Category Archives: Epistemological

Jones & Schieffelin – Talking Text and Talking Back

Talking Text and Talking Back: ‘‘My BFF Jill’’ from Boob Tube to YouTube GrahamM. Jones Bambi B. Schieffelin

by Graham M. Jones & Bambi B. Schieffelin

[2009. Jones, Graham M., and Bambi B. Schieffelin. “Talking Text and Talking Back: ‘My BFF Jill’ from Boob Tube to YouTube.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14 (4): 1050–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01481.x. ]

Points & Quotes:

“In this article, we discuss these commercials as metalinguistic meditations and examine the further metalinguistic commentary their widespread circulation—in the media, on the Internet, and people’s talk—has occasioned. In particular, we examine these videos have elicited since migrating from television—the ‘‘boob tube’’—to YouTube, a website whose commenting feature has allowed texting aficionados to voice their metalinguistic views, at times in direct confrontation with language prescriptivists.” (1051)

“Most positive assessments of the commercials in the media and online emphasize how ‘‘funny’’ they are, leading us to analyze them here as instances of speech play” […]
Generally speaking, humor depends on the performative violation of expectations or conventions, often providing a publicly acceptable occasion for expressing latent tensions, frustrations, or fears (Beeman, 1981, 2000). In this sense, jokes often vehicle serious meanings or perform serious functions […]
On one hand, proponents of what Cameron (1995) calls ‘‘verbal hygiene’’ can point to the commercials as evidence of the danger teenage texting poses to Standard English. From this perspective, text-like speech is a kind of verbal contamination, resembling Mary Douglas’s (2002, pp. 44–5) famous description of dirt as ‘‘matter out of place.’’ […]
On the other hand, the positive reactions of young fans to the commercials suggest a different way of conceptualizing the same scenes of linguistic category confusion—in terms of Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque. (Bakhtin 1984, p. 10)
(1052-1053)

The Commercials

“the commercials paint a somewhat equivocal picture. They imagine the texting craze as a source of verbal anarchy with the potential to radically transform language and undermine communication between parents and children. At the same time, they clearly delight in the generativity of texting conventions and the infectious new forms of speech play that texting enables.” (1058)

“The phrase ‘‘IDK, my BFF Jill?’’ achieved a kind of free-standing iconicity, circulating widely in young people’s talk. The availability of the commercials for viewing on video sharing sites such as YouTube encouraged open-ended, asynchronous, discussion about their form, content, and linguistic implications in online forums.” (1058)

Just as news programs … “decontextualized” and “recontextualized (Bauman & Briggs, 1990) materials from the ‘‘Beth Ann’’ ads to construct narratives about the evolving language of texting, other sources indicate that young people across the United States extracted and performed key phrases from the commercial in everyday communication, establishing different “relations of intertextuality” (Spitulnik, 1997, p. 162). In her study of the circulation of the reception of mass media in Zambia, Spitulnik explores the way “phrases and discourse styles are extracted from radio broadcasting then recycled and reanimated in everyday usage, outside of the contexts of radio listening.” Spitulnik focuses on the way “detachable” elements of media discourse provide iconic cultural reference points that accompany the formation of speech community. (1059)

YouTube

“Commercials recorded from television by individual fans have been a popular upload item, making advertising itself an object of what Henry Jenkins (2006, 2008) calls the new “participatory culture” of fandom.” […]
but it is in the written comments about the three commercials themselves where the most dynamic metalinguistic dialogue unfolds.” (1061)

“We consider the YouTube dialogues about the emergent language of texting especially significant given Herring’s assertion that “mainstream media commentators interpret new technologies and youth practices in normative, moral terms, a process that reinscribes youth as ‘other,’” (2008, p. 71) and that young people have proportionally”‘fewer rights and opportunities to participate in public discourse” (p. 76) about their own practices.” (1062)

“Through the examination of a recent convergence between advertising, technology, and slang, we explore a timeless relationship fundamental to human language: the nexus of poetic language and metalanguage. In his famous distinction between the six dimensions and corresponding functions of language, Jakobson (1985) defines a verbal message that calls attention to its own construction as poetic, and a verbal message about language itself as metalingual (i.e., metalinguistic). […]
The original AT&T commercials are brilliantly crafted artifacts of speech play that assemble elements of everyday language in highly artificial but eminently entertaining verbal performances. These performances, in turn, provide not only resources for further verbal play, but also an impetus for metalinguistic commentary and assessment. In short, we argue that there is a direct, if not causal, connection between the ads’ poetic deployment of texting language and the critical discussions about texting language they have occasioned.” (1074-1075)

“It is clear that young people are actively consuming and producing YouTube content. What is particularly impressive to us is the attentiveness to language, both as a medium for verbal play and as stylistic marker of group membership subject to careful scrutiny, evident in the dialogues around the commercials. This leads us to conclude that the verbal ingenuity associated with texting — and talking text — should be viewed not as evidence of linguistic decline, but rather in terms of the reflexive, metalinguistic, sophistication it necessarily presupposes and potentially promotes.” (1075)

Terms:

speech play— ‘‘the manipulation of elements and components of language in relation to one another, in relation to the social and cultural contexts of language use, and against the backdrop of other verbal possibilities in which it is not foregrounded.’’ (Sherzer 2002, p. 1)

Abstract:

Exploring the close relationship between poetic language and metalanguage, this article analyzes both a series of 2007-8 U.S. TV ads that humorously deploy the language of text messaging, and the subsequent debates about the linguistic status of texting that they occasioned. We explore the ambivalence of commercials that at once resonate with fears of messaging slang as a verbal contagion and luxuriate in the playful inversion of standard language hierarchies. The commercials were invoked by monologic mainstream media as evidence of language decay, but their circulation on YouTube invited dialogic metalinguistic discussions, in which young people and texting proponents could share the floor with adults and language prescriptivists. We examine some of the themes that emerge in the commentary YouTubers have posted about these ads, and discuss the style of that commentary as itself significant.

