22 thoughts on “Pop Quiz: Who Made This Diagram?

  1. That diagram seems iconic (and is, I guess, in fact indexical as well) of a certain moment in anthropological theorizing. So, Strong, when we are done guessing, will you tell us why you are contemplating this diagram?

  2. It is from an MS. An MSLV in fact…

    You know Strong I think we’ve been sharing a brain since 1991 but didn’t realize it until 1999. I think it is time to finally kick-start my “great diagrams in the history of qualitative social science” plan into action.

  3. Horace Jeffery Hodges wins the prize!

    Now, re: Comet Jo, why was I contemplating this very difficult diagram? It was mostly accidental. The diagram is from an issue of Language and Communication focused on contingencies of communication (Rex linked to a Moore piece in the same issue), and I think I\’ll use Keane\’s piece on semiotics and materiality from that issue in an upcoming course.

    But not to be terribly esoteric, what interests me is that the diagram apparently models the temporal unfolding of the relations between communicative acts and the reflexively-apprehended \’theories\’ of such acts that precede and frame them even as they are reproduced by the acts they precede and frame, all of which happens in and as matrices of spatiotemporal impingement through recursive residues of causation and connotation. (I think, or something.)

    What interests me here is the play of what I would call meta-theory in understandings of understanding. This relates to a general question I have right now about whether or not there is \’anthropological theory\’ anymore, or if we\’ve largely decided that \’second order\’ theorizing is what we do: We elucidate (model, analyze) the reflexivities that govern and guide action (or practice) in various places at various times. Our theory is that there are theories. Whether this move is troped as \’meta-pragmatics\’ (Silverstein) or \’interpretive analytics\’ (Rabinow), I\’m not sure if it comprises theory of the same order as Marx/Durkheim/Freud. Another way this might be troped is as the supercession of anthropos by ethnos — and the reason that anthropologists now think what we \’do\’ is \’write\’ [ethnography] (Geertz never said that by the way, it\’s what he said \’ethnographers\’ do) instead of, say, \’anthropological theory.\’ These are ideas unfolding for me, and I don\’t make claims to originality here, but as I am preparing to teach a course this term on Contemporary Anthropological Theory, I\’ve had to think about what that could possibly be.

  4. I certainly wouldn’t have known, but for the fact that file is named “Silverstein Chart.”

  5. wait nobody told me there was going to be a quiz! WTF? Am I being GRADED on this? Will this be on the test?
    I don’t even know where the syllabus is. Besides, does anyone really need Silverstein in the REAL WORLD.


  6. Ok, tying together a couple of strands here – my new brand will be, “I drank it but I didn’t get it.” Ha ha.

    But seriously, in response to:

    “whether or not there is ‘anthropological theory’ anymore, or if we’ve largely decided that ‘second order’ theorizing is what we do: We elucidate (model, analyze) the reflexivities that govern and guide action (or practice) in various places at various times…”

    Check out this month’s AA article by Lienard and Boyer, where they seem to be picking up this particular gauntlet.
    I was particularly impressed by how hard they work to restore theory to the domain of ‘ritual’. As they point out, currently there exists ‘No theory of ritual [only] model[s] of ritualized behavior.

  7. Thanks! Or, could we say that anthropology has been ‘colonized’ by the idiographic over and above the nomothetic? (The recent discussion about Said below in SM, if memory serves, touches on this.) I hasten to add, however, that the model of semiotic practice that Silversteinians (‘natural histories of discourse’) have elaborated (I hope it’s apparent that I am NOT an expert on this ‘school,’ but I nevertheless find inspiration in it) is somewhere ‘between’ the idio- and the nomo-, at least in my rather ‘vulgar’ view, or perhaps I should say the idio- is recaptured in rule form through a rigorous modeling of its processes. That said, I personally probably wouldn’t want to end up down the stoney end of the ‘cognitive’, but I haven’t yet read that particular Boyer piece.

    For me, key questions swirl around the attachment to or play of reflexivities and social forms/shapes. Stasch’s essay on Korowai longhouse construction in the very same issue of L & C, plus his other stuff on mother-in-law avoidance and Korowai nicknames, approaches (perhaps exemplifies) the sort of thing I’m interested in. I think I deliberately mis-read Stasch when I suggest that the kind of contingency of social action that Korowai make explicit in their cultural practices is tied specifically to a rather precarious form of sociality (which is to say, social structure). I wonder if contingency and hyper-reflexivity are constitutive aspects of looser forms of sociality — like those enacted in lots of places in Melanesia, or like those that spontaneously emerge in U.S. shopping malls. (This is a rhetorical question.)

    The main thing is the meta-. Remember ‘implicit meanings’? We used to decode practice (via elaborate and complex constructs [e.g., habitus]). We used to be ‘suspicious.’ Now we seem to be interpretively generous, to the extent that we see the contexts that practices create/respond to as potentially within the awareness of those who create and respond to them.

