When the young teach the young, what is the emerging order? Where are the controls? How would we find out?

A while ago, I found a way to keep my sanity at the AAA meetings: play “session roulette.”  I recommend it.  The rules are simple: walk down any corridor and, without paying attention to any signs about the title of the session, or the timing of presentations, enter the room, seat at the back, listen for a while, and then leave before frustration or boredom overwhelm.  Playing this (not very deep) game, I made wonderful discoveries: Chuck Goodwin reporting on a conversation with his aphasic father about importing California oranges to Florida (“No!”), hot disputes around the “Eve hypothesis” (one of the rare times I actually heard anthropologists passionately argue with each other during a session!), or, this year, wonderfully detailed accounts of “liturgical dancing” around the world (I actually stayed for the whole session: I could imagine myself as Marcel Mauss reading ethnographies of ritual performances!).

But mostly, I listen to the courageous efforts of young women and men (mostly women actually) who tell other young women and men (same caveat) “giving” a paper.  I am sure the association someplace has the statistics about the relative seniority of presenters.  My altogether not random sense is that they are mostly at the very beginning of their career.  Since I have the privilege to teach quite a few of the presenters, I experience the pressure all actors (stakeholders, those entangled in this web, or caught by the spider) are under: individuals have to build up their curriculum vitae, professors must advise them to present early and often, professional associations (journals, etc.) must provide the opportunities for public displays.

In the best of all worlds, there is nothing wrong about the young presenting themselves in the public that they hope will be theirs for years to come.  Apprentices must be given the occasions to display their craft beyond the boundaries of their workshops, and in the relative safety of “meetings” where little is immediately at stake (unless a potential employer is in the audience).  Apprentices cannot reach mastery unless they can practice on the public stages even before they have become, in skill and formal status, “full” participants.  The old must give the young the opportunity to teach each other—and they can, also, worry about the curriculum.

One problem with all this, if there is one, does not only lie in the paradoxical teaching that the young give each other.  I’ll return to this later.  The problem also lies in the practical reality that Anthropology (the association, journals, professors, etc.) is indeed caught in the ancient School injunction: “Publish or Perish.”  Actually, not to perish one must publish earlier and more often than peers.  And so, in Lave and McDermott’s term, Anthropology must “alienate” the intellectual labor of the apprentices to the political economies of (higher) education as it builds and reproduces its labor forces and their places with larger competitions for survival.  I wrote something in that vain elsewhere (“On Entry into Anthropological Publics” 2003).

But what moved me to write this had to do with the possible emergence of new discursive orders for what is to be considered anthropology for future anthropologists, and the controls for the maintenance of this order.  Who is going to tell whom “Stop screwing around with anthropology!” (The readers of this blog should recognize who I am paraphrasing…)  Whether for good or for bad (I am playing “ethnographer of cultural production” here, not aging white male), most apprentices to the task of making anthropology public to itself will only hear, in their first public outings, each other (and altogether gentle “discussants”—mostly).    In this process, not surprisingly, new conventions for presentation, honorifics, usual phrases, etc., will emerge—sometimes through deliberate instruction (“your paper does not address power, gender,…”); and at other times through many other forms well worth investigating.  Other conventions will fade away (“social structure” is not an entry in the 2014 program).  The exact description of this emerging (or already well established) order awaits detailed ethnographies of the manipulation of discursive possibilities (possibly starting with a content analysis of the Program, a formal analysis of selected presentation, etc.).

But I have a doubt an ethnographic of public presentations might not settle: who is in charge here?  Is there a spider at the center of this web of meaning?  Where are, as far as the discipline as object in history is concerned, the collective (not individual, of course) controls?  Are they now in the hands of the apprentices?  Or are they hidden, perhaps through symbolic manipulations of status displays (the shift to first names on tags, the almost universal disappearance of neckties on men, and other methods that hide differentiations of who can establish that this is anthropology)?  How might we answer these questions, ethnographically, given the kind of theoretical approaches I advocate?

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The sequencing of research questions in ethnographic research: before, during, and after

1) Before (at home, in the ivory tower)

University professors, faced with students planning research, will, at some point, ask:

Q:“What are your questions?”

As a generation of research has demonstrated, all questions (given a setting, authority pattern, etc.) place the person addressed in a box that severely constrains the immediate future.  In the ivory tower, at research proposal relevant times, the question is not one to which the professor knows the answer (this is not elementary school!).  But the professor will hold the student accountable to a rhetorical shape for the proper answer to the question.  The student (the professor hopes!) can produce an answer in the appropriate genre even though the student should also expect that almost any answer will be in some way “wrong” (during a possibly very long sequence of revisions, rewritings, etc.):

A: “What time is it?” or “How do the the So’n’Sos” view time, temporality and history?” (Given a proposal for research on “History and temporality among the So’n’Sos” or “The metapragmatics of time among the So’n’Sos”)

This “research” question is then assessed in terms of the literature and methodologies.

E: Interesting! Have your read Geertz’s  “Time, Person and Conduct in Bali”? What techniques will you use?

So, within the ivory tower, the research question is the second statement within a prescribed sequence that will repeat itself many times.

