|Important Course Pages|
- 1 General
- 2 books
- 2.1 Anthropology as a Cultural Critic
- 2.2 An Island Called Home
- 2.3 Power Politics
- 2.4 Abalone Tales
- 2.5 New Jersey Dreaming
- 2.6 Between History and Tomorrow
- 2.6.1 Notes
- 2.6.2 Chapter Summaries
- 2.6.3 Prologue: Living within and against tomorrow: toward and anthropology of vulnerable lives
- 2.6.4 Part One:Introduction p.59
- 2.6.5 Part 2: Domination, Alliances and descent p.114
- 2.6.6 Part 3: The politics of subsistence production: Hegemony at work in a collapsing state p.179
- 2.6.7 Conclusion p.300
- 2.6.8 Epilogue:When Communities implode: a partisan anthropology p.308
- 2.6.9 Reviews
- 2.6.10 Themes
- 2.6.11 Culture
- 2.6.12 Class
- 2.6.13 Race(ethnicity)
- 2.6.14 Gender
- 2.6.15 Memory(history)
- 2.6.16 Feildwork
Anthropology as a Cultural Critic
1986 George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fisher
An Island Called Home
2007 Ruth Behar
2009 Karen Brodkin
In the late 1990s, California faced an unprecedented energy crisis as the deregulation and sale of electricity led to massive energy shortages. Faced with the prospect of a crippled economy, the state and local governments made a concerted push to increase energy production by building new power plants. South Gate, a poor, largely Latino community in southern Los Angeles County, was one proposed site for a new plant. Karen Brodkin's Power Politics tells the story of how South Gate residents, concerned about threats to community health and well-being, spearheaded a grassroots campaign that was successful in blocking the plant's construction. The story represents a remarkable achievement of environmental justice activism in a state where sites of pollution and toxic wastes are overwhelmingly located in communities of colour. Indeed, in the United States, there is a startling correlation between non-white populations and proximity to environmental hazards. Because this racial correlation transcends class markers - poor non-white communities are more likely to face pollution problems than poor white ones - the phenomena has been termed "environmental racism." In communities of colour environmental movements are often informed with a recognition of this inequality, and today, environmental activism in many communities fuses social justice with environmental concerns.
Power Politics follows the high-school activism group Youth for Environmental Justice (Youth-EJ) and the affiliated Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). The two groups' successful community outreach campaign took on a well-financed and institutionally supported PR offensive by Sunlaw Energy Corporation, leading to a decisive victory in a city referendum that thwarted Sunlaw's plans to build the plant. But as Brodkin shows, this was not a simple "David versus Goliath" story of a poor community fighting against a giant corporation. Environmental justice activists, concerned primarily with issues of community health and safety, found themselves up against labour and mainstream environmentalists who saw the plant as a source of good jobs and as a long-term benefit to California's air quality. Indeed, Sunlaw Energy portrayed itself as leading a working-class environmental struggle. The company perceived itself in its own political fight against major energy producers with vested interests in maintaining their dominance, and with support from progressive legislators and environmental advocates, it hoped to showcase innovative new technology that could reduce toxic emissions from power generation. Thus on one level the story is of the clash of two environmentalisms - one centered in progressive institutions and declaring jobs as the most important working-class issue and the other grassroots and prioritizing community health.
Beneath the surface, however, the issue took on a racial and ethnic dimension. Historically, racial tensions in the city were high as an influx of Mexican and Central American immigration transformed the once white city into a predominantly Latino one. Brodkin examines the "racial elephant in the living room: how racism, xenophobia, and widespread refusal to talk about them" (p15) affected the environmental struggle. While both sides received some level of cross-ethnic support, support for he power plant was strongest among the older, white (and established Latino) residents in the community. Pro-plant community members tied the anti-plant movement to a corrupt political system that played on the political naïveté of new immigrants. But publically, pro-plant voices strictly avoided any mention of race. Brodkin shows how the mainstream environmentalists' avoidance of racial language "erased the ethnic variety within working-class experience and priorities" and the focus on state-wide air quality acted to "erase its local variability, which is tightly linked to racial and ethnic segregation where people live and work" (p198). Jobs itself was an issues that carried racial and ethnic baggage. The union jobs that the plant promised to bring, Brodkin contends, "have long been poster children for racially exclusionary male unionism" (p193). Thus, a main component of Power Politics is a critique of a class-transcendent perspective on social and environmental issues, pointing out that "appeals to class solidarity historically have prioritized the issues and visions of white men, thus substituting interests of part of the class for the whole and erasing those of the rest" (p193).
