Week 9 & 10: Composing Discomfort and Slippage (Julia)

To retrace our steps, just as Kelly did, I would like to return to discuss some key thoughts about last week’s readings as well as to connect them to our present set of texts. To begin, I would like to turn to Nervous Conditions to reflect on the ways in which Cerwonka lays out and analyses the notion that the ethnographer must engage with ethics as a continually generative experience. As Cerwonka states, “good social research clearly demands a highly developed, ceaseless, daily engagement with ethics as a process” (4). This daily engagement with ethics constitutes, as Marcus and Fischer claim, the ethnographic “process of knowledge” (26). As we read Cerwonka’s text unfolding we saw how investing in ethics as a continual process of rigorous work means that one must deal with experiencing many emotional highs and lows as essential to one’s “practice of ‘understanding’”(5) as well as learn to sit in a perpetual underlying feeling of uncomfortableness.  I really liked how the exchanges between Cerwonka and Malkki really elucidated how significant and present the feeling of discomfort is for the fieldworker as well as how this discomfort is, fundamentally, a function of continually being engaged with the ethical dimensions of being an ethnographer.

As we read Cerwonka’s experiences, her uncomfortableness was partially a result of the precarious inside/outside status of the fieldworker as at once isolated and integrated within the community she is studying (echoing Clifford’s text from the week previous).  While Cerwonka challenges the archetypal masculinist ethnographic trope of considering anthropological objectivity as derivative of total isolation from the anthropologists own family/culture, Cerwonka still embodies a tangible complicated mixture of inside-out-of-place-ness while conducting her fieldwork. Furthermore, at the time that Cerwonka was having these e-mail exchanges with Malkki, she was, according to her disciplinary background, an “outsider” to anthropology.

In relation to Cerwonka’s reflexiveness and insider/outsider status, I would also like to discuss the situation that Kelly explored in her reflection regarding Cerwonka’s deliberations about deciding to watch a woman being strip searched by the police. I share Kelly’s queries relating to engagement, intervention, complicity and the underlying concern of who is foremost benefiting in relation to this act. I found myself not completely satisfied by Cerwonka’s honesty and deliberations post-decision because I felt that she was utilizing what she articulated as a bad choice to serve as a good instance in which to further along and renew her commitment to processing ethics. The problem for me is that while Cerwonka was processing her ethical convictions through writing, she did not seem to be enacting her conviction through actions during or after the fact. My question is: what is the merit of Cerwonka’s ethical work through writing if she will witness a woman be subjected to a racist, sexist and fatphobic police assault without advocating for her at the time of the assault of afterwards? This is likely seeming dogmatic and to be honest I am having a hard time thinking of it in any other way. This is why I think it would be extremely useful to examine this kind of ethical query in relation to the anthropologist as a witness in our discussion tomorrow.

Moving along! All these questions about ethical methodology leads me to an examination of Malkki’s notion that the improvisational quality of ethnographic methodology can be compared to jazz. As Cerwonka states, “improvisation in ethnographic research grows out of extensive training and lends such research heuristic flexibility, as a result, a high degree of empirical precision” (23). I cannot help but think of this analogy between ethnography and jazz in relation to this week’s examination of race. What does it mean to compare a nuanced mode of ethnographic methodology to a musical genre whose origins are wholly steeped in African/American culture? Can the stylistic musical qualities that define jazz be utilized in this instance while leaving its origins out? Especially because the stylistic qualities themselves were derivative of, and generated through, particular African American aesthetic sensibilities? Perhaps this is a null point? In any case, this analogy reminds me of the piece “The Syntax of Scat” (2002) in which Brant Edward’s tells of the origins of scat music as deriving from Louis Armstrong dropping a sheet of music during a recording and then making up a series of words and noises to get himself through the song. Because this literal dropping of the paper was responsible for starting the genre, Edward’s contextualizes scat as a site of “slippage” and disarticulation. This slippage and disarticulation was further meant to elucidate how the pain of a history of racial violence could never be communicated through formalized language and could only be told through moans and incomprehensible sounds, jerks and expressions.