However, in all the social sciences (and I suspect this would apply to psychology too, if not to ethology and all sciences of communication), the “research question” can also be the first move in the interaction with the people about whom one is to say something (aka “the informants,” or “the natives,” or “the research population” or …) to the inhabitants of the ivory tower (or the masters of these inhabitants).  So:

2) During (away from home, in the field), it might appear common sense to proceed as follows:

Q: Researcher asks: “What time is it?”

A: Someone responds: “xxxxx xxxxxx”

E:“Interesting!” as Researcher writes down the answer as data

This may even be the required sequence in some disciplines–as it was in some version of early anthropology when the researcher was, for example, expected to bring back to the ivory tower a local kinship vocabulary according to the “genealogical method” which required the researcher to get the person asked who was his “actual” “biological” “mother” no matter whether the person cared about this at all.

But other anthropologists, particularly those of the radical ethnographic persuasion, whether inspired by Boas, Garfinkel, or any one else, fear a research sequence that starts with a question.  The trick, in radical ethnography, is not for the people to tell us what we want to know (answer our questions) but for people to tell us what we should know about them.  For example, as Clifford Hill reports, whether October 15 is the day ‘before’ or ‘after’ October 14 is something about which different groups of human beings have given different answers.  This, as Garfinkel once wrote, is discoverable but not imaginable with the methodological consequence that the discovery cannot proceed through the asking of a “research question” since a question, implies an act of imagination and coerces types of answers.

To the extent that the Professor teaches this kind of ethnography, what should Professor ask students planning research?  Perhaps something like: “What do you postulate we may need to learn about population X?”  The student would answer in a declarative sense: “Time and its fixing must be a problem with them as it is for everyone.”  The professor would then assess whether there is some evidence (literature, etc.) that this is a plausible postulate and that the methods and techniques are likely to tell us something we do not already know about the fixing of time (as well as the “Plan B” if it turns out that the postulate was not tenable).

3) After (back home, in the ivory tower)

Q (by Professor): “What do you plan on teaching us?”

A (by student): This is what I learned: a Hausa old man told me “this is why you, Westerners are screwed up: you think the whole world is looking at your!  Among us, everyone is looking in the same direction.” (as I remember an anecdote told by Clifford Hill when presenting research on spatial and temporal deixis that demonstrated that a question about “the day after tomorrow” does not have a universal answer).

E (by professor): How did you learn that? (Checking for the adequacy of the ethnography and the plausibility of the student’s statement)

[Note that this is part of my emerging concern with temporality (syntagms, conceits, sequencing, conversational turns, etc.) and asymetry in culture theory]

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The collective conscience of ‘personality’ in anthropology: 1948-1998

Ray McDermott and I were discussing, in our usual meandering way, the possible roots of Dorothy Holland’s work and what may or may not fairly be described as “psychological anthropology.”  We wondered about d’Andrade and Romney, their relationship to the Parsonians and Boasians.  As we veered into sorting out the various versions of Schneider’s writing about culture, I spotted on my bookshelves a book I had forgotten: Kluckhohn, Murray and Schneider’s Personality in nature, society and culture.  This collection of papers from the preceding decade was first published in 1948.  A second edition appeared in 1953. My copy is the thirteenth printing (dated 1971) of this edition.  All this must be a testament to its use as summary of a field.  This is not surprising given that the contributors include about everybody who was somebody then: R. Benedict, A. Davis, J. Dollard, E. Erikson, R. Havighurst, J. Henry, F. Kluckhohn, D. Lee, M. Mead, R. Merton, T. Parsons, H. Powdermaker, J. Whiting, and many others.  This is the moment of convergence that coopts Boasian anthropology  into the Parsonian scheme and transforms it into a simple concern with the shaping of personality.

In the book, there are papers on about everything that the editors classified as “determinants of personality formation”  (36 if the 46 papers).  That psychological anthropologists should worry about such “determinants” is probably what made me turn away from the field in graduate school and ever since.  It may also be what Holland and many others are fighting against when they write about multiplicities of emergent identities.

But I think there is something to learn by wondering how it made sense for so many of the most influential sociologists and anthropologists of the 1940s to teach with such authority about “determinants of personality” and the corollary impact of formed personality on future behavior.  I mention three papers.  Two may be stereotypical.  One stands outside.

The latter case is the paper by David Schneider.  The paper surprised me as it revealed something of his early career that he never talked about, as I remember it, when I took classes from him.  It is a paper about the emergence of a “community of practice” (as we might now write of it) as a bunch of young men find themselves together for the first time for military training and organize themselves in such a way that those who claim disability move from being sympathesized with to being ostracized.  Schneider describes this as a social process with experiential implications which he does not write about.  Garfinkel may have liked it when both he and Schneider were students at Harvard in the late 1940s.

