Category Archives: Guest blogger

Blame and responsibility: Part three

This is the third in a series of posts looking at the way Yolŋu people consider issues of blame and responsibility. You can find the introduction here, and the case study, here.

In the following, part three, I will work back through the anatomy of events in the case study using the Bernard Wiener’s framework for ‘the responsibility process’ – who was rebuked or punished? Who was considered blameworthy? And finally, what did people determine was the cause of the event that triggered reparatory action in the first place?

Who was rebuked or punished?

The first question to ask is who was rebuked or punished. Recall that Gaymarani’s younger brother, Ḏikarr, was physically attacked by his two older brothers out on one of the community streets. The following day Gaymarani’s alleged lover, Ḻäwuk, was given a public hiding by her two older sisters. Of subsequent note is that Ḻäwuk was shamed by Gaymarani’s mother, Batjikali, who was then, in turn, reproached by her older brother, Rawala. The punishment handed out to Ḻäwuk and Ḏikarr, as we will see, reflects the allocation of blame as marked by commentary at the time. This, along with the public nature of hidings and the fact that the victims did not fight back, nor onlookers come to their defense, suggests to me that these were acts of what Basil Sansom refers to as moral violence (1980: 92-102). ‘Acts of moral violence’, Sansom writes, ‘have a judicial character. They are due punishment, executed with due attention to formal witnessing by others’ (1980:92). Continue reading

Blame and responsibility: The case study [Part two]

[This is the second in a series of posts looking at the way Yolŋu people consider issues of blame and responsibility. You can find part one here.]

The setting for this case study is a remote island community in Arnhem Land, Northern Australia. The population of the community is approximately 2,124. This is one five larger central communities in a region characterised by networks of significantly smaller remote Aboriginal Homeland communities.

 

‘There had been gossip for some months that Gaymarani, who is married with twin boys (around six years old), had been running around with a secret lover. Gaymarani’s wife, Gayit, had been jealousing and arguing him about the rumours for months. Despite Gaymarani insisting that there was no truth to these claims, the rumours persisted and gained currency.

On this particular morning Gayit crossed paths with Gaymarani’s alleged lover, Ḻäwuk, out on one of the well-worn community streets. There was a heated verbal exchange between the two women, witnessed by the ever-public community of kin. The story was and the word spread that Ḻäwuk had called Gayit a ‘skinny’ woman. Gaymarani did not want Gayit anymore, Ḻäwuk claimed, and was going to throw her in the rubbish. She – that is, Ḻäwuk – was his rumbal (true, torso, trunk) woman. The situation was dhukun-mirri (spoiled, soiled, a mess’d). Continue reading

Blame and responsibility: An unfolding ethnographic drama [Part one]

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Bree Blakeman. Bree recently submitted her Ph.D. through The Australian National University in Canberra, though you may know her from her more usual online incarnation, as author of the blog Fieldnotes and Footnotes. This is the first in a series of posts looking at the way Yolŋu consider issues of blame and responsibility.]

I have been thinking a lot about comparative concepts of responsibility lately, particularly in light of recent publications on morality and ethics. Given this, and the fact my political and theoretical views get airing-enough elsewhere, I thought I would take this opportunity to share one of my favourite ethnographic case studies to give a sense of the way that Yolŋu people consider issues of blame and responsibility. To this end I will present an unfolding ethnographic drama over a series of posts.

The case study itself describes a big ‘blow up’ fight between a young married couple which ends with responsibility being attributed in a way that seems counter-intuitive to the observer or reader. The exegesis will take the reader back through the anatomy of events to show how the attribution of responsibility actually makes complete sense when cast or couched in local terms. The last post will be a few brief concluding remarks on the notion of causality. Continue reading

Anthropologists Respond to Frequently Asked Questions About a AAA BDS Resolution

We would like to thank the editors of Savage Minds for inviting us to kick off this important conversation on a potential AAA resolution in support of BDS. Over the past four posts, we have tried to highlight some of the key reasons for why anthropologists in particular should honor the call to boycott that was originally issued by a united Palestinian civil society in 2005. From our analysis of the role archeology plays in the dispossession of Palestinians to our overview of historical boycotts within the AAA and discussion of academic freedom, we made the case that BDS is the only sensible, effective, and appropriate response to the current situation.

That being said, the conversation on BDS is far too important to be fully covered in four short blog posts. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to read carefully and respond respectfully, either in the comments or privately, to seek out further clarification on these important issues.

