The first series of debates fell short of the objective due to the fact that I didn’t clearly define procedures on how we should go about conducting it. I would like, therefore, to make another attempt at setting up this series. The process for selecting debaters is rather cumbersome, so I will ask for volunteers that are willing to take up or oppose a given issue. I would like to adopt the following:
1. Debate starts with the reading of the operative question and the selection of participants;
2. This will be followed by a brief period for points of clarification;
3. Debate is set to a minimum of 2 rounds but can be extended upward to four if requested by either participant;
4. Although there is no specific length to statements or rebuttal, we ask that debate be as concise and to the point as possible;
5. Following completion of the rounds, the operative question will be opened to discussion from the membership;
6. Participants may be asked if they are open to points of information following their respective rounds; and
7. Points of inquiry from the membership (to the participant) can only be made following the complete series of rounds.
8. After a period of one week, we will move to the next operative question.
We ask that all participants refrain from any sort of deliberately obstructive comments. Also, I would like to thank all the participants and those who thought this might be a worthwhile exercise.
A challenge that commonly appears in Western anthropological critique is the dichotomy that exists between the celebrated place of academic theory and the practical involvements and experience derived from fieldwork. QUES: Is this a major source of the problems and confusions in contemporary anthropology?
Thanks, John and Philip. There's life in the old dog yet, anthropology that is, which I firmly believe is on the edge of becoming what it was always meant to be, because the social and technical conditions for it are at last being put in place. I too am devoted to the academy which has served me very well (but my timing of entry was excellent). That is why I am so bitter about what it has become. From an individual's point of view, it is still a haven where imaginative scholars can find the time to research, think, teach and write. The main point is never to let the academy define the horizons of your activities and this becomes more difficult as time goes by.We should not be seduced by the notion that universities are 1,000 years old. In their present form they are only 100 years old or even less and they were designed to meet the needs of a social project (Hegel's) whose sell-by date is over, national capitalism. I still advise any young scholar to get a toehold in them if they can and anyone a bit older to get out if they can, at least partially.
Professionalism has its downside too. I once founded the small triple a, the amateur anthropological association, and I wasn't kidding. Amateurs do it for love, but they have to make a living too. I know what professionalism is from the inside. I was trained as a classicist at Cambridge. My teachers were the best in the world: Page on drama, Jones on Roman history, Guthrie on philosophy, Kirk and Raven on the Presocratics. But the life I was being prepared for as a literary critic was deeply dispiriting. I wanted to study and write about Aeschylus and Catullus, but they had been done. The job was to consolidate and expand the textual tradition. This meant arguing about whether a letter in a 12th century Spanish manuscript was an alpha and an eta. For my PhD I would be lucky to get some fragments of an obscure 4th century Roman satirist. The atmosphere in seminars was mean and pedantic.
I met Jack Goody in the college bar. He said he was organizing an anthropology seminar on clientship and I volunteered to give a paper on Roman clientship, then forgot about it. He reminded me two days before. I was desperate. For an undergraduate tutorial essay on the subject, I would have been expected to read all the Latin sources -- Cicero, Tacitus etc -- and build an argument using them. But I had no time for that. I went to the college library amd mugged up a couple of secondary sources like the Cambridge Ancient History. My paper was received rapturously by the anthropologists. I asked myself if these people knew anything at all about the methods of scholarship and decided they didn't.This was great. I was free. I converted to social anthropology like a shot, but it did seem like I was being transferred from AC Milan to Stockport County.
I have taken full advantage of the intellectual freedom that anthropology gave me, but I picked up some disciplines along the way: kinship algebra, statistics, historical linguistics, economese (how to write like an economist with no formal training in the subject, gained from moonlighting for The Economist), consultancy for the World Bank and so on. When I was teaching at Yale, my students were keen to discuss the theoretical positions in anthropology proposed by Chicago and Columbia. One day a voice spoke to me in the shower (I am bipolar, not schizophrenic) saying "Why read Marvin Harris when you haven't read Immanuel Kant?" and I resumed the course of a classicist, reading the major texts in the tradition in the original if possible. Taking advantage of anthropology's freedom is fine, but you have to do some serious intellectual work too, usually outside the academic discipline. Walk on two legs, I say, one foot inside and one outside, moving forward opportunistically in response to contingencies.
The fact is that anthropologists have achieved a lot by their amateurism. It's just that the benign academic conditions in of the 60s and 70s are fast disappearing. I have cited this before, but it is still the most pregnant short diagnosis of our predicament that I know. Foucault ended his “archaeology of the human sciences” (Les mots et les choses, The Order of Things, 1966) with some reflections on why psychoanalysis and social anthropology (ethnologie) “…occupy a privileged position in our knowledge”:
“…because, on the confines of all the branches of knowledge investigating man, they form a treasure-hoard of experiences and concepts, and above all a perpetual principle of dissatisfaction, of calling into question…what may seem, in other respects, to be established.” (1973 : 373) “[They] are not so much two human sciences among others, but they span the entire domain of those sciences, they animate its whole surface…[They] are ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences. (Ibid:379)
Foucault attributed anthropology’s originality to its being both “traditionally the knowledge we have of the peoples without histories” and “situated in the dimension of historicity”, by which he meant “within the historical sovereignty of European thought and the relation that can bring it face to face with all other cultures as well as with itself” (ibid : 376-7). He was sure the human sciences had reached their limit and this was doubly true of a discipline whose premises were being undermined by the collapse of European empire. Given the disappearance of the traditional object of anthropology, we have to find not only a new one, but also a theory and method appropriate to it. This means identifying the historicity of our own moment, as well as complementing ethnographic fieldwork with world history and humanist philosophy.
