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?

 

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Elizabeth, thanks so much for this initiative. Could you tell us a bit more about Archer and how, for example, you see her ideas informing your own work?

I'm not familiar with her work, but from what you posted it looks as if Archer was attempting to create an ethnographic version of the Id/Ego/Superego triad. The "me" in her case being akin to Freud's "Id", as it encompasses the base tenets of the being; whereas, the "I" is a fluid version of the "Ego/Superego duality", directing the "me" in social interactions, or unsocial or taboo interactions, as the case may be. Sorry if it seems jarring to liken it to a psychiatric methodology, but I'm nowhere near deep enough in my anthropology studies to relate it in a different way.

That being said, there's something about it that doesn't quite mesh with what I've observed, but for the life of me I can't put it into words.

Well, I have been researching Cape Verdean women's experiences of maternity - many of them students facing unexpected pregnancy. In the interviews conducted, I see the "inner conversation" at work as they reflect upon the different options available, upon what society thinks about them, how they are seen, how their family has reacted and all of these different thoughts make up the "inner conversation". But it is not a looking inwards, but rather a looking outwards to the world and this is how Archer says that the inner conversation is affected by wider structures. Also, the inner conversation is made of contradictory comments that pass through the mind and this is interesting for our analysis of interviews because it means there is more to just identifying the contradictions between discourse and practice.

Elizabeth, how do you achieve the rapport that allows these young women to open up and reveal their inner conversations to you? I find myself thinking of a young man I met in Tokyo at a party after a Benetton photo shoot. He was wearing an extraordinary costume that made him look as if he had stepped out of the pages of a Japanese comic book. I asked him directly, "Is this the real you?" he replied, "Nobody gets to see that."

Achieving the rapport certainly is not tantamount to the reaching the "real you". I guess it is not a "real you" that I am looking for...the rapport, speaking Creole, being myself a mother, also not Portuguese brings a degree of complicity...so now you are going to ask me what am I looking for?


 
John McCreery said:

Elizabeth, how do you achieve the rapport that allows these young women to open up and reveal their inner conversations to you? I find myself thinking of a young man I met in Tokyo at a party after a Benetton photo shoot. He was wearing an extraordinary costume that made him look as if he had stepped out of the pages of a Japanese comic book. I asked him directly, "Is this the real you?" he replied, "Nobody gets to see that."

Thanks Charles. Do you think you could try to put it into words? Or at least explain where the unease comes from?
 
Charles Espey III said:

I'm not familiar with her work, but from what you posted it looks as if Archer was attempting to create an ethnographic version of the Id/Ego/Superego triad. The "me" in her case being akin to Freud's "Id", as it encompasses the base tenets of the being; whereas, the "I" is a fluid version of the "Ego/Superego duality", directing the "me" in social interactions, or unsocial or taboo interactions, as the case may be. Sorry if it seems jarring to liken it to a psychiatric methodology, but I'm nowhere near deep enough in my anthropology studies to relate it in a different way.

That being said, there's something about it that doesn't quite mesh with what I've observed, but for the life of me I can't put it into words.

First, I should mention that I tend to observe high school and college level students around me, so my perspective is directed more at modern American young adults and the surroundings. It's this perspective that makes me more inclined to agree with the possibility of her theory being problematic--in the loosest sense--to *modern Western* societies.

Her theory, from the brief overview you provided, establishes a singular "I" to correspond with the singular "me". In the groups I observe, the overall trend is for there to be multiple social identities, generally not limited to an SI toward parental figures, another toward siblings (which could further be separated by age-in-relation, etc), several SI's when dealing with friends, not to mention those directed toward authority figures, religious figures, et cetera. Archer may discuss, or ever clarify these points farther in her theory, but again, I'm operating on what information I have.

Perhaps it's the above the leads me to think something doesn't fit.

Elizabeth Pilar Challinor said:

Thanks Charles. Do you think you could try to put it into words? Or at least explain where the unease comes from?

Well, yes multiple social identities, she would agree with that. But she does pose a singular "I" rooted in an individual's practical embodiment and this I know may be problematic.  What you are talking about is social identities and Archer would argue that it is the indivdual I who arbitrates between them all. She distinguishes between agent and actor as follows:

 The “agent” refers to our involuntarily placement on society’s scarce distribution of resources; it may be disfavoured or more privileged. It is a collective social identity we inherit from birth since we do not choose the conditions we are born into that we share with other agents and which influence, but do not determine, the roles we will occupy as actors. The “Actor” [i] exists in the singular, obtaining its unique social identity from the way in which the subject personifies the roles it chooses and is able to occupy. (2003:118).



[i] Archer avoids the term “agency” because it is the Actor who exists in the single and takes action whereas the agent refers to the position that everyone occupies on society’s distribution of scarce resources (2003:117-118).


