Sc2218 lecture 10 (2010)


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Lecture 10: Ethnography and the Crisis of Representation

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Sc2218 lecture 10 (2010)

  1. 1. SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition Lecture 10: Anthropology, Ethnography and the Crisis of Representation Eric C. Thompson Semester 1, 2010/2011
  2. 2. Where Are We Going? <ul><li>Part 1: What is Anthropology? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Strangers Abroad, Race, Culture </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Part 2: What do Anthropologists Study? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Kinship, Gender, Economy, Community </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Part 3: Current Debates and Trends </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The “Crisis of Representation” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Poetry of Culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>World Anthropologies </li></ul></ul>YOU ARE HERE
  3. 3. To Summarize… Domains Anthropologists Study: <ul><li>Kinship: Cultural concepts for organizing social relationships based on family ties. </li></ul><ul><li>Gender: Cultural concepts for organizing social relationships based on sex. </li></ul><ul><li>Economy: Cultural concepts for organizing social relationships of exchange. </li></ul><ul><li>Community: Cultural processes for imagining group identities. </li></ul>
  4. 4. From Domains of Study to Questions of Representation <ul><li>In this module, we have looked at… </li></ul><ul><li>Part 1: Foundations of Modern Anthropology </li></ul><ul><li>Part 2: Domains Anthropologists Study </li></ul><ul><li>Part 3: How is Anthropology Changing (from the 20 th century into the 21 st century)? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Issues of representation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Issues of reflexivity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Example: Consider issues of how nations and other communities are represented (America, Singapore, etc.) </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. In This Lecture… <ul><li>Anthropology c.1960-1980 </li></ul><ul><li>What is the “Crisis of Representation” in anthropology? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Writing Culture / Critiquing Ethnography </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What is the basis of Questioning Anthropological Representations? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gender </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ethnicity, Race </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Revisiting and Revising Ethnography </li></ul><ul><li>Ongoing Debates… </li></ul>
  6. 6. Anthropology c.1960-1980 <ul><li>Scientific, Structural-Functional Approach </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural Relativism; Non-hierarchical (no culture is better than another; they are just different) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-evolutionary (rejection of unilinear evolution of cultural ‘stages’ from 19 th c.) </li></ul><ul><li>Societies and Cultures seen as “Whole”, functional, equilibrium systems (structures) of thought and behavior </li></ul><ul><li>Most anthropologists are white (European / American) men doing research in the “Third World”. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Challenges c.1960-1980 <ul><li>If cultures are whole, equilibrium systems, how does one account for change? </li></ul><ul><li>Entry of larger numbers women and non-Europeans into anthropology, began to question male and Euro-centric biases. </li></ul><ul><li>Critique of Ethnography: Representations of “Others” by Europeans for Europeans </li></ul><ul><li>Critique of Colonialism, Anthropology’s Role </li></ul><ul><li>Globalization, Urbanization, Rapid Change </li></ul>
  8. 8. “ Sight Unseen” (An Example of “New” Ethnography) <ul><li>The film compares points of view of members of a Balinese family with those of visitors to Bali. What different points-of-view are emphasized? </li></ul><ul><li>What examples does the film provide? What counter-examples are in the film? </li></ul><ul><li>What does the film mean about “mistaking a process for a product”? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the point of the guy walking around with the ice cream cart??? </li></ul>
  9. 9. Representing Bali <ul><li>View of the tourist (structural anthropologist?) – looking for the ‘authentic’ Bali, the ‘real’ Balinese culture. </li></ul><ul><li>View of the Balinese (poststructuralist?) – creating and recreating “Balinese” culture in their everyday life. </li></ul>Structural... Culture… “Product” Poststructural... Discursive… “Process” *Does the film privilege the “product” or “process”? *Is either more “real” than the other?”
