Tag Archives: Anthro Classics

The New York Times on Chagnon

I received this link via the e-anth listserv and thought I would pass it along.  This piece in the NY Times gives a pretty good overview of some of the controversies and debates that have surrounded the career of Napoleon Chagnon.  Here’s the intro:

Among the hazards Napoleon Chagnon encountered in the Venezuelan jungle were a jaguar that would have mauled him had it not become confused by his mosquito net and a 15-foot anaconda that lunged from a stream over which he bent to drink. There were also hairy black spiders, rats that clambered up and down his hammock ropes and a trio of Yanomami tribesmen who tried to smash his skull with an ax while he slept. (The men abandoned their plan when they realized that Chagnon, a light sleeper, kept a loaded shotgun within arm’s reach.) These are impressive adversaries — “Indiana Jones had nothing on me,” is how Chagnon puts it — but by far his most tenacious foes have been members of his own profession.

At 74, Chagnon may be this country’s best-known living anthropologist; he is certainly its most maligned. His monograph, “Yanomamö: The Fierce People,” which has sold nearly a million copies since it was first published in 1968, established him as a serious scientist in the swashbuckling mode — “I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, filthy, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows!” — but it also embroiled him in controversy.

I heard various takes on Chagnon throughout my anthropological training.  I read his book about the “Yanomamo” in some of my very first classes at community college, and then as the years went on I heard about the debates, the fights, the controversies.  When I first heard his name I had no idea he was such a controversial figure.  But then, a lot of thing[s] that I first heard about in my early anthropology courses became a bit more “complicated” along the way.  It’s interesting to me that this author calls Chagnon the best-known living anthropologist.  Maybe he is.  I guess it depends on who you ask though–and where you ask.  Anyway, this NY Times piece is an interesting overview of some of these histories, and it’s worth reading.  Read the rest here.

UPDATE 2/20/13: A lot of folks posted some great resources and links in the comment thread.  I thought I’d update the post and put them up here to make things a little more accessible.  As Jason Antrosio said, this story definitely needs some serious contextualization.  Let me know if you have other links/sources and I will add them here.

1. Elizabeth Povinelli’s review of Chagnon’s new book.

2. Response to the NY Times piece by AAA president Leith Mullings.

3. Jon Marks on Jared Diamond and Napoleon Chagnon.

4. Sociobalderdash, and the Yanomami? Part II by Ken Weiss.

5. Meet Joe Science by Jonathan Marks.

6. Marshall Sahlins on Chagnon’s research.

7. What the press is saying about Napoleon Chagnon (Louis Proyect)

8. The Weird Irony at the Heart of the Napoleon Chagnon Affair (John Horgan @Scientific American)

Good reads: Antrosio on Eric Wolf; Hart on Polanyi

I have been traveling from one place to another the past couple of weeks, but I have still had some time to keep up on the goings-on in the anthro-blogosphere.  The first one I want to share is Jason Antrosio’s post Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History–Geography, States, Empires.  Antrosio links the discussion to Jared Diamond and his famous answer to “Yali’s Question”:

Starting in the 1960s, Eric Wolf was already asking what Jared Diamond in the 1997 Guns, Germs, and Steel called Yali’s Question: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Answering that question, as Eric Wolf understood, means accounting specifically for how Europe went from being a land that in A.D. 800 “was of little account in the affairs of the wider world” (1982:71) to those effective polities that could launch overseas adventures. Diamond would have us believe that the answer lies in the shape of the continents, latitude and longitude gradients, and agriculture, particularly large domesticated animals. Although this much older story may account for the fact that many of the most powerful polities have been in Eurasia, it cannot account for the rise of Europe 800-1400 A.D.

Everyone agrees that geography matters. Eric Wolf’s survey of the world in 1400 is full of maps, descriptions of terrain, and accounts of available resources. But serious historians reject Jared Diamond’s rationale for the rise of Europe.

To truly get a grip on Yali’s Question, we have to turn back to Eric Wolf in 1982. Continue reading

Anthropology: The landmark books

Last year I posted an open thread called “Anthropology: Five Books,” in which I asked readers to list the five books they feel best represent the discipline.  The responses were great.  I think it’s time to try another open thread along similar lines, but let’s take a bit of a different route.  During that last thread, I asked about books that both represent anthropology and appeal to general readers.  This time, let’s talk about the books that form your own personal anthropological canon.