In a lecture that I published almost 25 years ago (Heads or tails? Man 1986) I wrote of the anthropological study of money that:Malinowski (1961 ) set a trend for anthropologists to dispute economic universals in polarised terms, juxtaposing exotic facts and western folk theories, without acknowledging the influence of contemporary history on their own ideas. My lecture had three parts which, taken together, constituted a method.
“First, we should be more explicitly aware of the concrete conditions which stimulate our interest in some abstract problems rather than others. This means asking what it is in the world as we experience it that informs our researches, whether directly or indirectly. Second, it is no good taking potshots at vulgar reductions of economic ideas, when the intellectual history of western economic thought is itself extremely plural, even contradictory. A constructive reading of that intellectual history might have served Malinowski’s ethnographic analysis better than the straw man he chose to attack. Finally, when historical awareness and a more sophisticated intellectual apparatus are combined with our discipline’s standby of ethnographic fieldwork, the resulting anthropological analysis offers a more secure foundation for critical understanding of the world in which we live.” (Hart, 1986 : 637).
So I first located the problem of money in contemporary economic history, arguing that state control of money was being undermined in the leading capitalist societies. Then I traced two strands of western monetary theory explaining money as a token of authority issued by states or as a commodity made by markets. These strands came together in the writings of Keynes (1930). But, rather than acknowledge the interdependence of top-down and bottom-up social organization (“heads and tails”), economic policy has swung wildly between the two extremes (“heads or tails?”). Last I showed that the token/commodity pair could inform a reanalysis of Malinowski’s ethnography.
“Anthropologists have to be capable of comparing their exotica with a more profound picture of ideas and realities in the industrial world that sustains us. Conventional economic reasoning fails to enlighten us because it is so unremittingly one-dimensional. The coin has two sides for a good reason – both are indispensable. Money is at the same time an aspect of relations between persons and a thing detached from persons….Today’s effort is an act of bricolage rather than brokerage, formed from a vision of the anthropologist as a handyman who can help repair the damage done by professionals.” (Ibid : 638-9).
So there we have it:back to bricolage, the anthropologist as tinker. The main problem is who is going to pay for it? I never bought the idea that I would be safe as a proletarian in the employ of the universities and always had an escape route to earn my living as a professional gambler. And boy was I professional! It was so boring that, as soon as I got offered a chance to come back into the universities, I grabbed it. Academic life is actually more entertaining than most ways of earning a living. We sell ourselves short, but the range of skills we have to master to get by is impressive compared with almost any other job.
So there is an affinity of sorts between life in the academy and that of the freelance bricoleur. It just takes some courage and pateince to work out how to combine them or. if not, to support a genuinely free existence as an intellectual who loves anthropology. Remeber that freedom always come from accepting necessity in some other part of your life.
Thanks to all the comments from the membership during the points of information phase. The debaters will take a short period to assimilate what has been offered and a second round will begin shortly.
I finally had time to look through this: it is great! Neil, can you remind people what you are expecting from the debate - I have to admit I am still unclear about the 'rules'. One of the major givens of the internet is people's unbelievably short attention span - me culpa.
Neil Turner said:Thanks to all the comments from the membership during the points of information phase. The debaters will take a short period to assimilate what has been offered and a second round will begin shortly.
It may be worth reminding ourselves that the distinction field/academy was built on distance in time and space. The Torres straits were far away in terms of the time it took to travel the 13000 miles or so by Steam. The Iroquois were on Morgan's doorstep by contrast.
The current context is one where the communicational distance has reduced to days or hours or simultaneity. But the guess work concerns the relation of academy plus field plus internet, the emergence of which coincided with the PoMo argument that anthropologists write literature about places that don't exist in the stable form they claim. John makes some interesting comments on the bottom line of the new medium in another thread (below:). The latterday academy-field relation will take whatever form it does from whatever workable relationship it can create to the possibilities of movement, fieldwork, internet communication etc. Field and academy are places to be for sure: ‘academy’ tends to be in relatively predictable geographical locations but this is changing quite fast and in some ways independently of internet communication which is still dominated by English plus North American cultural norms (outside the closed world of Mandarin): ‘field’/ object of study remains to some extent predictable in terms of topics that are acceptable or fit the bill for reproduction of ‘academy’ but this is also changing because what went before is ever more implausible.
the emergence of an Internet... mirrors the GINI coefficient in descriptions of national economies. In this respect the mathematics of the new social network physics are remarkably accurate. The net as a whole conforms to power laws which ensure the emergence of a few giant hubs and long tails of less well-connected nodes. Geeks dream of futures in which every notebook, tablet and phone is a wireless router, and the net is freed from dependence on communication monopolies. The fact remains that every additional petabyte of data requires expansion of already massive server farms, investments in routers with the capacity to power what Cisco calls "the human network." These, in turn, require growing amounts of electrical power, still largely generated by fossil fuel or nuclear powered generators. The need for industrial-scale capital investment has not gone away.