory-cum-analog a compromised approach, or is there some merit here?
Or, should we only be pulling theory from outside anthropology to explore concepts anthropologically?
I am a bit confused about what differentiates exploring concepts anthropologically, as opposed to exploring them scientifically, historically, philosophically, clinically or metaphorically. To me what being trained as an anthropologist and doing fieldwork has meant is bringing a lot of miscellaneous information to the table that other disciplines may have neglected—the result of reading a lot of ethnography and doing some of my own. I have found some anthropologists' insights stimulating. Can't say that they have, qua anthropology, altered the way I think.
Perhaps you could tell us a bit more about what "exploring concepts anthropologically" means to you.
Sorry that my response has taken so long to get back to you. At first, I wanted to sit on your query, so that I could provide a thoughtful response. However, what was supposed to be a couple of days turned into just over a month!
It seems to me that the value of an “anthropological” exploration would rest less in the methods used (indeed, everyone from sociologists to educational administrators and marketers are using some version of ethnography these days) or in the topics that can be placed under more broad philosophical discussions (for example, the source point of knowledge and truth). Rather, a hallmark seems to be an interest in the things that others tend not even to consider.
Take Dumit’s ethnography on PET scans, for example. He employs an ethnographic approach, obviously, and he tackles such issues as the boundaries of thought. However, he employs these elements of his work in order to get at something that the scientists and doctors he is learning from (his interlocutors) are not focusing on: the cultural components that are driving emerging understanding of PET scan technologies, as well as emerging understandings of the applications and implications of PET scans. Indeed, I suspect that philosophers have yet to tackle the topic in this manner, that is, by exploring the topic through observation of an actually enacted social setting.
I believe that others who focus on anthropologies of expertise are doing likewise: snooping out the cultural components that are helping to drive expertise (in whatever field) forward. So, much work seems to have been done, for example, on the emergent “culture” of the European Union’s administrative bodies. That is to say, not so much on the European Union or the cultures that comprise the EU, but expressly on the emergent ways that understandings are articulated within the bureaucracies of the EU.
Consider as well Tsing’s work in In the Realm of the Diamond Queen, where she explores women’s appropriations of shamanism among Dayaks. Here, Tsing isn’t writing a treatise on Meratus Dayak shamanism, per se, but rather an anthropological-ethnographic exploration of this phenomenon. My point is that Tsing likely had her own agendas for discussing shamanism with figures such as Umma Adong, considerations which Umma Adong may have articulated differently or not at all.
Yet not only do anthropologists seem to tend to look at the seams and in the cracks, poking around where most social actors take for granted, there is also a specific historical development unique to anthropology, a pedigree, if you will. Of course, my pointing this phenomenon out to you is like the sapling pointing sunshine out to the oak, but bear with me! I’ve my master’s degree in sociology, which helps to inform me on this topic a bit. From time to time, a student (or just about anybody I speak to) will ask me what the difference is between sociology and anthropology. I’ll cite the specialization of the two disciplines at their inception, of course. However, I’ll add that the focus of the two disciplines (the subject matters) is a very blurry distinction today. I’ll then qualify that thought by pointing to the differences in which similar topics are approached in distinctive ways between the two disciplines (for example, enculturation vis-à-vis socialization). I’ll make the argument that different people, participating in different historical-discursive formations, have come to articulate similar topics somewhat distinctly from each other.
It seems to me that most folks outside of anthropology have a tendency to overlook “culture” as a soft force that really doesn’t merit consideration when discussing the parameters of topic X. For example, are there many in the Pentagon who are bothering with the cultural formation of the concept of the War on Terror? Would they even consider that to be a worthwhile topic, unless it was somehow deemed “instrumental?”
That’s where anthropologists have typically come in, pointing out in systematic and disciplinary ways the vital importance of “culture” to the formation of any human project. Adding a critical dimension (however you want to define critical) adds another level of significance. However, it seems our insistence that an examination of cultural effects is neither merely anecdotal nor marginally important is fairly unique to anthropologists. At least, the way that we have developed this stance to date merits a seat at the table.