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Smedley & Smedley- Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real

Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Social Construction of Race

by Audrey Smedley & Brian D. Smedley

[ Smedley, Audrey & Brian D. Smedley. 2005. “Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Social Construction of Race” in American Psychologist, Vol. 60, No. 1, 16–26]

Points & Quotes:

The very important main take away is in the title.

Here is a long quote that basically sums up most of the argument: “Categories of people that constitute social races bear little relationship to the reality of human biological diversity. From its inception, race was a folk idea, a culturally invented conception about human differences. It became an important mechanism for limiting and restricting access to privilege, power, and wealth. The ideology arose as a rationalization and justification for human slavery at a time when Western European societies were embracing philosophies promoting individual and human rights, liberty, democracy, justice, brotherhood, and equality. The idea of race distorts, exaggerates, and maximizes human differences; it is the most extreme form of difference that humans can assert about another human being or group, as one of its components is the belief that differences are permanent and cannot be overcome.” (22)

But here is the breakdown:

Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on Ethnicity, Culture, and Race

“The consensus among most scholars in fields such as evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other disciplines is that racial distinctions fail on all three counts— that is, they are not genetically discrete, are not reliably measured, and are not scientifically meaningful
[…]
race is a fairly recent construct, one that emerged well after population groups from different continents came into contact with one another.”(16)

“What is common to most anthropological conceptions of culture is the contention that culture is external, acquired, and transmissible to others. They do not treat culture as a part of the innate biological equipment of humans” (18)

“Ethnicity and culture are related phenomena and bear no intrinsic connection to human biological variations or race. Ethnicity refers to clusters of people who have common culture traits that they distinguish from those of other people.
…”ethnic groups and ethnicity are not fixed, bounded entities; they are open, flexible, and subject to change, and they are usually self- defined” (17)

“Ethnic differences also constitute an arena of diverse interests that can lead to conflict, […and] The most significant thing about interethnic conflict is that the vast majority of such conflicts have been, and still are, with neighboring groups—people who inhabit the same general environment and who virtually always share physical similarities, as, for example, the English and the Irish, Serbians and Croatians, Indians and Pakistanis, Armenians and Turks, Japanese and Koreans.” (18)

“Most human conflicts have not been racial, and there is no reason for antagonism to exist or persist simply because protagonists are identified as racially different.” (18)

Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, & (later) Muslim Empires “encompassed peoples whose skin colors, hair textures, and facial features were highly varied”
[and]
“History shows that Africans in Europe were assimilated into those societies wherever they were found, and no significant
social meanings were attached to their physical differences.” (18)

So, historically speaking,
physical characteristics should never be included in a definition of ethnic identity. It is inaccurate to associate physical features with any specific cultural identity.” (18)

Science, Ideology, & Race

Beginning in the 19th Century, scientific knowledge turns “race” into an ideology…

“From the 19th century on, races have been seen in science as subdivisions of the human species that differ from one another phenotypically, on the basis of ancestral geographic origins, or that differ in the frequency of certain genes” (19)

“The genetic conception of race appeared in the mid-20th century and remains today as a definition or working hypothesis for many scholars, […but] When geneticists appeared who emphasized the similarities among races (humans are 99.9% alike), the small amount of real genetic differences among them (0.01%), and the difficulties of recognizing the racial identity of individuals through their genes, doubts about the biological reality of race appeared” (19)

“Thus, in the 20th century two conceptions of race existed: one that focused on human biogenetic variation exclusively and was the province of science, and a popular one that dominated all thinking about human differences and fused together both physical features and behavior. This popular conception, essentially a cultural invention, was and still is the original meaning of race that scholars in many fields turned their attention to in the latter part of the 20th century and the early 21st century” (19)

Racialized Science and Public Policy

“From a policy perspective, although the term race is not useful as a biological construct, policymakers cannot avoid the fact that social race remains a significant predictor of which groups have greater access to societal goods and resources and which groups face barriers—both historically and in the contemporary context—to full inclusion. The fact of inequality renders race an important social policy concern.” (22)

“Whereas individual discrimination is often easier to identify, institutional discrimination—the uneven access by group membership to re- sources, status, and power that stems from facially neutral policies and practices of organizations and institutions—is harder to identify.” (22)

“Evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in health care is, with few exceptions, remarkably consistent across a range of health care services. […and] race continues to play an important role in determining how individuals are treated, where they live, their employment opportunities, the quality of their health care, and whether individuals can fully participate in the social, political, and economic mainstream of American life.” (23)

Continue reading Smedley & Smedley- Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real

Alderton – Snapewives and Snapeism

‘Snapewives’ and ‘Snapeism’: A Fiction-Based Religion within the Harry Potter Fandom

by Zoe Alderton

[ Alderton, Zoe. 2014. “‘Snapewives’ and ‘Snapeism’: A Fiction-Based Religion within the Harry Potter Fandom” in Religions, No. 5. Pg. 219-267 doi:10.3390/rel5010219 ]

Points & Quotes:

Intro

“In this article, I explore two main features of the religion ‘Snapeism’ . The first feature is its context within fandom and the negative reception it has received from this group of people. The second is the manner in which the Snapists themselves have articulated their faith structures. When considered together, these elements of Snapeism reveal how online, popular culture-based religions are forming and the strong notions of what is ‘properly religious’, which abound both in fandom more broadly and within the Snapist community itself. […]
As this article will demonstrate, Snapeism is usually interpreted as a ludicrous—and therefore invalid—religion. This anxiety towards fiction-based religions and the behaviour of their adherents is based upon a general fear within fandom of being excessively outrageous and pushing the boundaries of ‘good taste’ too far. By policing extreme manifestations of the Harry Potter fandom, other eccentricities can be placed in the more neutral category of ‘ironic’ or ‘playful’, as opposed to ‘insane’.” (220)