I relate Edward’s analysis of scat to our readings in a few different ways. In regards to Cerwonka’s first experience in the field, she seems to undergo this significant feeling of slippage from her well trained scholarly ways of knowing. In the past few weeks we have been reading about the ethnographer’s writing practices and the importance of going through this process of dis-orientation and dis-organization that are so essential to the process of undoing and bringing to consciousness the subtle and palpable feelings and knowledges that ethnographers bring into their examinations. And although in the end our writing is supposed to turn into a finely tuned composition, perhaps it always belongs to scat, belongs to a melody that could only be formed, that could only resonate, as a form of slippage? As Marcus and Fischer explain, field work essentially “has been a messy, qualitative experience in contrast to the positivist social-science vision of method” (22). Perhaps it also belongs to scat, or rather, is part of scat, in the sense that the origins of anthropology are entrenched within the systems of racism that produced this painful moaning that lingers on the tongues and in the bodies of racialized people. And furthermore, an increased awareness of colonialism and racial inequities meant that anthropology had to drop the methodological composition that formerly orchestrated it – just as Armstrong had to drop his piece of paper – and learn how to improvise. In other words, the terrible realities of racial violence that occurred outside of and within ethnographic texts could only be accounted for in anthropology through creating a slippage within the discipline, creating – as Marcus and Fischer point out – a crisis of sorts, a period of profound disarticulation.


With this in mind, I would like to turn to this weeks readings. As I am aware that I this response is already quite long I will give a short recounting of my major thoughts from these texts and will endeavor to incorporate them further in my response for next week. As Kelly did such a great job of synthesizing and examining Stoler’s provocative piece, I would like to examine only one particular aspect of “Carnal Knowledge” that I feel also ties into Foucualt, as well as Rose & Nova’s texts. Stoler explains how degeneracy was defined as “‘departures from the normal human type… transmitted through inheritance and lead[ing] progressively to destruction” (62). In explaining the value of children born of a union between a European male and a concubine, Stoler states, “children of these unions were ‘the fruits of a regrettable weakness’, physically marked and morally marred with ‘the defaults and mediocre qualities of their mothers” (68). Later on Stoler concludes, “The categories of colonizer and colonized were secured through notions of racial difference constructed in gendered terms” (75). Also commenting on race, Foucault states, “In a normalizing society, race or racism is the precondition that makes killing acceptable” (256). After discussing Nazism, Foucault argues that “Socialism was racism from the outset” (261).

The aim that I have in referencing so many quotes is to query whether these authors are missing incorporating an analysis of a feature that is essential to formulating the very notion of biological race. The concept of biological race, and of unequal biologies based on race, is fundamentally premised on a system of biovalue that favours and condemns certain biological traits over others. Hence, the mixed-raced child born of the concubine is framed as biologically weak and defaulted. But it is only because biological “defaults” and “weaknesses” were demonized, stigmatized and discriminated against, that races perceived as embodying such features could legitimately and justifiably be discriminated against. Hence, race becomes biological degeneracy, and perhaps the reason this held so much discursive biopolitical power is because biological degeneracy was impacted with the power to exile the person to whom it (apparently) belonged. Hence, while “Racism justifies the death-function in the economy of biopower” (258), ableism is the grounds in which the very notion of biological racial inequity is formed. Accordingly, ableism justifies racism which then justifies death. As a result, biological racism is only ever biological ableism strategically applied to the concept of race in order to justify it. Maybe I am on the wrong track with this but I really think it would be interesting to throw disability into the mix in our discussion this week about race, as I feel that both race and sex have been, and continue to be, enacted through it. Furthermore, examining biopolitics with this in mind might be interesting?

As my closing remarks, it was very interesting to read how biopower, as it was taken up in Rose & Nova’s “biopower today” and Foucault’s lecture was expanded upon by Rose in the article we read last week in preparation for Rose’s talk. Rose’s explain how this biopolitical move into the “technologization of vitality” has lead to a shift of subjectivity in which we understand ourselves as “somatic” individuals” (The Human Sciences in the Name of ‘Biology’, 2). And in this present phenomenon of somatic individualism and biological citizenship, our constant dedication to the project of life and vitality minituralizes in to one that is subjected to a molecular gaze in which our “life processes are anatomized at a molecular level” (1) thus multiplying our attention and responsibilization to ourselves to the magnitude of a microscopic pointillism that constitutes our intercellular functions. While I really enjoyed reading these texts and examining the where’s and what’s of biopolitics and beyond, what I thought was missing was a comprehensive analysis of how this biopolitical terrain is always imbued with, and informed through, conceptions of biovalue.

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week 9 & 10 (kelly): boundaries, metaphors and methodologies

I want to begin this week with Allaine Cerwonka’s introductory chapter to Nervous Conditions before delving into this week’s theme of biopolitical formations. Primarily, I want to use this reading to address some of the anxieties and tensions I outlined in my post two weeks ago, which Julia pointed to as well. She wonders: “how to turn ‘unruly experience’ into an ‘authoritative written account’, but also becomes how to faithfully write an interpretive account of a cross cultural encounter ‘shot through with power relations’” (Julia citing Clifford, 120). Or, articulated differently, the tensions and anxieties that surround the proliferation of moments of “intellectual disorder” (Cerwonka, 5; emphasis added). The main methodological problem I have had with ethnographic practice is the relationship between theory and the world or between theoretical frameworks and objects. I think I have the bad habit of wanting to fully theoretically apprehend an object I am studying before even encountering the object itself. Moreover, most of the time, the objects I want to interrogate are theoretical concepts.

