My way of protesting to shutting this group down is to start a new discussion. Is anybody familiar with the work of Margaret Archer, a critical realist who does not appear to have had any significant impact in anthropology? I have been interested in how her theory on the "inner conversation" may contribute towards phenomenological approaches in ethnographic research. Although her distinction between personal and social identity appears to be problematic for social anthropologists, I think she has an interesting argument about how personal identity reflects upon social identity:
The “I” may be distressed to learn that its “me” is considered to speak with the wrong accent, to be of a disfavoured colour or gender, and that nothing that “I” can immediately do will change matters…As a reflexive monitor, the “I” may squirm inwardly to distance itself from the disfavoured “me”: whether it can eventually do so will depend upon intra-personal, inter-personal and societal factors… (Archer 2000:264).
What do you think?
Thank you both John and Keith for your stimulating comments.
I’m going to try to respond to you both in the same text so that we can bring all (well perhaps not all!) the different ideas into some kind of common framework to keep the conversation going. I should add that I have been swept by the currents of enthusiasm into very deep waters and I am still learning to swim! (Which is also true literally – better late than never!).
I’ll begin with Buddhist theories of mind. The way I see them relate to the inner conversation is just as Buddhism tells us that we are not our thoughts – a thought comes and if we don’t become attached to it then it goes and hence does not define us – so the inner conversation is made up of, let’s say, Keith’s big and small voices. Buddhist meditation is indeed to still the conversation, but something has to do the “stilling” – what we call it I don’t know, consciousness, awareness, so there is some kind of “xxxx” that observes the conversation from a detached position. Now, before going any further, it is important to note that Archer says that she does not include the transcendent in her sociological theory. She argues that it is the “inner conversation” that is the hallmark of our humanity: in “Being Human” (2000) she argues that it is by monitoring and prioritizing our concerns that we acquire personal identities. (This is not the same thing as the “xxx” that meditates and so, yes, they are also very different inasmuch as it is through the “inner conversation” that we realize our human potential and it is by stilling this “inner conversation” that we realize our transcendental potential. This is me thinking, not Archer).
Archer’s theory is extremely complex and I can’t summarize it in these posts. I still haven’t grasped it all myself…But I can say that rather than searching for a “true self”, Archer argues that the internal conversation is fundamentally a process of forging personal identity. It is not a matter of looking inwards to see what can be found, but rather an active process of conversing with ourselves to decide what we believe, desire and intend to do. (“Being Human” 2000, Structure Agency and the Inner Conversation, 2003).
I was encouraged by your reactions to my papers Keith, thank you for reading them so quickly, I was especially pleased when you said you found the first one more provocative. I have a natural tendency to be driven by ideas but then often end up biting off more than I can chew which is why, following the reviewer’s recommendations, I gave more prominence to the ethnography. I guess it takes a life time of hard work before what one thinks can become what one publishes. That is why I like OAC so much because it provides an in-between forum for posting ideas – that don’t have the formality and finality of publication but don’t leave us in perplexed solitude either. So although it takes time to write all this, I consider it as valuable as reading an article or correcting a paper!
With regard to your comments on Finitude, Keith, I wasn’t sure what you meant when you said “many ethnographers remain there” perhaps you can elaborate.
With regard to the unitary self being relative and people’s variations in the need to be one coherent person or one with multiple identities selectively adapted… and since you mention literature, I can’t help quoting that fantastic piece in Orlando by Virginia Woolf which also evokes the inner conversation:
“For if there are (at a venture) seventy-six different times all ticking in the mind at once, how many different people are there not – Heaven help us – all having lodgment at one time or another in the human spirit? Some say two thousand and fifty-two. So that it is the most usual thing in the world, for a person to call, directly they are alone, Orlando? (If that is one’s name) meaning by that, Come, come! I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another. Hence, the astonishing changes we see in our friends. But it is not altogether plain sailing either, for though one may say, as Orlando said, (being out in the country and needing another self, presumably) Orlando? Still the Orlando she needs may not come; these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own, call them what you will (for many of these things there is no name) so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there, another if you can promise it a glass of wine – and so on; for everybody can multiply from his own experience the different terms which his different selves have made with him – and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all”.