  10. 10. The “Crisis of Representation” <ul><li>How have anthropologists represented the people they study? </li></ul><ul><li>How and why are these representations problematic? </li></ul><ul><li>Issues from the reflexive “Writing Culture” movement of the 1980s & 1990s.* </li></ul>*Reflexive – an action directed or turned back on the agent of that action; marked by or capable of reflection
  11. 11. Contributing to the “Crisis”… <ul><li>Critiques of Ethnography </li></ul><ul><li>Feminist Standpoint Epistemology </li></ul><ul><li>De-Colonization; Association of Anthropology with Colonialism </li></ul><ul><li>Shift from studying Culture to studying Power </li></ul>
  12. 12. Ethnography <ul><li>“ Ethno” – Etymology: French, from Greek ethno-, ethn-, from ethnos : race : people : cultural group < ethno centric>* </li></ul><ul><li>“ graphy” - 1 : writing or representation* </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnography is “writing about or representation of a group of people” </li></ul><ul><li>Lee’s The Dobe Ju/’hoansi is a classic example of Ethnography. </li></ul>*
  13. 13. Writing Culture / Anthropology as Cultural Critique <ul><li>Approaching Ethnography as a literary genre. </li></ul><ul><li>Influenced by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Clifford Geertz (1970s - ) (anthropology as interpretation ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>James Clifford (1980s - ) (ethnography as literature) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Seeking new approaches to ethnographic writing </li></ul>
  14. 14. Power & Politics of Representation <ul><li>Representations are cultural – they are models of the world and models for the world . (They shape how we think and act.) </li></ul><ul><li>Gender and Racial/Ethnic representations shape our beliefs of ourselves and others. </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnographic representations shape our understanding of peoples represented. </li></ul><ul><li>Does it matter who does the representing?* </li></ul><ul><li>Does it matter who the author is? </li></ul>*The argument that it does matter is sometimes called standpoint epistemology ; i.e. knowledge is not neutral, but depends on your point of view (or ‘standpoint’)
  15. 15. Case 1: Gender Man the Hunter <ul><li>Evolutionary Anthropology & Concepts of Gender </li></ul><ul><li>“ Man the Hunter ” was the dominant representation of our ancestors… </li></ul><ul><li>Men central actors, Women “along for the ride” </li></ul>
  16. 16. Woman the Hunter?
  17. 17. Did Women ever Evolve?
  18. 18. Ever?
  19. 19. The Woman That Never Evolved <ul><li>Critique of androcentric* theory. </li></ul><ul><li>Male anthropologists focused on males and never paid attention to all the things females do… </li></ul><ul><li>Females choose mates. </li></ul><ul><li>Females compete. </li></ul><ul><li>Females forge social bonds. </li></ul><ul><li>Females socialize infants. </li></ul><ul><li>In all of these ways females (more than males) drive evolution . </li></ul>Sarah Hrdy * Androcentric : Centered on or biased toward men.
  20. 20. “ Feminist Standpoint Epistemology” <ul><li>Epistemology – Knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Standpoint – Point of view; position </li></ul><ul><li>Feminism – Taking women seriously </li></ul><ul><li>The idea that knowledge is never completely neutral or objective; knowledge is always produced from a particular standpoint… in social science, traditionally from the standpoint of affluent, heterosexual, European men. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Case 2: Social Evolution <ul><li>19 th C. European Idea </li></ul><ul><li>All societies progress through stages </li></ul><ul><li>Europeans = most advanced </li></ul><ul><li>Justification of European Colonial Rule </li></ul>Lower Savagery Middle Savagery Upper Savagery Lower Barbarism Middle Barbarism Upper Barbarism Civilization Lewis Henry Morgan’s Scheme of Social Evolution L.H. Morgan
  22. 22. Critiquing Anthropology <ul><li>Talal Asad: Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter </li></ul><ul><li>Syed Hussein Alatas: The Myth of the Lazy Native </li></ul><ul><li>Daniel Goh: Ethnographic Empire </li></ul><ul><li>These and many others have critiqued hidden the Eurocentric ideology in much 19 th and 20 th century anthropology. </li></ul>Talal Asad Daniel Goh Syed Hussein Alatas * Eurocentric : Centered on or biased toward Europe or European people.