Cerwonka outlines a process of “tacking between ethnographic details and theoretical concepts” (15) and between “part and whole, fieldwork and theory” (18). What she makes clear in her exchange with Liisa Malkki is that the uncertainty and disorder that arises from using theory, not as a totalizing framework but as a way to think through the ethnographic encounter, are in fact generative and that a fixed and predetermined theoretical/explanatory frame is stifling. More broadly, as Cerwonka point out, the exchange between herself and Malkki illustrates how ethnography is not a methodology and cannot be reduced to “a set of standardized techniques” (20). Moreover, Cerwonka is, in the strictest sense of the term, not an anthropologist and, as a result, does not have the taken-for-granted knowledge afforded by a strict disciplinary training; a fact that she states directly in this chapter. It almost feels like these are the things we dare not mention as academics, that we maybe don’t know the answer.

Finally, I want to address the question of ethics. Cerwonka brings up the ethical question towards the end of the chapter when she points to “an ethics of engagement” (30). This ethic surrounds the problems of becoming “too close” to the research subject (30). Although I am attracted to this kind of ethics, one that is fluid and contextually bound, I worry that it, in some ways still privileges that ethical position of the researcher. While Cerwonka acknowledges that, in the case of the woman who was strip-searched, her own body (Cerwonka) became aligned with that of the police, in terms of a power relation. Cerwonka states how she became aware of her ethical “misjudgment” (34) because she felt claustrophobic; the axis in which she negotiates this ethical problem is through her own body. I guess what I am concerned with here is the role of the researcher in such a situation: can an ethics of engagement become an ethics of intervention? Moreover, should Cerwonka have maybe (and this is not to mean that doesn’t elsewhere, this is just an introduction after all) looked more closely at her own complicity? Was the spectacle for her benefit? Because, in a sense I feel that she somehow benefits (a good example for her book) from this fairly troubling interaction. How does the ethnographer account for these kinds of ‘benefits’ whether desired or simply a by-product of the ethnographic process? I have been struggling with these questions since last week and hope that we can address them more fully on Friday.

What was meant to be a quick note exploded into a series of anxieties and concerns, on to the biopolitics…

Continuing with questions of methodology, I want to begin with the Stoler piece. Her work illustrates this tacking and back and forth between theory and the field that Cerwonka describes. Although very much an anthropological analysis, Stoler’s field is a historical field. This is an “anthropology of empire” (Stoler, 43) that is concerned with the (biopolitical) tactics used to maintain the various “boundaries separating colonizer from colonized” (42). A project that in many ways brings to mind Douglas’ work on contagion; Stoler is charting the sites of racial and sexual contagion in the colonies: women’s bodies. And, as she analyses “discourses [that] tie fears of sexual contamination, physical danger, climatic incompatibility, and moral breakdown to the security of a European national identity with a racist class-specific core” (Stoler, 46), Stoler makes it clear that her aim is to “unpack what is metaphor, what is perceived as dangerous (is it disease, culture, climate or sex?), and what is not” (Stoler, 46).

While not her explicit intent, Stoler is articulating something that has resurfaced time and time again in our readings: the slippage between metaphor and matters of fact or metaphor and the world. Stoler situates her project in the distinction between metaphor and what is dangerous (ie: what has ‘real’ effects on ‘real’ bodies) in order to attend to this (conceptual?) slippage. I see this distinction as being essential for the ethnographer to attend to: her fieldwork can become metaphor and there are metaphors that circulate in the field. Granted, I understand that I may be reading too much into this little methodological detail; nonetheless, I feel it is an important problematic for the ethnographer.

Stoler’s work also functions as a multi-scalar critique. She locates individual women’s bodies as the boundaries between different populations. She delineates various colonial technologies or tactics that worked to regulate these potentially unruly bodies; technologies that have as their aim the control women’s bodies in order to regulate “man-as-species” (Foucault, 243). Although the body in Stoler’s work is both racialized and gendered, it is a “new body, a multiple body, a body with so many heads that, while they might not be infinite in number, cannot be necessarily be counted” (Foucault, 243). It is this new, multiple, infinite body that we need to be careful with questions of scale or what Rabinow & Rose call, following Deleuze, “the molar and the molecular” (204). Not only do we need to tack back and forth between theory and the world but also between the molar and the molecular.

