Around the Web

Following the responses to Rex’s last post, people may find the Telegraph UK’s interview with Nigel Barley another case to argue over “the gradient nature of the divide between ethnography and fiction.” Or maybe this is a case of the explicit rejection of one for the other. Barley, an anthropologist-cum-travel and fiction writer says this about anthropology:

“I’m not saying anthropology isn’t fiction,” he replied, “but fiction’s more fun. It lets you look inside people’s heads in a way you wouldn’t dare to do if you stuck to anthropology.”

Culture…in the Suburbs?! Apparently foreigners can some times be spotted outside of major U.S. cities, and no one is more surprised than the New York Times. In this article on Latin music in Westchester county (just to the North of New York City), the NYTimes exposes the rise of cultured and worldly people outside of the metropolis. Shh! Don’t tell the Times that transnational cultural encounters occur outside of New York City. It might blow their minds.

Too Gay Good to be True? The Washington Blade reviewed a new book by Patrick Chapman, Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays. A good cultural relativist, Chapman documents the number of socially accepted sexual and gendered orientations throughout the human past. But even the guys at the Blade think that Chapman is a little too harsh on evangelicals.

The Sociocultural Animal: dlende at Neuroanthropology has a very interesting take on David Brook’s NY Times Op-Ed “The Social Animal.” Brooks writes that, by ignoring the fact that humans are social beings, the U.S. political conservative emphasis on individualism prevents conservatism from . dlende counters that Brooks ignores that humans are also cultural beings and that conservatives also miss the mark when they impose one set of cultural values as an unquestionable morality.

Notes from the Field: Ann Kelly from Somatosphere wrote a fascinating post about mosquito huts in Tanzania designed to study and prevent malaria invention prevention [updated 9/16].

Designed by British entomologists working in Tanzania in the 1940s, experimental huts are classic instruments to investigate the ecological realities of malaria and pilot public health policy…However, as models of ‘typical’ homes, they are manufactured out of local materials and with structural imperfections; during experiments, they are inhabited by villagers paid to spend the night and ‘behave normally’.

The post goes into depth as to how the flies, the habitats, and to a certain extent, the human subjects and researchers are cultivated through the experimental process.

Osama, the Lost Years: The L.A. Times reported on a batch of unpublished audio recordings recovered from Osama Bin Laden’s residence. After being vetted by the Feds, passed on by CNN, and turned over to the Afghan Media Project at Williams College, the tapes have finally been cataloged and transcribed by Flagg Miller. Miller will begin to publish the transcripts of the recordings in the journal Language and Communication.

Bateson, the Romantic: LL Wynn at Culture Matters first noted this piece on Gregory Bateson in the Guardian. But it’s worth reposting the link to the article, which does a good job delving into of one of the more enigmatic minds of anthropology.

2 thoughts on “Around the Web

  1. Nigel Barley is quoted as saying,

    “I’m not saying anthropology isn’t fiction….but fiction’s more fun. It lets you look inside people’s heads in a way you wouldn’t dare to do if you stuck to anthropology.”

    An interesting question, then, is what then are you stuck with if you stick to anthropology?

    I must confess that my keen appreciation of Clifford Geertz’s argument that the symbols that comprise culture are public phenomena is rooted in the personal experience of fieldwork.

    When my wife Ruth and I set out to do fieldwork in Taiwan, my language preparation included a couple of years of modern Mandarin, a year of classical Chinese, and a few weeks of Hokkien, the Chinese language spoken by the majority of Taiwanese. Ruth and I were, to the best of our knowledge, the first non-native anthropologists to do fieldwork in Taiwan in Hokkien. Intensive study during the first six months of our two years in the field brought us to a reasonable level for fluent everyday interaction.

    We enjoyed the privilege of free time and the ability to ask questions whose ignorance was forgivable only in foreign devils and small children. We had theories to direct our attention to selected portions of the blooming, buzzing confusion going on around us and an all too rudimentary training in research methods to keep us focused where data could be systematically collected.

    Was this, however, enough, when combined with elementary language skills, to understand what was going on in the heads of the people among whom we did our fieldwork, when we hadn’t grown up in Taiwan, hadn’t lived Taiwanese lives, and were freed by our grants from the demands of work and family that shaped those lives, in the highly personal ways that growing up in particular positions in particular families in particular circumstances creates? The answer can only be “No.”

    We could understand some things, even notice some things of which Taiwanese friends seemed unaware. We could contribute to a growing body of knowledge about Taiwan and, using Taiwan as a touchstone for comparisons with other materials, China and East Asia as well. But to claim that we were getting inside peoples’ heads, that we could speak for them from a native’s point of view. Absurd.

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