“There are a variety of problems inherent in approaching a belief system such as Snapeism through a methodological obsession with veracity. This is a problem found both in fandom and within scholarly projects that seek to find some kind of ‘true’ definition for what religion is and is not. I aim to demonstrate a more objective exploration of Snapeism, exploring the genuine power that a filmic narrative can possess in the imagination, and even religiosity, of a devout fan. It is vital that both scholars of religion and scholars of popular cultural products such as film advocate either the seriousness with which we need to treat any religious viewpoint, or the ludicrous and invented elements of all faith-based systems.” (220)

“The internet has helped the Jedi religion to flourish, and Matrixism to gain an international audience. Fandom adoration of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films also seems to be a contributing factor to a rise in Tolkien-inspired faiths.” (221)

“Even though elements of Snapeism are overtly anti-Christian, … Much is borrowed from the idea of a reciprocal covenant between human and divinity, and the moral codes required are remarkably similar to those of Christianity. As will be explained, Snapeism prohibits homosexuality, limits polygamy, and configures the core divine figure as a jealous god who rewards servility and punishes disobedience. Sexual metaphors for divine unity with Snape are also likely to have come from Christian mystical traditions.” (221)

“This is not, however, an excuse to engage in a discussion of their theological legitimacy or debate the validity of a fictional text as a source of divine inspiration. Rather, it is an exciting opportunity to objectively observe the very particular manner in which fandom employs the religion category as a means of delineating territories of insanity or describing the ecstasy garnered from deep adoration of a narrative and its characters.” (222)

Understanding ‘Snapewives’ and Snapeism & Canon Skepticism

“it seems fairer to describe the wives and their faith as ‘Snapists’ and ‘Snapeism’, as this lacks the misleading and pejorative denotations of ‘Snapewives’, even though it is a retrospective term.
In this article, I will focus on the three main wives: Conchita, Rose, and Tonya . Each of these women has dedicated numerous online journals to their discussions of Snape as a supernatural figure and his role in their lives. They all acknowledge each other as fellow Snape devotees, fandom companions, and spiritual spouses.” (223)

“The idea that Rowling was somehow wrong in her portrayal of Snape or the decisions she made for him is surprisingly common. Because there was a large gap between the publication of books (the largest being from July 2000 to June 2003) and a very active fandom awaiting new material, speculation about the future of almost every character abounded. Each book left many unanswered questions—a major one of these being whether or not Snape was on the side of evil
[…]
When his expected rewards did not eventuate, a more extreme wing of fandom began to see Snape as something of an objective reality with Rowling as a flawed scribe who does not ‘own’ him.” (224)

‘Snapewives’ and ‘Snapeism’: A Fiction-Based Religion within the Harry Potter Fandom

“please, Ms. Rowling, stop telling lies about this character, and admit he is a Good Guy”

Rattlesnakeroot on Livejournal
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“by this logic, Rowling can be viewed as someone who was able to write Snape’s character after being influenced by him— perhaps via some kind of channelling—as opposed to an author who created Snape from her own imagination.” (225)

Fandom Policing

“A recurrent anxiety within fandom is the conception that long-term fans are more serious, committed, and rational; in opposition to the waves of new fans who are delivered due to increasing pop-culture awareness of a text, the creation of movies, merchandising, et cetera … For example, fans whose enthusiasm for Harry Potter arose from the movies and whose enthusiasm for Snape is derived from their attraction to actor Alan Rickman.” (226)

“I mean, if you’re married to Snape on an astral plane, okay, I’m going to think you’re fucking weird and possibly not want much to do with you, but whatever. I think this of, like, Mormons, to be honest and I live in a city full of them. Have you seen their holy underwear? But people aren’t suggesting we call CPS [Child Protective Services] on Mormons who aren’t the fringe cultists living in compounds and shit, yeah? How is a relationship with Snape so much more damaging? Because it’s not as common, basically. And because it’s fannishness and, we really must be certain to police how people are fannish. Because god knows, we’re already off the charts weird! We can’t be seen as ~crazy~!”

quoting Niqaeli, (226)

I BELIEVE THAT SEVERUS SNAPE EXISTS INDEPENDENTLY OF JKR! HE IS A LIVING, FEELING SPIRIT. I BELIEVE ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE AND THAT SEVERUS DOES VISIT THOSE HE CHOOSES TO

quoting Tonya (230)

“In regard to her online channelling, Tonya specifies “it is never role play.” She also states that she has no control over Snape or when he might choose to appear. Tonya’s ability to channel has allowed her to introduce new codes of conduct and beliefs into the group. For example, she announces that Snape despises “annoying, giggling fangirls whom think they understand [him] as being a ‘cute fluffy funny’ being.” As Snape, she also makes clear “I only give audience to those women that are strong and able to withstand my fierce temper and do as I say. I coldly ignore those vain, simpering females that hold a thought like a leaky sieve.” (232)

Marriage

Rose and Tonya celebrate and proclaim their marriage to Severus Snape

“Rose and Tonya have opted to conduct their marriage with Snape in a very traditional way as concerns power and dominance. Tonya and Rose “know our place. Yes, Severus is the head of our homes and we do defer to him and we OBEY him. We do as we are told and we are most happy for it” [100]. Tonya explains, “I am to behave like a lady and lavish my attentions upon him. Focusing upon him daily, is required (248)