Where did this idea come from?  I was just reading Eric Wolf’s “Pathways of Power,” which has a really fascinating intellectual autobiography (the introduction of the book).  Wolf lists three “landmark books” that he read early in his career that had tremendous impact upon his thinking:

The first was Karl Wittfogel’s Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Chinas (1931), an extraordinary, ecologically oriented study of the Chinese economy, which dissented from the view that China was merely feudal and saw it instead as an instance of the Asiatic-bureaucracy mode of production.  The second was Paul Sweezy’s The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942), which helped me systematize my understandings of Marxian political economy.  The third was C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (1938), on the slave rebellions of Haiti in the wake of the French Revolution, one of the first attempts to write a history of a people supposedly “without history.”

So, following Wolf’s example, what are YOUR three landmark books?  What are the three books that most influenced how you think about, and practice, anthropology?  It might also be interesting to talk about the differences between books that have wide appeal, and those that have tremendous, long-lasting influence within the field.

Science and the Sacred: A Comment from Mary Douglas

Rex elsewhere characterized the discussion around what has unfortunately come to be called #AAAfail as “…between thoughtful people who are aware of the complexities of knowledge production, and those who are for psychological reasons strongly committed to identifying themselves as scientists and everyone else as blasphemers” (emphasis added).  He further called for empirical description and analysis of the social and cultural dynamics structuring this discussion.  Both called to mind Mary Douglas’s ruminations on Durkheim and science, from the preface to the 1975 edition of Implicit Meanings:

Around the beginning of this century Durkheim demonstrated the social factors controlling thought.  He demonstrated it for one portion of humanity only, those tribes whose members were united by mechanical solidarity.  Somehow he managed to be satisfied that his critique did not apply to modern industrial man or to the findings of science.  One may ask why his insights were never fully exploited in philosophical circles… If Durkheim did not push his thoughts on the social determination of knowledge to their full and radical conclusion, the barrier that inhibited him may well have been the same that has stopped others from carrying his programme through.  It seems that he cherished two unquestioned assumptions that blocked him.  One was that he really believed that primitives were utterly different from us.  A week’s fieldwork would have brought correction…[snip] His other assumption allowed him to reserve part of our knowledge from his own sociological theory. This was his belief in objective scientific truth, itself the product of our own kind of society, with its scope for individual diversity of thought. His concern to protect his own cognitive commitment from his own scrutiny prevented him from developing his sociology of knowledge… [snip] Continue reading

Raw and Cooked Facts in Wikileaks’ “Afghan War Diaries, 2004-2010”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (where you probably don’t get WiFi and won’t be reading this), you’ve heard something about the release on Sunday of 92,000 primary documents culled from classified US military field reports from Afghanistan compiled by Wikileaks.org and given in advance to the New York Times , Der Spiegel, and The Guardian.

There is much think and say about this event and these documents. Apropos recent conversations at SM, I’d like to point out that there are probably better places to say some of these things.

One thing that strikes me as relevant for comment here is the way that ‘facticity’ and authority based in being there are at the heart of some discussions.

Take for example this interview from NPR’s All Things Considered between co-host Robert Segal and Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange.

Here are the most relevant bits:

Julian Assange: The full story is only going to emerge over the coming weeks as that material is correlated to the witnesses who are on the ground, both the US soldiers and Afghanis

Robert Segal: [Challenging Assange’s comparison of The Afghan War Diaries to the Pentagon Papers] These are raw reports that are not confirmed and edited

JA: This material has its strength in that it is not an analysis, not written at the higher levels so it can be publicly massaged, it is in fact the raw facts of the war

RS: Some people would dispute your use of the word ‘facts,’ or indeed there might be something oxymoronic in ‘raw facts’

JA: The majority of reports are immediate reporting from the field from US military operations

What I see emerging here is an interesting conversation about textual authority, and one that resonates with our own disciplinary claims to authority based on ethnographic experience (see Clifford, Marcus, Gupta and Ferguson, etc. for some classic wailing on that old chestnut).

Assange begins by saying that these raw facts will only be fully cooked into a truthy pie once they are compared to the testimony of “witnesses who are on the ground.” And yet, when Segal notes the criticism that these raw facts are, in fact, too raw to be facts—that they need a little correlation before they can be safely consumed—Assange suggests that it is their very rawness that makes them good: Instead of truthy pie, he changes his order to sashimi.

The thing is, be they raw or cooked, pie or sashimi, these documents are not unadulterated. They are not like snapshots of the war, with all the claims to verisimilitude that visual medium implies (it’s worth mentioning that this connection between verisimilitude and the visual is also one way that witnessing stakes its authoritative claims). So, they are not like photographs. They are documents written within the generic constraints of military field reporting for a particular intended audience of surveilling authorities as official archival records.

