The Four Subjects of Anthropological Research

Mark Liberman at Language Log posted William Matthews’ “four subjects of poetry” which were read on NPR this past weekend.

  1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
  2. We’re not getting any younger.
  3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
  4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not what.

This then inspired Roger Shuy to write up the “four subjects of linguistic analysis,” and now this post picks up the meme for anthropological research:

  1. These people are really, really, oppressed, but look! They have agency!
  2. Identity is political and transcends national boundaries.
  3. These people used to have a tradition, but they’ve adapted it to better fit with their current lifestyle and now it is a different tradition.
  4. There are no signifieds, only an endless chain of signifiers representing the illusion of self resulting from desire-as-lack.

Feel free to suggest alternative lists.

6 thoughts on “The Four Subjects of Anthropological Research

  1. haha. The science studies sub-list:

    1. Facts are actually painstakingly created through hard work, and are not found in nature and that makes scientists feel kind of, you know, anxious.
    2. These people are really really smart, but look! their tools and microbes have agency too!
    3. Artifacts a) have politics or b) have other politics.
    4. The more technical things are, the more social they seem, and vice versa, and in any case there are millions of people at every level doing complicated things all the time.

  2. I’m thinking about my list, which may or may not focus on French anthropology…

    In the meantime, can someone explain what they mean by desire-as-lack (which, apparently, may “consitute anthropology as a discipline”)? That hasn’t made it over to this side of the Atlantic yet, I didn’t come across it in undergrad, or I’ve been sitting under a structuralist rock.

  3. Sorry guys, I just had to do this:

    The four subjects of Savage Minds posts.

    1) More evidence why we aren’t Anthroweb 2.0 yet. Still waiting for the day everything is tagged and free.

    2) An economist/geographer/other has written a book. The argument rediscovers the authors own assumptions, reinforcing Western hegemony and unintentionally justifying it. No, I haven’t read the book.

    3) As a young academic I find myself teaching all of the courses. Can someone suggest a useful short article? Perhaps by Rodney Needham.

    4) [more rarely] An archaeologist/geneticist/linguist has discovered something. I feel I should have something to say about it. Any ideas?

    Now, someone really needs to write the four subjects of serial blog comments writers.

  4. Julie,

    Don’t you think anthropologists have a desire for a certain coherence which the disciple lacks?

    BTW this page has a nice intro to the concept of desire in Lacan.

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