Chapter 1. Creating America

1. I am drawing inspiration here from developments in ethnomethodology (particularly Garfinkel 1967). Elsewhere (Varenne 1983,chap. 12), I have explained at greater length the yield for cultural anthropology of ethnomethodological considerations about the relation of language to implicit knowledge. In essence suspect it will prove helpful to look for cultural patterns in the way people "expand" symbolically on silence or on highly elliptical messages and in the order they give to what they mention (what comes first, what comes second, what is never mentioned unless there is much time or much prodding by an "outsider").

2. As Arensberg (1976, n.p.) puts it: "for cultural anthropology, three or more persons must be considered: the transmitter, the learner, and the sanctioner of cumulative tradition." I am grateful to Ray McDermott for suggesting to me that a fourth "person" should be included, what I call the "interpreter," that is, the institutions that frame the consequences in the appropriate rhetoric, thereby justifying the action of the sanctioner (my "enforcer"). For an application of this analysis, see chapter 10, note 1.

3. The Apache case is also interesting in that it shows how "different" cultures can make sense of each other. The Apaches can make something of American friendliness; that is, it is recognizable as a pattern that has power over them. It is also possible that we are being misled into thinking the joke I used is somehow "typical" of Apaches' ideas about friendliness. Basso may have included it, wittingly or not, because he knew it would be rhetorically effective with his (American) audience.

4. I mention the notion of "consequences," which I borrow from certain ethnomethodological writings, here in place of a statement about a "norm," what people "should do" under penalty of punishment. Such statementsareoften taken to mean that people will not do what they should and that their not doing it is evidence that they "reject" the norm or that they do not quite "belong" to the cultural group for which the norm is operative. I want to emphasize that no pattern is absolutely deterministic and that failure to perform the expected, whatever the reason, can be handled in terms of the norm: it can have consequences in terms of the norm. This is an expansion of Bourdieu's (1977) analysis of honor in Kabylia. Not doing what one is supposed to do is not evidence that the norm is irrelevant to the group unless it is demonstrated that the absence is not at issue.

5. The argument I am making for the existence of a dominant culture in the United States is not simply a variation on Margaret Mead's old argument that, as Schneider puts it, "the middle class set the standard, stated the aspired goals, formulated the values which permeated every other strata of American society" (1980 [1968], 121). The middle class is interesting because within it American institutional constraints are least resisted, are least visible to the participants. Middle-class people are "dominant" because their refusal to revolt prevents the other classes and ethnic groups from succeeding in their attempts at revolt.

6. As against the various cognitivist understandings of culture, I do not think that culture has directly to do with "competence." Although the emphasis on competence makes common sense, our problem concerns above all joint (social) performance. The mystery resides in the fact that, when human beings come in contact, even when they know nothing about each other, they immediately begin to hold each other accountable for maintaining the interaction. In the process they organize this interaction, and it becomes possible to describe the institutionalized pattern analytically. This does not mean, however, that each protagonist will gloss this interaction in the same manner. The work of Gumperz and his students has shown that this is rarely the case. In this sense the "knowledge" each protagonist has of the other's "meanings" can be wrong without making it impossible for communication to proceed. What I mean by "culture" is the possibility of communication and its patterning and then institutionalization. I would define culture as "a historically constituted pattern of joint performance" (i.e., a langue-a social, not psychological, fact).

7. The normal anthropological mode, when writing about worldviews, particularly those more closely related to our own, has been critical. Our culture prevents us from seeing the other. It fosters ethnocentrism. This is true. It is also true that the converse of cultural blindness into certain areas of the human experience is a keener insight into other areas, a richer development of certain possibilities. America, like other cultures, is rich in particular human wisdoms.

8. In a recent article I explored at length the consequences of the search for the constitutive elements of the individual personality (Varenne 1984). My position is a much more radical rejection of what Shweder, in his introduction to the most recent summary of developments in cultural (symbolic) anthropology, calls the "five rules of thumb" or "heuristics" of the psychological sciences (Shweder and LeVine 1984, 3). The most basic of these heuristics is the third one: "What's real is inside the skin; the individual person is the sole unit of analysis." We all agree that this cannot be the case. We part ways in defining the central anthropological task. Shweder says that the volume "present[s] a . . . discussion of theories of culture, especially as those theories relate to current research issues in the development of mind, self and emotion" (my emphasis; Shweder and LeVine 1984, 1). Inescapably, in Western ideology, a concern with concepts like mind, self, and emotion is a concern with phenomena happening under the skins of individuals. A social or interactional theory of the development of these leaves us with a (possibly "social") psychology, not with a sociology or an anthropology.

9. This phrasing implies, of course, that I see the census as one of the major institutions that appropriately represent America to itself. To do this effectively, it must present itself as a neutral mirror of social "realities." We do not have to accept this presentation of self!

10. It may, however, be politically necessary to "demonstrate" solidarity with "other" ethnic groups. The Los Angeles Jews, for example, decided to distribute green ribbons to signify their concern for the mass murder of black children in Atlanta. This demonstration of solidarity would not have been needed had the parade not been "Jewish."

11. This analysis is still preliminary and should be expanded. The domain of relevance of the issue of "competence" is probably broader than I suggest here. It seems clear, however, that "competence" is not universally relevant to all areas of family life (or school life, for that matter).

12. Interestingly, the "special" character of this response disappears as soon as the family becomes part of the "public" record through ethnographic analysis. At this point the family becomes the source for a new "next" behavior that is now controlled by the setting of the presentation on the family (e.g., the scholarly paper, the college classroom, the professional meeting). It is now easy for the uniqueness of the family to evaporate as it becomes a recognizable token of some well-known type.

>Chapter 2. Doing the Anthropology of America

1. For an excellent recent review of this work see Spindler and Spindler 1983.

2. The reflective pieces by Wise (1979, 1983) are a good starting point for an exploration of American Studies and its evolution.

3. Clearly, the point here is not to adopt the Panglossian attitude that all is well in this best of all American worlds. Rather, it is to reach for a higher form of critical consciousness that becomes aware of the cultural grounds of our normal critical activities.

Chapter 10. "Drop in Anytime"

1. An asterisk before a quoted sentence indicates that the sentence is not one I have ever heard or read. It is not part of the data base. It is, however, useful to highlight properties of sentences that are part of the data.

2. The analysis of the anthropologist's unit of study I outlined in chapter 1 (p. 19) could be illustrated here by mentioning that what happened between Ted and Sally that afternoon in the park also involved any person who would interpret for them - or force them to interpret in particular ways - what happened ("the interpreter"). Finally, it involved any person who might reward or punish them for what they were interpreted as having (not) done ("the enforcer"). I seem to have been cast as the enforcer, for we can imagine that Ted did not want to appear unfriendly in what he wrote for me. There is no direct "interpreter" in the situation as I know it. We are safe in suspecting that Ted did not invent his interpretation and that it was suggested to him as appropriate by all the people who had told him about the world since he was born and by the reactions of the enforcer, imagined (when Ted was writing) and actual (in the subsequent interview).

3. Although songs and philosophical treatises belong to different genres from improvised conversation, they can be seen as variations on the expression of the same theme. Any cultural theme can be expressed in any numberof forms, from the most "reduced" (as in proverbs or songs) to the most "expanded" (as in philosophical or psychological writing) - to use a vocabulary suggested by Hill and Varenne (1981). In the process of reduction or expansion much changes, both in the statement itself and in the organization of the relationship between speaker and audience. The coherence system that allows the statements to make traditional sense may remain constant, as is the case in our examples.