Is OAC is a place for us to dare to post the wildly ridiculous? (within good reason……)
Keith Hart said:
Thanks for sharing the two versions of your paper, Elizabeth. They are both beautifully written and the difference between them is highly significant. The first reads as if Margaret Archer's ideas, not the fieldwork, are driving the narrative. The second reads the opposite way round as a fieldwork-driven narrative with Archer given a slot at the end to wrap it up. Anglophone anthropologists have a strong bias towards the second, so I suspect you will be more successful with it. Given a choice betwen deriving life from ideas (what Marx called the camera obscura of ideology) and ideas from life, ethnographers invariably plump for the latter. Following Malinowski, ethnography has evolved as a distinctive genre, something I call tongue-in-cheek the synthetic a posteriori. Kant held that we derive knowledge from two sources: the synthetic a priori, already formed ideas that our mind brings to what we encounter in the world, and the analytical a posteriori, empirical sense impressions of the material world that we sort out after the fact. Somehow ethnographers have to pretend that they arrive in the field with an empty mind and all their ideas are the product of experiecne in the field. Of course it can't be like that in reality, but it allowed us to discount library learning in favour of having "been there".
Given your topic, the inner conversation, I found the first version the more provocative, while the second seemed more professional. I am happy for the ideas to be privileged in this case. Unfortunately, by highlighting the philosphy in all this, you provoked a string of thoughts that can't easily be compressed into a post like this. A strong tendency of modernist and post-modernist thought rejects Kant's notion of a subject choosing on moral grounds a path between the phenomenal and the transcendental. Nietzsche's vision of the tragic obstacles to this idea of subjectivity is taken by many to be a decisive refutation. I don't think so nor do the Neo-Kantians from Weber and Simmel up to Bourdieu. But the critique is there and it reflects substantial metaphysical divisions that may come into play when assessing a paper such as yours.
The inner conversation in some form or other is a very prominent feature of my own thinking, but rather less of what I publish. The structure/agency pair arises for me as a tug-of-war between my big and small voices. How can we imagine that a puny self has a chance against all those impersonal forces out there? We have to scale up the self and scale down the world so that the two can have a meaningful relationship. Once this was done through prayer, now more often through reading novels and watching movies. The big voice projects the self onto the world in imagination as a hero. The small voice counters this with the warning, "You are fraud, Keithy, and if you are not careful they will find out!" Of course it is the small voice that keeps us sane, but without the big voice, we would be paralysed.
This raises another observation. People vary enormously in their desire or need to be one coherent person or one with multiple identities selectively adapted to different situations. Some can only speak in one voice, others are great mimics. As a would-be novelist, I have found that most of my characters end up sounding like me. This has consequences for narrative method... On the other hand, I find that the way I speak persuades listeners to believe me because I put myself behind what I say. So the idea of a unitary self is relative.
I have been much impressed by a formula of Heidegger's late metaphyics where he talks about Solitude, Finitude and World. The idea of the self as one big thing separate from the rest is of course a fiction, but it can be a powerful one (Solitude). Such a self is likely to project itself onto a World conceived of as being unitary, its complement, everything pertaining to the life of a person. This too is an unreal abstraction. Against this pair, Finitude reflects the world of quantum physics: whatever we do starts from a concrete position in the world and our movement is relative to it (also you can't measure position and movement at the same time and when you do either you change the world). This is Finitude and many ethnographers remain there. But, says Heidegger, the interesting thing is that the Self-World fictional pair may influence strongly what we do. I would add that the experience of entering virtual reality through a computer strongly reinforces the idea offered by Solitude/World of each of us as conversation between one big thing in here and another out there.
I haven't engaged with your argument in detail, Elizabeth, But I thought I would share some thoughts whose recall was triggered by reading your excellent papers.