In this last post, we will attempt to answer some of the most common questions we have received. If you have a question that is not answered below, please leave a comment and let’s continue to have this serious conversation about how best to respond to ongoing Israeli mass violations of human rights. Continue reading

Embracing Our Better Angels: Endorsing BDS and the History of the AAA

In our previous posts, we made the argument that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) ought to endorse the united Palestinian call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and systematic legal discrimination. Over the past few weeks, we have unfortunately received more horrifying reminders of why this sort of external pressure needs to be brought to bear and urgently. The situation requires the sort of exigent and effective external pressure that BDS can provide, and so the AAA ought to do what it can. Full stop.

That said, as a great many anthropological writings remind us, we should still look to our past as an organization – both our successes and our failures – to guide our response to the present situation. In the last of our regular posts, then, we will argue that endorsing the united Palestinian call for BDS represents a continuation of the best principles and traditions of the AAA. Continue reading

Digging the Occupation: The Politics of Boycotts and Archeology in Israel (BDS pt. 3)

Recently, the television network NBC started filming Dig, a new archeology drama set in Jerusalem. Normally, we’d be ecstatic to see our fellow archaeologists getting such media fanfare. But there is nothing normal about this venture. Filmed on-site in illegally annexed East Jerusalem, the show is underwritten by 6.5 million dollar grant from the Israeli government. For comparisons sake, this means Israel is spending more to film Dig than on the yearly education budget for all K-12 Palestinian schools.

So why is the Israeli government, currently in the midst of a budget crisis, throwing millions at NBC to get Dig on the air? Because they know something we’ve been reluctant to own up to: archeological knowledge remains one of the Israeli state’s most powerful weapons. If Dig unearths anything, it is that in Israel archeology is neither a neutral nor innocent enterprise. Instead, it has become just one more tool in the occupation of Palestinian lands.

As anthropologists and archeologists, we should be especially concerned when we see our discipline being misused to promote discrimination and occupation. By endorsing Palestinians’ call for BDS, the AAA has a unique opportunity to highlight the misappropriation of our scholarly techniques and defend the good name of our profession.

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Pt. 2. Why Anthropologists Must Boycott: Israeli Attacks on Academic Freedom

This is the second post in a series advocating that the AAA endorse an academic boycott against Israel. For more general information on BDS, see our first post.

This past May, Palestinian students at Haifa University requested permission to hold a formal commemoration on campus for the more than 600 Palestinian villages destroyed in the course the Nakba (the mass expulsion of Palestinian residents that accompanied Israel’s founding). When administrators denied their request, students decided to gather informally without flags or banners. They were not in violation of any university policy.

But even this silent commemoration was too much for administrators. Haifa University organized a raucous dance party on the quad to disrupt the informal gathering. During the event, representatives of the student union taunted those present and police officers were sent in to intimidate and later disperse the Palestinian students.

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The Arctic is Hot!

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Simone Abram.

It’s not a joke – the Arctic seems to be everywhere at the moment, and it’s mainly because it is getting warmer. None of us really agree what the Arctic is or where – or whether – it has limits, few of us go there, and only a small number of states border the Arctic seas. That doesn’t seem to stop commentators using images of the Arctic to serve their particular interests, often with little regard or even acknowledgement of those who actually live in the Arctic regions. Nor does it dissuade states around the world from developing Arctic policies or seeing the Arctic as a potential resource for their own development goals. These are the themes that inform a recently-established international European project on Arctic Encounters that sets out to confront the idea of a post-colonial Arctic, through the comparison between Arctic imageries and lives in the region. 

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Computing: From Method to Object

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Display system, from Shigeharu Sugita’s 1987 “Computers in Ethnological Studies: As a Tool and an Object

This post is the final part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

The 1980s marked a significant shift in the history of computing and anthropology. Up to this point, computers were primarily considered tools that could be incorporated into anthropological methods. Georgina Born has described this instrumental attitude as “modernist,” based on the assumption that computational tools are basically rational and thus “a-cultural.” A number of coincident developments during the 1980s complicated this assumption, shifting computing from an anthropological tool into an object of study in its own right. With the spread of PCs, computing left university or corporate mainframes, entering and influencing traditional anthropological field sites as well as newer ones, such as the workplace. With more anthropologists heeding Laura Nader’s 1969 call to “study up” and the increasing influence of science and technology studies on anthropological research programs, the scope of anthropological interest also spread, incorporating “high-tech” sites where computers had already become well-established tools. Along with the increased interest in the cultural politics of method heralded by the reflexive turn, these moves brought computers into the frame for anthropology — to serve not only as ready-to-hand tools but as present-at-hand objects of anthropological interest. Anthropologists began to encounter computers not only as tools that they might use or avoid, but as cultural artifacts to be studied anthropologically.1