Finally, it is important to note that the readings this week that biopolitics is not some conceptual framework removed from the world. A politics aimed at the organization of life-itself can never be separated from the living world. And, in many ways this is a politics of purification or of “control over the relations of the human race, or human beings in so far as they are a species” (Foucault, 245). Although, I have read some of the readings before this week, rereading them in context of this course, I am realizing that biopolitical formations or a politics of life are huge projects of racial annihilation, but occur more insidiously in our everyday life. What it does draw our attention to is the reality that the State is concerned not with killing but with fostering life, but that such a fostering of life requires that some living-being be let die. As we move into questions of multispecies ethnography and/or citizenship, the biopolitical field will, I believe, become more complicated.

As a concluding thought, I would like to maybe focus our discussion around race and the biopolitical order. Anthropology’s topic is, in many ways, examining the boundaries of racial formations. And, while in many ways the topic of the course, I am not sure if we have really spoken to the problem of ‘race’, specifically the relationship between race and culture or racial contamination and cultural contamination (Stoler). What are the boundaries between racial and cultural formations? How does the biopolitical order map onto cultural formations?

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week 9: No Posts

No posts next week but we will address this week’s readings (plus the extra Nick Rose reading from History and Theory working group) next week.

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Week 8: Tables Traveling Inwards (Julia)

The anthropologists we read for this week have a very different relationship with the order of things than those that we have been reading up until this point. I felt that these author’s brought us back to the place where we began: the operating table, in the sense that they seemed to exist on the same table, the same grid, as Foucault. The focus in this week’s readings was not to recognize the prime imperative of the anthropologist as the cultural agent responsible for finding the inner laws, for prying open the hidden source of truth that holds the innate order of a person, a species, a culture, a society, the universe. With these anthropologist, no longer is life percieved as intrinsically modeled upon some kind of ethereal blueprint template through which this thing called human relations was built. Rather human relations is enacted through the real-time discursive formations that constitute the ever shifting nature of cultural life. Accordingly, the writers of this week reorient the role of the anthropologist as primarily dedicated to denaturalizing the inherent naturalness attributed to structure and order. As Douglas states in reference to dirtiness and cleanliness, “ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose a system on an inherently untidy experience”. Hence, “it is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, about and below, male and female, with an against, that a semblance of order is created” (3). Thus, our processes of categorization that structures the seemingly natural order of things is only achieved through cultivating and hyperbolizing the difference between two entities constructed as oppositional. To Douglas, order becomes a matter of contrived difference and similitude rather than a source of authenticity.

Geertz also reconfigures the positionality of “structure” and order in  his piece, “Thick Description: Towards and Interpretive Theory of Culture”. Even the title, which explicitly indicates a direction towards a theory of culture via interpretation, gestures to a profound reorientation of not only the possibilities of anthropology, but the possibilities of culture itself.  Whereas Spencer, Tylor, Morgan, and so many others we have read seemed to think that the science of anthropology was in some serious way committed to wrenching out the secret truth of existence that lay buried somewhere deep and obscure – as if they were mining for gold – this week, Geertz and co. locate the quest of the anthropologist to identifying the various ways that structure is structured. Accordingly, the job of the anthropologist is to engage in an analysis that sorts out “the structures of signification” (9). And, as Clifford elucidates, the qualities which define an ethnographer belong to her ability to not only learn languages, and participate in direct involvement and conversation but to be able to de-arrange “personal and cultural expectations” (119). The question now turns to one of: which structures are perceived as natural law? What are the social and ethical reasons/implications for why certain objects are perceived as natural? Moreover, the struggle of the ethnographer becomes not only how to turn “unruly experience” into an “authoritiative written account”, but also becomes how to faithfully write an interprative account of a cross cultural encounter “shot through with power relations” (120).

Hence, the anthropologist first must be aware, be able to identify, all the element of society that are taken to be essential and true. Second, the anthropologist must be able to denaturalize, defamiiarize, and make strange this truth. Third, the anthropologist must be able to take herself into account in each aspect of her ethnography. No longer is that coveted objective distance of the ethnographer as wholly isolated from her “subjects” considered morally, ethically, and scholarly acceptable. The anthropologists of this week demonstrate how political and cultural change raised all sorts of concerns about ethics and power relations. These concerns compelled the discipline to tork in dramatic and important ways. Most notably to me is the fact that the anthropologist could no longer get away with studying her subjects without also studying herself. Thus, ethnography opened up into a discipline that rigorously entailed that the writer go inside herself, examining her own ways of being as she would her subjects of study. As extensively discussed in Clifford’s piece, this moving inward of the anthropologist lent to significant discussions relating to writing practices as the primary methodology for creating an ethnographic text. As Clifford explicates, part and parcel of this meant identifying and investigating a connection between fiction and science (fiction as science?) in ethnographic work.

