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Writing anthropologists bloggers’ history? or They have their own already?

November 29, 2008

While skimming through the readings’ titles, one of which is titled European and The People Without History” captured my attention. The phrase “people without history” is often being used in the context of the primitives (Wolf 1997: 4), “simpler peoples”, “pre-literate societies” or “primitive communities” (Asad 1973:11) .

The phrase “people without history” reminded us with the academic debates around ‘what is history?’ Thinkers of the Renaissance emphasized the forms in which history exists, and mainly the ones in the written text, as the alphabetical writing created the notion that what is not written is not history (Mignolo 1995:  166). Compte Giorgio posed the question: “what history could be but writing?” Giorgio’s question was challenged with another coming from Patrizi: “what if history was also painting pintura?” (Mignolo 1995: 167).  If the answer is considered from Acosta’s perspective that “history was just the narrative of the past”, consequently, these narratives would be considered only in terms of alphabetic writing (Mignolo 1995: 167). Patrizi recognized that other forms, such as painting along with writing, are valid in relation to history (Mignolo 1995:  166). He held that “sculptured and painted record keeping” are more proper to be considered history than the written ones, due to the capacity of painted forms to “revel the events of the eyes without a need to mediation”, in opposition to the written texts in which words are mediated (Mignolo 1995 : 166). Patrizi poses a question to Bidernuccio whether he acknowledges “history sculptures and painting that include a narrative” as a valid historical record (Mignolo 1995: 167). In Bidernuccio’s answer, he did not deny that works in which “words [are] attached to these sculptures and paintings are true narratives of some kind of events” (Mignolo 1995: 167). In response, Patrizi counter-argued that “history was not narration but memory” (Mignolo 1995: 167). Memory which is significant to Patrizi is “not the kind of signs employed to keep record of past events” (Mignolo 1995: 167). An example which he gave to support his argument is that the sculptures and paintings in the Egyptian history were “developed from their manner of keeping records of the Nile’s floods” (Mignolo 1995: 167). According to Patrizi, natural signs are “authorized means to preserve the memory of the past event” (Mignolo 1995: 167). Thus, he expanded “record keeping to include non-alphabetic writing” (Mignolo 1995: 167).

On the other hand, Eric Wolf tries to draw people’s attention in particular the west. As he states, “we have been taught, inside the classroom and outside it, that there exists an entirely called the West, and that once can think of this West as a society and civilizations independent” (Wolf 1997: 4-5). However, Wolf explains throughout the chapter that the western and the non-western societies are neither independent nor static. The author refuting the following assumption by using historical analysis of archeological findings and historical date to prove that “if there are connections everywhere why do we persist in tuning dynamic, interconnected phenomena into static disconnected things?” (Wolf 1997: 4).

“If social and cultural distinctiveness and mutual separation were a hallmark of humankind, one would expect to find it easily among the so called primitives, people without history, supposedly isolated from the external world and from one another” (Wolf 1997: 4).

In Talal Asad’s review article, which is titled, Are There Histories of Peoples without Europe? Asad states that Wolf’s work “is to demonstrate that the societies typically studied by anthropologists have been continuously changed over the past five centuries by global political-economic forces” (Asad 1987: 594). There are two assumptions, which make this topic clear. The first point is that there is no existence of a society, which is entirely “self-contained or unchanging” (Asad 1987: 594). The second point is that an appropriate comprehension of “transformations” and “societal linkages” should be established “from an analysis of the material processes” where all social groups are fundamentally “involved-the production, circulation, and consumption of wealth” (Asad 1987: 594).

In addition, this reminds us that notion of ‘globalization’ is not newly emerged since the diffusion of ideas along with the different sorts of interconnectivity among different inhabitants of different geographical areas that could be also historically traced. It could be argued that the diffusion of ideas to spread around the world is faster than before due to many factors, such as the development of technology and the means of transportation, which accelerate the pace of communication among people, and thus, the diffusion of ideas. If we adopted the idea that cultures are not static, the assumption of ‘authentic culture’ as I believe is not valid. Not only culture as dynamic subject of analysis is applicable but also the analysis of the discipline of anthropology as a dynamic subject is relevant. By deconstructing and reconstructing the historical data of the subject, which is under examination, in this context, the discipline of anthropology, and by investigating the multi-external and internal forces, which shape it, we can find that anthropology, its sub- disciplines, and its contributors are also alternating overtime. As Asad writes,

“since the Second War, fundamental changes have occurred in the world which social anthropology inhabits, changes which have affected the object, the ideological support and the organizational base of social anthropology itself”. “And, in nothing these changes we remind ourselves that anthropology does not merely apprehend the world in which it is located, but that the world also determines how anthropology will apprehend it” ( Asad 13, 1973).

