Now that it is the summer I have been catching up on all the things I should have read during the school year, including “Culture and Cultural Analysis as Experimental Systems”:http://www.anthrosource.net/doi/abs/10.1525/can.2007.22.1.1 by Michael Fischer. Despite its very different topic and approach, the essay reminded me of Arjun Appadurai’s important “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy”.
What I thought united them was what I’ve come over the years to call “hand waviness”: a certain breathless quality of argumentation which relies on enthusiasm — rather than, say, evidence — to convince. I seem to remember this to be particularly the case for Appadurai, bits of whose essay might be paraphrased as saying: “gay filipinos are doing karaoke… to Elvis songs… ZOMG EVERYTHING IS FLOWING EVERYWHERE!!1!!” or “hey you know that fractal thing on NPR yesterday about how a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and there’s a storm in Paris? GLOBALIZATION IS JUST LIKE THAT D00D!!!!!”
As a graduate student hand waviness drove me nuts — as ethnography it lacked specificity and as philosophy, it lacked rigor. In retrospect, however, I think Appadurai’s essay probably did a lot of good. As a student I would never have produced work that was suggestive but hazy, but now as a professor with gradaute students I see suggesting but hazy prose as a key way to find ways to connect your intellectual project with that of your students and fellow researchers — fleshing out, as it were, forms community.
So my immediate reaction to Fischer’s piece was that it is a pretty orthodox history of ‘social theory’ (you can take the boy out of Chicago but…) written Fischerian with an enormous amount of “RMA! RNA! DNA! BIOGENETIC CYBORG INSURGENCY!!!11!!” hand waviness tacked on at the end. But in retrospect I think one of the charms of the piece is the way that it creates an project — and a community around it — by creating a vision that is enticing but incomplete.
I know we’ve mentioned this piece on the blog before, but I’d be interested in more discussion on nineties globalization versus oughts experimental systems.