“The physical bodies of these husbands do have benefits. Rose is also able to have sex with Snape via her husband. She proudly explains, “Master would ‘take over’ for my Hubby and have fun ;o) Basically my Hubby would do things in ways that only Master can and could! ;o) :-D” Nevertheless, Snape only uses his body as a vessel.
[… but] Snape is able to provide an additional level of sexual fulfillment when the earthly husbands fail to satisfy … Snape’s spirit form is able to procure a range of sensations within her. Tonya can feel his fingers across her body. She confesses, “It might be lucky that I can’t see him or grab him…cause…I would be on him in the floor behind me. Going wild on him!” (238)

Fanfiction & Disagreements

“Rose is forthright in her belief that Snape fanfiction has been a deeply impactful element of her life. She explains, “I used to be a shy wall flower, backwards and had a hard time talking about things, over time Severus Snape helped me to explore me, he helped me write two very in depth and sexual ladened Fan Fictions, and through them I discovered myself” (247)

Conchita’s writing betrays that she wants to be Snape’s only love:

“Make me a serum
To make me a ghost
Still not feeling numb
I want you the most
You get me on my knees
Losing the fight within me
PotionMaster, please
Please just love me ” (245)

“[Conchita’s] style and intentions are notably different from those of Tonya and Rose. The various fights between the central wives are revealing moments, demonstrating core community values and also points of strong disagreement. In regard to the latter, erotic fanfiction has distanced Conchita from Rose and Tonya who both feel that their sex life with Snape is appropriate material for salacious literature. Conchita believes that her fellow wives need to be “more RESPECTFUL to Severus, as he likes his privacy” (245)

Snape’s “Death”

“The death of Snape in the canonical Harry Potter books had a significant impact upon his wives and their communities, but it was not as devastating as may have been predicted.

A poem [Conchita] wrote to mark the occasion reads,

Our love
A humble tribute to you
Unconditional and endless
Regardless of what Mrs Rowling might do.

Tonya’s reactions were equally passionate, albeit somewhat contradictory. Before the release of the final book, Tonya wrote: “I can’t deny I am a nervous wreck and it is getting worse daily. I just don’t know how I will react if she killed him. Yes, I do know. I will scream and cry. It will ruin the books for me, too”
[…]
After the release of Deathly Hallows on July 21, 2007, the wives slowly retreated from their online presences. … Conchita deleted most of her online accounts prior to the release of the final book in order to mimic the conclusion of Snape’s public appearances via Harry Potter releases. This was prior to the publication of his death. There is also the gradual morph of Livejournal from an English-language platform with significant fandom presence to a primarily Russian-language blogging site with far less active fandom content.” (249-250)

Conclusion

“The Snapists are a small and specific group who have now disbanded, but their community and belief systems provide a fascinating template for broader issues of fandom, religion, and the intersection of the two. The Snapists have combined traditional with non-traditional belief structures— something that seems to be an inevitability of online religions where technological advances lead to new forms of practice (such as fanfiction and chatroom channelling), but older forms of worship (such as shrines and sacred images) remain socially relevant. Their more traditional beliefs and practices draw heavily on Christian culture as a source of legitimacy, whilst their internet channelling and fanfic ecstasies have earned them mockery and scorn for being fraudulent and insane.” (256)

“I think it is very likely that we will see an increase in explicitly fiction-based religions as technology brings online identities and communities in greater harmony with everyday life. It is important for scholars to examine the manner in which these intersections manifest, and the politics behind them. The internet also facilitates the sharing of ideas to a far greater degree than was previously available to the average person. This idea sharing can help to spread material with mythical potential, and feed a passionate obsession with popular cultural texts.” (256)

“What has been clear throughout my research on this topic is the seriousness with which the Snapists take their beliefs, and the sacrality of Snape as their central figure of worship. Davidsen notes that fiction-based religions are often treated as though they lack substance and sincerity (p. 380). To treat the Snapists in this manner is to ignore a vast quantity of evidence that shows the time and attention that has gone into their theology, and the emotional investment that they have in Snape as their erotic leader.

Abstract

The book and film franchise of Harry Potter has inspired a monumental fandom community with a veracious output of fanfiction and general musings on the text and the vivid universe contained therein. A significant portion of these texts deal with Professor Severus Snape, the stern Potions Master with ambiguous ethics and loyalties. This paper explores a small community of Snape fans who have gone beyond a narrative retelling of the character as constrained by the work of Joanne Katherine Rowling. The ‘Snapewives’ or ‘Snapists’ are women who channel Snape, are engaged in romantic relationships with him, and see him as a vital guide for their daily lives. In this context, Snape is viewed as more than a mere fictional creation. He is seen as a being that extends beyond the Harry Potter texts with Rowling perceived as a flawed interpreter of his supra-textual essence. While a Snape religion may be seen as the extreme end of the Harry Potter fandom, I argue that religions of this nature are not uncommon, unreasonable, or unprecedented. Popular films are a mechanism for communal bonding, individual identity building, and often contain their own metaphysical discourses. Here, I plan to outline the manner in which these elements resolve within extreme Snape fandom so as to propose a nuanced model for the analysis of fandom-inspired religion without the use of unwarranted veracity claims.”

theory referenced

Kirby, Danielle L. “Between Synchromysticism and Paganism: Tracing some Metaphysical uses of Popular Fictions.” Culture and Religion 14, no. 4 (2013): 396–410.

Cusack, Carole M. Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.

Davidsen, Markus A. “Fiction-Based Religion: Conceptualising a New Category Against History- Based Religion and Fandom.” Culture and Religion 14, no. 4 (2013): 378–95.