This general move to examine one’s writing practices and methodology lead to a prioritization of reflexiveness in which the anthropologist was to be accountable for her restrictions. For instance, Douglas asks: “How can he turn round upon his own thought-process and contemplate its limitations?” (6). Hence, the subject of this week’s texts –  instead of being the Kula, the neurotic, the “primitive”, the social organism – was the anthropologist herself and the complex concoction of limitations and abilities in which her thoughts stir. This focus on the anthropologist gave me so much more food for thought about what this figure,in all of its dynamic, fraught meanings, may actually be. As such, I found myself asking: What is this figure we refer to as the anthropologist? And what are the meanings embodied by the ethnohrapher? What kinds of written practices constitute her ethnographic texts? What kinds of rituals constitute the anthropologists notion of ethnographic knowledge? What kinds of relationships to language, observation and cultures is the anthropologist supposed to have? As Clifford explicates, the anthropologist ideally is she who comprehends the heteroglossic thickness of reality which means participating in the processual, often uncomfortable self-conscious struggle of examining and interpreting a cultural text, while being acutely aware of, and sometimes working against the grain of, one’s own experiences, affectations, and preconceptions.

I would now like to spend some time examining Clifford’s statement, “The predominant mode of modern fieldwork authority is signalled” ‘You are there, because I was there’” (118). I feel that in this sentence belongs an incredibly, almost impermeable thickness.  What can this mean, “you are there, because I was there”? What immediately comes to mind is the colonialist notion that the anthropologist’s visit actually brings his destination culture into existence. In one way this articulates the mores of colonialization in which The Other’s history only begins at the point of encounter with the colonizers. In another sense, this statement reminds me of Kelly’s incredible incorporation of Hacking’s concept of ‘making up people’. Hence, the eastern  “primitive” and “savage” were made when the anthropologist went there. Thus, how have anthropologists created subjects through encountering them? Futhermore, the distance placed between the “you” and the “I” in contrast with the “there” encapsulates the notion of travel, encapsulates this wide gulf that exists between the anthropologist and the subject. In saying this, I feel that this statement holds more than I am currently capable of explicating, but it is something that I cannot get out of my head and will no doubt return to as this course goes on.

To wrap up, what happened this week could be primarily encapsulated as the entrance of the form of anthropology devoted to making the strange familiar and the familiar strange. I also think there is something going on here in terms of the anthropologist enacting some kind of cognitive estrangement. I think cognitive estrangement might be a useful way to examine the way that the anthropologist makes oneself alien while perceiving their own culture and their own values in The Other. In any case, what this cognitive estrangement, or making the strange familiar and the familiar strange does is entirely reconfigure the legacy of anthropology and travel as physical distance is no longer necessary within this paradigm. There is no longer any imperative need to physically travel to search out another. What is foremost necessary is traveling inside oneself (ones culture) to find the alien. The anthropologist turns inward, her research subject becomes herself. But in this paradigm, the self is the other.

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week 8: back to the basics: reading and writing (kelly)

There are a few things happening in the readings this week that speak directly to the kinds of anxieties that, I think, both Julia and I have been having while reading these ‘foundational’ anthropological texts. One thing in particular that we have both pointed to is the empty space of the enthnographer. The enthnographer/anthropologist is a figure that has been haunting the texts both as the ‘scientific’ authority (observer) and the‘academic’ authority (author) or as Clifford describes it: “[the] fusion of general theory and empirical research, of cultural analysis with ethnographic description” (121). The problem is that this figure is in many ways not an invisible figure but is a scientific and heroic (124) “persona” that is able to get at “the heart of was culture more quickly” (124). What I seemed to struggle with most of all was how the fieldworker had to be, on the one hand, present in the everyday day life of the field and, on the other hand, wholly absent from the stories that they are telling. It is this double duty of a simultaneous absence and presence that I have found the most troubling up until now. The ethnographer needs to be physically present in the field and also, at the same time, absent from the texts that they are writing. And, it wasn’t until this week that I also began to think about writing, in the ethnographic process, as an active practice of inscription as opposed to passive description.