    So a big question I am interested in is: is it possible to link up in a rigorous way styles of reflexivity and forms of sociality? Here, anthropos- is retracted back into the socio- in an unreconstructed Durkheimian fashion. Can we model the meta- as a ‘function’ (!) of the social forms it enacts? If practice is especially contingent in ‘dispersed societies’ (say… Korowai, Orange County, diaspora), is it less so in more ‘structured’ societies (hierarchical ones, for example: medieval Europe)? [Um, I’m thinking out loud here.]

    All of which is to ask: Does anybody read Mary Douglas anymore?

  8. I can’t speak for “all Silversteins” but the intention of MSLV is pretty nomothetic — “We study scientifically all the things normally studied by humanists” is a quote I remember hearing. There’s a difference between Cartesianism and a generalizing perspective — lots of scientists study very particular things, but do so w/an eye towards the bigger picture.

  9. My favorite general statement on the nature of anthropological theory:

    bq. In a discussion that has anthropological pretensions, “provisional generalization” is no doubt a redundant phrase. Yet the present venture needs a doubly cautious introduction. Its generalizations have developed out of a dialogue with ethnographic materials–many of these are appended Tylorian fashion as “illustrative materials”–but no rigorous tests have been applied. Perhaps the conclusions may be offered as a plea to ethnography rather than a contribution to theory, if these are not again the same thing. (Sahlins, _Stone Age Economics_, p. 185)

    As for the question about relating reflexivity to social form (understood as social structure?)–this seems unlikely to me, or at least there is a problem about how we designate the units to which we ascribe certain social forms. It seems likely that reflexivity is more of an historical product of situations in which ideas and practices come to stand for groups of people (so if by “social form” we mean certain kinds of differentiation and complexity, perhaps we can find a correlation).

    As for suspicion vs generosity, some of our habits of thought seem to retain the forms derived from suspicion: specifically, the ways “invention of tradition” and “politics of culture” arguments about conscious revivals of culture (which have become “normal science”) lead us to try to situate such revivals within colonial or neoliberal rather than indigenous discourse. This means that we are effectively suspicious of anyone’s reflexive consciousness of culture, taking it to mean that such culture no longer shapes their approach to the world. (These are also good examples of the kinds of theory we do have, which tell as what sorts of things to look for to explain other things.)

  10. This might be obvious but one thing that Sahlins and Silverstein have in common is using very particular moments of interaction (for Sahlins, Cook arriving in Hawaii; for Silverstein, two college kids greeting each other in a Chicago classroom circa 1980) to build a more-or-less universal and ahistorical model of how (social) structure *happens*. Sahlins has a more fluid style, but Silverstein has a more rigorous and richer model, precisely because he is trying to be clear about the levels of description/rationalization /interpretation/analysis at work: the description in time that participants have of what is going on, the relatively perduring understandings (ideologies, etc.) which shape and are shaped by such events, the anthropologist’s mechanically produced recording, transcript and analysis, and the general theory of interaction that is produced with them–all depicted in brain-twisting diagrams like the one above.

    Silverstein gave a lecture at the U. of Chicago last year that made some people think he was insensitive to the politics of representation involved in restoring traditions, but the discussion (at least among the students) got a lot further using his models of reflexivity than it would have without them…i.e. “Writing Culture”. The difference is that as Rex noted, Silverstein is avowedly committed to empiricism and its model of knowledge production.

    I read the World of Goods last year and Purity and Danger in college but I don’t get the Mary Douglas connection, can you elaborate? Is it in this collection “Implicit Meanings”?

  11. Comet Jo:
    Yes you’re so right about those habits of thought and thanks for bringing that up.

    I like your comment a lot because it brings up just the kinds of things I’m interested in. There’s reflexivity in the form of awareness of sociality’s contigent achievement (‘it’s amazing that we’ve managed to pull this [pig kill, grub feast, male initiation] off’ or ‘our manner of relating to each other is qualitatively shaped by the fact that we are aware that we are pulling this off together’).

    And there’s “we are doing X because it is our ‘culture.'”

    I’m pretty sure that I think these are very different kinds of reflexivity and that that difference is profoundly consequential. I’ll be getting to this in future posts. Here’s the Hollywood pitch for this future discussion: It’s John Kelly meets Marilyn Ivy in an argument about Svetlana Boym and/or Anthony Giddens.


    Thanks, too. I love first hand reportage like that. It helps me figure out things.

    The connection to Mary Douglas… relates specifically to her modeling of communicative/symbolic styles and social forms (the whole grid/group thang). Specifically, she has these wonderful observations on embodied practice and the idea of mediation that attends concretely to the qualities of culturally-shaped interactions PLUS a theory of how these enact specific forms of structure. (I’ll add that I think Sahlins has some similar ideas, imho, in terms of his picture of Pacific social styles, and especially springing from a classic Melanesia/Polynesia contrast.) My sense is that both Sahlins and Douglas like hierarchy a lot as a social form, and I don’t think that’s irrelevant to understanding the way the analyze symbol/structure relations.

  12. An old and lovely linkage between styles of reflexivity and forms of sociality is Voloshinov 1929 on represented speech, which is also a nice implicit challenge to the de re/de dicto distinction.

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