Continue reading Alderton – Snapewives and Snapeism

Martin – The Egg and the Sperm

The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles

by Emily Martin

[ Martin, Emily. 1991. “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles,” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 16, no. 3]

Points & Quotes:

“As an anthropologist, I am intrigued by the possibility that culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world.” (485)

Egg and sperm: A scientific fairy tale

“Part of my goal in writing this article is to shine a bright light on the gender stereotypes hidden within the scientific language of biology.
[…]
“In the case of women, the monthly cycle is described as being designed to produce eggs and prepare a suitable place for them to be fertilized and grown—all to the end of making babies. But the enthusiasm ends there. By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure.
[…]
Male reproductive physiology is evaluated quite differently. One of the texts that sees menstruation as failed production employs a sort of breathless prose when it describes the maturation of sperm:

“The mechanisms which guide the remarkable cellular transformation from spermatid to mature sperm remain uncertain …. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of spermatogenesis is its sheer magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture several hundred million sperm per day.”

—Arthur J. Vander, James H. Sherman, and Dorothy S. Luciano, Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function, 3d ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1980), 483-84. (Martin 486)

“In the classic text Medical Physiology, edited by Vernon Mountcastle, the male/female, productive/destructive comparison is more explicit: “Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produces hundreds of millions of sperm each day” (emphasis mine [Martin’s]).” (486)

“Textbook descriptions stress that all of the ovarian follicles containing ova are already present at birth. Far from being produced, as sperm are, they merely sit on the shelf, slowly degenerating and aging like overstocked inventory:

“At birth, normal human ovaries contain an estimated one million follicles [each], and no new ones appear after birth. Thus, in marked contrast to the male, the newborn female already has all the germ cells she will ever have. Only a few, perhaps 400, are destined to reach full maturity during her active productive life. All the others degenerate at some point in their development so that few, if any, remain by the time she reaches menopause at approximately 50 years of age.”

—Vander, Sherman, and Luciano, 568 (Martin 487)

“Scientists could begin to describe male and female processes as homologous. They might credit females with “producing” mature ova one at a time, as they’re needed each month, and describe males as having to face problems of degenerating germ cells.” (487-488)

“How is it that positive images are denied to the bodies of women? A look at language-in this case, scientific language-provides the first clue. Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported;’ “is swept;’ or even “drifts” along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, “streamlined;’ and invariably active. They “deliver” their genes to the egg, “activate the developmental program of the egg;’ and have a “velocity” that is often remarked upon. Their tails are “strong” and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can ”propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina:’ For this they need “energy;’ “fuel;’ so that with a “whiplashlike motion and strong lurches” they can “burrow through the egg coat” and “penetrate” it” (489-see original for the many citations)

“In a collection of scientific papers, an electron micrograph of an enormous egg and tiny sperm is titled “A Portrait of the Sperm.” This is a little like showing a photo of a dog and calling it a picture of the fleas.” (491)

New research, old imagery

“Work which Paul Wassarman conducted on the sperm and eggs of mice, focuses on identifying the specific molecules in the egg coat (the zona pellucida) that are involved in egg-sperm interaction.
[…]
“The imagery of sperm as aggressor is particularly startling in this case: the main discovery being reported is isolation of a particular molecule on the egg coat that plays an important role in fertilization! … He calls the molecule that has been isolated, ZP3, a “sperm receptor.” By allocating the passive, waiting role to the egg, Wassarman can continue to describe the sperm as the actor, the one that makes it all happen.
[…]
“It is as if Wassarman were determined to make the egg the receiving partner. Usually in biological research, the protein member of the pair of binding molecules is called the receptor, and physically it has a pocket in it rather like a lock. As the diagrams that illustrate Wassarman’ s article show, the molecules on the sperm are proteins and have “pockets.” The small, mobile molecules that fit into these pockets are called ligands. As shown in the diagrams, ZP3 on the egg is a polymer of “keys”; many small knobs stick out. Typically, molecules on the sperm would be called receptors and molecules on the egg would be called ligands. But Wassarman chose to name ZP3 on the egg the receptor and to create a new term, “the egg-binding protein,” for the molecule on the sperm that otherwise would have been called the receptor.” (495-496)

Social implications: Thinking beyond

Even though each new account gives the egg a larger and more active role, taken together they bring into play another cultural stereo- type: woman as a dangerous and aggressive threat.
[…]
These images grant the egg an active role but at the cost of appearing disturbingly aggressive. Images of woman as dangerous and aggressive, the femme fatale who victimizes men, are wide spread in Western literature and culture. More specific is the connection of spider imagery with the idea of an engulfing, devouring mother. New data did not lead scientists to eliminate gender stereotypes in their descriptions of egg and sperm. Instead, scientists simply began to describe egg and sperm in different, but no less damaging, terms. (498-499)

“Biology itself provides another model that could be applied to the egg and the sperm. The cybernetic model-with its feedback loops, flexible adaptation to change, coordination of the parts within a whole, evolution over time, and changing response to the environment-is common in genetics, endocrinology, and ecology and has a growing influence in medicine in general.” (499)

“The models that biologists use to describe their data can have important social effects. During the nineteenth century, the social and natural sciences strongly influenced each other: the social ideas of Malthus about how to avoid the natural increase of the poor inspired Darwin’s Origin of Species. Once the Origin stood as a description of the natural world, complete with competition and market struggles, it could be reimported into social science as social Darwinism, in order to justify the social order of the time. What we are seeing now is similar: the importation of cultural ideas about passive females and heroic males into the “personalities” of gametes. This amounts to the “im- planting of social imagery on representations of nature so as to lay a firm basis for reimporting exactly that same imagery as natural explanations of social phenomena.
Further research would show us exactly what social effects are being wrought from the biological imagery of egg and sperm. At the very least, the imagery keeps alive some of the hoariest old stereotypes about weak damsels in distress and their strong male rescuers. That these stereotypes are now being written in at the level of the cell constitutes a powerful move to make them seem so natural as to be beyond alteration.” (500)

