Category Archives: Random

The historical event that merges the secularism & ontology debates

I’ve found the historical tidbit that finally merges the ca. 2000s secularism debates and the ca. 2010s ontology/human-animal debates in anthropology. It’s from Eric Hazan’s A History of the Barricade (Verso Books):

Henri III, who had previously been king of Poland, came to the throne of France in 1574 on the death of his brother Charles IX (the king of the St Bartholomew massacre). He was not popular, particularly in Paris, which at that time was very Catholic and traditional. His entourage was lampooned, the famous ‘mignons’ who passed their time in duels and debauchery of various kinds. He was attacked for his fantasies, his cross-dressing, his taste for lapdogs and exotic animals. Pierre de L’Estoile, gentleman usher to the chancellery and quite royalist in his sympathies, related in his diary that on 14 July 1576: 

The king and queen arrived in Paris on return from the land of Normandy, from where they brought a large quantity of monkeys, parrots, and small dogs purchased in Dieppe. Some of these parrots, the majority trained by the Huguenots, gave out all kinds of nonsense and railing against the mass, the pope, and the ceremonies of the Roman church; when some people who had been offended said this to the king, he replied that you don’t interfere with the conscience of parrots.

You heard it here, folks: you don’t interfere with the conscience of a parrot. Fowl mouth and all.


State of Exception

The semiotics–the poetry–of the phrase “9/11” increasingly strikes me. For one, it removes the year from the date, which puts it in a continual, circular temporarily (there is always a recent and an upcoming September) rather than a linear annual one (by now 2001 seems so far away to my students!). The effect is that we are in constant state of 9/11-ness and always will be, rather than being able to see it as a moment, in the past, that we can move beyond.  This is my understanding, and probably one of the most useful ways into, what many people mean by the state of exception.

State of Exception
This image is taken from the exhibition State of Exception, a collaboration between artist Richard Barnes and anthropologist Jason De Leon. Through objects found in the desert, the project explores the experience of crossing the U.S./mexico border illegally.

Picking My Premier League Team: Week 1

So, as some of you might have noticed, I’ve recently decided to pick an English Premier League team.  I’ve resisted this for years, because I wanted to maintain my Ligue 1 chauvinism, as that’s where my football roots lie (way back when Didier Drogba was on Marseille & Lyon won every year), but my local cable package still doesn’t include their games. So PL it is. Later, I might have some more general thought on this process, which seems to be becoming a way for a certain type of American to enter a kind of cosmopolitan ecumene. For now, however, I’ll just be giving my current power rankings, based on my first week of really watching closely.

Continue reading Picking My Premier League Team: Week 1

“Language and Crime” from Roland Barthes’ Sade, Fourier, Loyola


Sade, Fourier, Loyola

Let us (if we can) imagine a society without language.  Here is a man copulating with a woman, a tergo, and using in the act a bit of wheat paste.  On this level, no perversion.  Only by the progressive addition of some nouns does the crime gradually develop, grow in volume, in consistency, and attain the highest degree of transgression.  the man is called the father of the woman he is possessing, who is described as being married; the amorous act is ignominiously termed sodomy; and the bit of bread bizarrely associated in this act becomes, under the noun host, a religious symbol whose flouting is sacrilege.  Sade excells in collecting this pile of language: for him, the sentence has this function of founding crime: the syntax, refined by centuries of culture, becomes an elegant (in the sense we use the word…

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Where is the next, STS-inspired, George Stocking?

Lawrence Cohen, in one of the seemingly endless stream of insights he casts around, once suggested to me that the history of anthropology needs to be understood in terms of its  status as a “field science” over and against the development of “the laboratory” in the 19th century.

I guess I’m just now coming to terms with what we lost with the passing of George Stocking, but it seems to me that what such a project would require–and I am certainly not the person to do it–is a kind of George Stocking for the 21st century.  Stocking’s histories of anthropology pushed aside the easy origins myths the discipline liked to tell itself and opened the possibility to situate anthropology as a discipline within a broader intellectual, emotional and political tradition.

V0010792 A quack pharmacist(?) tying up his pet monkey. Etching by Jo
Credit: Wellcome Library, London
A quack pharmacist(?) tying up his pet monkey. Etching by Jor after Ma.
By: Ma
Published: Ve. ChereauParis (rue St. Jacques aux 2. Piliers d’or) :

Certainly “laboratory studies” are now plentiful, to the point of being basically passe, in anthropology and in STS more generally.  But do any of them take up this question of “the field” in such a way as to insist on anthropology’s central role in constructing scientific knowledge? Who will be anthropology’s next Stocking, placing it at the core of how we understand “knowledge” and “power” today?

“Community Policing” in the Oxford English Dictionary

Just happened to be looking this up today in the OED:

community policing n. policing at a local or community level; spec. a system of policing by officers who have personal knowledge of and involvement in the community they police.

1934   New Castle (Pa.) News 20 Feb. 16/3   Major Adams asserted that the modern principles of community policing are based on antiquated methods.
1973   Times 24 Sept. 2/6   Community policing, at present one of the most controversial talking points in Andersontown.
2000   P. Beatty Tuff i. 4   The mayor think rhyming sound bites, community policing, and the death penalty going to stop fools from getting paid.
Not sure exactly who major Adams is or what he’s about, but it is interesting to think that the newness of “community policing” was in question even way back in 1934.  Of course, I’m also not sure what Adams meant by “community policing” had anything to do with what we mean today, or even by the second (1974) entry.

Ian Hacking, Causality & the Telling of History

For summer fun, I sat back down with Ian Hacking’s classic The Taming of Chance. I don’t know why I missed it before, but the opening line seems in need of a close reading: “The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic.”

Now, on the one hand, I think I know what he means here–that the development of quantum theory through a monkey wrench into the broader metaphysics of a deterministicly ordered universe. On the other hand, isn’t that claim, well, deterministic?

I can think of three possible answers to that question:
1) Yes, and Hacking doesn’t recognize the irony.

2) Yes, but history doesn’t work like physics, so there’s no contradiction

3) No. (In which case, I’m obviously not getting some nuance about the nature of causality)

In the off chance that somebody might be able to help me here, here’s the full opening paragraph:

The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic. Causality, long the bastion of metaphysics, was toppled, or at least tilted: the past does not determine exactly what happens next. This event was preceded by a more gradual transformation. During the nineteenth century it became possible to see that the world might be regular and yet not subject to universal laws of nature. A space was cleared for chance.

Image of the day

A fan poses as police officers control the entrance of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town

Police officer screens a fan at the entrance of the Green Point stadium in Cape Town

A fan poses as police officers control the entrance of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town June 11, 2010, ahead of the 2010 World Cup soccer match between Uruguay and France. REUTERS/Oleg Popov (SOUTH AFRICA – Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

French municipal police demonstrate during a protest march in Marseille

A fan poses as police officers control the entrance of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town

via A fan poses as police officers control the entrance of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town (Picture-9087530).