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Personal Computing: Ordinariness and Materiality

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

The introduction of portable personal computers significantly broadened the scope of computing in anthropology. Where centralized mainframe computing had lent itself to large calculative tasks and team research projects, PCs fit more readily into the classic model of the lone fieldworker working primarily with textual material. Through the 1980s, computers achieved a certain ordinariness in anthropological work — the use of a computer for data collection or analysis was not limited to a vanguard group seeking to redefine anthropology, but was rather becoming a typical fact of university life (and, increasingly, life outside the university as well). This ordinariness set the stage for the explosion of social scientific interest in computers that was to come with the introduction of the world wide web and its attendant mediated socialities.

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Cultural Ecology: Modeling with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

Last week, I surveyed mid-century formalist approaches to computing and culture, which took culture as ideational — a matter of mental states, structures, or content. Ethnoscience and cognitive anthropology epitomized this attitude toward culture, taking part in a cross-disciplinary “cognitive revolution.” As Paul Edwards has outlined, computers were central to the emergence of cognitive science, which was founded on an understanding of the mind-brain relation by analogy to software and hardware. George Miller, a pioneer of cognitive psychology, suggested that computers helped collapse the behaviorist paradigm. Where behaviorism limited psychologists’ theorizing to the mind’s strictly observable “outputs” — lever pulls and all that — the computer offered a model for thinking about “memory, syntactic rules, plans, schemata, and the like.” These notions could be instantiated in actual computers, providing a working model of what was going on in the mind. As Miller said: “We didn’t believe that computers were giant brains, but we could see the similarities.”

However, cognitive and otherwise ideational approaches to culture did not have a monopoly on computational models and methods.

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Ethnoscience: Being Scientific with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

If we had to pick a moment when computers first appeared as anthropological research tools, it might be the 1962 Wenner-Gren Symposium on “The Uses of Computers in Anthropology.” The proceedings would be published three years later, in a volume edited by Dell Hymes. Over the following decades, as journals featured reviews of computer programs for anthropologists, the symposium regularly served as the inaugural reference.

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Structuralism: Thinking with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

In his foundational 1955 article “The Structural Study of Myth,” Claude Lévi-Strauss outlined the program for a structuralist, cross-cultural study of mythology. The basic premise is prototypical structural anthropology: to analyze myths, one must decompose them into their constituent units (or “mythemes”). Thus decomposed, hidden mythical patterns can be made evident. These patterns are the real “content” of myths, according to Lévi-Strauss — they persist across different tellings of the same myth, and they reflect the inner structures of the mind. More important for the structuralist project, they recur in different myths, cross-culturally, reflecting the psychic unity of mankind.1

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Computers and Sociocultural Anthropology

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Nick Seaver.

The fundamental requirement of anthropology is that it begin with a personal relation and end with a personal experience, but […] in between there is room for plenty of computers.
– Claude Lévi-Strauss, epigraph to The Use of Computers in Anthropology 1

Recent years have seen the growth of what we might call “alternate universe anthropology.” People with little or no training in anthropology are taking on big sociocultural questions, and they’re doing it with computers. We find PhDs in Electrical Engineering trying to algorithmically define musical genres, computer scientists modeling family ties in social networks, and autodidact software developers designing “content discovery” apps around their own theories of cultural influence and flow. If sociocultural anthropology didn’t already exist, people might reasonably assign the name to this stuff.
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The Anthropologist as Scholarly Hipster, Part IV: Authenticity and Privilege

In this guest blog series, Savage Minds has provided me with a space to unpack some of my thoughts on how looking at the cultural trope of the “hipster” might be helpful for thinking through the “anthropologist.” Part I focused on defining terms, Part II drew parallels between hipsters and anthropologists in terms of their marginal position, and Part III focused on image and brand. In this fourth post, I examine the endless search for authenticity.  For those of you who are patient and interested, a fifth post will wrap up the series.

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