I also have hard time inserting myself into the texts that I write. Like the present/absent fieldworker, I have always spoken through others without ever “placing [my] own reality in jeopardy” (133). This is something that I have struggled with all semester. As I look back over all of my reflections, I am absent from them. This is not a new struggle for me, but something that I have always found very difficult, which is why I find all my work is often very safe. This is why I think I have become drawn to anthropology, it forces the theorist to ‘be-in-the-world’ and to engage in practices that necessarily put one’s own reality in jeopardy. Or at least the kind of anthropology that is starting to take shape in this week’s readings does this kind of work. It is seems like a very difficult task to situate one’s work “on the borderline between oneself and other” (Clifford citing Bakhtin, 133). Clifford argues that the fieldworker needs to “actively negotiate a shared vision of reality” (134), which is not an easy task. It is also one that necessarily opens up previously “closed authority” (134) in the field; something that I have always been wary of. More to the point, I have always kind of relied on authority as a way to erase myself from the texts that I write. I am not sure that I have really engaged in active writing process and, moreover, I am not sure I know how.

Clifford also turns the tables on authority by bringing that to the fore another invisible figure: the reader. Clifford describes an ethnography that allows for a multi-vocal writing process. For Clifford, these kinds of texts need to be open to readings that are “beyond the control of a single authority” (141). This is something that I have since thought about a lot. I am not sure that I write in such a way that is open to multiple and unpredictable readings. Such a process of writing, of losing control is neither easy nor ‘safe’ (I am bit uncomfortable terming it this way). The obvious question is: how?

For an answer, I will turn to Geetz (maybe I am invoking him as an authority because I don’t want to risk answer this difficult question and became use, also, I found his meditation of writing ‘thick texts an excellent methodological tool). Geetz points us, right out of the gate, not what say they do but what they actually do. Although, this may seem like an obvious point, but it is not something that we have addressed up until now: what does it mean to do ethnography? I think part of the answer is the difference between ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ texts or inscription and description. My interpretation of this distinction is that thin texts offer equivocations: winking = facial tick. Whereas, with a thick description, the winking is a facial tick, a secret code between friends and a ruse. It is not just the symbol but also the thick ‘substance’ that surrounds it: the context (Geetz 14).

Geetz also draws the reader’s attention to the inherent tension between behaviour and the intangible symbolic systems of cultural forms. He writes of behaviour that it must be attended to because through behaviour “cultural forms find articulation” (17). Geetz is directly addressing another tension that has certainly marked all of the readings that ewe have done up until now: the difficult relationship between the observeable and the abstract; experience and theory; content and form. What Geetz does that is markedly different from other theorists who also address this tension is he situates the anthropologist at the liminal point between this dualism. Through anthropologist constructs a reading of “what happens” and then “divorces it from what happens” (18), and this risks leading us “somewhere else” (18): i.e.: appealing to another authority to mask the very thing the anthropologist is writing about. I think I do this.

There is something happening in the active act of writing, of divorcing that I want to focus on this week. I want to reorient myself not only towards the kinds of ways we have been thinking about anthropology but also towards my own writing practice. Geetz captures the kinds of ways I would like to reposition my own work and my conception of what an anthropologist does when he writes: “The locus of study is not the object of study. Anthropologists don’t study villages (tribes, towns, neighborhoods…); they study in villages” (22; emphasis original)

I would like to end with Douglas, as her work is doing some of the very things both Clifford and Geetz describe. Primarily, Douglas is present to us in a different way than any of the other anthropologists we have read up until this point. In her analysis of pollution and contamination as a site of cultural production, Douglas makes her own purifying rituals seem strange. Yet, she does not make them strange in the way that they culturally incomprehensible, like to primitive man to the an advanced, Western audience or the neurotic to the sane man, but in a way that allows for an understanding of culture that exposes one’s “normalness without reducing their particularity” (Geetz, 14).

I am going to stop here, although I also want to focus on contamination and purification as a way to think about order. Douglas’ work on purification and pollution indicates the kinds of rituals that surround the order of things. The kinds tables that order to world, that bound objects always need to be made and remade through ritual. And, finally, I have not addressed the main theme this week, culture, on purpose. The obvious question (what is culture?) has also lurked beneath this reading experiment. Culture is the arbitrariness, the table, the context of action and still I am not sure if any of these are actually what it is. I hope that in our conversation this week, we can talk culture because it surely isn’t something that can be done alone.

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week 7: traveling tables and people making machines (kelly)

When thinking about our conversation last week, I cannot help but wonder: where are all the subjects? Dovetailing from Julia’s discussion about intimacy are questions about subjectivity, specifically the kinds of subjects that populate the different stories that we have been reading. With Freud, there are multiple subjects, each of which are essentially caricatures of what it means to be a person. Like with much of what we have read, the ‘subjects’ populating these stories are functions outlines or placeholders for an interchangeable parade of ‘savages’ or ‘scientists’. We have discussed at length the kinds of ‘primitive men’ that are being created by each metaphor, by each analogy but again there are still no people, no subjectivities in these stories.