“Even if we succeed in substituting more egalitarian, interactive metaphors to describe the activities of egg and sperm, and manage to avoid the pitfalls of cybernetic models, we would still be guilty of endowing cellular entities with personhood. More crucial, then, than what kinds of personalities we bestow on cells is the very fact that we are doing it at all. This process could ultimately have the most disturbing social consequences.
One clear feminist challenge is to wake up sleeping metaphors in science, particularly those involved in descriptions of the egg and the sperm. … Waking up such metaphors, by becoming aware of their implications, will rob them of their power to naturalize our social conventions about gender.” (501)

Continue reading Martin – The Egg and the Sperm

Daniels – The Algorithmic Rise of the alt-Right

The Algorithmic Rise of the “Alt-Right

by Jessie Daniels

[ Daniels, Jessie. 2018. “The Algorithmic Rise of the ‘Alt-Right'” in Contexts, Winter 2018 (March 28)]

Points & Quotes:

“There are two strands of conventional wisdom unfolding in popular accounts of the rise of the alt-right. One says that what’s really happening can be attributed to a crisis in White identity: the alt-right is simply a manifestation of the angry male who has status anxiety about his declining social power. Others contend that the alt-right is an unfortunate eddy in the vast ocean of Internet culture. […]
While the first explanation tends to ignore the influence of the Internet, the second dismisses the importance of White Nationalism. I contend that we have to understand both at the same time.” (61)

“The rise of the alt-right is both a continuation of a centuries- old dimension of racism in the U.S. and part of an emerging media ecosystem powered by algorithms.” (62)

“This iteration is newly enabled by algorithms, which do several things. Algorithms deliver search results for those who seek confirmation for racist notions and connect newcomers to like-minded racists, as when Dylan Roof searched for “black on white crime” and Google provided racist websites and a community of others to confirm and grow his hatred. Algorithms speed up the spread of White supremacist ideology, as when memes like “Pepe the Frog” travel from 4chan or Reddit to mainstream news sites. And algorithms, aided by cable news networks, amplify and systematically move White supremacist talking points into the mainstream of political discourse. Like always, White nationalists are being “innovation opportunists,” finding openings in the latest technologies to spread their message. To understand how all this works, it’s necessary to think about several things at once: how race is embedded in the Internet at the same time it is ignored, how White supremacy operates now, and the ways these interact.” (62)

“In a sense, we’ve managed to push white nationalism into a very mainstream position,” @JaredTSwift said. “Now, we’ve pushed the Overton window,” referring to the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse. […]
“Among White supremacists, the thinking goes: if today we can get “normies” talking about Pepe the Frog, then tomorrow we can get them to ask the other questions on our agenda: “Are Jews people?” or “What about black on white crime?” And, when they have a sitting President who will re-tweet accounts that use #whitegenocide hashtags and defend them after a deadly rally, it is fair to say that White supremacists are succeeding at using media and technology to take their message mainstream.” (64)

“[T]he post-Obama era proves the lie that we were ever post-racial, and it may, when we have the clarity of hindsight, mark the end of an era. If one charts a course from the Civil Rights movement, taking 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education) as a rough starting point and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the close of Obama’s second term as the end point, we might see this as a five-decades-long “second reconstruction” culminating in the 2016 presidential election.”
“Taking the long view makes the rise of the alt-right look less like a unique eruption and more like a continuation of our national story of systemic racism. ” (64)

Continue reading Daniels – The Algorithmic Rise of the alt-Right

Turner – Betwixt & Between

Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage

by Victor Turner

[ Turner, Victor. 1970. “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Ritesde Passage” in The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, Cornell University Press]

Points & Quotes:

Rites de Passage … indicate and constitute transitions between states. By “state” I mean here “a relatively fixed or stable condition” and would include in its meaning such social constancies as legal status, profes­sion, office or calling, rank or degree. I hold it to designate also the condition of a person as determined by his culturally recognized degree of maturation as when one speaks of “the married or single state” or the “state of infancy.” (93)

“Van Gennep has shown that all rites of transition are marked by three phases: separation, margin (or limen), and aggregation.

  1. The first phase of separation comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure or a set of cultural conditions (a “state”);
  2. during the intervening liminal period, the state of the ritual subject (the “passenger”) is ambiguous; he passes through a realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state;
  3. in the third phase the passage is consummated. The ritual subject, individual or corporate, is in a stable state once more and, by virtue of this, has rights and obligations of a clearly defined and “structural” type, and is expected to behave in accordance with certain customary norms and ethical standards.” (94, formatting added)

“The subject of passage ritual is, in the liminal period, structurally, if not physically, “invisible.” As members of society, most of us see only what we expect to see, and what we expect to see is what we are conditioned to see when we have learned the definitions and classifications of our culture.
[…] The structural “invisibility” of liminal personae has a twofold character. They are at once no longer classified and not yet classified.” (95-96)

“Often the indigenous term for the liminal period is, as among Ndembu, the locative form of a noun meaning “seclusion site” (kunkunka, kung´ula). The neophytes are sometimes said to “be in another place.” They have physical but not social “reality,” hence they have to be hidden, since it is a paradox, a scandal, to see what ought not to be there! Where they are not removed to a sacred place of concealment they are often disguised, in masks or grotesque costumes or striped with white, red, or black clay, and the like.” (98)

College as Liminal Period/Space

“I have no need here to dwell on the lifelong ties that are held to bind in close friendship those initiated into the same age-set in East African Nila-Hamitic and Bantu societies, into the same fraternity or sorority on an American campus, or into the same class in a Naval or Military Academy in Western Europe.” (101)

“The arcane knowledge or “gnosis” obtained in the liminal period is felt to change the inmost nature of the neophyte, impressing him, as a seal impresses wax, with the characteristics of his new state. It is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but a change in being.” (102)

