Intro to Anthro #3 – ‘Savage’ minds, literacy and knock-throughs

So, I’m reading this while in quarantine, 6 to 8 excerpts at a time of this.

Today’s section was ‘Ways of Thinking and Communicating’.

Robin Dunbar (him of the Dunbar number) kicks off with some basics, and then a piece by Terence Deacon that had me wanting to re-watch “Arrival.”

Claude Levi-Strauss calling it like it is

“Every civilization tends to overestimate the objective orientation of its thought and this tendency is never absent. When we make the mistake of thinking that the Savage is governed solely by organic or economic needs, we forget that he levels the same reproach at us,and that to him his own desires for knowledge seems more balanced than ours.”

In an excerpt Witchcraft Beliefs, we have Godfrey Lienhardt

“Zande acceptance of witchcraft and oracles has another function more specific to Zande society. When legal cases file for injury – for witchcraft, adultery, or other wrongs which it is easy to suspect but difficult to prove- and the evidence from difference primary consultations of the oracle are contradictory, then the oracles of princes are regarded as final. Thus the regressions of doubt and conflict of opinions in matters which, by their very nature, cannot become clear by demonstrable proofs, have an end in the attribution of infallibility to the oracles of rulers.”

Lienhardt then quotes Michael Polayni’s Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post Critical Philosophy

“So long as each doubt is defeated in its turn, its effect is to strengthen the fundamental convictions against which it was raised. ‘Let the reader consider (writes Evans-Pritchard) any argument that wold utterly demolish all Zande claims for the power of the oracles. If it were translated into Zande modes of thought it would serve to support their entire structure of belief.’ Thus the circularity of a conceptual system tends to reinforce itself by contact with every fresh topic.”

Yup. You come at the king and you fail, the king gets stronger…

There is then a properly fascinating thing on “The Ethnographic Study of Language and Communication”, about the intellectual and emotional baggage researchers bring, and how it (among other things) can stop you being phenomenological….

I clearly need to read

Heath, S. 1983. Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms.

Of it they write “Shirley’s study of language socialization in south eastern communities, both Black and White, initially seemed to be about language. Ways with Words, however, ultimately proved to be about integrity and quality of life and the need to understand how long-standing personal human relationships slip away under political and social pressures.

In Language in Late Modernity B. Rampton has a great section on shifting conceptualisations of the politics of language and culture in the twentieth century. The “deficit” position, the “integrity of the subordinate group” position and the “larger structures of domination” position, with a new “very general perspective which challenges the assumption that people can be allocated unambiguously to one group or another.”

Last two readings – Everyday Literacies in Africa and Multimodal Discourse did less for me, but that is a reflection on me rather than them…

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