Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

by Max Weber Translated by Talcott Parsons With an introduction by Anthony Giddens

[Weber, Max. [1930] 2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Translated by Talcott Parsons. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]

Points

Broken down by Giddens [then broken down further by me]—

  1. “In seeking to specify the distinctive characteristics of modern capitalism in The Protestant Ethic, Weber first of all separates off capitalistic enterprise from the pursuit of gain as such […]
  2. “only in the West, and in relatively recent times, has capitalistic activity become associated with the rational organisation of formally free labour. By ‘rational organisation’ of labour here Weber means its routinised, calculated administration within continuously functioning enterprises. [para]
  3.  “A rationalised capitalistic enterprise implies two things: a disciplined labour force, and the regularised investment of capital […]
  4. “The regular reproduction of capital, involving its continual investment and reinvestment for the end of economic efficiency, is foreign to traditional types of enterprise. It is associated with an outlook of a very specific kind: the continual accumulation of wealth for its own sake, rather than for the material rewards that it can serve to bring. ‘Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs’ (p. 18). This, according to Weber, is the essence of the spirit of modern capitalism. [para]
  5. “What explains this historically peculiar circumstance of a drive to the accumulation of wealth conjoined to an absence of interest in the worldly pleasures which it can purchase? […]
  6. “Weber finds the answer in the ‘this-worldly asceticism’ of Puritanism, as focused through the concept of the ‘calling’. The notion of the calling, according to Weber, did not exist either in Antiquity or in Catholic theology; it was introduced by the Reformation. It refers basically to the idea that the highest form of moral obligation of the individual is to fulfil his duty in worldly affairs […]
  7. “Although the idea of the calling was already present in Luther’s doctrines, Weber argues, it became more rigorously developed in the various Puritan sects: Calvinism, Methodism, Pietism and Baptism […]
  8. “Of the elements in Calvinism that Weber singles out for special attention, perhaps the most important, for his thesis, is the doctrine of predestination: that only some human beings are chosen to be saved from damnation, the choice being predetermined by God […]
  9. “From this torment, Weber holds, the capitalist spirit was born. On the pastoral level, two developments occurred: it became obligatory to regard one- self as chosen, lack of certainty being indicative of insufficient faith; and the performance of ‘good works’ in worldly activity became accepted as the medium whereby such surety could be demonstrated. Hence success in a calling eventually came to be regarded as a ‘sign’ – never a means – of being one of the elect. The accumulation of wealth was morally sanctioned in so far as it was combined with a sober, industrious career; wealth was condemned only if employed to support a life of idle luxury or self-indulgence. [para]
  10. “Calvinism, according to Weber’s argument, moral energy and drive of the capitalist entrepreneur; Weber speaks of its doctrines as having an ‘iron consistency’ in the bleak discipline which it demands of its adherents” (x – xiii).

Weber’s Intro

  • The occident has the most rational systematic, and specialized way of doing pretty much everything.
    • This includes capitalism—”the Occident has developed capitalism both to a quantitative extent, and (carrying this quantitative development) in types, forms, and directions which have never existed elsewhere” (xxxiii – iv).
    • “But in modern times the Occident has developed, in addition to this, a very different form of capitalism which has appeared nowhere else: the rational capitalistic organization of (formally)free labour” (xxxiv).
    • “The modern rational organization of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development:
      1. the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it,
      2. rational book-keeping” (xxxxv, numbers added)

Part 1

Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification

  • Historical question—”why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particularly favourable to a revolution in the Church?” (4).
    • “the Reformation meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one” (4).
    • But, “The rule of Calvinism, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist” (5).
    • “not all the Protestant denominations seem to have had an equally strong influence in this direction. That of Calvinism, even in Germany, was among the strongest, it seems, and the reformed faith more than the others seems to have promoted the development of the spirit of capitalism” (10).
  • Main task—”If any inner relationship between certain expressions of the old Protestant spirit and modern capitalistic culture is to be found, we must attempt to find it, for better or worse not in its alleged more or less materialistic or at least anti-ascetic joy of living, but in its purely religious characteristics” (11).

The Spirit of Capitalism

  • Ben Franklin is a good example of the spirit of capitalism personified: “Time is money … credit is money … the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse … He that idly loses five shillings worth of time; loses five shillings, and might as well prudently throw five shillings in the sea” (14-16).
  • the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer sub-ordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs” (18).
    • This goes against traditionalism, because, “A man does not “by nature” wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose” (24).
    • So for capitalism of this form to be achieved, “not only is a developed sense of responsibility absolutely indispensable, but in general also an attitude which, at least during working hours, is freed from continual calculations of how the customary wage may be earned with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of exertion. Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education” (25).
  • How can this be rational?
    • “one may—this simple proposition, which is often forgotten should be placed at the beginning of every study which essays to deal with rationalism—rationalize life from fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions …
    • “We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling” (38).