Garfinkel must have hated most of the other two papers. One is by Hortense Powdermaker, an anthropologist.  She wrote about “The channeling of Negro Aggression by the cultural process.”  The other paper is by Bingham Dai, a psychiatrist, who wrote about “Some problems of personality development among Negro children.”  Here are instances of the argumentation:

The cultural process continues to change with resulting changes in behavior. Just as the completely loyal and faithful slave disappeared, so the meek, unaggressive, and humble Negro, the “good nigger” type, is declining in numbers. In the rural South, and elsewhere too, the tendency of Negro young people (in their teens and twenties) is to refuse to assume the unaggressive role. The passing of the “good nigger” from the scene does not entail a civil war, as did the passing of the faithful slave. But it does indicate a psychological revolution. Today, … equally significant cultural changes are taking place. The Negro is participating now in a very different kind of cultural process from that which he underwent fifty years ago. (Powdermaker 1953 [1943]: 606)

The personality problems that are more or less peculiar to Negro children are closely associated with the peculiar social status that their elders are socially and legally compelled to occupy in this society and the peculiar evaluations of skin color, hair texture, and other physical features that are imposed upon them by the White majority. … Each of these cultural situations is apt to leave its indelible imprint on the personality of the Negro child. (Dai 1953 [1946]: 552)

There are subtle differences in the two arguments.  Powdermaker may be translatable into Holland.  Dai probably could not.  But both papers are recognizable as versions of the arguments that made “culture of poverty” plausible to the extent that it addressed not only poverty as a matter of social structure, but also poor people as persons or subjects.  Fifty years later, vocabularies have changed; references to behaviors the reader is supposed to recognize as “what happens over there,” points at other matters; but the organization of the argument remains: culture makes personalities that produce behaviors.

None of this is very surprising and searching for intellectual antecedents is mostly a scholarly activity.  Why I mention this again in the context of an attempt by some psychological anthropologists to restate the argument, has to do with my own search to specify better what makes it so hard to escape what I now consider Durkheim was quite right in naming a “conscience collective”–in the moral rather than cognitive sense.  For Dai, Powdermaker (along with Clark, Lewis, and many other in sociology, psychology and anthropology) moved America, as a political collectivity, for the best (Brown vs. Board of Education), the good (Sesame Street) and the not so good (much of the policies building on Moynihan’s report).  The argumentation moved many anthropologists in a conversational process that moved many to critique (Leacock, Stack, etc.) but keeps bringing utterances (any form of publication, from teaching to article or book) back to the determinants of personality through the controlling question: “but why did Gyanumaya,climb the wall?”(Holland et al. 1998: 9-11)


Dai, B. “Some problems of personality development among Negro children.” in Personality in nature, society, and culture. Edited by Kluckhohn, C. and H. Murray. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 545-566. 1953. (First published in 1946)

Holland, D., Lachicotte Jr., W., D. Skinner and C. Cain 1998 Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kluckhohn, C. and H. Murray Personality in nature, society and culture. Second Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (First published in 1948)

Powdermaker, H. “The channeling of Negro Aggression by the cultural process.” in Personality in nature, society, and culture. Edited by Kluckhohn, C. and H. Murray. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 597-608. 1953. (First published in 1943)

Schneider, D. “Social dynamics of physical disability in Army basic training.” in Personality in nature, society and culture. Edited by C. Kluckhohn and H. Murray. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 386-397. 1953. (First published in 1947)

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Wondering about authoring one’s self

While preparing a discussion of Holland on identity, figured worlds, agency, practice, I read a wonderful account of a doctor’s experience in pronouncing a patient dead:

One recent night I was asked to declare the death of a woman I had never met.

    “Ms. L. passed,” the nurse said. “Could you pronounce her?” …

    Declaring death is not technically hard but it is weird and sad and requires reams of paperwork. It is usually done by an intern, but my intern was busy so I said I would do it.

    The first time I declared a patient dead was nearly six years earlier. I had been a doctor for a few months when I was summoned overnight with a page that told me that my patient’s heart had stopped. When I got to his room I was out of breath and his nurse smiled at me and told me that there really wasn’t urgency; he wasn’t going anywhere. It was only when I walked into the room and saw my patient still and utterly silent, his tired family sitting around the bed, that I realized no one had ever told me precisely how to declare death. I wished I could come back later, but it didn’t seem right to leave him there, so I thumbed through my pocket-sized intern survival guide. The manual was alphabetized, and the discussion about declaring death came somewhere before a section on diabetes management. (“Pronouncing the patient dead.” Lamas, Daniela, New York Times, October 30, 2014)

This pronouncing is, of course, a major speech act.  It is also a subsequence in what Glaser and Strauss described as a “non-scheduled status passage” (1965).  The total organization of dying in the modern world (whenever that is) is clearly something that could trigger, in a cultural anthropologist, the emotions that lead Bourdieu and Passeron to write about “symbolic violence … as … imposition of a cultural arbitrary by an arbitrary power” (1977 [1970]: 5).

This pronouncing must be, for the doctor commanded to do it, an experience that transforms as she moves from the periphery (say, in medical school), to first time in full position, to experienced old-timer. It is an everyday practice that must have implication for the self or identity (or whatever) of the individual who does the pronouncing under the gaze of all sorts of professionals and others with all sorts of rights and privileges on the body who is being moved from life to death by processes many of which have little of the “natural.”  This would of course apply to anthropologists moving from apprenticeship in graduate school to the writing of papers on doctors pronouncing someone dead, to preparing graduate discussions about all this.

