Intro to Anthro #08 – Practice makes adequate. Oh, and study the rich.

Penultimate chunk of reading the “Introductory Readings in Anthropology” book. It has definitely helped with the quarantine, and if – gaia forbid – I spend another two weeks coupled up somewhen and somewhere, then a big fat textbook about something I want to know about (systems ecology? social movements? critical race theory? surveillance and digital anthro?) is the way forward.

Jeremy MacClancy didn’t hold back in his appraisal of Nigel Barley (I have a couple of his books, read them, liked them but found them yeah, a bit on the nose). Laura Bohannan’s Return to Laughter, “a fictional account of her time among the Tiv of Nigeria” sounds like a must-read, reflective in a good way. The Tiv sound fun, almost Yiddish in their shoulder-shruggery-

“Now Redwoman’s eyes have been opened. She sees that the Tiv are not, as she ad earlier thought, callous ad indifferent to suffering. Though tragedy, in their harsh environment, is genuine and frequent, they do not try to avoid their grim reality, but to face it- with laughter. This mirth is not a form of humour, but a lively, and often embittered, acceptance of their lot. “It is the laughter of people who value love and friendship and plenty, who have lived with terror and death and hate.” If they could not look death in the face, and smile, they would go insane.” (p.319).

Fascinating and by all accounts hugely influential 1968 essay by Edwin Ardener on “The ‘Problem’ of Women, pointing out how their views don’t even get asked because, well, they’re only women…

Del Hymes “Ethnography as Democratic” makes the good point that

“Ethnography is continuous with ordinary life. Much of what we seek to find out in ethnography is knowledge that others already have. Our ability to learn ethnographically is an extension of what every human being must do, that is learn the meanings, norms, patterns of a way of life.” (p.339)

A Buddhist parable on the Turtle and the Fish closes things out (see also six blind men and the elephant, I guess).

Next up Edmund Leach makes the point (emphasis added) that

“Social anthropologists can and do study members of their own society and they have been doing so for a long time, though mostly they do not do it very well. Certainly, field research of this kind of which you already have intimate first-hand experience seems to be much more difficult than field work which is approached from the naive viewpoint of a total stranger. When anthropologists study facets of their own society their vision seems to become distorted by prejudices which derive from private rather than public experience. ” (p. 342)

There’s good stuff on Mass Observation studies and their worth too, before the ethics section, which has some lovely fine words about respecting autnonomy and not being a stooge for the military and economic occupiers. Mm-hmm.

I do wish they had quoted Susan George here. They didn’t, so I will.

‘Study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless. Any good work done on peasants’ organisations, small farmer resistance to oppression, or workers in agribusiness can invariably be used against them. One of France’s best anthropologists found his work on Indochina being avidly read by the Green Berets. The situation becomes morally and politically even worse when researchers have the confidence of their subjects. The latter then tell them things the outside world should not learn, but eventually does. Don’t aid and abet this kind of research. Meanwhile, not nearly enough work is being done on those who hold the power and pull the strings. As their tactics become more subtle and their public pronouncements more guarded, the need for better spade-work becomes crucial. If you live in an advanced country, you undoubtedly have the social and cultural equipment to meet these people on their own terms and to get information out of them. Let the poor study themselves. They already know what is wrong with their lives and if you truly want to help them, the best you can do is to give them a clearer idea of how their oppressors are working now and can be expected to work in the future.’

(How the other half dies, 1974).

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