SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition Lecture 11: The Poetry of Culture (Poststructuralism & Discourse) Eric C. Thompson Semester 1, 2011/2012
Where Are We Going?
Part 1: What is Anthropology?
Strangers Abroad, Race, Culture
Part 2: What do Anthropologists Study?
Kinship, Gender, Economy, Community
Part 3: Current Debates and Trends
The “Crisis of Representation”
The Poetry of Culture
YOU ARE HERE
Anthropology and the Human Condition Part 3: Anthropology Now
Lectures 10-12, key questions:
What is the “Crisis of Representation” in Anthropology?
What is the shift from studying Culture to Discourse?
What are World Anthropologies?
Today’s Lecture: Outline
What is “Structural-Functionalism”?
What is “Discourse”?
What is “Poststructuralism”?
Examples of poststructuralist analysis:
Singaporean Culture… Does it exist??
Culture: A Complex, Adaptive System
CULTURE & SOCIETY in 20 th Century Anthropology
Culture = systems or structures of meaning (“webs of significance”)
Society = systems or structures of (exchange) relationships
Cultures and societies have a structure, different parts related to each other.
The different parts have functions, they “do” something in the structure/system.
The Problem with Structuralism
Fixed stereotypes & categories
Problem of change .
If structures (e.g. kinship, language) are persistent , how do we account for change ?
Is a culture (e.g. “Chinese culture”) always the same at different times, in different places?
Problem of human agency .
Are people’s lives determined by culture?
Post-structuralism and Agency How do we move beyond analytical structures, categories, and stereotypes that limit our ability to see an understand contemporary realities? How do we account for human agency – the potential of people to affect and change their social conditions of life? POST-STRUCTURALISM : an attempt to move anthropological analysis beyond the analytical confines of structures and categories.
Here’s the Problem . . .
If language & culture are changing all the time, how do we ever know what anything means??
“ . . .There's glory for you!"
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't--till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
“ The question is,“ said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."
“ Humpty-Dumpty” Meaning http://sundials.org/about/humpty.htm Do Language and Meaning really work like this? Through the Looking Glass , Lewis Carroll 1871
Culture includes Language and Linguistic systems of meaning; but also many systems or elements that we do not usually think of as “Linguistic”, for example:
Flags, Maps, Architecture, Food
Skin Color, Eye Shape and other “Signs” of Race
Body Language and Gestures
Discourse can refer to both Language and/or Culture “in use” (process)
The Idea of “Discourse”*
Language as a System
“ Langue” (language)
Culture (mid-20 th c.)
Language in Use
“ Parole ” (speech)
Discourse (late-20 th c.)
*These ideas come from Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacque Derrida, and others.
Structure and Meaning Consider the following sentences:
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
(2) Sleep ideas green furiously colorless.
Are either of these sentences meaningful ? Why or Why Not?
Structure and Meaning: Colorless Green Ideas
(1) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.*
Structurally (grammatically) sound.
(2) Sleep ideas green furiously colorless.
Are either of these sentences meaningful ? Why or Why Not? *Famous example used by linguist Noam Chomsky.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
Structure and Meaning: Jabberwocky Is “Jabberwocky” meaningful, or just nonsense? http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html Through the Looking Glass , Lewis Carroll 1871
Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought.
So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through & through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
‘ And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
What “Structures” are found in Jabberwocky?
What “Structures” are found in Jabberwocky?
English language (words and grammar)
Father & Son
He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son !
Come to my arms, my beamish boy !
These STRUCTURES allow us to interpret Jabberwocky’s “nonsense”
Structure, Discourse, Meaning
Structure enables meaning, but does not (completely) determine it.
Meaning emerges through discourse – between subjects (it is “intersubjective”).
Encoding and decoding.
Speaking and interpreting.
Writing and reading.
Because it is intersubjective , meaning is never fixed .
Examining the emergence of meaning .
“ Post –” (after, beyond, out of).
Going beyond “structure” to understand, interpret meaning.
But, this does not mean there is no structure!
Poststructuralism is a mode of analysis , not a quality of things (such as cultural practices, social relationships, etc.).
Examples of poststructuralist analysis . . .
Abu-Lughod examines “traditional” Bedouin Poetry.
Are the women reciting these poems merely echoing hundreds of years of tradition?
What about Abu-Lughod’s analysis is “poststructural”?
ELLA : Malaysia’s Ratu Rock (Queen of Rock-and Roll)
Is Ella’s music just a copy of American rock-and-roll?
What structures is she drawing on?
How is she transforming those structures?
What does USA stand for?
Semalam kau kata kau cinta
Hari ini sudah lain pula jadinya,
Kau kata kepadaku kita bercinta
Ala Amerika . . .
Kita hidup dengan budaya
Jangan terpengaruh dengan
Barat dan Timur jauh berbeza . . .
Yesterday you said you were in love
Today it’s (another story)
You say to me that we are in love
A la America (American style)
We live with culture,
Don’t be swayed by
West and East are far different . . .
"When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
Ju/’hoansi Complaint Discourse
What does complaining among elderly Ju/’hoansi have to do with poetry and song?
Complaint (and styles of complaint) is a cultural resource among Ju/’hoansi.
Elderly Ju/’hoansi draw on this resource discursively to express their feelings and influence their kin.
Culture and Discourse
CULTURE is a Complex Adaptive System
A “web of meanings”
DISCOURSE is the Process through which Culture Changes
How do we weave that web?
“ It’s a mistake to name a process after a product… you can still go fishing if you never catching a fish…” ( from “Sight Unseen” )
1st Generation Cultural Structures (Grammars, Words, Styles, Signifiers) 1st Generation Agents (Subjects/Individuals) (Drawing on the Structures to relate to others , influence action , interpret meanings – their own and others ) Culture as an Iterative Process Agents are “Subjects” of (“subject to”) cultural structures – they cannot operate meaningfully outside of the structure. Cultural Structures are emergent structures, dependent on the agents for their existence.
1st Generation Cultural Structures 1st Generation Agents (Subjects) 2nd Generation Agents (Subjects) 2nd Generation Cultural Structures Culture always changes, because agents never reproduce it “perfectly”
Singapore… Ain’t Got No Culture?
“ In the old days… you had the time and the isolation to develop your own (culture) and create something distinctive… Now you have to synthesize all the time…
“ The basis of our culture is what we inherited from our original countries, our original cultures. So every Chinese Singaporean takes that as his heritage. It doesn’t belong to China, it belongs as much to you as to me…”
MM Lee Kuan Yew (Straits Times, 2008)
What is Authentic Culture?
What is Authentic Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other Culture?
What is Authentic Singaporean Culture?
Culture is what we make it and make of it.
What is “authentic Chinese culture”? What is “authentic Singapore culture”? Royston Tan – director of “15” and other films. Li Po (701-762) ; T’ang Dynasty Poet
What is “authentic Malay culture”? What is “authentic Singapore culture”?
Malay Culture... Singapore 2007
Ketupat + Hang Jebat + Wau Bulan + Sampan + Minah + Kebaya + Vespa + Soccer + Guitar + Void Deck + Laid Back + Aim Hereafter + Humble + Modest + Kampung + Sopan + Adat + Gotong + Royong + Peaceful + Loving + Siti . . . That’s Malay to Me…
Singapore’s National Culture
National Day Parade and Songs
“ We Live in Singapura”
Both of these and all our mundane, everyday thoughts, practices and communication (discourse) are continually producing, reproducing, creating and changing “Singaporean Culture”