Now, for Holland I guess, the central issue is Dr. Daniela Lamas’ authoring of her life in dialogue with all the people “Daniela” (as Holland would write) may encounter as she pronounces a patient dead, or as she imagines it, later, at home, or while writing a piece for the New York Times, or reading what still other people (51 as of November 6th, 2014) said in the responses published by the Times.

Holland frames the issue as involving as (possibly straw) argument between the “culturalists” and the “constructivists.”  My concern of course, is in the argument between the Weberians (and the culture and personality version of Boasian cultural anthropology) and the Durkheimians (including Lévi-Strauss and Garfinkel).  For those interested in my concern, check my two latest posts (“On the collective production of ‘conscience collective’,” “On the production of ‘conscience individuelle'”).

But that leaves the question of what anthropologists can say about Daniela, as a particular person, at any particular moment of her life, as she meets other particular persons.  Personally (!?!), I, and will continue to, eschew saying anything about her.  One the one hand, I do not know her, and could not possible know her even if I interviewed her, or followed her around for days.  This is partly a methodological issue, and partly a theoretical one.  On the other hand, I fear that my saying anything about her, as a person, might lead some in my audiences to assume that what I said about her could be used as an explanation for her fate, or justification for meting consequences that would transform her fate.  This is partly a theoretical/methodological issue, and also a moral one in fields approaching “application” with policy implications, particularly in a culture (collective conscience, etc., in my terms) that imagines the world as being made up of individuals with inalienable rights…  I thus feel (?!?) multiply uncomfortable when Holland writes about Karla, Susan, Natalie, Gyanumaya, Debra, and all the other many women (and a few men) who appear again and again in the book.

And yet of course, since Boas started teaching at Columbia (or G. H. Mead at Chicago), his students in American universities have wondered about Karla, Susan, etc…  My personal goal will remain to throw a more determined focus on the historical (arbitrary, etc.) conditions within which Karla, Susan, etc., find themselves, while still noticing that Karla and all others are not determined in their particular responses to particular conditions at particular times: irreducible improvisation on given themes that, often, make new conditions for future Karlas.


Barney Glaser, and Anselm Strauss 1965 “Temporal aspects of dying as a non-scheduled status passage.” American Journal of Sociology 71: 48-59.

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude Passeron 1977 [1970] Reproduction in education, society and culture. Tr. By R. Nice. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Holland, D., Lachicotte Jr., W., D. Skinner and C. Cain 1998 Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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On the ongoing production of “conscience individuelle”

By socializing the Cogito, Sartre only changes prison. From now on, the group and the epoch will make it its intemporal consciousness. … Descartes, who wished to provide a foundation for physics cut Man from Society. Sartre who pretends to provide the foundation for an anthropology, cuts his society from other societies. (Lévi-Strauss 1966 [1962]: 249-50)

When seen as a set of symbolic devices for controlling behavior, extrasomatic sources of information, culture provides the link between what men are intrinsically capable of becoming and what they actually, one by one, in fact become. Becoming human is becoming individual, and we become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns, historically created systems of meaning in terms of which we give form, order, point, and direction to our lives. (Geertz 1973 [1966]: 52)

These are two wonderful statements about the foundations of anthropology: what are we to do when we accept, as we have since Boas, that humanity in general, and human beings in the most particular of circumstances, are irreducibly different in the worlds they encounter and the worlds they make.  And, of course, these two statements are irreducible to each other though they respond to each other quite antagonistically.  Lévi-Strauss answers Sartre but also prefigures a critique of the still emerging anthropologies for which Geertz, building on Weber, remains the towering ancestor.  Geertz responded to Lévi-Strauss in similarly polemical style.

After a century-and-a-half of investigations into the depths of human consciousness which have uncovered vested interests, infantile emotions, or a chaos of animal appetites, we now have one which finds there the pure light of natural wisdom that shines in all alike. (Geertz 1973 [1967]: 359)

When looked at together, such exchanges can tell us about a (mutually and interactionally constituted) “collective conscience” about anthropology that brings back possible intuitions about, precisely, the collective into a matter of “becoming individual … under the guidance of cultural patterns,” that also produce “dispositions” (a word I found again Geertz also uses in several papers of the 1960s).

But each could also be used as an instance of the “conscience individuelle” that Lévi-Strauss (as well as Garfinkel et al.) imply by, precisely, never quite making of its production the topic of their investigations.  Lévi-Strauss wants to free the human from those who, on the basis of their own social scientific research, would put the human, either in psychological or social prisons  He asserts that examining the ethnographic record in all its wealth of variation and difference should lead the social scientist in the reverse position: neither “natural” nor “cultural” prisons can hold people for long.

On a related tack, conversational analysts insist that one cannot reduce the movement of a conversation to the intentions or motivations of those made to be participant in this conversation.  I’d go so far as to say that all research into conversation reveals that all participants, however willing, must still doubt, seek, interpret, resist, what has just bee said.  And then they must start over when they find out what was made with their statement.  Lévi-Strauss came close to saying this when he wrote, like Garfinkel later, his statement about driving on a highway where “small variations in the distance that separates [the objects/subjects that are all the cars/drivers] has the force of a mute command” (Lévi-Strauss 1966 [1962]: 222).  That is, driving (standing in line, writing anthropology) in a cohort, and maintaining its order, is a matter of calls that are also responses.

