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Lecture 4

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Carleton University
ANTH 1001
Bernhard Leistle

Lecture 4: History of Anthropology II -quiz (next week’s lecture not included in material, mix of questions: some directed at knowledge of facts, some at comprehension; writing time 40 min., app. 5 questions) -overview over lecture -clarification of some points: -modern and traditional anthropology – traditional is modern anthropology, defined as the systematic, scientific attempt to understand other cultures. Non- traditional anthropology, which in this sense could be called post-modern, would be the attempt to pull the insight that understanding others always entails an interpretation of ourselves into the anthropological research process. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the self-reflective component, the understanding of oneself and of one’s own culture through the culturally Other, is always implied in traditional anthropology. What distinguishes traditional from non-traditional, modern from post-modern is the attempt to make this double relation explicit. -as an example we can take another look at Boas’s photo in which he poses for a diorama of an exhibition. The pose is from a Kwakiutl ritual which Boas had witnessed and described during one of his exhibitions. -Mauss: we have stopped with him last class, and I have said that although he has written little he is perhaps the most contemporarily relevant of the classic four anthropologists we have been talking about. He wrote dense essays which opened up research fields that are very vibrant even today, e.g. the anthropology of the body (in his essay “Techniques des Corps” he stated explicitly that the body was simultaneously an object of culture, e.g. in tattooing of the skin, in that it becomes the carrier of social and cultural values, and the subject of culture in that it was also the first instrument that was needed to carry out cultural practices, e.g. the tattoo-er needs his or her body to perform their craft.), or the anthropology of personhood (in his essay on the person, he lays out how the idea of a thinking, autonomous self, an I as which we are accustomed to conceptualize the person, is a relatively recent development of human thought. In a thesis that connects with one by Max Weber on the connection between the ethics of Protestantism and capitalism, Mauss claims that this idea came about in early modernity, in certain protestant sects. The antique Romans, for example, had still a very different conception of the person, identifying selfhood with the roles played by the individual in society. The etymology of the word person in 1 Latin persona, “mask”, preserves this understanding until our time. Such ideas led to productive research into the question whether or not some idea of self, some conception of oneself as separate and independent from others and the world is universal, and if yes, to what degree. -As Mauss’s most important achievement, however, is commonly regarded his long essay (together with the footnotes it makes a small book) titled “The Gift”. In it Mauss establishes exchange as a fundamental human phenomenon in all times and regions. Mauss argues that gift exchange automatically produces an obligation on the part of the receiver to reciprocate, and thus constitutes a social relation.At first this seems to be a simple idea, but it could be a way to explain how the social structures, and society as a system is produced by acting individuals (which is one of the most important problems of social theory): society comes into being through acts of giving and their reciprocation. If we are able to understand this dynamic we are also able to understand society. Mauss argues against the identification of exchange with economy. The idea that exchange is primarily oriented towards profit maximization and a marked is derived from gift exchange. Original exchanges, like one finds in the Kula practices described by Malinowski are total social acts: the partners do not only exchange economic value but parts of themselves, their “souls”, in a manner of speaking. Real exchange is not just utilitarian but also magical and spiritual and it involves not just things, but also persons (like when groups exchange women and men in marriage, for example in a society where one group must compulsorily marry members of another group, an arrangement called exogamy; in opposition to endogamy which means marriage within a group), or practices, like rituals or art forms. In original, “primitive” exchange, it is therefore not just the thing that is given from one to the other, but the exchanged thing represents the person of the giver and receiver. In Mauss’s words: “Everything is tied together; things have personality, and personalities are in some manner the permanent possession of the clan. Titles, talismans, coppers and spirits of chiefs are homonyms and synonyms, having the same nature and function. The circulation of goods follows that of men, women and children, of festival and ritual, ceremonies and dances, jokes and injuries. Basically they are the same. If things are given and returned it is precisely because one gives and returns ‘respects’and ‘courtesies’. But, in addition, in giving them, a man gives himself, and he does so because he owes himself- himself and his possessions – to others.” (The Gift, 44/45) 2 What is exchanged is not just material objects, but objects standing for a totality comprised of other things, selves, social groups, cultural practices, in other words: signs. From here it is only a short step to considering society and culture as an exchange of signs and symbols, that is as communication processes, which is an idea I will put into the center of the course. