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Lecture 3

Lecture 3.

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Carleton University
ANTH 1001
Bernhard Leistle

Lecture 3: History of Anthropology I 1. Recapitulation and continuation: anthropology as “reversed gaze” Characteristics of American classroom culture: -specific language with key terms and themes -great amount of reading and, following from that, a tendency to talk about things eloquently of which one has little to know knowledge. -high esteem of obscurity in (theoretical) texts -anxiety about grades (asking about exam questions, extra work to boost grades) -upper middle class is dominant class in anthropology class rooms (at least in US classrooms of liberal arts colleges) -commodification of education: student becomes the client, teacher the provider - the commodity sold is not knowledge or education, or ability to think critically and independently, but success in the professional world; the university teaches the rules of the corporate world. Question: who agrees with such a statement? This is certainly a critical look at NorthAmerican university culture, a challenge, and the question becomes how to respond to it. Do we have to accept it, because an outsider always is more objective? This is certainly not true: an outsider can be very biased and unsympathetic, completely unwilling to understand. Do we have to believe Ntarangwi because he is an anthropologist, therefore by definition objective? Hardly so, and many people will probably resist this categorization. We can for example say that the superficiality and event-character that Ntarangwi chargesAmerican college education with, is a way to take the snobbishness out of academia. Academic texts and scholars need not be studied like the bible anymore; this is the computer age, intelligence doesn’t lie in the individual anymore but in the team, or in the collective. Or, from a Canadian standpoint, we could say: doesn’t concern us, we are in Canada, and he is talking about the US; totally different, that! All of these response and many others are possible and have an equal claim to truth. This, however, is exactly the point and the reason why we must take Ntarangwi seriously: there is no absolute truth when we are concerned with culture! Education, for example, can be and is conceived in many different ways: it is generally understood as a transmission of knowledge from someone who possesses knowledge to someone who doesn’t. But every element of this 1 process is highly culturally relative: our own culture conceives of knowledge in terms of information that can be passed along a channel. Knowledge here is an object that is independent from the individuality of the teacher and the student. In Eastern traditions, for example in Buddhist culture, the personalities of teacher and student are of vital importance for the learning process. Not every teacher can teach every student, using always the same method (see Kung-Fu Panda) ; knowledge is more of the kind called wisdom, not a piece of information but an ability to get to the truth of things. In other traditions, the student learns by completely accepting the authority of the teacher and by copying their style until they have mastered it; a form of plagiarism if you want. Only if the disciple has achieved proficiency in the master’s style can he or she introduce an innovation, consisting mostly of a minor, new detail. This is the model of learning in traditional arts like Chinese calligraphy, but it is also quite common in Western art, for example in music. None of these ways of conceiving of learning is completely exclusive of the other; we know in the West that there are some teachers that not only pass on information but somehow also teach us something about life. We also know that we can learn better from some than from others.And there is certainly also information passed on in a literary tradition like that of Buddhism, or in Islam. The point is that there is never just one way to define phenomena like knowledge and education. The definition a particular group settles for is its culture of knowledge and learning. The members of the group take this culture, that is: their understanding of knowledge and learning for granted; they don’t question it and in this sense it is to them natural. This means they don’t reflect this understanding itself: we don’t normally ask, what does knowledge, learning and education mean for us? Going to university, sitting in classrooms, and listening (or in my case, standing and talking) is just something we do without thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean that there is no meaning to what we do: even if we are not aware of it, our behavior has significance on other levels, for example that we might be trained into corporate culture, as Ntarangwi suggests. All of this is culture: our ignorance and habits, and the meaning of our actions on a different level. Culture is therefore never completely conscious to anybody; nobody can ever claim to know exactly what is going on. Consequently, culture is also not unanimously agreed on by everybody; necessarily there must be dissent, conflict, negotiation and struggle. Finally, this means that culture can serve the interests of a social group (a class, for example) and suppress the interests of another. It can also mean that people defend their culture although it 2 harms them (for example, anorectics who internalize the image of a slender body which signals values of control and activity to a degree that it becomes a pathology). If this is the case, if we never completely know our own culture, therefore can’t absolutely control it, if it is other in that sense, then we have to take an outside perspective of someone like Ntarangwi seriously. The anthropological perspective might indeed have the potential to tell us something about ourselves that we are not able to see but which is there nevertheless. 2. History of Anthropology -anthropology formed as an academic discipline at the end of the 19 and in particular beginning of the 20 century. -One can say that anthropology is ultimately grounded in a universal interest in other people. In can of course not give you an overview over the history of human thought, so I have selected two interesting examples of the anthropology’s pre-history. In the Western world its historical roots go back, again, until Greek antiquity.Although one can say that philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were important for anthropology as they speculated about human nature, it was in particular the historian and geographer Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 – 425 BCE) who can be regarded as a precursor to modern anthropology. Herodotus believed that one can only know one’s own culture when one compares it to other cultures. These other cultures had to be experienced first-hand, or if that was impossible, witnesses had to be found who possessed such first-hand knowledge. Herodotus was not just interested in the people with whom the Greeks themselves were in contact, but also with the people with whom these other people themselves had contact. In other words, he was also interested in the others of others. He was himself widely traveled and wrote travel narratives about Egypt and WesternAsia (Turkey). But he also wrote historic and ethnographic descriptions of countries and people where he had never been, like for example of the Scythians on the Northern Coast of the Black Sea, the Ethiopians and the peoples of