Before examining the Freud, I wan to turn back to Foucault’s preface to The Order of Things to (re)think about what each of the authors that we have read are doing. In particular, what kinds of subjects they are creating. Foucault’s preface outlines the various ‘tables’ or ‘systems’ that make certain categories of knowledge legible. This table, as we have discussed previously “enables thought to operate on the various entities of our world, to put them in order, to divide them into classes” (xvii). What is being carved up and created on this table? People. Or, articulated differently, as language intersects space (xvii) on the table, subjects are created. Finally, if we return to Saussure to think about the table itself as an arbitrary space, and then to Natasha to think of the arbitrary links that hold systems of thought together as culture, we can begin to see how cultures create (categories) of subjects and, as a result, make certain bodies legible. Ian Hacking, in the essay “Making Up People” describes this best when he writes (I apologize for the long quote but conveys better than I could the arbitrariness of subjectivity and the role of the sciences in general and anthropology in particular:

I have long been interested in classifications of people, in how they affect the people classified, and how the affects on the people in turn change the classifications. We think of many kinds of people as objects of scientific inquiry. […] We think of these kinds of people as definite classes defined by definite properties. As we get to know more about these properties, we will be able to control, help, change, or emulate them better. But it’s not quite like that. They are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them. And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before. The target has moved. I call this the ‘looping effect’. Sometimes, our sciences create kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before. I call this ‘making up people’ (Hacking 2006; emphasis added).

Anthropological examinations interact with its subjects in often intimate ways and as a result “they are not quite the same kind of people” yet the categories that the anthropologists we have so far are using never change to reflect this interaction. As a science, anthropology is perpetually ‘making up people’ that before the interaction did not exist but then after the interaction are the only kinds of subjects that can become visible. Returning to Freud, the question I want to ask is what kinds of people are being made up in this text? The neurotic, the child and the savage.

What Freud is doing is essentially creating a table upon which these three figures can exist co-exist. As we read through the text we can see him meticulously (and sometimes with great difficulty) carve out a common ground where the (Western) neurotic and child can coexist with ‘primitive man’. What this does is create an anachronistic or “atavistic” (Freud, 66) space for the neurotic (and the child). Moreover, as Freud argues, their neurotic expenditure of immense energy is an “inherited archaic constitution” (66). The neurotic is thus another kind of ‘living fossil’ that one does need to travel to go see. By using anthropological text to create the common ground for these three figures, Freud is bringing a ‘primitive’ or ‘atavistic’ space first delineated by anthropologists, such as Morgan and Tylor, into his contemporary Vienna. In this space he locates both the neurotic and the child.

With this move we can also start to see the ways in which the anthropologist travels ‘primitive’ spaces to make up savage subjectivities but that the anthropologist also brings back these primitive spaces with him, in which other subjects, such as neurotics and children, become located. This traveling brings up one final thing that I want to discuss, something that I think becomes evident in Freud’s text. How tables, arbitrary systems or cultures travel.

As discourse circulate or travel they do something both the subject-objects being made and the subjects doing the making. As Julia, has often pointed out, there is an invisible figure of the anthropologist that haunts the texts that we have read. This invisible figure is what allows these discursive systems to travel, unproblematized, from one place to another, doing different things to different kinds of people. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we can begin to make this figure more concretely visible and, as a result, make unconcealed the kinds of knowledges that travel from place to place, making up people as they go.

Hacking, Ian (2006). “Making Up People”, The London Review of Books vol 28, no.6: http://www.generation-online.org/c/fcbiopolitics2.htm

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Week 7 (Julia): Colonial Taboos, Neurotic Cyborgs, Temporality and Totemism: time after time.

In reading the excerpts assigned from Freud’s Totem and Taboo I found myself thinking, not only about the emergence of a psychoanalytically informed anthropology, but also about how the role of the anthropologist and the role of the psychoanalyst may overlap in some interesting ways. First, could the work produced within this colonial context by both anthropologists and Freud, be guided by, generated through, and described as, psychological tourism? The second point of connection that I perceive belongs to how, in the texts we have read so far, the anthropologist, like the psychoanalyst, engenders a one-way relationship of disclosure and intimacy. Just as the psychoanalyst revealed nothing about [himself] while his patient was encouraged to confess all, the anthropologist placed himself in the same authoritative invisible role while expecting the same willingness of disclosure from his objects of study. As Asad pointed out a few weeks ago (p.17), and as Kelly honed in on in her reflection on Functionalism, the colonial anthropologist engaging in fieldwork depended entirely on being provided an intimate exposé of the social lives of [his] subjects while his life remained private. Could this one-way intimacy be described as a taboo beheld by the anthropologist/psychoanalyst?