So, it is not so much whether the “conscience individuelle” (in its moral or cognitive sense) is full of “vested interests, infantile emotions, etc…,” nor even of habits, dispositions, etc., but that these are not the motors of human culture at work anywhere or at any time.  Interpreting local knowledge may be useful for, I dare say, an applied anthropology confronting other collective representations.  But it will no take us where both Lévi-Strauss and Garfinkel, in different but very related ways, want us to go: a science of the mechanisms that make possible human variability in orderings.  Given that human orderings do vary, and in the process transform the world to which one might want to reduce them, this variability, rather than its possible remains in individual brains, should be our object.


References

Geertz, Clifford “The impact of the concept of Culture on the concept of Man.” in his The interpretation of culture. New York: Basic Books. pp. 33-54. 1973 (First published in 1966)

Geertz, Clifford “The cerebral savage.” in his The interpretation of culture. New York: Basic Books. pp. 33-54. 1973 (First published in 1967)

Lévi-Strauss, Claude The savage mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1966 (First published in 1962)

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In Memoriam Professor George Bond

Many will agree that George was “formidable”–both in the American and French (quite different) meanings of the qualifier.

He could also play in that British way when one does not quite realize a joke is being told, or one’s leg is being pulled.   For example, he started one of his major paper by telling us that what he had to say “must be considered as tentative, subjective, personal, and strictly confidential.  I had thought of writing in Tumbuka or, even better, a language without a script” (1990: 273).  George was playing here with much: confidentiality, subjectivity, writing without scripts, etc.  He was playing lightly perhaps in this paper, but with matters of deep concern for him, as well as for his friends and acquaintances who were playing much more deeply with his writing to shift their own status in the leadership of Zambia.

Now, George, for many many years, was the leader in the altogether challenging first semester of the “colloquium” where we introduce our apprentices to their discipline.  This semester qualifies as a “heavy theoretical course” over which George kept strong control.  At some point during the semester he would also tell the students that he, at least, was not attached to any theory, and that he remained eclectic, choosing theories most useful to address the practical issues with which he was faced as an anthropologist, and one who did not flinch from “applying” anthropology to issues like development or AIDS.  George’s argument about theory was, of course, a heavy theoretical argument building on the Max Weber for whom George had a definite “elective affinity” (to use a phrase George liked to emphasize when discussing Weber).

Now, I am quite sure, though perhaps I should not be, that George was not joking with us when he told us to fear theory.  He was certainly not ironic.  But he may have been giving us a sense of his own Geertzian “deep play” with his many statuses.  Certainly, he tried to challenge us, and probably particularly me, to keep us somewhat off balance.  He was asking us to examine what remains in all of us “tentative, subjective, and strictly confidential.”

I will miss the challenge


Notes: See also something I wrote soon after Bond’s death

References

Bond, George “Fieldnotes: Research in past occurences.” in Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology. Edited by R. Sanjek. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.  pp. 273-289. 1990

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On the collective production of “conscience collective”

Those who read this blog regularly may remember that I have been writing a paper with Juliette de Wolfe on the conceits of autism [Life endings? Or: Ends of life? and Islanding assemblages of haecceities].  I have been kind of stuck with this paper that may have grown too long and unfocused.  I am not sure where to send it.

Anyway, while following a new cohort of students struggle through Durkheim, Garfinkel, Latour, (and altogether doing well with them), I wondered about the ANT of “collective consciousness” and whether what I want to do with conceits may be an answer.  Specifically, “collective conscience/consciousness” is one of the more difficult concept in Durkheim (along with the related one of “collective representations”).  But concepts do not survive longs as ideas before transforming into conceits, that is overall guiding principle for subsequent discourse first in the work of an author and then, more importantly for our purpose, into conversations about the work among emerging and evolving assemblages (groups? communities? polities) explaining, using, critiquing, etc., the work and earlier statements in the conversation.  Thus Durkheim wrote about “l’ensemble des croyances et des sentiments communs à la moyenne des membres d’une même société … qui a sa vie propre” (De la division du travail social,  Chapter II, Section 1, 1930 [1893]: 46).  A century later, “it is a truth universally acknowledged …” that Durkheim said that, as the editors of Wikipedia put it,: “Collective conscious or collective conscience is the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society” (retrieved on October 10, 2014 from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_consciousness).  Anyone who writes something like this (though not exactly: do not plagiarize! Do not quote Wikipedia!) passes their exam!  Note how Wikipedia, quoting another encyclopedia probably deriving from still earlier texts first collapse whatever Durkheim was writing about into “shared attitudes” and then affirms that attitudes cause solidarity.

I am not writing today to explain why I believe that this expansion on Durkheim is wrong, or unhelpful, indeed dangerous, for current students, but to wonder about the collective consciousness of “conscience collective” as an interactional event.  This is partly an expansion of my 1984 paper in the direction of making it more specifically interactional.

It is evident that Durkheim, like all of us, was writing against some other writers, trying to say something different to an audience of, in his case, students and policy makers in turn of the 20th century France.  His statements were then picked by his students and their students (Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, etc.) in France, by Radcliffe-Brown and others in England, by Parsons in the United States of the 1940s, by Latour (negatively) and by Garfinkel (positively) a century later.  Now, I write given Garfinkel (and indeed all the others that I read more or less critically at various points in my career).