“neophytes are withdrawn from their structural positions and consequently from the values, norms, sentiments, and techniques associated with those positions. They are also divested of their previous habits of thought, feeling, and action. During the liminal period, neophytes are alternately forced and encouraged to think about their society, their cosmos, and the powers that generate and sustain them. Liminality may be partly described as a stage of reflection.” (105)

“But this liberty has fairly narrow limits. The neophytes return to secular society with more alert faculties perhaps and enhanced knowledge of how things work, but they have to become once more subject to custom and law.” (106)

The point, very simply put:

  • in bullet points

Terms:

Term—definition

Continue reading Turner – Betwixt & Between

Douglas – Purity and Danger (Intro & Chapter 2)

Purity and Danger

by Mary Douglas

[ Douglas, Mary. 1966. “Introduction” and “Secular Defilement” in Purity and Danger, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, Pg. 1-6 & 30-41]

Points & Quotes:

Introduction

“As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread of holy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of our behaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order.Eliminating it is not a negative movement, but a positive effort to organise the environment. ” (2)

” In chasing dirt, in papering, decorating, tidying we are not governed by anxiety to escape disease, but are positively re-ordering our environment, making it conform to an idea. There is nothing fearful or unreasoning in our dirt-avoidance: it is a creative movement, an attempt to relate form to function, to make unity of experience. If this is so with our separating, tidying and purifying, we should interpret primitive purification and prophylaxis in the same light. ” (2)

Secular Defilement

“our ideas of dirt … express symbolic systems and that the difference between pollution behaviour in one part of the world and another is only a matter of detail. […]
“There are two notable differences between our contemporaryEuropean ideas of defilement and those, say, of primitive cultures.:

  1. One is that dirt avoidance for us is a matter of hygiene or aesthetics and is not related to our religion”
  2. ” The second difference is that our idea of dirt is dominated by the knowledge of pathogenic organisms. The bacterial transmission of disease was a great nineteenth-century discovery. It produced the most radical revolution in the history of medicine. So much has it transformed our lives that it is difficult to think of dirt except in the context of pathogenicity. Yet obviously our ideas of dirt are not so recent. We must be able to make the effort to think back beyond the last 100 years and to analyse the bases of dirt-avoidance, before it was transformed by bacteriology; for example, before spitting deftly into a spittoon was counted unhygienic. ” (36 formatting added)

If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. This is a very suggestive approach. It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and a contravention of that order. Dirt then, is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system. Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements.” (36 emphasis added)

Mary Douglas on Schema

As perceivers we select from all the stimuli falling on our senses only those which interest us, and our interests are governed by a pattern-making tendency, sometimes called schema (see Bartlett, 1932) In a chaos of shifting impressions, each of us constructs a stable world in which objects have recognisable shapes, are located in depth, and have permanence. In perceiving we are building, taking some cues and rejecting others. The most acceptable cues are those which fit most easily into the pattern that is being built up. Ambiguous ones tend to be treated as if they harmonised with the rest of the pattern. Discordant ones tend to be rejected. If they are accepted the structure of assumptions has to be modified. As learning proceeds objects are named. Their names then affect the way they are perceived next time: once labelled they are more speedily slotted into the pigeon-holes in future.

As time goes on and experiences pile up, we make a greater and greater investment in our system of labels. So a conservative bias is built in. It gives us confidence. At any time we may have to modify our structure of assumptions to accommodate new experience, but the more consistent experience is with the past, the more confidence we can have in our assumptions. Uncomfortable facts which refuse to be fitted in, we find ourselves ignoring or distorting so that they do not disturb these established assumptions. By and large anything we take note of is pre- selected and organised in the very act of perceiving. We share with other animals a kind of filtering mechanism which at first only lets in sensations we know how to use.” (37-38)

And finally…

if uncleanness is matter out of place, we must approach it through order. Uncleanness or dirt is that which must not be included if a pattern is to be maintained. To recognise this is the first step towards insight into pollution. It involves us in no clear-cut distinction between sacred and secular. The same principle applies throughout. Furthermore, it involves no special distinction between primitives and moderns: we are all subject to the same rules.” (41)

Terms:

dirt—matter out of place; the contravention of some larger set of ordered relations. Dirt is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system

Schema—see extended definition above

Continue reading Douglas – Purity and Danger (Intro & Chapter 2)

Said – Orientalism (Intro)

Orientalism

by Edward Said

[ Said, Edward. 1977. Orientalism, Vintage Books, ]

Part I

Points & Quotes:

“By Orientalism I mean several things, all of them, in my opinion, interdependent. …
[1] Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient—and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist—either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist …
[2] Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and (most of the time) “the Occident.” …
[3] the third meaning of Orientalism, which is something more historically and materially defined than either of the other two. Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.(2-3)

without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period. Moreover, so authoritative a position did Orientalism have that I believe no one writing, thinking, or acting on the Orient could do so without taking account of the limitations on thought and action imposed by Orientalism. In brief, because of Orientalism the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action. This is not to say that Orientalism unilaterally determines what can be said about the Orient, but that it is the whole network of interests inevitably brought to bear on (and therefore always involved in) any occasion when that peculiar entity “the Orient” is in question. How this happens is what this book tries to demonstrate. It also tries to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self.” (3)

Part II

“…as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other.
Having said that, one must go on to state a number of reasonable qualifications:

  1. In the first place, it would be wrong to conclude that the Orient was essentially an idea, or a creation with no corresponding reality. … There were—and are— cultures and nations whose location is in the East, and their lives, histories, and customs have a brute reality obviously greater than anything that could be said about them in the West
  2. A second qualification is that ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied.
  3. This brings us to a third qualification. One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or of myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away. ” (5-6 formatting added)

“In a quite constant way, Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand.” (7)

Part III

Distinction between Pure and Political Knowledge

“I doubt that it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries that was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact—and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism. For if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second. And to be a European or an American in such a situation is by no means an inert fact. It meant and means being aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, and more important, that one belongs to a part of the earth with a definite history of involvement in the Orient almost since the time of Homer.” (11)