Elizabeth, Keith, do you see any way to pull this conversation together with the material in Brian Popovic's blog about Malcolm Gilchrist? I see a lot of overlap well worth exploring.
Turning back to Archer. I am intrigued by the statement that,
!n “Being Human” (2000) she argues that it is by monitoring and prioritizing our concerns that we acquire personal identities.
To my ear "monitoring and prioritizing" has more than a strong whiff of rational-choice (economizing, instrumental reason) about it. Over the last couple of decades, people in a whole bunch of fields, behavioral economics, cognitive science, political science, to name a few, have been attacking the classical notion of rational choice in which we imagine the Actor confronted with a small, finite set of choices and a small, finite set of measures in terms of which the choices can be prioritized.
An alternative view, which I first encountered spelled out in the work of Gary Klein, suggests an alternative view of how most human thinking works. Here the actor's memory contains a stack of mental models that may fit the situation in which a decision has to be made. Instead of laying them all out and calculating which is best, the Actor grabs the model nearest the top of the stack that seems to fit the situation and begins to act as if that model were valid, while continuing to scan the environment for evidence of lack of fit. If lack of fit exceeds a certain threshold, the first model is discarded and the next which seems to fit adopted....The process continues until the decision is made and the situation resolved in one way or another.
All this may sound very computational, and the language is, indeed, derived from a style of computer programming that depends on a stack of heuristics instead of a fixed sequence of rules. Klein's analysis gains force, however, from the sorts of empirical cases he is employed to analyze: fire fighters, tank commanders, bond traders....all of whom are forced to make decisions in high-pressure situations in which there is neither time nor mental bandwidth available for the amount of calculation that classical rational choice requires.
I find this view attractive because it dovetails nicely with my own experience working in advertising, where brainstorming sessions consist of throwing out ideas until one seems plausible, pausing to to check if it seems off-strategy or poses other insurmountable problems, then repeating this process until a small number of ideas are chosen for further development—and further development does not mean only working out logical implications. On the contrary, the initial idea may be only a stepping stone to additional ideas based on varying degrees of calculation and intuition.
I also like this approach because it accounts for the benefits that accrue from training and experience. What training and experience do is provide a larger stack of possible models and the ability to rapidly filter which are and are not likely to work.
I can imagine a rebuttal along the lines of "This is all decision-making in particular situations, not the life-altering internal conversations that define a self," but, frankly, that seems weak to me.
What say others here?
There is a way of linking the conversations, partly through what I said to each. But I am running a number of these conversations right now, including several in preparation for the online seminar which starts next week when Sacha Gironde talks about brain-imaging, money and economic theory. I am acutely aware of huge gaps to bridge in each and I am not sure that merging them will help. In response to Boris's blog post, I wrote in part:
"McGilchrist admits that the meaning of the brain's hemispheric division has fallen out of fashion, to be replaced by small empirical studies by neuroscientists that don't address the big questions he hopes to revive here. The latter may also be the case with neuroanthropology. It is certainly so with ethnography in general. The situation today is similar to that in which the ethnographic revolution took place a century ago. Scientists sought to distance themselves from popular generalizations ("conjectural history") and in the process may have thrown out the baby with the bath water. It is true that we need to bring these trends together again, but doing so in an intellectually rigorous way is not easy."
I have already had a response along these lines from an anthropologist who works with neuroscience, namely that economic philosophers like Sacha shift too easily from experimental results to wild evolutionary generalizations. In other words he prefers to stay with safe narrow empirical research rather than get caught up in popular philosophy. This was one reason why the British social anthropologists of the classical school resisted popular dissemination of their results and even at one time teaching undergraduates in all but a handful of elite universities. Rigorous training was thought to be necessary to keep hard science from being swamped by woolly ideas pandering to popular myths. I have rejected this line, but sometimes I see its point.