Drop weapons are a concrete example of the things that are written out of these kinds of documents. Drop weapons are enemy weapons (like AK 47s) that US forces carry with them so that if they accidentally kill a civilian, they can ‘drop’ them by the body and have documentable proof that the civilian was actually an insurgent.

Drop weapons are useful because they alibi omissions (of the killing of civilians) from the After Action Report (AAR) which is part of the official record. But they are also useful because they enable the inscription of other things (the killing of insurgents) in the official record.

For a different and very interesting example directly from the Wikileaks docs, check out this corrective by Noah Shachtman, one of those on the ground witnesses.

The point is, however we choose to digest these documents, we need to consider them within the institutional and social context of their production, and whatever they are, they are not a diary.

Anthro Classics Online: The Impact of Money

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my series of posts about classic anthropology texts which can be downloaded for free online. I started the series with a post about a text by Laura Bohannan, now I turn to the husband, Paul, whose classic “The Impact of Money on an African Subsistance Economy” can be found here [PDF].

This is an easy post to write, as Keith Hart has an article on the anthropology of money which nicely summarizes the article and provides some trenchant critique. I’ve pasted the relevant section after the jump.
Continue reading

Thoughts on Imagined Communities on Inauguration day

One of my classes (re)read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities today. Several of the students (none of whom can be quite old enough to have voted against Bush once, and certainly not twice) sagely recalled the last time they had read it, as if we lived in a different world. Maybe we do, I thought, and I felt like doing the same, since it seems an appropriate book to have read on this day of all. Ergo…

Continue reading

Claude dit:

“Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l’horreur des ténèbres;
L’Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S’ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s’endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d’étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d’or, ainsi qu’un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

Charles Baudelaire”, see also

Claude dit:

May an inconstant disciple dedicate this book which appears in 1958, the year of Émile Durkheim’s centenary, to the memory of the founder of Année Sociologique:  that famed workshop where modern anthropology fashioned part of its tools and which we have abandoned, not so much out of disloyalty as out of the sad conviction that the task would prove too much for us.

Epigraph, Structural Anthropology

Claude dit:

All games are defined by a set of rules which in practice allow the playing of any number of matches.  Ritual, which is also ‘played,’ is on the other hand, like the favoured instance of a game, remembered from among the possible ones becuse it is the only one which results in a particular type of equilibrium between the two sides.  The transposition is readily seen in the case of the Gahuku-Gama of New Guinea who have learnt football but who will play, several days running, as many matches as are necessary for both sides to reach the same score (Read, p. 429).  This is treating a game as a ritual.

The Savage Mind, see also, cf.

They Studied Man

My vacation getaway bookstore has a glorious anthropology section. This is my favorite so far:

by Abram Kardiner and Edward Preblle

Kardiner was a sort of well-known psychoanalyst who wrote about anthropology and psychoanalysis. Preble was at the time “studying first law, and then philosophy and anthropology. During this same period he was also a high school science teacher and worked as a professional tennis player during the summers.” Who does that any more? Along with the passing of the golden age of anthropology (and I note the book refers to anthropology as a science throughout without batting an eye, thank you very much), I guess the golden age of part-time professional sports is over too. Sigh.

More Rouch on YouTube

When I read (on NewTeeVee) how Google Video had changed to become a search engine rather than just a place for Google to host its own video content, I thought of Strong’s post about Les Maîtres Fous and did a search for “Jean Rouch.” I was amazed at how much I discovered!

There is his famous “cinetrance” Les tambours d’avant Tourou et Bitti, as well as Hippopotamus Hunt : Battle on the Great River and Graveyards in the cliff. There are also some scenes from Petit à petit, and various interviews and discussions as well. Some of these are subtitled some are not. Who knows how long all this will be up there, so watch them while you can!

There are also a bunch of documentaries about Rouch (mostly from DER), like Rouch’s Gang which can be viewed for a small fee.

UPDATE: DER has a Jean Rouch tribute website.

(Disclaimer: DER also distributes a film I made.)

