Category Archives: Scholarship of note

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

Anthropoliteia

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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Book Forum on Rabinow & Stavrianakis’ Demands of the Day

A Book Forum has just opened up, co-hosted by the Anthropological Research on the Contemporary and Somatosphere on Paul Rabinow & Anthony Stavrianakis’s new book Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological Inquiry.  You can see the announcement here.  The first commentaries are by myself and anthropologist Todd Myers.  Here are some snippets:

Continue reading Book Forum on Rabinow & Stavrianakis’ Demands of the Day

Marilyn Strathern on Rabinow, Sahlins, Haraway, Newton, Stengers…

V0016252 Credit: Wellcome Library, London An allegorical monument to Sir Isaac Newton and his theories on prisms. Line engraving by L. Desplaces after D. M. Fratta after J.B. Pittoni, D. Valeriani and G. Valeriani. By: Owen Mac Swiney after: Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Giuseppe Valeriani, Domenico Valeriani, Louis Desplaces and Domenico Maria Fratta
V0016252 Credit: Wellcome Library, London
An allegorical monument to Sir Isaac Newton and his theories on prisms. Line engraving by L. Desplaces after D. M. Fratta after J.B. Pittoni, D. Valeriani and G. Valeriani.
By: Owen Mac Swiney after: Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Giuseppe Valeriani, Domenico Valeriani, Louis Desplaces and Domenico Maria Fratta

Marilyn Strathern has an article in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and, per usual, it hurts my head and will take some time to unpack, traversing the work of Paul rabinow, Marshall Sahlins, Donna Haraway, Isaac Newton, Isabelle Stengers and others in just a few short pages.  When it comes to Strathern, usually this effort is far exceeded in its rewards.  For now, one passage caught my eye, on the work of “relation” in Paul Rabinow’s writing:

Continue reading Marilyn Strathern on Rabinow, Sahlins, Haraway, Newton, Stengers…

Anthropoliteia in Anthropology news

“Fault Lines in an Anthropology of Police, Both Public and Global” in Anthropology News

Another commentary by yours truly at Anthropology News.  AN format forbids in-text citations and footnotes, but if you’ll follow the links you’ll find a dense web of Anthropoliteia contributors’ work!

Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

I have a new op-ed on the blog Savage Minds regarding the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman fiasco.  here’s a snippet:

Continue reading Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

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.

Universal Moral Grammar?

I imagine that most of the people who read blogs such as this one have developed their own ways of consuming digital media. One of the things that I like to do is listen to podcasts while walking to campus each morning. One of the podcasts I usually like very much is called Philosophy Bites, but the episode that came up in my playlist today left me somewhere between chaffed and flabbergasted.

It featured a scholar named John Mikhail who, modeling his approach after Chomsky’s work on universal grammar (because, you know, it was so successful) suggests that there’s a sort of pre-political, innate moral grammar that all humans share.

Now, the “chaffed” part comes from all the work that he does not discuss in making this claim: Foucault’s work on the emergence of “the human” out of a very particular political formulation, Alasdair MacIntyre’s work on the history of moral philosophy, Lynn Hunt’s (among many many others) work on the history of human rights, in fact most anthropologistswork on human rights discourse that I’m aware of–most of which illustrates not only the degree to which such notions depend on particular conceptions of what it means to be human, but also the ways in which these notions of human-ness are themselves tied to particular discursive and economic structures that are quite clearly “political” and less than “universal”.

Fine.  Scholars rely on different bodies of knowledge.  That’s part of what make contemporary universities so interesting. But the flabbergasted part comes from what he does discuss as evidence: namely, the fact that “everybody seems to agree more or less agree on human rights” (again, what can this truth claim even mean in the era of Guantanamo Bay?!  What mode of life and thought makes it even utterable?) as well as “growing anthropological evidence”. What is he talking about here? I literally have no clue. I would be surprised if someone could point out to be any member of the American Anthropological Association whose work would support the existence of a universal human grammar. I will offer a free dinner to anyone who can show me even one domain where the preponderance of anthropological evidence would support the idea.  In fact the American Anthropological Association’s Committee for Human Rights issued an official proclamation in 1999 which reads:

Human rights is not a static concept. Our understanding of human rights is constantly evolving as we come to know more about the human condition.

So there’s that, for what it’s worth. I actually think that’s it’s probably a more fruitful question to ask just what in the heck he means by “anthropological” because, whatever he does mean by it doesn’t seem to include, you know, the work of anthropologists.