Thus, to answer Elizabeth's query about Finitude and ethnography, the same point could be made in a positive and negative light. Rejecting big evolutionary stories as a framework for interpreting "primitive" socieites, the ethnographers insisted on meticulous accounts of what people really do in the here and now. This can easily become parish-pump politics or office gossip around the coffee machine and any broader anthropological questions lost in the pursuit of detail. That is what I meant by saying that many ethnographers stay at that level. Of course in recent decades, anthropology has become a species of speculative writing in which ethnographic detail is usually sacrificed to an analysis framed in terms of "the literature".
I felt with Boris's post that we were in danger of getting lost unless we could find a way of operationalizing the proposed link between brain hemispheres and human economy. Equally I saw my contribution to this thread as being only tangentially related to Elizabeth's take on Archer. So if we are going to widen the net, we also need to go in deeper on a narrow front. This is what John did in his twin posts just above.
Keith, I want to respond to your characterization of McGilchrist. But following your lead here, I will make that comment on Boris' thread. Others who wish to see it should follow me there.
Could we, perhaps, go back to Elizabeth's original theme?
I have been interested in how [Archer's] theory on the "inner conversation" may contribute towards phenomenological approaches in ethnographic research.
There are, it seems to me, three topics here as well as the question how they relate to each other. There is Archer's theory. Here I can only say that I don't know enough about what makes it different from similar theories. There is "inner conversation," which I take to mean conversation with oneself that is private and, if there is anything to psychoanalysis, may be largely unconscious. And then there are "phenomenological approaches in ethnographic research." I wonder whose approaches Elizabeth has in mind. What I instantly think of is all the intellectual baggage and debate associated with the claim that ethnography depicts "the native point of view," complicated in this case because whatever part of that view is confined to the inner conversation isn't something that, barring a special relationship between ethnographer and native, the native is likely to talk about.
Novelists get around this problem by assuming an author's prerogative to tell us what a character is thinking and feeling, which is often interesting precisely because we, the readers, are given a godlike insight, while other characters may, good plots often require this, remain in ignorance. Their ignorance may, indeed, be an important part of the story, e.g., when we are told what a woman having an affair is thinking of her husband as an obnoxious, old bore, while the husband may be blissfully ignorant or having second thoughts of his own, depending on the story to be told.
In a practical way, I wonder how the ethnographer is imagined to achieve this level of understanding. I can imagine a therapist approaching it after a long course of therapeutic encounters in which the patient is encouraged to speak freely about things that the patient herself may be only dimly aware of. I have considerable confidence in what Elizabeth describes, since her being a woman, a mother, and a fluent speaker of Creole equip her to grasp what her young Cape Verdean natives are going through and her being sufficiently "other" may allow them to tell her things that remain unsayable in other contexts. What is hard for me to imagine is myself, when I was young, newly married, unsure of myself, undertaking research that involved considerable Oedipal conflict, and barely able to get around in a difficult language I'd studied for only six months, being able to have intimate conversations with the natives I was working with in Taiwan. I wonder which sort of field experience is more typical of ethnographers past and present, the sort of relationship that Elizabeth has been able to achieve with young Cape Verdean women, or the sort of situation in which I found myself working with my Daoist master in Taiwan, a man who at that time was literally old enough to be my father (remember that Oedipal thing I mentioned).
I know that I was happy to be trained at a time when conventional wisdom said that social anthropologists should concentrate their efforts on social facts, i.e., things easily observed with meanings that multiple natives would confirm, what I have called elsewhere the taken-for-granted. This stance was justified in theory by invoking Durkheim, et. al., and deference duly paid to Freud, who pointed in directions that we had better leave to psychoanalysts and other therapist. In retrospect I now see it as a sensible defensive move. Who in the world would take seriously observers who claimed to know the hearts of others on the basis of a few months acquaintance and conversations in a language of which the observer knew at best the rudiments?
This is a question which I have long pondered and for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. But that, I realize, is just me. Do tell us more about Archer's ideas and competing phenomenological approaches.
