THE CULTURE OF CULTURE IN ANTHROPOLOGY AND EDUCATION: RECAPTURING CULTURE FOR USE IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE
VARENNE, Hervé (Teachers College, Columbia) and MULLOOLY, James (Teachers College, Columbia)
All issues central to research in anthropology of education (reproduction, inheritance, differential treatment, etc) have a version directly implicating the concept of culture. Early on, this was a major advance. Later, "culture" (as in "enculturation," culture of poverty," "difference," etc.) came to encode ways of addressing these issues that we have come to fear. The disciplinary discourse too often collapsed what started as a determinedly interactional concept into a form of psychology__making all but invisible social and political processes as well as historical conditions. In parallel the public discourse of "culture" (as in discussions of authenticity, national identity, multiculturalism, etc.) came to encode all manners of political interests, some benign, and some less so. This public discourse of culture easily transforms culture into something static and, worse, uses the object so constructed to achieve goals that have little to do with what anthropology has been attempting to contribute to educational policy.
Our goal is to use reports on research in a variety of settings and polities (Aotearoa New Zealand, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, the United States) to accomplish two complementary things. First (particularly in the papers by Coe, Doerr, Hoffman and Levinson), we investigate how "culture" is used in the political sphere to achieve various goals (construct particular images of national identity, derail efforts at redressing past wrongs, organize the teaching of mathematics, etc.), and how this is resisted (whether in attempts to affirm other images, or in uncontrollable popular movements). These papers thus remind us of what can be done in the public sphere with theories of culture so written as to invite misappropriation. Second (particularly in the papers by Mullooly and Stratton), we investigate the powerful structures (in schooling or medicine) that continually reconstruct particular worlds for people_worlds where they become "hard of hearing" or "successful," for personal better or worse. These papers, in their turn, remind us of the analytic need the concept of culture traditionally filled in anthropology: the need to deal systematically with the transformative power of human collective action.
In this dual process we question the usefulness certain versions of the concept of culture (particularly those emphasizing sharing and consensus) and also reconstruct a version that takes into account recent developments, and yet takes us back to our roots. In brief, all the authors focus, in one way or another, on actors exploring possibilities and challenging constraints in social fields structured by historical evolution and the continuing work of all others thereby made significant. All the papers thus remind us that, in culture, facts are made for future human beings in a process that does not only involve the play of evolutionary and functional pressures. Most importantly for educational anthropologists who face the public, a renewed emphasis on culture remind all that historically constructed facts can make life more difficult for some if not for all.