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 – 2009) Biography: -Levi-Strauss was born into an upper middle class Jewish family and first studied philosophy and law in Paris in the early thirties. From his youth on, he was associated with Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980), the famous existentialist and writer, and later also with the important philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961). Both of these thinkers were philosophers associated with a school called phenomenology, founded by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology was broadly concerned to describe and explain how we concretely experience the world when taking it unquestioningly for granted. When we think about Levi-Strauss preference for formal structures that are independent from what human beings think, feel, or do in a concrete instance, but are the unconscious organizing principles of these thoughts, feelings and actions, we can understand why this was not a satisfying program for Levi-Strauss (see below). He finally decided to quit philosophy and move to anthropology. The years between 1935 – 1939 he taught at the newly founded university of Sao Paolo in Brazil, and was influential in establishing anthropology in Brazil. He also undertook expeditions to several Brazilian people, the Bororo, Nambikwara, and Tupi-Kawahib. The fieldwork is commonly regarded as not particularly successful; most anthropologists, especially British and American ones, are of the opinion that Levi-Strauss spent too little time with the people to gain reliable first-hand experience and “data”. Most importantly in the eyes of his critics he was not able to learn the local language, therefore had to rely on translators. Be that as it may, 15 years later after these travels he wrote one of the great books of anthropology, and according to Susan Sontag, one of the great books of the 20 century, “Tristes Tropiques”.About this later more. During the second WW, since he had to fear persecution in France which was partially occupied by the Germans from 1940 on (the Germans installed a state loyal to them with the provincial town Vichy as capital, for this reason the state is known as the “Vichy regime”), he fled to the US 3 and was, like many exiled academics, in the New School of Social Research in New York. There he met Boas (who died of a heart attack in his arms at a dinner!) and also the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson, both of whom influenced his work. In 1949, he published a first manifesto of structuralism, “The Elementary Structures of Kinship” in which he described one of the favorite institutions of structural functionalism and British social anthropology in very new ways. In 1958 an enormously influential collection of essays followed with the programmatic title Anthropologie Structurale, translated into English in 1963. In 1962, he published “The Savage Mind”, a relatively accessible application of the structuralist approach to the problem of the difference between “primitive”, “magical” and “modern”, “scientific” thinking which he portrays as basically governed by the same underlying laws. In the 1960s and 1970s, and even in the decades to his death, Levi-Strauss continued to refine structuralism, putting great emphasis on the analysis of myth, which he regarded as a privileged field of structuralist study. The most important product of this work was the four-volume opus “Mythologies”, which is a very erudite, but also very abstract analysis of mostly SouthAmerican myths. The Project of Structuralism - It was the conception of exchange as communication that the StructuralAnthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss set off. Here is a famous quote which illustrates the continuity of Levi- Strauss to Mauss: In any society, communication operates on three different levels: communication of women, communication of goods and services and communication of messages. Therefore, kinship studies, economics and linguistics approach the same kind of problems on different strategic levels and really pertain to the same field.” (296) Communication is used here instead of “exchange”, indicating that a change in conception has taken place. What is exchanged aren’t simple objects anymore, which are secondarily interpreted in different ways. What is exchanged is meaning in the first place, “women”, “goods” and “messages” all have a certain relational value within a system and this value is their meaning. This is Levi-Strauss’s “discovery” on the basis of which he formulated the project of “structural anthropology”. But an important step on this way had been taken by Mauss. The relation giving- receiving-reciprocating was independent from every concrete exchange, although it was realizes in concrete situations. You cannot observe this relation directly, you have to abstract from the concrete circumstances to formulate it; it is an intellectual product, a structure of thought. 4 Levi-Strauss was the only famous post-WWI anthropologist who hadn’t studied with Mauss, but it was he who wrote the introduction to Mauss’s collective works which appeared in 1950 under the title of “Sociologie etAnthropologie”. In it he claimed Mauss to be a “proto- structuralist”, that is someone who had factually discovered the existence of structures but had failed to formulate the concept explicitly. The “structure” that Mauss had described was, according to Levi-Strauss, the necessary relation between gift giving and reciprocation. The gift didn’t not exist separately from its function to evoke a reciprocating act.And the reciprocation was clearly inconceivable without a prior act of giving to which it responds. For Levi-Strauss, it was therefore clear that neither the making of the gift, nor its receiving and returning was responsible for exchange, but the relation itself. There was a structure connecting giver and receiver, even before and independently of any concrete exchange between the two. It was this abstract and formal structure that was the explanation for the phenomenon of exchange. This was indeed contrary to Mauss, who always insisted on the importance of peoples’concepts for anthropological explanation: in the case of the Melanesian Kula, for example, it was the idea of Mana, a cosmological force connecting everything and everyone with each other, that made exchange possible. For Levi-Strauss, there was no mana or comparable concept but only structure as a formal arrangement. This understanding of the priority of the relation before the related elements is one of the great th ideas of the 20 century. It was influential in the natural sciences, as well as in the social sciences and in the humanities. Linguistics was an important discipline functioning as a bridge between these different scientific worlds. In a linguistic system, a language, it is the relationship between elements that constitutes their meaning and not the elements themselves. This becomes clear when we look at the