the Indus Valley. When he relied on hearsay, Herodotus was careful to probe the reliability and verifiability of his sources. In his insistence on the importance of personal experience and the importance attributed to verification Herodotus is far ahead of his time. He was also highly unusual in his efforts to understand other cultures by their own standards, not by that of Greek culture. For the Greeks 3 of his time, every person not speaking their language was a barbaros, somebody whose language doesn’t have meaning but only makes bar-bar. Herodotus, however, identified to a certain degree with the Other, he saw himself, that is the Greek, in the Other, while at the same time allowing for presence of the Other in the self.According to theAmerican historian Stephen Greenblatt, Herodotus compared the Greeks in his History of the Persian Wars to the Scythians. He describes the Scythians as nomads (people who move about, pastoralists are people who move about and herd life-stock), and therefore as invincible militarily (you can’t win against an enemy who is always on the move). He then goes on to explain the Greek victory over the Persians who far outnumbered them, by the fact that the Greeks left their cities and took to their ships, thereby becoming practically nomads, hence invincible. While these kinds of explanations seem common-place today (which might be deceptive), in Herodotus time they were revolutionary: Every suggestion of a commonality between Greeks and “barbarians” was regarded as blasphemous. An often forgotten fact of world history is that the heritage of Western antiquity was preserved through the “dark” middle ages by theArab-Muslim civilization rather than by the Europeans. An important figure for the history of human thought was the historian, social philosopher and politician ‘Abdurrahman Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406), mostly referred to only as Ibn Khaldun. In the book-length introduction of his Universal History, he laid out the premises of a genuine historical and sociological science, based on a systematic observation of facts and critical interpretation of sources. He objected against utopian models of history and insisted on the crucial importance of understanding empirical historical and social reality. On the basis of these assumptions he arrived at a structural model of historical processes in the Islamic world which is still discussed by historians, anthropologists and scholars in Islamic studies. It has been referred to as the “pendulum-swing model” by the important anthropologist Ernest Gellner (1981 Muslim Society) and explains historical process in NorthAfrican and Middle Eastern state and society. Ibn Khaldun had observed that in these regions, Islamic culture and Muslims society strived and flourished in the cities. But such civilization was only possible as a process of differentiation and diversification: people specialized in different crafts and trades, they divided themselves into different social groups, rich and poor, those with prestige and those without, the powerful and the powerless etc. Over time, a ruling class crystallized in 4 this process and they became a dynasty of rulers which passed on power from generation to generation. These rulers, and the city over which they ruled, however, were militarily weak. They didn’t share enough interests in their everyday life that would allow them to cooperate for the defense of the city. Military strength, however, depended on solidarity and solidarity depended on social cohesion. This sense of solidarity and cooperation one finds in tribal society whose members basically share the same life-style: there is little differentiation, with the possible exception of the difference between the sexes, everybody engages in the same kind of activity, often cooperatively, like for example in herding. This kind of commonality produces solidarity and identification with the collective, that is social cohesion. That was the basis for military strength. Islamic cities were surrounded by tribes they could not control because they lacked a strong army. They were thus unable to defend themselves against an invader. The only solution to this dilemma was to invite one of the surrounding tribal groups into the city and give them privileges in exchange for their military services. These arrangements, however, could not last very long, because the tribal group would soon discover the weakness of the ruling dynasty, seize power for itself. But this meant also that the tribal group now became subject to a process of differentiation itself: the group became part of city life, and over time hierarchies within it started to emerge. Some of its members were richer than others, some were nobles, some commoners, some were part of the new ruling dynasty. Inevitably, the tribal group lost what had made it strong in the first place and served as the basis of its power, solidarity and social cohesion. Sooner or later, the former tribal people became city dwellers and found themselves defenseless against the enemy, and had to call in the next tribal group as an army which was soon to cease power for itself. The circle began anew, or the pendulum had completed one swing and went in the other direction. This is, very roughly speaking, the way in which Ibn Khaldun explained history, as a structural opposition and dynamic conflict between city and countryside, townspeople and tribal people, differentiation and homogeneity. And this systematic explanation based on observable historical fact was a remarkable achievement, centuries ahead of its time. -other important figures for the history of anthropology were travelers like Marco Polo (1254 – 1323) who visited the Emperor of China and gave an account of this expedition which was not 5 believed by many of his contemporaries. Or theArab Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369), who is considered the most widely traveled person of the pre-industrial world (Eriksen & Nielsen 2013: 5). His travels brought him as far as China and Tanzania (see map). -one can therefore say that there has always been an interest in other peoples and their ways of life, and that this interest was spurned by and connected with a desire to understand oneself. In Europe, this ethnographic interest was intensified considerably, became almost feverish with the discovery of the “New World”, theAmerican continent, which was, of course, not so new for those people who had lived there for thousands of years. Understanding culturally others became intimately connected with the objective of controlling and dominating them. Europe’s movement to politically dominate, economically exploit and militarily annihilate other, non- European societies and culture is summarily called imperialism. The term also refers to the age in which this movement occurred. Colonialism is a specific phase and period of imperialism and refers to the establishment of direct and official dependencies between a European power and non-European territory. The connection between imperialism and colonialism on the one hand and anthropology on the other cannot be denied, but it is not simple either; rather it is very complex and something that anthropologists have to be concerned with in one way or another throughout their careers. In a way it is one of these themes every anthropologist has to find a perspective towards and this perspective will determine what he or she is as an anthropologist. One has to affir
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