  23. 23. “ On Cannibalism” <ul><li>To what sort of representations is the narrator reacting? </li></ul><ul><li>What is at stake in these representations? </li></ul>
  24. 24. Are Anthropological Representations about Power? <ul><li>Who gets to “represent” whom? </li></ul><ul><li>What do these representations mean? </li></ul><ul><li>What are their effects? </li></ul><ul><li>Is a “World’s Fair” about diversity or European superiority? </li></ul>
  25. 25. Ethno… (a group of people) graphy… (writing about or of) Revisited and Revised…
  26. 26. “ These peoples (foragers) , despite their cultural and geographic diversity, have a core of features in common , and this core of features represents the basic human adaptation stripped of the accretions and complications brought about by agriculture, urbanization, advanced technology, and national and class conflict – all of the “advances” of the last few thousand years .” (Lee 2003: 3) Echoes of 19 th Century Social Evolution in Lee’s Dobe Ju/’hoansi
  27. 27. A “Land Filled with Flies”* <ul><li>Wilmsen: Critique of Lee and others. </li></ul><ul><li>!Kung-San (incl. Dobe Ju/’hoansi) foragers are made to represent a earlier stage in human evolution. But this is inaccurate. </li></ul><ul><li>Foragers have a history, including a history of pastoralism (cattle herding). </li></ul><ul><li>Foraging is an effect of politics, marginalization and impoverishment; NOT a reflection of our evolutionary past. </li></ul>*The land is “filled with flies because of cattle. Many San people are now and in the past were cattle herders.
  28. 28. “ I no longer believe that studies of contemporary hunter-gatherers are primarily a tool for understanding the evolution of human behavior . Understanding hunter-gatherer ecology, however important, is not enough. One has to both build on it and transcend it by looking at adaptation in a much broader sense, including the internal dynamics of foragers and their articulation with wider political economies .” (Lee 2003: 195) Lee Revised (in response to criticisms)
  29. 29. Ongoing Debates… <ul><li>Who is “representing” whom? </li></ul><ul><li>Who has the power (political, social, economic, cultural capital) to produce representations? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the effects of the representations we produce? </li></ul><ul><li>Should people only represent themselves and not “others”? </li></ul><ul><li>If so, who counts as “us” (selves) and “them” (others)? </li></ul><ul><li>Does this just reinforce racism, sexism, nationalism, ethnocentrism? </li></ul>
  30. 30. Subjectivity, Fieldwork, Representation <ul><li>Young </li></ul><ul><li>Malay </li></ul><ul><li>Muslim </li></ul><ul><li>Malaysian </li></ul><ul><li>Rural </li></ul><ul><li>Women </li></ul><ul><li>Young </li></ul><ul><li>Malay </li></ul><ul><li>Muslim </li></ul><ul><li>Malaysian </li></ul><ul><li>Rural </li></ul><ul><li>Men </li></ul>Aihwa Ong UC Berkeley Eric Thompson National U of Singapore
  31. 31. Ongoing Debates… <ul><li>The critique of anthropology has resulted in a “crisis of representation”… </li></ul><ul><li>Do we stop doing anthropology, ethnography, cross-cultural research? </li></ul><ul><li>Or do we do it differently , more reflexively , perhaps even…. better ?* </li></ul>*Many postmodernists do not believe in “better”… but that is another story 
  32. 32. Final Thoughts… <ul><li>How are different groups of people represented in Singapore? </li></ul><ul><li>Who creates or controls these representations? </li></ul><ul><li>Who are the “others” against which you have learned to think about who you are? </li></ul><ul><li>What sort of ideological work does this do; what kind of systems of power does it support? </li></ul>Anthropologists think about these questions both in reflecting on their own writings and within the societies they study.