Les Maîtres Fous

Jean Rouch’s legendary documentary “Les Maîtres Fous” (The Mad Masters) has been uploaded to YouTube. Below I embed Part 1 of 3. (You can view the other two parts by clicking through to them.) Paul Stoller has written extensively on Rouch. Access an online tribute by Stoller here. Stoller writes:

In all of his films, Rouch collaborated significantly with African friends and colleagues. Through this active collaboration, which involved all aspects of shooting and production, Jean Rouch used the camera to participate fully in the lives of the people he filmed as well as to provoke them and, eventually, the viewers into experiencing new dimensions of sociocultural experience. Many of the films of this period cut to the flesh and blood of European colonialism, compelling us to reflect on our latent racism, our repressed sexuality, and the taken-for-granted assumptions of our intellectual heritage. They also highlight the significance of substantive collaboration, a research tactic that Rouch called ‘anthropologie partagée,’ in the construction of scholarly knowledge. Through these provocatively complex films, Jean Rouch unveiled how relations of power shape our dreams, thoughts and actions.

The film invites the (putatively European) viewer to understand ostensibly ‘savage’ rituals as psychically ameliorative. At the same time, it records a remarkable practice of resignification of colonial powers — impersonation in the genre of ‘madness’. {In Papua New Guinea today, under very different cultural and historical circumstances than those recorded here, popular forms of dance [singsing] include so-called ‘police bands,’ in which young men (or women) dress up in colonial costume, including sometimes white-face, and enact military order as a way to impress audiences at festivals of various sorts, especially school fetes.}  Anyway, there is much to discuss in a ‘text’ like this.  I would just add that YouTube continues to grow into a stunning cultural archive.

A note on the Eskimo snow thing

I did a satisfying little bibliography crawl recently to track down some references on the wrong-but-ubiquitous idea that ‘Eskimo have 100/354/1,000 words for snow’ which I thought I’d share here for people’s convenience. Most of the work done on this topic comes from Laura Martin’s “‘Eskimo Words for Snow’: A Case Study in the Growth and Decay of an Anthropological Example”:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7294%28198606%292%3A88%3A2%3C418%3A%22WFSAC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-A (aka American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 88, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 418-423). The more accessible and well-known publication is Geoffrey Pullum’s “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax”:http://www.springerlink.com/content/k0h25l886617384u/?p=cbd1112e3d4a4a848723659c1522cf4a&pi=1 (Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 7, 275-281). It’s been published in several other places (you can check out his “publications list”:http://people.ucsc.edu/~pullum/publications.html). The way that some universities are today, though, you may have an easier time getting a PDF off of Springer than tracking “the eponymous paperback”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0226685349&id=jp5JCaP_xpIC&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&ots=50UblijtvM&dq=geoffrey+pullum&sig=Tf-xoYyRCVhcG7BvdzGAC-nIbm8&hl=en. Finally, there is also a brief comment on “Snowing Canonical Texts”:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7294%28198706%292%3A89%3A2%3C443%3ASCT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-P by Stephen O. Murray (American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), pp. 443-444) which comments on Martin’s use of Boas’s original brief mention of snow. Anyway I thought it would be useful to have all this digested here.

The short version — for people who didn’t get the memo — is that the Eskimo do not have 100/354/1,000 words for snow.

More Anthro Classics on Google

Following up on “Oneman’s latest post”:/2007/02/07/notes-and-queries-on-anthropology/#re, I thought I’d link to some other classics that are online for quick reference. They’re not hard to find but heh, I google so you don’t have to:
“Dream and Gibes”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC18503483&id=FzMLAAAAIAAJ&dq=sapir&as_brr=1 – the poetry of Edward Sapir

“Language”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00853469&id=klwKAAAAIAAJ&dq=sapir&as_brr=1 by Edward Sapir

“Primitive Society”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00928466&id=DdgKAAAAIAAJ&dq=paul+radin&as_brr=1 by Robert Lowie

“Mind of Primitive Man”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC01171659&id=4tUKAAAAIAAJ&dq=franz+boas&as_brr=1 (thanks Oneman!)

“Principles of Sociology”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC70253400&id=lywpqdwukdwC&dq=franz+boas&as_brr=1 Herbert Spencer

“Myth, Ritual, and Religion”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00715867&id=PvBD6iPUaZYC&dq=franz+boas&as_brr=1 Andrew Lang

“Suicide”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC26104723&id=SQ0FAAAAMAAJ&dq=durkheim&as_brr=1 by Durkheim (in French)

“Head-Hunters Black, White, and Brown”:http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00635247&id=dG8cAAAAMAAJ&dq=Alfred+Haddon

These are just the ones with PDF downloads. Many more are available full-text. They even have copies of old issues of American Anthropologist on there (sssshh — Don’t tell the AnthroSource business model!)