Luther’s Concept of the Calling

  • Luther’s “calling” can be understood as “a religious conception, that a task is set by God” (39).
  • The idea was “unquestionably new: the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. This it was which inevitably gave every-day worldly activity a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling in this sense” (40).
  • “The effect of the Reformation as such was only that, as compared with the Catholic attitude, the moral emphasis on and the religious sanction of, organized worldly labour in a calling was mightily increased” (42).
  • “for Luther the concept of the calling remained traditionalistic. His calling is something which man has to accept as a divine ordinance, to which he must adapt himself. This aspect outweighed the other idea which was also present, that work in the calling was a, or rather the, task set by God […]
    • “Thus, for the time being, the only ethical result was negative; worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones; obedience to authority and the acceptance of things as they were, were preached” (44-45).
  • “Although the Reformation is unthinkable withoutLuther’s own personal religious development, and was spiritually long influenced by his personality, without Calvinism his work could not have had permanent concrete success” (46).
    • “We thus take as our starting-point in the investigation of the relationship between the old Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism the works of Calvin, of Calvinism, and the other Puritan sects” (47-48).

Part 2

The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism

  • Four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism:
    1. Calvinism
    2. Pietism
    3. Methodism
    4. Baptist sects
  • Calvinism
    • most characteristic dogma is predestination, that “only a small proportion of men are chosen for eternal grace […]
      • “To apply earthly standards of justice to His sovereign decrees is meaningless and an insult to His Majesty […]
      • “Everything else, including the meaning of our individual destiny, is hidden in dark mystery which it would be both impossible to pierce and presumptuous to question. [para]
      • “For the damned to complain of their lot would be much the same as for animals to bemoan the fact they were not born as men” (60).
    • So “We know only that a part of humanity is saved, the rest damned. To assume that human merit or guilt play a part in determining this destiny would be to think of God’s absolutely free decrees, which have been settled from eternity, as subject to change by human influence, an impossible contradiction […]
      • “In its extreme inhumanity this doctrine must above all have had one consequence for the life of a generation which surrendered to its magnificent consistency. That was a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual. In what was for the man of the age of the Reformation the most important thing in life, his eternal salvation, he was forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity. No one could help him” (60-61).
    • “For us the decisive problem is: How was this doctrine borne in an age to which the after-life was not only more important, but in many ways also more certain, than all the interests of life in this world? The question, Am I one of the elect? must sooner or later have arisen for every believer and have forced all other interests into the background” (65).
    • “two principal, mutually connected, types of pastoral advice appear.
      1. On the one hand it is held to be an absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, and to combat all doubts as temptations of the devil, since lack of self-confidence is the result of insufficient faith, hence of imperfect”
      2. On the other hand, in order to attain that self-confidence intense worldly activity is recommended as the most suitable means. It and it alone disperses religious doubts and gives the certainty of grace” 66-67).
    •  “Only one of the elect really has the fides efficax, only he is able by virtue of his rebirth (regeneratio) and the resulting sanctification (sanctificatio) of his whole life, to augment the glory of God by real, and not merely apparent, good works […]
      • “Thus, however useless good works might be as a means of attaining salvation … they are the technical means, not of purchasing salvation, but of getting rid of the fear of damnation” (69)
    • “the significance of the Reformation in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life. The drain of asceticism from everyday worldly life had been stopped by a dam, and those passionately spiritual natures which had formerly supplied the highest type of monk were now forced to pursue their ascetic ideals within mundane occupations. [para]
    • “But in the course of its development Calvinism added some-thing positive to this, the idea of the necessity of proving one’s faith in worldly activity. Therein it gave the broader groups of religiously inclined people a positive incentive to asceticism” (74).
  • Pietism
    • “in so far as the rational and ascetic element of Pietism outweighed the emotional, the ideas essential to our thesis maintained their place. These were: (1) that the methodical development of one’s own state of grace to a higher and higher degree of certainty and perfection in terms of the law was a sign of grace; and (2) that “God’s Providence works through those in such a state of perfection”, i.e. in that He gives them His signs if they wait patiently and deliberate methodically” (84).
    • Even so, “when we consider German Pietism from the point of view important for us, we must admit a vacillation and uncertainty in the religious basis of its asceticism which makes it definitely weaker than the iron consistency of Calvinism” (87).
  • Methodism
    • unlike Calvinism, which held everything emotional to be illusory, the only sure basis for the certitudo salutis was in principle held to be a pure feeling of absolute certainty of forgiveness, derived immediately from the testimony of the spirit” (89-90).
    • “the Methodist ethic appears to rest on a foundation of uncertainty similar to Pietism. But the aspiration to the higher life, the second blessedness, served it as a sort of makeshift for the doctrine of predestination (91).
      • “The emotional act of conversion was methodically induced … [and] the emotion, once awakened, was directed into a rational struggle for perfection” (92).
  • The Baptist Sects
    • “since predestination was rejected, the peculiarly rational character of Baptist morality rested psychologically above all on the idea of expectant waiting for the Spirit to descend […]
    • “The purpose of this silent waiting is to overcome everything impulsive and irrational, the passions and subjective interests of the natural man. He must be stilled in order to create that deep repose of the soul in which alone the word of God can be heard.” (96).
  • “It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • the decisive point was, to recapitulate, the conception of the state of religious grace, common to all the denominations, as a status which marks off its possessor from the degradation of the flesh, from the world. It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • “The religious life of the saints, as distinguished from the natural life, was—the most important point—no longer lived outside the world in monastic communities, but within the world and its institutions. This rationalization of conduct within this world, but for the sake of the world beyond, was the con- sequence of the concept of calling of ascetic Protestantism” (100).
      • “it strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world” (101).

Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

  • “In order to understand the connection between the fundamental religious ideas of ascetic Protestantism and its maxims for everyday economic conduct, it is necessary to examine with especial care such writings as have evidently been derived from ministerial practice” (102).
    • “Richard Baxter stands out above many other writers on Puritan ethics, both because of his eminently practical and realistic attitude, and, at the same time, because of the universal recognition accorded to his works” (103).
    • “Waste of time is …  the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious tomake sure of one’s own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (104).
    • “Accordingly, Baxter’s principal work is dominated by the continually repeated, often almost passionate preaching of hard, continuous bodily or mental labour” (105).
    • “If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God’s steward, and to accept His gifts and use them for Him when He requireth it: you may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin. [para]
    • “Wealth is thus bad ethically only in so far as it is a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition is bad only when it is with the purpose of later living merrily and without care. But as a performance of duty in a calling it is not only morally permissible, but actually enjoined” (108).
  • “Let us now try to clarify the points in which the Puritan idea of the calling and the premium it placed upon ascetic conduct was bound directly to influence the development of a capitalistic way of life. As we have seen, this asceticism turned with all its force against one thing: the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer” (111).
    • “When the limitation of consumption is combined with this release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save” (116).
    • “As far as the influence of the Puritan outlook extended, under all circumstances ..   it favoured the development of a rational bourgeois economic life; … It stood at the cradle of the modern economic man” (117).
    • “the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness” (119).
  • “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so […]
    • This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force […]
    •  “In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage” (123).
  • “To-day the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer […]
    • “No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (124).

Continue reading Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Leve—Identity

Identity — Special Section: Keywords

by Lauren Leve

[Leve, Lauren. 2011. “Identity.” Current Anthropology 52 (4): 513–35.]

Abstract

“Identity” is a key term for anthropological analysis today. This paper explores the challenge posed by modernist Buddhists in Nepal who participated in identity politics while grounding their claims to identity-based rights in belonging to a religious community defined by the doctrine that there is no such thing as a “self” in the conventional sense. Examining the sharp proliferation of identity- based discourses and claims in post-1990 Nepal in light of broader structural transformations associated with the globalization of neoliberal governance strategies and against the rise of a popular vipassana meditation movement, I suggest that the rise of ethnoreligious politics in Nepal at that time reflects the presence of a global “identity machine”—an apparatus that establishes not only the categories of identity recognized and claimed in democratic states but also, indeed, their very ontological foundations in liberal conceptions of self, citizenship, and social relations. Nepali Buddhists who claim religious rights while also engaging in practices that challenge the very idea of identity are at once participating in the ideological and institutional conditions of neoliberal modernity and also reworking these in unexpected ways. This paradox calls on anthropologists to study the processes that produce and extend particular ways of seeing and organizing the world rather than inadvertently naturalizing them.

Points

“as the space between culture (as a taken-for-granted order of symbols, institutions, structures, values, and/or beliefs) and identity (as a reflexive construct or experiential modality through which one knows oneself and claims recognition) has seemed to shrink, identity has become, in effect, a kind of metaculture: culture—to use the old Hegelian terminology—not just in itself but for itself” (513-14).

“This paper addresses these concerns by asking not about the history or meaning of any particular collective identity but about the epistemological status of identity as an object in the world and of scholarly analysis. I argue that the proliferation of identity-based claims and politics that is so visible around the world today cannot be understood apart from a powerful sociopolitical formation that I refer to as an“identity machine”—a transnational assemblage that is rapidly reorganizing ways of being and knowing oneself and others in liberal and neoliberal democracies” (514).

“My concern here, however, is not the well-known fact that governance may take place through identity but what is specifically neoliberal about the ways this is occurring today. Materialized in the heavily promoted values, discourses, and institutions associated with neoliberal democracy and development, the identity machine produces not only the classes and categories of social personhood that structure public recognition of social collectivities but, indeed, the very ontology of “identity” itself” (514).

“My proposal is that these events reflect the power of a particular global sociopolitical imaginary, concretized in a constellation of institutions, ideologies, frameworks, structures, technologies, forms of knowledge, ethics, and norms that act as a kind of “identity machine,” producing not only the categories of ethnological identity (“ethnicities,” “tribes,”“nations,” “cultures”) but also the very ontology of identity that underlies liberal and neoliberal democracy.”

“we live in a time in which “culture” has become a powerful form of political currency, a morally and legally compelling aspect of personal and collective being that can be deployed as the basis of political claims. Arjun Appadurai (1996) has even given this a name, “culturalism”: “the conscious mobilization of cultural differences in the service of a larger national or transnational politics” (15)” (517).