Let’s start with Durkheim’s own expansion of what may be a “definition”:

“la conscience collective ou commune … n’a pas pour substrat un organe unique; elle est diffuse … diffuse dans toute l’étendue de la société; mais elle n’en a pas moins des caractères spécifiques qui en font une réalité distincte. En effet, elle est indépendante des conditions particulières où les individus se trouvent placés; ils passent, et elle reste. … Elle ne change pas à chaque génération, mais elle relie au contraire les unes aux autres les générations successives. Elle est donc tout autre chose que les consciences particulières, quoiqu’elle ne soit réalisée que chez les individus. (De la division du travail social,  Chapter II, Section 1, 1930 [189?]: 46) Collective or common conscience does not have a unique organic support; it is diffuse … through the spread of society; but it still has specific characteristics that give a distinct reality.  It is independent of the particular conditions within which individuals find themselves placed; they go and it stays. … It does not change with each generation.  It is thus something other that the particular consciences even though it realized among the individuals (my translation.  See Simpson’s translation 1933: 79-80)

 

Let’s focus on: “Les individus passent et elle reste.”  This is what Garfinkel also wrote about traffic flow on a California highway: individual drivers that enter and then leave arising cohorts of drivers, the cohort stays.  The cohort is an “immortal fact” (Garfinkel 2002).  What about “collective conscience”?

From that perspective, what Durkheim might have “meant,” or how what he meant was “the product of his time,” is not the issue.  The issue is the characteristics of the conversations within which his texts were “next” statements (in Conversational Analysis term) within an ongoing conversation that Durkheim did not start.  The current issue concerns using his texts for further statements, long after his death.  Of course, conversations require participants but participation (whether one is recruited, accepted, tolerated, etc.) can only happen to the extent that the participant takes into account the characteristics of the conversation.  They need not agree, or even know much about it, as individuals, but they ignore its mechanisms at the peril of their continued participation.

“Conscience collective” can be taken as an attempt by Durkheim to “say” something “next” that is now the occasion for further statements like: emergent collectivities (made up for a few moments or for centuries) also produce, along with the material means of their production and reproduction, multi-authored texts through the usual processes of encouragement, assessment, policing, correcting, etc. that are well documented by ethnomethodological research for such things as service lines, gender displays, etc.  That is, what might be deemed in psychological terms, matter of morality (conscience) or cognition (consciousness, representation) is a matter of the symbolic forms used, at any particular time, by collective forces to police, amplify and silence individual voices.

So, we must continue to look for the interactional mechanisms (including people, institutions, objects, etc.) that produce discursive and meta-discursive statements with consequences, and particularly when “next” statements “repair” the conversation back to where it “should” be (for example, in Euro-America, bring it back to the freedom of the individual).

If I were to suggest a correction to the Wikipedia entry on “collective consciousness,” I would write something like “solidarity (social order) is partially produced by conversations about what should or should not be done, what should or should not sanctioned; a social order is also a moral order is also something to which the individuals who are caught within the conversation will have moral or emotional reactions–particularly when they see resistance to the order, whether that of others or, more powerfully, their own.” (See also Boas on “The emotional associations of primitives” [1911] 1938) This is probably too long and jargonistic, and I have no doubt that the editors of Wikipedia (an invisible collective force if ever there was one!) would “correct” it back to what is universally known about Durkheim: that he wrote about “beliefs individuals share with other individuals”…

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Writing maps unto terrritories

Thanks to Michael Scroggins for telling us about the post by Izani about “Charting territories without maps.”

Drawing one’s own maps to tell others how to get to one has to be related to Kalmar’s (and Velasquez’s) account of people making their own glossaries to help in getting to speak in another language (Kalmar 2001; Velasquez 2014).  And it has to be under the same constraints as any attempts to give other people instructions (Garfinkel 2002: 92).

The fun part of the post was the quote from Borges, expanding on Lewis Carroll (thanks Wikipedia!), about a map that would have the scale of one mile to the mile and how this somehow relates to Google Maps altogether quixotic goal of mapping the whole earth: who knows that, eventually, we will be able to zoom to one foot by one foot…

There is, however, an alternative that has been tried and, mostly, succeeded: writing the one to one map onto the territory.  That is, for example, on May 20, 1785, the Congress of the United States Acted that [the territory would be divided] “into townships of 6 miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles, as near as may by…. The lines shall be measured with a chain; … and exactly described on a plat” (Linklater, 2002: 73).   And then, a surveyor was sent to write the map, starting someplace in eastern Ohio. Thus one could look at the landscape to find out and tell where one was.  No need for a map when one knows that one is standing the corner of the 42nd street and the 8th avenue (Manhattan’s grid pattern was laid out soon after that which shaped the Western territories).

Before that, of course, from the Romans onward, empires and states have told the traveler (trader, army officers) how far they were from the capital.  The tire-making corporation Michelin is famous in France for its maps, and also for the ubiquitous markers telling tourists where they are and how to get to the next village.  Thereby, besides helping the German invading divisions at the beginning of the Second World War, Michelin helped write on the territory a landscape of villages and other places with visible boundaries and names that were not always “there” before and now “are always already there.”  This, of course, is what appears to be missing in Izani’s Laos: thus the need for making one’s own maps.

