Neo-liberal (?) discursive esthetics

Cultural anthropologists must appreciate the following job description, as local (in time and place) work of linguistic

The Director of Enterprise Applications Service is responsible for application planning, development, testing, support and operations and project management of Teachers College’s application architecture and strategy. The Director of Enterprise Applications will forge sustainable relationships with IT directors in the business units and provide consultative support to the business units. This position will report to the Chief Information Officer and will interact across the academic and administrative technology services leveraging people, process, technology across the college by analyzing existing enterprise applications portfolio and define the road map for that portfolio as the college’s needs and opportunities change. This position will also be responsible for the college data warehouse and business intelligence environments.  (Retrieved from LinkedIn on February 18, 2015)

Whether the formal esthetics of this description is “neo-liberal” (as temporarily label for an epoch perhaps following “post-modernism”) or not, it will remain a product of a time and place: 2015 in some global sphere.  I suspect Teachers College has never had a “Director of Enterprise Applications Service” and that it will never have another one (as classifications and procedures change).

Reading this job description made me wonder about the form of the text.  Minimally, it would lead to examining the vocabulary (“application,” “sustainable,” “enterprise,” “Chief,” “data warehouse,” etc.) and adjectival phrases made up of nouns (“Enterprise Application Service,” “Chief Information Officer”).

And it made me wonder about a question anthropologists of neo-liberalism rarely address (if at all): what process produces such forms?  This is a different question than the one we (my faculty and student peers) debated in my graduate school days (1968-1972).  We wondered about the production of texts given a form (“structure”).  We (the students) reviewed hypotheses our faculty and their peer had developed.  Most of those now look wild, particularly when they are about the transformation of “deep” structures (matters of “competence”) into “surface” manifestations (matters of “performance”), as well as the analysis of the deep given accessible surfaces.  (And, of course, this remained the problematics in Bourdieu’s opus).

But we rarely discussed the question of the production of the form (whether this form reveals or hides something else) in a temporality that produces a new history.  The one exception may have been Milton Singer who, when teaching “Comparison of Cultures,” taught us about the Boasian interests in diffusion and what was not yet called “hybridity.”

Forty five years later, I am now interested in this question of the production of forms particularly when they make facts for a larger or smaller collectivity, and for whatever intent or purposes.  In time, something is made, and it is now available for people like me to observe and wonder about it.

So, once upon a time, a job description gets written in a particular form that must have currency among some people, but is unintelligible to many others (including me who has been trying to translate it).  Questions: who wrotes this job description? Where, when and for whom does it make sense? Could the form of this description be predictable on the basis of earlier job descriptions (as written 5, 10, 50 years ago)? Could we predict what the next form will be? In five years? Twenty years? A century?

I, of course, am quite sure that such forms, in all their factuality at a particular time, among particular people, could not have been predicted, and that we cannot predict what the next forms for such descriptions will be.  I am quite sure that these breaks in what has been taken as causality chains are not the product of the lack of information or “data.”  Breaks in the prediction chains are fundamental laws of human evolution. (See my For a defense of cultural anthropology as science)

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