“I propose that the current profusion of identity talk and also the political compulsion for states to recognize citizens’ sub- and supernational identities are at once parts and products of this global assemblage,which works by extending a particular style of thought and social organization in which identity proliferates and identities proliferate and in order to do certain kinds of politics, you have to represent yourself in certain terms and make your claims in certain ways” (518).

Doing is inherently plural, collective, choral, communal. This does not mean that all doing is (or indeed should be) undertaken collectively. It means rather that it is difficult to conceive of a doing that does not have the doing of others as a precondition. I sit at the computer and write this, apparently a lonely and individual act, but my writing is part of a social process, a plaiting of my writing with the writing of others (those mentioned in footnotes and a million others), and also with the doing of those who designed the computer, assembled it, packed it, transported it, and those who installed the electricity in the house, and those who generated the electricity, those who produced the food that gives me the energy to write, and so on. … Our doings are so intertwined that it is impossible to say where one ends and another begins. (Holloway 2002:26)” (523).

Identity machine

  • “Social groups are assumed to be constituted not primarily by their relations with one another but first and foremost by their relation with their own history. This history—“culture” in its material form—is assumed to make them what they are in the same way that an individual is assumed to be constituted, as an individual, by his or her own memory. This history/culture/identity is conceptualizedas something that these groups can—indeed, should—own and control. To destroy that property is murder; to appropriate it is theft. These are the assumptions that structured the Theravada Buddhist demand for secularism “as a human right” and for official constitutional recognition as Buddhist—not Hindu—citizens (see Leve 2007b)” (525).
  • the “vision of subjective personhood that I have been discussing in this paper—an ontology that has been globalized as part of political and economic liberalization in the shape of democratic policies, institutions, and norms. When people represent them selves as identity groups, they cast themselves as the owners of their identities and histories. The process is mediated through what can only be called an emerging global, neoliberal bureaucracy, which has now come to include national bureaucracies (along with NGOs, transnational corporations, and bodies such as the UN, IMF, and WTO) as different levels within its own administrative structure” (525).

Continue reading Leve—Identity

Viveiros de Castro—Immanence and Fear

Immanence and Fear: Stranger-events and Subjects in Amazonia

by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, translated by David Rodgers

[Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2012. “Immanence and Fear: Stranger-Events and Subjects in Amazonia.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 27–43.]

“As we know, a minimal amount of imagination is needed to be afraid” (28).

“I wish to talk about the forms of fear in the native societies of Amazonia, or more precisely, about another way of relating to fear exemplified by these societies” (29).

Quem tem cu tem meed,””Anyone with an asshole feels fear” (29).

“Here I need to return to a typical motif of indigenous cosmopraxis, one about which I have already written so exhaustively that the reader might be already familiar with it. I refer to Amerindian “cosmological perspectivism,” the idea according to which each species or type of being is endowed with a prosopomorphic or anthropomorphic apperception, seeing itself as a “person,” while it sees the other components of its own eco-system as non-persons or non-humans. Some are seen as prey animals or predatory animals (everything has its own jaguar), or as spirits (invariably cannibal, or sexually voracious). Other components of the eco-system are seen as artefacts of one‘s self-own culture: jaguars see humans as peccaries, and see the blood of the prey that they kill as maize beer; the dead see the crickets as fish, the tapirs see the salt licks where they gather as large ceremonial houses, etc. (Much of what I say here about animals can also be said about the dead since, in various aspects, animals are like the dead and the dead are like animals. That is, the dead are not human.) Thus, each species occupies “in” culture the position that humans (that is, the humans‘ humans) see themselves as occupying in relation to the rest of the cosmos. Hence, it is not just a question of each species identifying itself as a culturally defined humanity: perspectivism also means that each species possesses a particular way of perceiving alterity, a “consensual hallucination” device which makes it see the world in a characteristic way” (33).

“Having different eyes, however, does not mean seeing “the same things” in a different “way”; it means that you don‘t know what the other is seeing when he “says” that he is seeing the same thing as you: we do not understand anacondas. The problem is one of perceptive “homonymy,” not “synonymy.” Perspectivism is not a trans-specific multiculturalism stating that each species possesses a particular subjective “point of view” of a real objective, unique and self-subsistent world. It is not Anthropology 101—”various cultures and one nature.” Perspectivism does not state the existence of a multiplicity of points of view, but the existence of the point of view as a multiplicity. There is just “one” point of view, the one which humans share—like the anus—with every other species of being: the point of view of culture. What varies is the objective correlative of the point of view: what passes through the optic nerve (or digestive tube) of each species, so to speak. In other words, perspectivism does not presume a Thing-in-Itself partially apprehended by the categories of understanding proper to each species. I do not believe that the Indians imagine that there is a thing-in-itself which humans see as blood and jaguars see as beer. There are not differently categorized self-identical substances, but immediately relational multiplicities of the blood-beer, salt lick-ceremonial-house, cricket-fish type. There is no x which is blood for one species and beer for the other: there exists a blood-beer which is one of the singularities characteristic of the human-jaguar multiplicity. [  … paragraph ] What defines these perspectival multiplicities is their incompatibility. A human and a jaguar cannot be people at the same time; it is impossible to experience blood as beer without having-already-become a jaguar. Perspectivism states that each species sees itself as people. However, it also states that two species cannot see each other simultaneously as people. Each species has to be capable of not losing sight, so to speak, of the fact that the others see themselves as people and, simultaneously, capable of forgetting this fact—that is, of “no longer seeing it.” (34).