smallest units out of which languages are composed. These are not words but sounds. Each word is itself composed of a sequence of sounds which together makes up the meaning of the word. But what about the sounds themselves: they have no intrinsic meaning. /h/, /k/, /f/, /a/, /u/ are meaningless, they don’t say anything by themselves. How then can sounds become the building blocks of language? Their function is to differentiate between words, they mark a difference between meanings.And they are only able to do this because they are in relation to each other. /hat/, /cat/, /fat/ are similar to each other in that they differ only in one position of the sequence, the initial sound.And the possibility of /h/, /c/, /f/ to stand in front of /-at/, and mark a difference between them, constitutes a structural relation between them. Their 5 meaning is nothing else than their relation to these other sounds (to which we could add more, like /m/, or /r/, or /s/, etc.), their ability to substitute for each other, marking a difference between words. Language is a system of a myriad of such relationships on different, interconnected levels. The discipline that sets itself the goal to describe and analyze this system is called structural linguistics. The fact that Levi-Strauss called his project “structural anthropology’already indicates what he was after: describing and analyzing the formal structures of the cultural system. Levi-Strauss was convinced that everything that human beings do, from cooking, healing and arts to kinship and myth was organized in analogy to a language. The relations between the structures which made up the cultural system were to be described like the linguistic rules regulating language use are described in a grammar. This language analogy was also taken to hold with regard to the relationship between the individual and his or her culture: Structural linguistics emphasizes the independence of the language system from individual speech use. It doesn’t matter how a particular person speaks, whether for example, he or she speaks “correctly”, commits “mistakes”, speaks elegantly and poetically, or crudely and plainly. Words like “correct” or “mistake” already indicate the presence of a system independent from the speaker. It is so to speak language that speaks for itself, in the sense that it regulates itself, according to its own dynamics and structural linguistics pursues the aim to describe the laws of this self-regulation. When one finds such laws one can accurately describe how “language works”. When Levi-Strauss applies that idea to culture in an encompassing sense, including not just language but also non-verbal behavior, objects and social relations, he is aiming to describe the structures of the human mind. The ultimate objective of his structural anthropology was to understand the logic of human thought. There is a famous quote in his book “The Raw and the Cooked” in which he states his objective with regarding to myths: “I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact.” (12) The Sorcerer and his Magic Levi-Strauss’s work was always contested and critiqued for its neglect of ethnographic detail and its high degree of formalism and abstraction. But it was also extremely powerful and could not be negated. Like it or not, the publication of “StructuralAnthropology” was a major 6 intellectual event. While it is true that some of the essays in the collection are highly technical, there are others which are accessible and have influenced the field in which they are situated profoundly. This applies to “The Sorcerer and his Magic”, which is a classic in the literature of ritual healing. In it, Levi-Strauss first establishes the notion that magical practices can indeed have effects on the body of the person, they are directed at. You can literally die of fright, as is the case in “voodoo death”. But he also insists that people have to belief in magic to make this effect possible. He then starts to analyze the notion of belief in more detail, taking as example the case of “sorcerers” (the more frequent anthropological term is “shaman”) who heal patients from some form of illness. First, he says that the notion of belief must be differentiated in accordance to the different elements involved in the practice, or, the structure of healing, if you want. There are at least three parties involved: the healer/sorcerer/shaman himself or herself, the patient, and the group to which both patient and healer belong. He then asks three questions: “When the sorcerer claims to suck out of the patient’s body a foreign object…….” (168/169) The three stories he proceeds to tell have the purpose to provide answers to these questions, beginning with the question about the relationship between credulity and skepticism in the group. Digression on culture as belief and communication: Please remember that this is a topic that was already addressed before in the course: Last class I have suggested that we ourselves don’t believe one hundred percent in our version of reality, our “culture”. There is the knowledge that there are other versions of reality, other cultures, or subcultures which present a different outlook which challenges our own, putting a question mark behind it. We might be convinced, for example, that education is a commodity that is bought and sold with the objective to get the buyer a job, but we have to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on the issue, and sometimes this might even lead to doubt within oneself. We might be tempted to say that this kind of uncertainty is a symptom of contemporary life in modern, globalized society, and that in earlier times, and in so-called “primitive society” (remember, however, that in anthropology there are no “primitive societies” in the colloquial sense of the term; superstition is another term that is “politically incorrect in anthropology), there are no such doubts. It may well be that doubt and insecurity have increased and have 7 become more marked in the current age, but they also belong to the human condition, therefore have always been there, at all times and places. One of the criticisms leveled against anthropology is that it sometimes portrays the others it studies as “dupes of their culture”, involuntarily subject to its regulations and values, that their members lack in reflective abilities
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