Brodkin provides a compelling illustration of the multiple, intersecting perspectives that surrounded South Gate's environmental struggle. By displaying the divergent views of labor unions, environmental entrepreneurs, progressive legislators, and concerned community members, she highlights the unstable and subjective nature of political identity. Brodkin credits Youth-EJ and CBE's remarkable success to their clear and compelling message that "ethnic discrimination is bad for our health" (p188). As a detailed analysis of political tactics in an issue deeply entangled in local and statewide politics and involving issues of class, racial, and ethnic identity, Power Politics functions as a rich guide for social and environmental justice activism.
2008 Les Feild
When we read an ethnography, we seek to understand. We want to know at least a tiny fragment of one culture and to know it as we know our own. The ethnographer, an unquestioned authority on the subject, acts as a steady hand to hold as he or she doles out bits of wisdom about a foreign culture in terms we can swallow. We learn of the overarching themes that shape the culture in question, and the subtle complexities that hold it all together. Along the way we empathize with the injustices these people have suffered but know that by grace of their resilience the culture will emerge from crisis either unchanged or augmented. As we turn over the last page, our ignorance dispelled, we feel as though upon meeting a person from this society, they would soon find themselves shocked and delighted at our level of understanding and immediately open themselves to further interpretation.
Those seeking to read this type of ethnography should look elsewhere. From the beginning of his work with the native peoples of California’s coast, Les W. Field was aware that even years of education would not grant him more than a cursory and ephemeral understanding of their experiences. Past anthropologists had attempted to write conclusive works on each group, outlining their customs, religions, and social structures, while attempting to draw their own conclusions as to what it all meant. In the process, Field’s predecessors even managed to write certain peoples, such as the Muwekma Ohlone out of history. Unrecognized by those meant to be experts on their existence, these peoples were and continue to be ignored by the government as a result, with no claim to land, sovereignty, or identity. And so it is not surprising that California Indians should be wary of anthropologists and their notebooks. However, by ensuring that his subject’s voices would be made clear in the final product, and not simply distilled through his own biases and perspectives, Field is working to regain that lost trust.
The various perspectives drawn together by Field’s approach prove again and again that two (or three, or five) heads are better than one. When Field, an outsider, initially thought of Abalone and California Indians, he thought of the mollusk’s value as a food, its role in ceremony and story, its pending extinction and the natives as its ecological protectors. His collaborators saw these things as well, but first and foremost accepted the shells as a small piece of their identities, inextricably linked to real places. These places hold more pieces of this whole, and only through the reclamation of their original land can the whole of their identity approach completion.
This work is an attempt at collaborative research that draws in the expertise and collective knowledge of various native leaders and intellectuals. What resulted is necessarily inconclusive, sporadic, and fragmentary. Still, if this is what the reader takes away, they will still likely have a better understanding of the struggle experienced by California Indians to recover the traditions, religions, and knowledge lost over years of colonial upheaval, displacement and erasure.
The reader must not expect to finish Abalone Tales with a feeling of completion or understanding. If anything, the diverse snapshots of meaning provided by each of the collaborators will make them question whatever you might have known before. This could be the entire point: to undermine previous accounts that were void of the voices of the subjects themselves. The information provided is not neat and tidy, and perhaps more refining and organization could have been done without compromising the ethical integrity of the work. It is, however, the first step in restoring control over identity to those who have been deprived of it for so long. As California Indians restore more and more of their identities the picture will become clearer.
New Jersey Dreaming
2003 Sherry Ortner
A native Anthroplogist explores the American Affluent Society Have you ever wonder what it would be like to have an anthropologist escort you through the halls of high school, or sit at your table at the 40th year class reunion. Gathering, analysing and interpreting this complex but familiar world. After her work with the Sherpa’s of Tibet Sherry B. Ortner decided to bring her skills home to New Jersey and do exactly this in New Jersey Dreaming: capital, culture, and the class of ‘58. She follows her classmates, the students of the class of 1958 as they navigate the American class and racial system striving for success and the American Dream. The result is a transparent account of the transformation of American social constructs during the last half of the 20th century.
Nothing is taken for granted in this investigation into perceptions and reality of class and their projects for upward mobility, one of Ortners great assets is as a trained observer. She includes issues of financial, family, and ethnic background in a predominantly Jewish area of Newark. Who was her graduating class Weequahic is a subject approached at many different angles. She presents data and testimonies to navigate the politics of cashmere sweaters and class offices but ultimately what become most surprisingly applicable and tangible to all high school life in America are her models. Ortner presents a Levi Strauss type structuralist model of the high school social categories based on financial back ground and individual’s tendencies which speaks volumes to the teen experience. Creating a way of understanding why students tend to become and be classified as popular, jock, nerd, average citizen, or rebel. She moves between finite objective models to discussions of the role of friendship and family as she moves on the representation of college, and career and ultimately the American “Success”.