Supernatural regime—”a situation in which the subject of a perspective, or “self,” is suddenly transformed into an object in the perspective of another being” (36).

Appearances deceive because one can never be sure whose or which is the dominant point of view. One can never be sure, that is, which world is in force when one interacts with the Other.”

“I see these supernatural encounters in the forest, where the self is captured by an other, and defined by it as its ―second person,‖ as a kind of indigenous proto-experience of the State” (37).

“In an earlier work, I argued that the constitutive problem of Western modernity, namely, solipsism—the supposition that the other is merely a body, that it does not harbour a soul like that of the self: the absence of communication as an anxiety-ridden horizon of the self—had as its Amazonian equivalent the (positive or negative) obsession with cannibalism and the affirmation of the latent transformability of bodies. In a cosmos totally impregnated with subjecthood, the dominant supposition-fear is that what we eat are always, in the final analysis, souls: an excess of communication, the dangerous transparency of the world …

“I wish to suggest that the true equivalent of the “indigenous category of the supernatural” are not “our” extraordinary or paranormal experiences (alien abductions, ESP, mediumship, premonition), but the quotidian experience, perfectly terrifying in its very normality, of existing under a State. The famous poster of Uncle Sam with his finger pointing in your face, looking directly at anyone who allowed their gaze to be captured by him, is for me the perfect icon of the State: “I want you.” An Amazonian Indian would immediately know what this evil spirit is talking about, and, pretending not to hear, would look elsewhere” (37).

“the world of immanent humanity is also a world of immanent divinity, a world where divinity is distributed under the form of a potential infinity of non-human subjects. This is a world where hosts of minuscule gods wander the earth; a “myriatheism,” … This is the world that has been called animist, that is, now to use the terms of our inanimist tradition, a world where the object is a particular case of the subject, where every object is a subject in potentia. Instead of the solipsistic formula “I think, therefore I am” the indigenous cogito must be articulated in animistc terms, as in, “It exists, therefore it thinks.” But there, where on top of this the Self is a particular case of the Other, such “animism” must necessarily take the form of—if you excuse the pun—an “enemism”: an animism altered by alterity, an alterity that gets animated insofar as it is thought of as an enemy interiority: a Self that is radically Other. Hence the danger, and the brilliance, of such worlds” (41).

Abstract

This article proposes to explore the political correlates of Amazonian perspectival ontologies. From a Taulipang mythical narrative about the origin of the anus (as transcribed by Koch-Grünberg) to a Nambikwara explanation of Brazilian I.D. cards (as reported by Joana Miller), Amazonian ethnography allows us to perceive how “bodily” affects and “spiritual” encounters conspire to project a particular conception of power, sociality and truth.

Continue reading Viveiros de Castro—Immanence and Fear

Bauman & Briggs—Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power

Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power

by Richard Bauman and Charles L. Briggs

[Briggs, Charles L., and Richard Bauman. 1992. “Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2: 131–72.]

Points

“grasping the complex intertextual relations that underlie genre, along with the way these relations are closely linked to social, cultural, ideological, and political-economic factors, can offer insight into why studies of genre have proved to be so problematic” (132).

Genre styles—”are constellations of co-occurrent formal elements and structures that define or characterize particular classes of utterances. The constituent elements of genre styles may figure in other speech styles as well, establishing indexical resonances between them. Additionally, particular elements may be abstracted from recognized generic styles and employed in other discursive settings to endow them with an indexical tinge, a coloration, of the genres with which they are primarily associated and the social meaning that attaches to them” (141).

“Beyond the fact that it has been put to a wide range of analytic and descriptive uses, practitioners have generally simply assumed that they and their audiences know what genres are and what makes them work” (145).

  • Bakhtin, however, “sees linguistic dimensions of genres in terms of their ideologically mediated connections with social groups and “spheres of human activity” in historical perspective (1986:65)” (145).
  • “Bakhtin was one of the first to replace the static hewing out of texts with a model where literary structure does not simply exist but is generated in relation to another structure. What allows a dynamic dimension to structuralism is his conception of the “literary word” as an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context. [Kristeva 1980:64-65, emphasis in original]  […paragraph] Two facets of this characterization are crucial. First, structure, form, func- tion, and meaning are seen not as immanent features of discourse but as products of an ongoing process of producing and receiving discourse. Second, this process is not centered in the speech event or creation of a written text itself, but lies in its interface with at least one other utterance.  […paragraph]  Bakhtin’s interest in a “translinguistics” that is vitally concerned with2 intertextuality has clearly provided part of the force that lies behind the recent interest in reported speech evident in linguistic anthropology and other fields” (146-47).