“Therefore, Orientalism is not a mere political subject matter or field that is reflected passively by culture, scholarship, or institutions; nor is it a large and diffuse collection of texts about the Orient; nor is it representative and expressive of some nefarious “Western” imperialist plot to hold down the “Oriental” world. It is rather a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts; it is an elaboration not only of a basic geographical distinction (the world is made up of two unequal halves, Orient and Occident) but also of a whole series of “interests” which, by such means as scholarly discovery, philological reconstruction, psychological analysis, landscape and sociological description, it not only creates but also maintains; it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world; it is, above all, a discourse that is by no means in direct, corresponding relationship with political power in the raw, but rather is produced and exists in an uneven exchange with various kinds of power, shaped to a degree by the exchange with power political (as with a colonial or imperial establishment), power intellectual (as with reigning sciences like comparative linguistics or anatomy, or any of the modern policy sciences), power cultural (as with orthodoxies and canons of taste, texts, values), power moral (as with ideas about what “we” do and what “they” cannot do or understand as “we” do). Indeed, my real argument is that Orientalism is—and does not simply represent—a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with “our” world.” (12)

Continue reading Said – Orientalism (Intro)

Hurston – Mules and Men

Mules and Men

by Zora Neale Hurston

[ Hurston, Zora Neale. 1928. “Intro & Chapter One” Mules and Men, Pg. 1-17]

Points & Quotes: Intro & Chapter 1

  • Includes some folktales
    • John and the Frog
    • John and Noah
  • Also (and maybe more importantly) includes the “toe party” scene of Hurston partying and ending up passed-out drunk and waking up to waffles
  • ALSO ( and also important) written in thick vernacular dialect.

Cool example of fieldwork/ participant observation being a messy mixture of interviews, socializing, and being flexible enough to be dragged into things you did not expect (but fully embrace).

“I was glad when somebody told me, ‘You may go and collect Negro folklore.’
In a way it would not be a new experience for me. When I pitched headforemost into the world I landed in the crib of negroism. From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.” (1)

“Folklore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually under-privileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laughter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive. You see we are a polite people and we do not say to our questioner, ‘Get out of here!’ We smile and tell him or her something that satisfies the white person because, knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know what he is missing. The Indian resists curiosity by a stony silence. The Negro offers a feather-bed resistance. That is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.
“The theory behind our tactics: ‘The white man is always trying to know into somebody else’s business. All right, I’ll set something outside the door of my mind for him to play with and handle. He can read my writing but he sho’ can’t read my mind. I’ll put this play toy in his hand, and he will seize it and go away. Then I’ll say my say and sing my song.'” (2-3)

Interchange between Hurston and possible interlocutors:

“Ah come to collect some old stories and tales and Ah know y’all know a plenty of ’em and that’s why Ah headed straight for home.”

“What you mean, Zora, them big old lies we tell when we’re jus’ sittin’ around here on the store porch doin’ nothin’?” asked B. Moseley.

“Yeah, those same ones about Ole Massa, and colored folks in heaven, and—oh, y’all know the kind I mean.”

“Aw shucks,” exclaimed George Thomas doubtfully. “Zora, don’t you come here and tell de biggest lie first thing. Who you reckon want to read all them old-time tales about Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear?”

“Plenty of people, George. They are a lot more valuable than you might think. We want to set them down before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“Before everybody forgets all of ’em.”

“No danger of that. That’s all some people is good for—set ’round and lie and murder groceries.”

Continue reading Hurston – Mules and Men

Miner – Body Ritual Among the Nacirema

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema

by Horace Miner

[ Miner, Horace. 1956. “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” in American Anthropologist, Vol. 58, No. 3. Pg. 503-507]

Points & Quotes:

The point, very simply put:

  • When described using exotic and evocative language, even the most mundane of activities can be made to appear magical or strange
  • Further, the fact that anthropology has described other cultures in this way has very likely caused us to view them as overly exotic and strange, focusing on their Otherness rather than finding similarities (e.g. we all do these kinds of odd things)
  • Because many of the activities we (in the West) find mundane are, indeed, strange to others
  • In Malinowskian terms, we are unable to fully see the “imponderabilia” of our own daily lives

“The anthropologist has become so familiar with the diversity of ways in which different peoples behave in similar situations that he is not apt to be surprised by even the most exotic customs. In fact, if all of the logically possible combinations of behavior have not been found somewhere in the world, he is apt to suspect that they must be present in some yet undescribed tribe.”

“The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony. “

“The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. De­spite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hoghairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures. “

“In addition to the private mouth-rite, the people seek out a holy-mouth­ man once or twice a year. …
“The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.”

“Professor Linton referred [to] a distinctive part of the daily body rit­ual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.”

“The medicine men have an imposing temple, or latipso, in every community of any size. …
“Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because “that is where you go to die.” Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. …
“The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes. In every-day life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions. Ba thing and excretory acts are performed only in the secrecy of the household shrine, where they are ritualized as part of the body-rites. Psycho­logical shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso. …
“From time to time the medicine men come to their clients and jab magically treated needles into their flesh. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte. in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men

“There remains one other kind of practitioner, known as a “listener.” This witch-doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched. The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children. “

“In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend upon the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat.”

“Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people. It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by Malinowski when he wrote:

“Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civiliza­ tion, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilization.”

Bronislaw Malinowski. Magic, Science, and Religion. 1948. pg. 70

Terms:

Nacirema—Strange and exotic tribal group in North America

Notgnihsaw—cultural hero and founder of the Nacirema, known for the “chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided”

latsipo—Main temples of the Nacirema medicine men

Continue reading Miner – Body Ritual Among the Nacirema