In addition, theories, which are essential backbones of the discipline of social sciences, are not always fixed. Theories as well are going through a process which what I call ‘recycling theory’ or could be also described as “gentrification of theory”. I do not mean to use the word gentrification here with its connotation in the urban studies, in term of refashioning the urban space by the middle class that displace the humble classes. However, I am using it here with a different connotation: ‘renewing’, or if appropriate ‘refashioning’, and putting them in the current contexts by refuting, adopting, and examining the older theories. In other words, read these theories on the light of the current contexts. For instance, the thinkers of the Frankfurt School:

“formed reactions that were attempts to reconcile Marxist theory with the reality of what the people and governments of the world were going through”. “Each member of the Frankfurt school adjusted Marxism with his additions, or “fix” if you will. They then used the “fixed” Marxist theory as a measure modern society needed to meet. These ideas came to be known as “Critical Theory”. [1]

Three essential verbs which were used above shows that the theory could be reconciled, fixed and adjusted with the ‘reality’ of what the ‘people’ and the ‘governments’ of the ‘world’ were going through. The three words: the people, the governments, and the world[2] are the subjects in which the power structures of the ‘reality’ are shaping each, and thus, each is shaping the other. The critical theory plays an active role by drawing our attention to the criticisms and examination of the knowledge produced in theory, literature, and society.

“The first meaning of the term critical theory was that defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of social science in his 1937 essay Traditional and Critical Theory: Critical theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it”.[3]

On the other hand, the academic anthropological and sociological institutions play vital roles in shaping their disciplines and sub-disciplines regardless to their importance in funding and fostering researches[4]. For instance, currently the American Anthropological Association is re-considering its ethical codes[5] in order to de-militarize anthropology. A story, which is in the past, that the past is keen to keep sending it to the future. I assume that anthropologists will keep struggling overtime to de-stigmatize the discipline of anthropology and to de-link it from the colonial era. Despite this, the usage of anthropology in military indicates that anthropological knowledge is important to nation-state. The latter is often conceived as a dominate power. The importance of anthropological knowledge as being re-recognized by this sort of power reveals and relocates the importance of anthropology among other sciences in the academia. In other words, re-legitimate, and re-position anthropology among both the public and the scholars. I recall an incident when homoeopathist asked me once what do you study? And, when I replied: Anthropology[6]. The homoeopathist replied: uhh…you study bones then. I was surprised how anthropology is portrayed in people’s minds and how the specializations in the different fields keep specialists away or with a shadow of knowledge about other fields. The word specialization here reminded me with Durkheim’s highly specialized society in which each is interdependent on each other. With all respect to all other disciplines, thanks for anthropology and its unlimited and infinite umbrella of knowledge, which “wrapped my brain” and its methodological approaches that crafted my skills.

The topics, which are written in field of anthropology changes. This change depends on time and context of the work. They vary from pre-literate communities to pre-enlightenment to enlightenment and industrial societies to capitalist societies, and liberalism and neo-liberalism along with the notion of modernity and post modernity.

In addition, the field of publication of anthropological work is changing from books to e-books, online journal articles, peer review journal articles, and currently the blogosphere in which numerous of anthropologists are blogging. This phenomenon leads anthropologist Owen Wiltshire[7] to investigate the reason behind this phenomenon. This will lead us to the debate of open journal verses the gated journal. This gating might be under the forces of capitalism. As Wiltshire[8] state in his research proposal:

“This research will examine how the internet is fueling change in anthropology, looking at how anthropologists share knowledge online. In this way the research will focus on the culture of publishing in anthropology – paying special attention to the role of new communication technologies. It will explore how academic journals have adapted to new circumstances and how anthropologists are using the internet to reach new audiences. Through online participation, interviews and small surveys, the research will explore what is unique about new communication mediums and how they are being used to reinvent anthropology”

He adds:

“The internet with its new publication mediums has provided new outlets for new voices. The lack of control over information has opened up the conversation space which had previously been controlled through publishers, and through peer review. To what extent then has anthropology taken advantage of these new ways of communicating to perhaps “decolonize” the discipline?”

And, supported the previous point by quoting Vassos Argyrou:

“The academic game is the game of knowledge (and ignorance) which inextricably, if not always intentionally, is also a game of power. The only way to put an end to this game (the only way under the conditions of domination, that is) is to play it better than the players themselves.” (Argyrou 2002)

Thus, I believe that Owen is writing history of blogger anthropologists, but are they without history?

Thus, the development of technology and the emergence and the growth of new virtual spaces that came along with the Internet created new debates. For instance, if virtual sites on internet are real or not, and if they are possible sites for research, how the researches can be conducted, and what are the methodologies and the ethical guidelines for such researches. In addition, how the researcher is going to integrate the theoretical dimensions on his research. Is any theory can be applied or integrated to the context of the ethnographical research on Internet? All of these are new discourses that the field is witnessing in which we can find how the external forces are vital and unavoidable ones that are and will consciously shape the discipline of anthropology and sociology.


[1] http://filer.case.edu/ngb2/Pages/Intro.html

[2] The usage of the word the world indicates all what it carries of meanings.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory#Critical_theory_.28social_theory.29

[4] For instance to the sake of clarity, “the mission of American Anthropological Association is to advance all aspects of anthropological research and to foster dissemination of anthropological knowledge through publications, teaching, public education, and application. An important part of that mission is to help educate AAA members about ethical obligations and challenges involved in the generation, dissemination, and utilization of anthropological knowledge” http://www.aaanet.org/committees/ethics/ethcode.htm

[5] http://aaanewsinfo.blogspot.com/2008/09/proposed-changes-to-aaa-code-of-ethics.html

[6] Capitalizing A in anthropology is meant here to show my passion and respect to the discipline

[7] http://nodivide.wordpress.com/research-proposal/

[8] http://nodivide.wordpress.com/research-proposal/

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