 
Charles Espey III said:

First, I should mention that I tend to observe high school and college level students around me, so my perspective is directed more at modern American young adults and the surroundings. It's this perspective that makes me more inclined to agree with the possibility of her theory being problematic--in the loosest sense--to *modern Western* societies.

Her theory, from the brief overview you provided, establishes a singular "I" to correspond with the singular "me". In the groups I observe, the overall trend is for there to be multiple social identities, generally not limited to an SI toward parental figures, another toward siblings (which could further be separated by age-in-relation, etc), several SI's when dealing with friends, not to mention those directed toward authority figures, religious figures, et cetera. Archer may discuss, or ever clarify these points farther in her theory, but again, I'm operating on what information I have.

Perhaps it's the above the leads me to think something doesn't fit.

Elizabeth Pilar Challinor said:

Thanks Charles. Do you think you could try to put it into words? Or at least explain where the unease comes from?

"...so now are you going to ask me what I'm looking for?"

Not in the way that question sounds to me as I read it, a rhetorical "Gotcha!" That inner conversations exist and are frequently fraught with all sorts of issues having to do with the relation of a me, felt as inside, and a world, felt as outside, is, I feel, a natural consequence of the human condition, our ability, thanks to language and symbolizing more broadly, to imagine ourselves as someone different from who we feel we are. The question is how we access the inner conversations of others.

For many years, my wife and I have been involved with a telephone crisis line.  Sometimes calls involve "problem pregnancies." Since the line is philosophically committed to a Rogerian non-directive approach to counseling, we do not tell people what to do. We see our role as providing a safe space in which callers can talk about things that they don't feel comfortable talking about in other settings and sorting out what they want to do. The service provided is confidential and completely anonymous, and volunteers go through several months of training in basic listening skills: silence, minimal encouragers (what my wife calls the "sublinguistic grunts"), paraphrasing, open-ended questions, and, rarely used, and even more rarely successfully, something called "intuitive decoding," which basically means taking a stab at identifying something that the caller appears to want to talk about but hasn't been able to articulate.

This is the context from which my question about rapport emerges. One thing we have noticed over the years is that different combinations of listening skills work better or worse depending on the caller's native language. Japanese speakers, for example, use minimal encouragers far more frequently than North American English speakers. The latter accept long periods of silence that will upset a Japanese speaker, whose conversational habits include this sort of feedback every few seconds.

I meant you had "got me", in the sense that I was looking for an essential self that does not exist.....I wonder to what degree parallels can be drawn between the "inner conversation" and Buddhist teachings on the nature of mind....  

With regard to how to access the inner conversation of others, I agree that this is very context specific and the best way to establish rapport, in my fieldwork, also depended from person to person and I didnt always get it right... 
John McCreery said:

"...so now are you going to ask me what I'm looking for?"

Not in the way that question sounds to me as I read it, a rhetorical "Gotcha!" That inner conversations exist and are frequently fraught with all sorts of issues having to do with the relation of a me, felt as inside, and a world, felt as outside, is, I feel, a natural consequence of the human condition, our ability, thanks to language and symbolizing more broadly, to imagine ourselves as someone different from who we feel we are. The question is how we access the inner conversations of others.

For many years, my wife and I have been involved with a telephone crisis line.  Sometimes calls involve "problem pregnancies." Since the line is philosophically committed to a Rogerian non-directive approach to counseling, we do not tell people what to do. We see our role as providing a safe space in which callers can talk about things that they don't feel comfortable talking about in other settings and sorting out what they want to do. The service provided is confidential and completely anonymous, and volunteers go through several months of training in basic listening skills: silence, minimal encouragers (what my wife calls the "sublinguistic grunts"), paraphrasing, open-ended questions, and, rarely used, and even more rarely successfully, something called "intuitive decoding," which basically means taking a stab at identifying something that the caller appears to want to talk about but hasn't been able to articulate.

This is the context from which my question about rapport emerges. One thing we have noticed over the years is that different combinations of listening skills work better or worse depending on the caller's native language. Japanese speakers, for example, use minimal encouragers far more frequently than North American English speakers. The latter accept long periods of silence that will upset a Japanese speaker, whose conversational habits include this sort of feedback every few seconds.

Interesting that you should mention Buddhist theories of mind. Just last night, Ruth and I had dinner with an old friend, a successful British businessman who is currently the CEO of the Japanese branch of a major US high-tech firm. He tells us that he is becoming a devotee of Geshe Michael Roach, the author of The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life. One of the lessons our friend attributes to Roach is that Buddhist "emptiness" is not nothingness. Roach likens it to a perfectly clear diamond through which you can see clearly what lies on the other side of it. 

How does the relate to the inner conversation? Everything I have read about Buddhist meditation suggests that the goal of meditation is to still that conversation, to see more clearly both oneself and the world of which we are all a part. That goal seems very different from the one that I, based on your account, ascribe to Archer—attending carefully to the inner conversation in an effort to detect a true self, the Actor, concealed behind the role, the Agent. 

Is this fair to Archer?

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.

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