Joel, I will spend most of this weekend in the air, en route from northern Virginia, USA, to Japan. I must admit to a bit of skepticism about the likelihood of our insistence on cultural effects persuading anyone who is not already a member of our tribe. For the moment, however, I ask you to ponder a different, non-academic positioning for the anthropologist, from Tom Kelley, The Ten Faces of Innovation.
The Learning Personas
Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow, so the first three personas are learning roles. These personas are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, and today's great idea may be tomorrow's anachronism. The learning roles help keep your team from becoming too internally focused, and remind the organization not to be so smug about what you “know”. People who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.
The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to "see" things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.
The Experimenter celebrates the process, not the tool, testing and retesting potential scenarios to make ideas tangible. A calculated risk-taker, this person models everything from products to services to proposals in order to efficiently reach a solution. To share the fun of discovery, the Experimenter invites others to collaborate, while making sure that the entire process is saving time and money.
The Cross-Pollinator draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground. Armed with a wide set of interests, an avid curiosity, and an aptitude for learning and teaching, the Cross-Pollinator brings in big ideas from the outside world to enliven their organization. People in this role can often be identified by their open mindedness, diligent note-taking, tendency to think in metaphors, and ability to reap inspiration from constraints.
The Organizing Personas
The next three personas are organizing roles, played by individuals who are savvy about the often counter-intuitive process of how organizations move ideas forward. At IDEO, we used to believe that the ideas should speak for themselves. Now we understand what the Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director have known all along: that even the best ideas must continuously compete for time, attention, and resources. Those who adopt these organizing roles don't dismiss the process of budget and resource allocation as “politics” or “red tape.” They recognize it as a complex game of chess, and they play to win.
The Hurdler is a tireless problem-solver who gets a charge out of tackling something that's never been done before. When confronted with a challenge, the Hurdler gracefully sidesteps the obstacle while maintaining a quiet, positive determination. This optimism and perseverance can help big ideas upend the status quo as well as turn setbacks into an organization's greatest successes—despite doomsday forecasting by shortsighted experts.
The Collaborator is the rare person who truly values the team over the individual. In the interest of getting things done, the Collaborator coaxes people out of their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams. In doing so, the person in this role dissolves traditional boundaries within organizations and creates opportunities for team members to assume new roles. More of a coach than a boss, the Collaborator instills their team with the confidence and skills needed to complete the shared journey.
The Director has an acute understanding of the bigger picture, with a firm grasp on the pulse of their organization. Subsequently, the Director is talented at setting the stage, targeting opportunities, bringing out the best in their players, and getting things done. Through empowerment and inspiration, the person in this role motivates those around them to take center stage and embrace the unexpected.
The Building Personas
The four remaining personas are building roles that apply insights from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles to make innovation happen. When people adopt the building personas, they stamp their mark on your organization. People in these roles are highly visible, so you’ll often find them right at the heart of the action.
The Experience Architect is that person relentlessly focused on creating remarkable individual experiences. This person facilitates positive encounters with your organization through products, services, digital interactions, spaces, or events. Whether an architect or a sushi chef, the Experience Architect maps out how to turn something ordinary into something distinctive—even delightful—every chance they get.
The Set Designer looks at every day as a chance to liven up their workspace. They promote energetic, inspired cultures by creating work environments that celebrate the individual and stimulate creativity. To keep up with shifting needs and foster continuous innovation, the Set Designer makes adjustments to a physical space to balance private and collaborative work opportunities. In doing so, this person makes space itself one of an organization's most versatile and powerful tools.
The Storyteller captures our imagination with compelling narratives of initiative, hard work, and innovation. This person goes beyond oral tradition to work in whatever medium best fits their skills and message: video, narrative, animation, even comic strips. By rooting their stories in authenticity, the Storyteller can spark emotion and action, transmit values and objectives, foster collaboration, create heroes, and lead people and organizations into the future.
The Caregiver is the foundation of human-powered innovation. Through empathy, they work to understand each individual customer and create a relationship. Whether a nurse in a hospital, a salesperson in a retail shop, or a teller at an international financial institution, the Caregiver guides the client through the process to provide them with a comfortable, human-centered experience.