Again, I just found out about this guy, so I haven’t yet been able to see what he cites for such a claim (or if, for that matter). I suppose if I were a real scholar that’s what I’d do next…

A List of Scholarly Citations Linked To in this Post (really, this is only the tip of the iceberg)

Thomas J. Csordas (2009). Growing up Charismatic: Morality and Spirituality among Children in a Religious Community Ethos, 37 (4), 414-440 D

Michael Dunn,, Simon J. Greenhill,, Stephen C. Levinson, & Russell D. Gray (2011). Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals Nature, 473, 79-82 DOI: 10.1038/nature09923

Didier Fassin (2008). Beyond good and evil? Questioning the anthropological discomfort with morals Anthropological Theory, 8 (4), 333-344 DOI: 10.1177/1463499608096642

MARK GOODALE (2006). Ethical Theory as Social Practice American Anthropologist, 108 (1), 25-37 DOI: 10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.25

Sally Engle Merry (2003). Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (And Anthropology Along the Way) PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 26 (1), 55-76 DOI: 10.1525/pol.2003.26.1.55

Michael Lambek (2008). Value and virtue Anthropological Theory, 8 (2) DOI: 10.1177/1463499608090788

Saba Mahmood (2001). Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival Cultural Anthropology, 16 (2), 202-236 DOI: 10.1525/can.2001.16.2.202

ANNELISE RILES (2006). Anthropology, Human Rights, and Legal Knowledge: Culture in the Iron Cage American Anthropologist, 108 (1), 52-65 DOI: 10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.52

DAROMIR RUDNYCKYJ (2009). SPIRITUAL ECONOMIES: Islam and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Indonesia Cultural Anthropology, 24 (1), 104-141 DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2009.00028.x

UC system libraries vs. Nature Publishing Group

Savage Minds has a nice blow-by-blow of the standoff between the University of California Library System and the Nature Publishing Group, which merits an extended clip:

UC system libraries vs. Nature Publishing Group: The big news in academia this week was the University of California making a stand against journal price increases demanded by NPG, which publishes the uber-prestigious journal Nature as well as many noted scientific and medical journals. UC, like all of California, is under tremendous pressure to make budget cuts and claims that NPG is jacking up the price of its journals by 400%. Baring a return to the lower price, the entire UC system is threatening to drop the journal from their libraries and ask all faculty to boycott NPG by abstaining from submitting publications, resigning from editorial positions on NPG journals, and refusing to conduct peer review for NPG.

* UC throws down the gauntlet: Faculty do all the work for you for free and then you sell it back to us at ridiculous prices.

* Nature’s retort: You can’t mess with us, your faculty needs our prestige.

* Cal responds to Nature: No, our faculty totally got our backs on this one.

* “The bigger, if duller, story here is not that a university library has stood up to the big arrogant publishing house, but that the world’s leading public research university is imploding via budget cuts.”

* TheScientist.com finds that Nature has few friends among academic librarians and faculty.

* Even on Nature’s own blog readers are leaving unflattering comments directed at the publisher.

* Coverage from Science is also followed by posts wholly in sympathy with the UC libraries.

* Jason Baird Jackson shares links to insightful blogs and commentary here and here.

via Savage Minds | Notes and Queries in Anthropology — A Group Blog.

Dominic Boyer (and others) on neoliberalism and “neosocialism” at Savage Minds

Just thought I’d give a shout out to what’s turning into an interesting conversation over at Savage Minds.org.  Guest blogger Dominic Boyer argues for greater anthropological attention be paid to “neosocialism” because:

If you look back on the entanglement of liberalism and socialism in modern European social theory and political philosophy, it makes no sense whatsoever to talk about the one without the other. If we think there’s something neoliberal out there then by goodness (!) there’s bound to be something neosocialist loose in the world as well. I admit that this is counterintuitive. We’ve all been schooled (not least by liberal and socialist theorists) to assume that liberalism and socialism are antithetical to one another. And, at some level, of course, there’s oppositionality there. But I’d argue there is also a strong relationship of complementarity between the two.

via Why not neosocialism? | Savage Minds.

Now this is an interesting enough kind of argument, and one I definitely agree with, but the discussion has also been particularly interesting, with Chris Kelty suggesting that perhaps the greatest example of the strength of this neosocialism might in fact be Walmart and (with a little provocation from your truly) Boyer making the claim that Bruno Latour, author of Reassembling the Social, is not in fact a social theorist (I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one to figure out if I agree or disagree).

Jane Guyer “on possibility”: another “How Is Anthropology Going” redux

Some of you might remember a panel I organized, along with Chris Vasantkumar and Mattais Viktorin, at the 2008 annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association called “How Is Anthropology Going? An Inquiry into Movement, Mode and Method in the Contemporary World” (if not, you can read a bit more about it in an earlier post).

We were lucky enough to have a stellar lineup of people agree to be a part and, slowly, that luck is bearing fruit:  this last Spring one of the panel’s participants, Nadezhda Dimitrova Savova, published a version of her paper in the journal Anthropological Quarterly.  Now another participant, Jane Guyer of Johns Hopkins, has gone on to publish a revised version of her own commentary.

Guyer’s article appears in the current issue of Anthropological Theory, and uses the questions we raised in the panel to try to think through the use of “possibility” in anthropological theory and ethnographic representation.  Good stuff.

Bonus: for all of you in Berkeley, Dr. Guyer will be coming through some time this semester and is looking for an opportunity to discuss the article… more details as they become available

Articles Referenced

Guyer, J. (2010). On ‘possibility’: A response to ‘How Is Anthropology Going?’ Anthropological Theory, 9 (4), 355-370 DOI: 10.1177/1463499609358143

Nadezhda Dimitrova Savova, . (2009). Heritage Kinaesthetics: Local Constructivism and UNESCO’s Intangible-Tangible Politics at a Favela Museum Anthropological Quarterly, 82 (2), 547-585 DOI: 10.1353/anq.0.0066