“Viewed synchronically, genres provide powerful means of shaping discourse into ordered, unified, and bounded texts. As soon as we hear a generic framing device, such as “once upon a time,” we unleash a set of expectations regarding narrative form and content. Animals may talk and people may possess supernatural powers, and we anticipate the unfolding of a plot structure that involves, as Propp (1968(1928]) showed us long ago, an interdiction, a violation, a departure, the completion of tasks, failure followed by success, and the like. The invocation of genre thus provides a textual model for creating cohesion and coherence, for producing and interpreting particular sorts of features and their formal and functional relations all the way from particular poetic lines to the global structure of the narrative” (147).

  • “Genre thus pertains crucially to negotiations of identity and power—by invoking a particular genre, producers of discourse assert (tacitly or explicitly) that they possess the authority needed to decontextualize discourse that bears these historical and social connections and to recontextualize it in the current discursive setting” (148).

“When viewed diachronically or vertically, the fit between a particular text and its generic model—as well as other tokens of the same genre— is never perfect; to paraphrase Sapir, we might say that all genres leak” (bold added,149).

  • “The process of linking particular utterances to generic models thus necessarily produces an intertextual gap. Although the creation of this hiatus is unavoidable, its relative suppression or foregrounding has important effects. One the one hand, texts framed in some genres attempt to achieve generic transparency by minimizing the distance between texts and genres, thus rendering the discourse maximally interpretable through the use of generic precedents. This approach sustains highly conservative, traditionalizing modes of creating textual authority. On the other hand, maximizing and highlighting these intertextual gaps underlies strategies for building authority through claims of individual creativity and innovation (such as are common in 20th-century Western literature), resistance to the hegemonic structures associated with established genres, and other motives for distancing oneself from textual precedents” (149).

BIG CONCLUSION—

“In this article we have critiqued views of genre that draw on purportedly immanent, invariant features in attempting to provide internally consistent systems of mutually exclusive genres

  1. We presented an alternative view of genre, one that places generic distinctions not within texts but in the practices used in creating intertextual relations with other bodies of discourse …
  2. we argued that generic intertextuality is not an inherent property of the relation between a text and a genre but the construction of such a relationship …
  3. We accordingly suggested that generic links necessarily produce an intertextual gap; the strategies used for constructing intertextual relations can seek to minimize this gap,maximize it, or both.
  4. Choices between intertextual strategies are ideologically motivated, and they are closely related to social, cultural, political-economic, and historical factors (bullets added, 163).

“Our goal in this article is thus not to “rescue” the category of genre from these difficulties or to assert its centrality to research in linguistic anthropology. Any attempt to champion—or to dismiss—the concept of genre would have strong ideological underpinnings. We have rather tried to use our discussion of genre as a means of raising some basic is- sues regarding discourse production and reception. In an earlier article (Bauman and Briggs 1990) we argued that discourse analysis cannot best proceed either by (1) studying (socio)linguistic elements and processes apart from the process of discourse production and reception or by (2) studying social interactions as analytic microcosms. We rather pointed to the fruitfulness of studying discourse vis-a-vis the way it is transformed in the course of successive decontextualizations and recontextualizations and of exploring the process of entextualization that provides the formal and functional basis for such transformations (164).

Abstract

This article addresses the relationship between discourse, textual and social order, and power by means of an examination of the concept of genre. It begins with a critical review of the way genre has been used in linguistic anthropology. A distinction is delineated between approaches that take for granted the status of genre as a tool for classifying and ordering discourseand those that contend with elements of generic ambiguity and dynamism. Proceeding to outline a new approach to genre, the discussion analyzes awide range of intertextual relations that are deployed in constituting genericlinks. A series of examples contrasts strategies for minimizing gaps between texts and generic precedents with strategies for maximizing such gaps. A final section points to the ways that investigating generic intertextuality can illuminate questions of ideology, political economy, and power.

Continue reading Bauman & Briggs—Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power

Kohn—How Forests Think

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

by Eduardo Kohn

[Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.]

Points

“How other kinds of beings see us matters. Th at other kinds of beings see us changes things. If jaguars also represent us—in ways that can matter vitally to us—then anthropology cannot limit itself just to exploring how people from different societies might happen to represent them as doing so” (1).

“This book is an attempt to ponder the Sphinx’s riddle by attending ethnographically to a series of Amazonian other-than-human encounters. Attending to our relations with those beings that exist in some way beyond the human forces us to question our tidy answers about the human. Th e goal here is neither to do away with the human nor to reinscribe it but to open it. In rethinking the human we must also rethink the kind of anthropology that would be adequate to this task. Sociocultural anthropology in its various forms as it is practiced today takes those attributes that are distinctive to humans—language, culture, society, and history—and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans. In this process the analytical object becomes isomorphic with the analytics. As a result we are not able to see the myriad ways in which people are connected to a broader world of life, or how this fundamental connection changes what it might mean to be human. And this is why expanding ethnography to reach beyond the human is so important. An ethnographic focus not just on humans or only on animals but also on how humans and animals relate breaks open the circular closure that otherwise confines us when we seek to understand the distinctively human by means of that which is distinctive to humans” (6).