Ortner presents not only her analysis but her reasons for her frameworks, methods and experiences creating a transparent anthropological exploration into American structure and values during the last half century in a way that is accessible to her class mates and relevant to scholars. She carefully justifies her approach at each step particularly appreciated when breaking down classes and ethnicities for analysis. Incorporating a variety of sources of inspiration including the anthropologist theories of Foucault and Bourdieu, Novels like Portnoy’s Complaint and iconic media such as Rebel Without a Cause. A sample of field notes provides the reader with her sentiments, learning process and interesting anecdotes that hint at the trends laid out in the book. The downfall of this impressive book if any is that Ortner has bitten of more than 277 pages can chew. The author had gone as far as interviewing the children of the class of ’58 which had to be omitted from the book due to the added complexity. In the end depth of this book may have benefited from either fewer approaches and subjects of analysis or more pages to achieve her great vision in. This refreshing tour of a cohort manages to outline a story of a period of revolutions that continues to better the society of study. Ultimately through national, ethnic, family, and individual class elevation projects her generation was able to redefine and restructure their identities within the American class system. By participating in the social and racial movements of the 1960s-70s many individuals were able to formulate a life and identity that suited them and which they would consider ‘successful’. This book comes at a time when features of the American way of life (such as energy consumption) are being threatened and reminds us that striving for success is ongoing project; the American Dream comes with plasticity.
Ortner follows Bourdieu(page 12-13) by using notion of habitus. note, however, the way in which she links this to her definition of class. in her discussion of boundaries, ortner also makes a point reference to what aspects of culture she isnt discussing:"a thick description of jewish culture and relgious community"(page 53). she goes on to say that to do so is "far to complex and contradictory" without the most "careful ethnographic and historical specificity"(page 53) this top, tells us something about the nature of the culture concept that ornter is using. that is, culture is more than just a set of observed behaviors, foods, rites, or social settings. it is constituted though time, in particular palces, and can only be understood as a multitude of aspects- non of which are singular or unitary in their manifestations.
For Ortner, class is a discursive construction. she does not deny the material implications of class. However, Following bourdieu, sees it as something more cultural than material. thus, while she dances around what she defines as a marcist class dicotomy, she tells us she will use the more typical american notion of the tripartite model of lower, middle and upper class (though not quite framed in those words).
Between History and Tomorrow
Prologue: Living within and against tomorrow: toward and anthropology of vulnerable lives
Part One:Introduction p.59
1. anthropology and history, culture and class p.59
2.the particularity and relevance of newfoundland p.61
3.Autonomy and the harness: the logic of merchant capital p.98
Part 2: Domination, Alliances and descent p.114
4.regale and rule: the logic of paternalism and the emergence of village culture p.105
5.when fisher.man may starve: The Slade and Kelson Plan of 1825 p.114
6.the times of our lives: decent, alliances, custom, and history p.131
Part 3: The politics of subsistence production: Hegemony at work in a collapsing state p.179
7.the memorial of the merchants of Poole p.190
8.A political holliday p.221
9.we must live in hopes pg.260
Summary: In this chapter Sider examines the fisher folk awareness of their impoverished situation and how they cope with it through traditions, which allow them to create social tensions and ties. The chapter is set up as an explanation of the epitaph’s proverb; “we must live in hopes, supposing we die in despair.” Using several lines of evidence he describes several individuals’ struggle in dire economic situation and social tension. These include: quotations from the note book of Elizabeth Goudie, idioms that reflect ‘a dogs life’, a description of the relocation process, and two interviews on the subject. These sources all evoke the notion of a strained existence, but often express hope that things will improve. The traditions in his analysis are a way of creating solidarity, intimacy and antagonism within the small communities. The cuffer is an intimate interaction, which is a lie about the history of the community. When told, it often results in an argument to work out the true nature of this history. According to siders, this tradition describes history as an ongoing process that is flexible; the future then is not yet set and the actions of individual that can determine its course. He then goes on to discuss other traditions, mummering, gifts and scoff, as forms of reciprocity using as a basis of analysis Marcel Mauss theories on gifts. Concluding that these practices define and renegotiate social arrangements in a community and thus to define their existence, separate from the futile interaction with persons of authority. All of this is done with a hope that things will get better, that joining with Canada, relocation, or industrialization will lead to a better life for themselves and their children. Ultimately he explains that the introductory proverb uses ‘hopes’ in the plural to indicate a verb. To hope is an action that one must live within in all times otherwise the current situation will be overbearing.
Reflections: Sider tends to romanticise the fisher folk, idealising their stoicism, the strength of their character, their quiet dignity throughout the chapter. The Cauffer is presented as an almost philosophical reflection on history and reality. He insist that “tradition becomes dynamic because it becomes a vehicle for intentionality” in his conclusion. I wonder if the intentionality might be read to heavily by Sider.
How does Elizabeth Goudie’s description of her life advance the thesis of this chapter and match Siders description of the situation?
How are lives lived in ‘hopes’ as a verb demonstrated through this chapter?
In what ways does tradition shape social ties among the outports?