(So, could it be that grammars and dictionaries are, also, maps relieving us from the task of instructing each other how to find each other…: “check you GPS, man!”)

(Even more wildly: is Saussure’s “synchrony” one of the immortal, standing crap games (Garfinkel 2002) we cannot escape? Answer: Of course!)

Anthropologies of the dangerous (?)

[my current thinking about the title and rationale for an event the Joint Program in Applied Anthropology at Teachers College, Columbia University is planning for the Fall 2014]

There may be some truth to the romantic image of the anthropologist (archaeologist?) as daredevil pursuing dubious knowledge, motivated by obscure interests.   Why else would any scholar, or apprentice scholar, insist on visiting far away mountains or islands (or other scary neighborhoods nearer at hand), if it wasn’t because some knowledge about humanity and its possible futures cannot be gained from the comfort of one’s armchair (or even hard seat in the library)?  Boas, Rivers, Malinowski, Mead and countless others left the comfort of home on the conviction, we continue to share, that the knowledge they, and we, seek can only be gained by placing ourselves in dangerous places—not only when the danger may spring from wild beasts, poisonous plants, or not necessarily friendly peoples, but when it springs from sovereign authorities.  “Powers-that-be,” from governments to organizations controlled by governments to private foundations or universities more or less controlled by corporations and the more or less benevolent rich and powerful, may open routes to new locales no Indiana Jones could otherwise reach.  But they also control what can be made public, how and when.  They can be dangerous to one’s career, or coopt it, all the more so that the proposed knowledge challenges this or that common sense.  We also need to understand these dangers, theoretically and practically.

Anthropological knowledge can be dangerous and there is an argument for keeping it in protected environments away from polities that would use it to nefarious ends.  But at least some anthropologists always intended, and continue to intend, for their work to enter the political, no matters the dangers.  From Boas onwards, anthropologists have written specifically against what made so much sense that it could drive political action at the largest of scales, justify action, or mask the other motivations that can move people to act.  But many anthropologists have also gone far beyond what has been called, for much of my middle professional life, “deconstruction” (or “cultural critique”).  They have also wanted to help.  Emblematic is Ruth Benedict’s work for the American government in World War II.  This was actually but one aspect of the work of other anthropologists of the time as they founded the Society for Applied Anthropology.  W. Lloyd Warner was involved, as well as Conrad Arensberg, Allison Davis, Eliot Chapple, not to mention Margaret Mead.  That call to help took many form including Sol Tax’s “Action Anthropology” that was also a critical response to what “Applied Anthropology” was becoming (Bennett 1996).   It led to the creation of the Council on Anthropology and Education that provided an institutional framework for entering conversations about the evolution of schooling policies.  And it led to the inauguration of the “Joint Program in Applied Anthropology” at Columbia University as one of the responses of the Columbia department to students’ call for “relevance.”  The history of what an editorial in Current Anthropology called “going public with anthropology” (1996) is long and we must ground our own call in this history.

The desire to help may also have led to Oscar Lewis’ decision to enter the fray of the contentious fields that constituted policy relevance in the 1960s as he wrote, fatefully, about “the culture of poverty.”  This may have been a high point in the public acknowledgment of anthropology as having something to say outside of academia.  It may also have been the low point that soured many of those who, as students, may have called for relevance in 1968 and then later argued for a withdrawn casuistic irony that may not even be dangerous—as Shweder’s knew when he noted that Clifford Geertz was applauded, in the safety of our association, for “challenging … received assumptions” (1991: 72).

Many anthropologists, of course, picked up the task of responding to Lewis and, they continue to hope, to the polities that keep returning to what moved Lewis, often with specific attacks on anthropological critiques.  Indeed much of the more vibrant anthropologies of the turn of the 21st century have addressed matters that are directly dangerous in political term: abortion, pre-natal care and the new technologies of life and death, motherhood, disability, world diseases, drug use, the mining of natural resources, the production of scientific expertise, to mention but a few notable achievements.  Not only do they challenge assumptions or beliefs from the top of the battlements, but they also enter the fray as they trace in detail how this or that policy, regulation, routine practice, etc. enables or disables this or that possibilities for building personal lives.

Obviously, the danger now is not in the imagined travails of journeys off the beaten tracks.  The dangers lies much closer to home, like the research anthropologists now conduct.  Whether we continue to use labels like “applied anthropology,” revive others like “action anthropology,” create new labels (“public anthropology,” “engaged anthropology,” “anthropology of trouble,” etc.), the fact remains that many of us will not remain in ivory towers.  We will face the dangers that must be faced to elaborate the knowledge our ancestors, grand-parents, siblings and (dare I say?) children have been seeking and continue to seek.  We now need to move a long conversation forward.