“I seek to contribute to these posthuman critiques of the ways in which we have treated humans as exceptional—and thus as fundamentally separate from the rest of the world—by developing a more robust analytic for understanding human relations to nonhuman beings. I do so by refl ecting on what it might mean to say that forests think. I do so, that is, by working out the connection between representational processes (which form the basis for all thought) and living ones as this is revealed through ethno-graphic attention to that which lies beyond the human. I use the insights thus gained to rethink our assumptions about the nature of representation, and I then explore how this rethinking changes our anthropological concepts. I call this approach an “anthropology beyond the human” (7).

“But symbols, those kinds of signs that are based on convention (like the English word dog), which are distinctively human representational forms, and whose properties make human language possible, actually emerge from and relate to other modalities of representation. In Peirce’s terminology these other modalities (in broad terms) are either “iconic” (involving signs that share likenesses with the things they represent) or “indexical” (involving signs that are in some way affected by or otherwise correlated with those things they represent). In addition to being symbolic creatures we humans share these other semiotic modalities with the rest of nonhuman biological life (Deacon 1997) … though signs may be extralinguistic (with the consequence that language can be treated as something more than symbolic) the contexts that make them meaningful are human sociocultural ones” (8).

“Life is constitutively semiotic” (9).

“This way of understanding semiosis can help us move beyond a dualistic approach to anthropology, in which humans are portrayed as separate from the worlds they represent, toward a monistic one, in which how humans represent jaguars and how jaguars represent humans can be understood as integral, though not interchangeable, parts of a single, open-ended story” (9).

“In sum, an anthropology beyond the human is perforce an ontological one. That is, taking nonhumans seriously makes it impossible to confine our anthropological inquiries to an epistemological concern for how it is that humans, at some particular time or in some particular place, go about making sense of them. As an ontological endeavor this kind of anthropology places us in a special position to rethink the sorts of concepts we use and to develop new ones. In Marilyn Strathern’s words, it aims “to create the conditions for new thoughts” (1988: 20)” (10).

“My argument is that we are colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality. We can only imagine the ways in which selves and thoughts might form associations through our assumptions about the forms of associations that structure human language. And then, in ways that often go unnoticed, we project these assumptions onto nonhumans. Without realizing it we attribute to nonhumans properties that are our own, and then, to compound this, we narcissistically ask them to provide us with corrective reflections of ourselves … Forests are good to think because they themselves think. Forests think. I want to take this seriously, and I want to ask, What are the implications of this claim for our understandings of what it means to be human in a world that extends beyond us?” (21-22).

“Signs don’t come from the mind. Rather, it is the other way around. What we call mind, or self, is a product of semiosis. Th at “somebody,” human or non-human, who takes the crashing palm to be significant is a “self that is just com-ing into life in the fl ow of time” (CP 5.421) by virtue of the ways in which she comes to be a locus—however ephemeral—for the “interpretance” of this sign and many others like it. In fact, Peirce coined the cumbersome term interpretant to avoid the “homunculus fallacy” (see Deacon 2012: 48) of seeing a self as a sort of black box (a little person inside us, a homunculus) who would be the interpreter of those signs but not herself the product of those signs. Selves, human or nonhuman, simple or complex, are outcomes of semiosis as well as the starting points for new sign interpretation whose outcome will be a future self. They are waypoints in a semiotic process” (34).

“We need to provincialize language because we conflate representation with language and this conflation finds its way into our theory. We universalize this distinctive human propensity by first assuming that all representation is some-thing human and then by supposing that all representation has language like properties” (39).

“To summarize: signs are not exclusively human affairs. All living beings sign. We humans are therefore at home with the multitude of semiotic life. Our exceptional status is not the walled compound we thought we once inhabited. An anthropology that focuses on the relations we humans have with nonhuman beings forces us to step beyond the human. In the process it makes what we’ve taken to be the human condition—namely, the paradoxical, and “provincialized,” fact that our nature is to live immersed in the “unnatural” worlds we construct—appear a little strange. Learning how to appreciate this is an important goal of an anthropology beyond the human” (42).

“Thinking with images, as I do here with the Sphinx’s riddle, and as I do throughout this book, with all kinds of images—be they oneiric, aural, anecdotal, mythic, or even photographic (there are other stories being “told” here without words)—and learning to attend to the ways in which these images amplify, and thus render apparent, something about the human via that which lies beyond the human, is, as I’ve been arguing, also a way of opening ourselves to the distinctive iconic logics of how the forest’s thoughts might think their ways through us. How Forests Think aims to think like forests: in images” (222).

Continue reading Kohn—How Forests Think

Taylor—The Politics of Recognition

The Politics of Recognition

by Charles Taylor

[Taylor, Charles. 1994. “The Politics of Recognition.” In Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, edited by Amy Gutmann, 25–73. Princeton University Press.]