NEWSFLASH! Archer's book On Being Human is available on Questia. Because I think Keith might find her position congenial with the Human Economy, I offer the following bit from from the introduction. (2001:2)
Our job to reclaim Humanity which is indeed at risk. At least, it is at risk in the Academy, where strident voices would dissolve the human being into discursive structures and humankind into a disembodied textualism. Outside of Academia, ordinary people act in undemolished fashion—they confront the world, meaning nature and practice rather than just society, for, as functioning human beings, they cannot endorse the 'linguistic fallacy'; in confronting their environment they feel a continuous sense of the self who does so, for they cannot live out their dissolution; they have cares, concerns and commitments which they see as part of themselves, for they cannot accept the 'identity' of demolished men and women; and they have social positions, which most of them would like to rectify, in at least some respect, and are unconvinced that social improvements merely depend upon discursive changes.
All this stuff of life needs confirming. This is not because lay agents are infallibly right about their agency. Indeed they are not, or there would be much less discrimination, injustice, alienation, oppression, materialism and consumerism around, and much more emancipatory collective action. However, they are hanging on to the bare bones of agency, which are the necessary pre-conditions for human activity rather than passivity. It is those that need reinforcing. This is not because I think that the emergence of postmodernist beings is a real possibility: far from it, they are such a contradiction in terms that they could never get out of bed. On the contrary, given the way in which we are constituted, the way in which the world is made, and the necessity of our interaction, I believe we are all realists—naturalistically.
Because of this, we cannot be ontologically undermined, in the same sense that natural reality never itself needed reclaiming, for it is selfsubsistent. It is prevalent ideas about both which need resisting, because the spread of an epistemology of dissolution can have serious repercussions for one of our most distinctive human properties and powers—our reflexivity. Although our continuous sense of self is, I will argue, ontologically inviolable, our personal and social identities are epistemologically vulnerable. Both hinge upon our ultimate concerns and commitments. Both then can be undermined by a reflexivity which repudiates concern as anything other than ephemeral, and which thus repulses the solidarity of self and its solidarity with others, which is necessary for commitment. The reflexive turn towards inconstancy would effiectively make us passive: our instant gratification may give the illusion of hyperactivity, but we would not care enough, or long enough, about anything to see it through.
Where to begin? It is hard to summarize Archer and I am not a "disciple" because there is part of her theory which I am not sure about. Let us step back a bit from the inner conversation. She argues that we relate to the world in 3 ways: or 3 orders of reality in which we are engaged, namely the natural, the practical and the social. The natural relates to our physical well-being in the natural order (example, from me, to quench thirst). The practical relates to our performtive competence in the practical order (a skill perhaps, knowing how to type) and the social relates to our self-worth in the social order. Attention to one may jeopardise attention to the other, so everyone is constrained to strike a balance between these 3 types of concerns and this is where we prioritse through the inner conversation. It is the person who makes these decisons. This is not, according to her, a rational choice model because it also involves the emotions (and for other reasons she gives in the books which I cant find right now). She argues that self-identity is the possession of a continuous sense of self universal to human beings whilst personal identity is an achievement. It comes at maturity, not everyone reaches it and it can be lost and re-made. Our personal identity derives from our relations with all three orders of reality although the emergence of personal identity is intertwined with the emergence of our social identity - a dialectical relationship. The internal conversation is basically a process of forging personal identity. Now, if we take a few steps further back in her theory, then this maybe is where we will find stumblling blocks for anthropology. Her argument that it is the personal identity which is the arbiter is based ner notion of the "primacy of practice": "ours sense of self, as part of our humanity, is prior and primitive to our sociality". At first, I was tentatively in agreement, but now I am even less sure. She uses the example of the baby and says that our practical engagment with the world such as hunger, thrist, discomfort - bodily self-consciousness - is prior to sociality. She believes that the relationship between embodied practice and then non-discursive environment comes first. But, is this so? Doesnt the baby in the womb already begin a social relationship with its mother?