Bennett, John 1996. “Applied and Action Anthropology: Ideological and Conceptual Aspects.” Current Anthropology, Vol. 37, No. 1, Supplement: Special Issue: Anthropology in Public  pp.  S23-S53

Shweder, Richard 1991. Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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The message “this is therapy,” with a horse

Our regretted colleague, George Bond, insisted that our doctoral students start their apprenticeship with us by struggling with Durkheim’s Rules, and particularly with the argument that, when individual human beings come together, what they do is other than what they could do by themselves, and that special tools are needed to study collective action and its productions, that is “social facts.”  Last week, Jennifer Van Tiem brilliantly defended a path-making dissertation that appears to fit within contemporary research on “human-animal communication,” but is actually about what can happens when two or three humans and one horse do something together, for example “therapy,” that neither humans nor horse would do by themselves.

The same week, I read something in Discover Magazine (my quick source for news from the hard sciences and what seeps of the social sciences into such a popular magazine) that should make all Durkheimians feel vindicated.  In an interview with Bonnie Bassler (June 2014 issue), the Princeton biologist explains how she established (think Latour) that bacteria, these most simple of life forms, tell each other that “I am here” (as well as “who are you?”) .  When the bacteria find out that they have something the biologists now call (metaphorically) a “quorum,” then they change state and produce something that will be experienced, by an outsider, as different from what this outsider might have experienced before (together, some bacteria become luminescent, others produce a film in an animal’s lung that might create life threatening problems, etc.).

The bacterial communication phenomenon that we study is called quorum sensing, which is a process that allows bacteria to communicate using secreted chemical signaling molecules called autoinducers. This process enables a population of bacteria to collectively regulate gene expression and, therefore, behavior. In quorum sensing, bacteria assess their population density by detecting the concentration of a particular autoinducer, which is correlated with cell density. This “census-taking” enables the group to express specific genes only at particular population densities. Quorum sensing is widespread; it occurs in numerous Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. In general, processes controlled by quorum sensing are ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium but become effective when undertaken by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls bioluminescence, secretion of virulence factors, sporulation, and conjugation. Thus, quorum sensing is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular organisms. (my emphasis . Bassler, retrieved on May 19, 2014)

Note that the bacteria themselves do not change as far as what we might now call the “affordances” of their biology.  It is this biology itself that allows from a transformation that, yet, cannot happen apart from the quorum.

My readers will recognize here a perennial theme in my work.  So I will not develop this further, except to react to one of Van Tiem’s critique of much of the work of the conversational analysts which, I do teach, revolutionized not only linguistics but also all the social sciences.  They did reveal how human beings coordinate their activities, particularly when they do it through natural languages and in direct interaction.  The focus on adjacency pairs, indexicality, ongoing assessment (feedback), etc., was a major breakthrough.  But, as Van Tiem argues, much of this research is based on propositional language and thus not very helpful when the interlocutor is a … horse (or the human cannot speak Goodwin 195).  Humans, of course, do not only speak.  They also point and qualify with fingers, eyes, heads, etc..  Horses do not have fingers they can use, but they also have ears as well as tails that can serve to point, qualify, and otherwise make something that responds to an earlier movement as well as possibly triggers further movements.

But the issue is not the affordances of peculiar biological bodies and how they can be used to maintain sequentiality within a conversation and thereby the conversation itself.  The issue concerns the organization of the particular conversation itself as this kind of conversation, rather than another one. (With thanks to Juliette de Wolfe (2013) who insisted on separating the peculiarities of the autistic body from the particularities of the institutionalization of autism)

The issue concerns what can happen when bodies, given their affordances, find themselves in a “quorum.”  This, I would say is the issue about which Durkheim started us wondering when he pondered stabilities and variations in suicide rates (1897).  In the process he gave us all a problem a version of which is implied in Bateson’s concern with the message “this is play.”  Ethnographically, the issue may be best exemplified in a related message Sacks investigated “this is a joke.”  The issue is that “this is a play” (or “a joke,” “a classroom,” etc.) frames a long (“length” is, of course, another problem) sequence within which everything must (be made to) fit the ‘play’ frame.  Every statement or move must (be made to) “make sense” (McDermott 1976), “be suitable” as Boas would say.  Every statement must fit but it does not have to index, in its own performative organization, the frame.  Indeed whether a statement fits (or not) is controlled by the quorum (a.k.a cohort, staff, congregation, set of consociates, endogenous population, plenum, etc.), rather than by the individual speaker.  The quorum can overrule the individual  about the consequence of the statement.  Van Tiem quoted Garfinkel’s wonderful experiment with the message “this is therapy” (1967: 79ff).  The experiment was so set up as to lead people to act as if random answers made sense thereby actually making the answers sensible and the whole event “therapy” (actually, in this case, “research into therapy”).

Van Tiem is exploring the message (“this is therapy”) when one of those who staff the therapy is horse.  A horse is anything but random in its responses.  But there is no strict way to access its motivations (though human participants routinely discuss them and thereby make statements-about-the-horse’s-motivations one aspect of this therapy).  This, for our purposes is good since the trick here is precisely not to speculate about individual motivations but to figure out how the quorum is maintaining its particular frame—whatever any individual’s motivations, or lack thereof.

Much research has hinted how this might be done.  Bacteria do it through various molecules.  How do human beings do it with horses? Van Tiem brings back to relevance Paul Byers work on biological rhythms.  Goodwin has written about gaze,  Garfinkel about ongoing instruction.  But maybe we can also learn from bacteria, or least take heart that we have been onto something worth pursuing.