Points

  • “our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being” (25).
  • “Within these perspectives, misrecognition shows not just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need” (26, bold added).

How did we get here?:

  1. social hierarchies collapsed, and with them the traditional idea of honor
    • “For some to have honor in this sense, it is essential that not everyone have it” (27).
  2. honor is replaced by the notion of dignity, which everyone shares in equal measure
    • we are born with it and is totes compatible with Democratic society
  3. As Democracy leads to a more individualized society, dignity becomes understood more in terms of authenticity—being the individual identity that you really are
    • so this dignity is no longer God-given and moral, it is significant by itself
    • “Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, which is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. This is the background understanding to the modern ideal of authenticity” (31).

dialogical self definition

  • (Enlightenment Philosopher) Herder says that our ‘way of being’ is inwardly generated—in other words, monological
  • However, Taylor argues that this process is actually dialogical in nature
    • this is because we are dependent on language to self-define
    • People do not acquire the languages needed for self-definition on their own. Rather, we are introduced to them through interaction with others who matter to us—what George Herbert Mead called “significant others” (32).
    • We “define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live” (33).
  • In this sense “the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others” (34).
  • Recognition has become so important that “Its refusal can inflict damage on those who are denied it, … The projection of an inferior or demeaning image on another can actually distort and oppress, to the extent that the image is internalized” (36).

politics of universalism vs. politics of difference—the two forms of liberalism

  1. “With the move from honor to dignity has come a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of all citizens, and the content of this politics has been the equalization of rights and entitlements” (37).
  2. “the development of the modern notion of identity, has given rise to a politics of difference. With the politics of equal dignity, what is established is meant to be universally the same, an identical basket of rights and immunities; with the politics of difference, what we are asked to recognize is the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else. The idea is that it is precisely this distinctness that has been ignored, glossed over, assimilated to a dominant or majority identity. And this assimilation is the cardinal sin against the ideal of authenticity” (38).
  3. “The claim is that the supposedly neutral set of difference-blind principles of the politics of equal dignity is in fact a reflection of one hegemonic culture. As it turns out, then, only the minority or suppressed cultures are being forced to take alien form. Consequently, the supposedly fair and difference-blind society is not only inhuman (because suppressing identities) but also, in a subtle and unconscious way, itself highly discriminatory” (43).

Multiculturalism

  1. “all societies are becoming increasingly multicultural, while at the same time becoming more porous. Indeed, these two developments go together. Their porousness means that they are more open to multi-national migration; more of their members live the life of diaspora, whose center is elsewhere. In these circumstances, there is something awkward about replying simply, “This is how we do things here …
    • “The awkwardness arises from the fact that there are substantial numbers of people who are citizens and also belong to the culture that calls into question our philosophical boundaries. The challenge is to deal with their sense of marginalization without compromising our basic political principles” (63).
  2. There is now an explicit demand for recognition, including a change in the way we are taught the history of culture.
    • This is “essential not so much in the name of a broader culture for everyone as in order to give due recognition to the hitherto excluded. The background premise of these demands is that recognition forges identity, particularly in its Fanonist application: dominant groups tend to entrench their hegemony by inculcating an image of inferiority in the subjugated” (66).
  3. “As a presumption, the claim is that all human cultures that have animated whole societies over some considerable stretch of time have something important to say to all human beings … when I call this claim a “presumption,” I mean that it is a starting hypothesis with which we ought to approach the study of any other culture” (66-67).
    • [How is this not just straight up Boas?]
  4. According to Taylor—”What has to happen is what Gadamer has called a “fusion of horizons.” We learn to move in a broader horizon, within which what we have formerly taken for granted as the background to valuation can be situated as one possibility alongside the different background of the formerly unfamiliar culture. The “fusion of horizons” operates through our developing new vocabularies of comparison, by means of which we can articulate these contrasts. So that if and when we ultimately find substantive support for our initial presumption, it is on the basis of an understanding of what constitutes worth that we couldn’t possibly have had at the beginning. We have reached the judgment partly through transforming our standards” (67).

Finally—

“There must be something midway between the inauthentic and homogenizing demand for recognition of equal worth, on the one hand, and the self-immurement within ethnocentric standards, on the other. There are other cultures, and we have to live together more and more, both on a world scale and commingled in each individual society.

What there is is the presumption of equal worth I described above: a stance we take in embarking on the study of the other. Perhaps we don’t need to ask whether it’s something that others can demand from us as a right. We might simply ask whether this is the way we ought to approach others” (72).

and—

“what the presumption requires of us is not peremptory and inauthentic judgments of equal value, but a willingness to be open to comparative cultural study of the kind that must displace our horizons in the resulting fusions. What it requires above all is an admission that we are very far away from that ultimate horizon from which the relative worth of different cultures might be evident. This would mean breaking with an illusion that still holds many “multiculturalists”—as well as their most bitter opponents—in its grip” (73). Continue reading Taylor—The Politics of Recognition

boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

Continue reading boyd—None of This Is Real