As Freud explains, taboo encapsulates a thing that is thought to be both sacred and unclean. As such, it is above all else, not to be touched. Hence the foremost feature that defines one’s relation to taboo is the “dread of contact with it”(p.25). If we think of touching as a conceptual form of contact, what are we to make of the one-way touching institutionalized by psychoanalysts/anthropologists? While anthropologists/ psychoanalysts rely on observing the daily ways in which “the other” makes contact, the distance the anthropologist/psychoanalyst places between himself and his objects of study disenables the exchange of contact between his objects and himself. Could this institutionalized rejection of exchanging contact with the object of study embody the enactment of a taboo that is specifically formed through colonialist fears and desires of the Other? Is Freud embodying and enacting the very concept that he is analyzing? Since Totem and Taboo could only ever have been written through the unequal exchange of contact, through Freud’s unwillingness to reach out and engage in an trade of touching with his Others, is Totem and Taboo an archive of Freud’s ambivalent dread and desire of the Other? In other words, perhaps Totem and Taboo is, amongst other things, a record of Freud’s own struggle with that which he registers as taboo. Hence, could it be that to colonial anthropologists the non-western Other is taboo while to the old school psychoanalyst, the patient is taboo?


For the remainder of my reflection this week I would like to return back and continue to expand upon my queries explored in reflection #2 relating to time and anthropology. I would like to do this because I think that Freud, in Totem and Taboo, is doing something very different than the other texts we have studied thus far in respect to time. At the beginning of “The Horror of Incest” Freud states the importance of studying “savages” as “their mental life must have a particular interest for us if we are right in seeing in it a well-preserved picture of an early state of our own development” (p.1). Freud goes on to explain that he has chosen to examine the Australian aboriginals because they embody the most “backward” of humans and thus are a receptacle in which to “observe much that is archaic and that has perished elsewhere” (p.1). This formulation of time adheres to the notion that the “savage” is a living fossil that represents our ancient history. It is this formulation that has been provided by the anthropologists that we have read so far. However, Freud goes on to complicate this account of time by drawing together the “savage” with the “neurotic”.

Freud perceives the originality of his work as deriving from the ways in which he locates the “savage” within the neurotic patient, stating, “All I have been able to add to our understanding of it [the savage and incest taboos] is to emphasize the fact that it is essentially an infantile feature and that it reveals a striking agreement with the mental life of neurotic patients” (p.16). Hence, the child/savage equation that Tylor envisioned lives within Freud’s modern neurotic patient. The presence of the “savage” as constituting neurosis in the modern subject continues to structure Freud’s chapter “Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence”. In this chapter Freud claims, “Neurotics, who are obliged to reproduce the struggle and the taboo resulting from it, may be said to have inherited an archaic constitution as an atavistic vestige” (p.66).

Furthermore, Freud disrupts the notion held by various investigators that totemic institutions represent a “necessary phase of human development which has been passed through universally” (footnote 2, p.3). Instead Freud argues that “in those races in which totemism exists today, we may find it in various stages of decay and disintegration or in the process of transition to other social and religious institutions” (footnote 2, p.4). Thus, the history of totemism goes way back, meaning that the “primitive people” of Freud’s day embody traces of older totemic systems, while contemporary religious institutions represent either a distortion or transitional phase of totemism. Accordingly, Freud contextualizes neurotics within the totemic paradigm phase of evolution and makes the radical claim that religious institutions are totemic in nature. Hence, the religious institution becomes a totemic symbol and the religious person becomes the neurotic subject. And in making these moves, Freud is undoing and remaking mental illness and race as identities that are implicitly co-produced through one another.

To close this reflection, I would like to point out how, in Totem and Taboo, the anthropologist’s quest to travel back and forth in time is localized in the neurotic patient. In his text, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008), John Reider examines the cyborg as a fraught figure composed of binaries such as “primitive”/“civilized”, present/past, racialized/nonracialized, nature/technology and is accordingly problematically deployed in science fiction and critical texts in ways that valorize the hegemonic “parts” and devalue the subjugated “parts”. In this sense, is Freud’s neurotic patient, as uniting the fraught tensions between past/present, primitve/cilivized, east/west, racialized/nonracialized an early articulation of the cyborg? Furthermore, could an appreciation of Freud’s cyborgization of time through the body of the neurotic subject lead to an analysis of the relationship between ambivalence and the cyborg? Hence, is the cyborg, at heart, an ambivalent figure? Or perhaps identifying the cyborg as having anything “at its heart” is the ultimate misnomer? Regardless, contextualizing the cyborg as embodying taboo and emotional ambivalence might be fruitful.



Rieder, John. (2008). Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Middletown Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

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