I have just seen that you have posted an extract from her book which takes the pressure off me to try to explain her very complex theories.....
With regard to my interest in phenomenological approaches, I find the idea of the inner conversation as a useful concept for analysing informant's truth claims. I guess this is different to claiming that I have privileged access to their innermost thoughts which I certainly would not want to claim. But as a concept, it helps me to analyse interviews, conversations and to make sense of apparent contradictions. For example, a woman claims in an interview that abortion never crossed her mind. Six months later, she recommends counselling services in our self-help group where they dissuaded her from abortion. Is this just the classic "caught you out, clever me anthropologist"? I dont think so. Of course, she may have been worried about what I thought - her social worth and therefore not told me, but there is also a case for analysing contradictory truth claims in the light of the different inner commentaries that make up the inner conversation. Or, as Virginia Woolf calls them, "moments of being". So I am interested in allowing for contradictory levels of analysis to co-exist, instead of providing closure.....
Cant comment on competing phenomenological approaches but it would be great if anybody reading this can help here.......
So I am interested in allowing for contradictory levels of analysis to co-exist, instead of providing closure.....
So am I. Both life experience and research have persuaded me that theorists are all like the blind men describing the elephant. Only rarely are their ideas truly mutually exclusive, and even then each may have grasped something important that the others need to consider. That is what leads me to questions like the one I raise in my blog post on mochi-pounding and Japanese tradition. Should we think of tradition as as ideal type, performance, grammar or bricolage? Why not all four? Each of these concepts directs our attention to different aspects of ethnographic reality. Combined they yield a deeper, richer, thicker description and, I would argue, understanding of what's going on.
My most properly scholarly exposition of this, what shall we call it, perhaps "disciplined eclecticism" will do, can be found in my article "Negotiating with Demons: The Uses of Magical Language" (American Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 1, February 1995), where I examine the text of a Daoist exorcism in light of three sets of ideas about magical language—performative act, metaphorical action, and formalization—and find that they all have something useful to contribute to mapping the changes in language as the ritual proceeds from one stage to another.
These are all steps on the path that has led me to the suggestions I make in my response to Nathan Dobson in the thread stemming from the mochi-pounding post.
The notion that ethnographers should enter the field with a ready answer for "what is the main question that you are trying to answer?" strikes me as misguided. Where it comes from is, I suggest, the proposition that ethnographers are engaged in something analogous to experimental science. They should, therefore, have a clear focus on a question for whose answer they know how to collect relevant evidence.
But aren't we,in fact, more like a detective entering a crime scene, for whom prejudging what questions to ask and what evidence may be relevant is a major methodological error? Aren't we more like Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or the CSI crew, which is to say valued for the unexpected things we discover?
Here I would add that neither Poiroit, Miss Marple, or the CSI crew, in particular, reject science. They use science where appropriate to build a convincing case, an activity quite different from designing an experiment or survey to test a particular hypothesis.
So, yes, by all means. Don't just allow contradictory levels of analysis to co-exist. Exploit their contradictions as guides to points of interest.
Come to think of it, that's something I learned from Victor Turner....
"Exploit their contradictions as guides to points of interest"
Will do John....an anthropologist friend of mine says fieldwork is like suddenly entering a film in the middle of the action....
And then the question may be, what are the people you are working with willing to talk about. Another highlight of my graduate school education at Cornell was hearing Terry Turner tell us that he went off to the Amazon intending to do the kind of extended case studies that Victor Turner pioneered in The Drums of Affliction. When he got to his field site, he discovered that the people there would talk endlessly about mythology but weren't particularly interested in tracing who did what to whom in quarrels going back several generations, the way that the Ndembu and other Central African peoples apparently are. Or, read in terms of your friend's image, like being dropped into a movie that is in a whole other genre from the one you anticipated.
Exactly which is why I began interested in women's birth experiences and discovered that they were not so keen to talk about that - it was history - and ended up engagin with them in a much broader field of enquiry regarding their experiences as migant mothers......