Tag Archives: Freud

Monaghan & Just – Bee Larvae and Onion Soup: Culture

Bee Larvae and Onion Soup: Culture

by John Monaghan & Peter Just

[Monaghan, John and Just, Peter. 2000. “Bee Larvae and Onion Soup: Culture.” in Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction. Pp. 34-52.]

Points & Quotes:

Universalized “culture”

“one learns a great deal that one is never explicitly taught.” (36)

“Boas described a human a kulturbrille, a set of ‘cultural glasses’ that each of us wears, lenses that provide us with a means of perceiving the world around us, for interpreting the meaning of our social lives, and framing action in them.” (38)

“At least three points of debate have continued to recur in the way anthropologists talk about the concept of culture.

    1. One has to do with the extent to which a ‘culture’ should be regarded as an integrated whole;
    2. the second has to do with the extent to which ‘culture’ can be seen as an autonomous, ‘superorganic’ entity;
    3. and the third has to do with how we can best go about drawing boundaries around ‘cultures’.” (43-44, formatting added)

To Durkheim and Mauss: “Society was not simply a model which classificatory thought followed; it was its own divisions which served as divisions for the system of classification.” (40-41)

“Claude Levi-Strauss, the founder of ‘structuralist’ anthropology, would claim that human classification is indeed universal,but that it is universal because a human predisposition to making distinctions produced classifications that mutatis mutandis were but surface representations of a more fundamental ‘deep structure’ shaped by the binary nature of the human mind.”

  • “[l]f we look at all the intellectual undertakings of mankind … the common denominator is always to introduce some kind of order. If this represents a basic need for order in the human mind and since, after all, the human mind is onlypart of the universe, the need probably exists because there is some order in the universe and the universe is not chaos.” (41)

“French philosopher Michel Foucault has popularized a new direction among some anthropologists, who have come to see the categories of meaning imposed by culture as a basis of inequality and oppression. In other words, they see the ability to control the content of cultural classifications as a primary source of power in society. This in turn makes the contestation of categories of social classification, such as ‘male’ and ‘female’, with all of the social, political, and economic associations that attend them, a primary mode of resistance to authority. ” (42)

“The idea that culture is an integrated and integrating whole is in part based upon the great modernist insight that underlying apparently discrete bits of belief or behaviour rests a more fundamental reality. For Karl Marx that determining reality was the mode of production; for Emile Durkheim it was society; for Sigmund Freud it was the unconscious; and for many in anthropology, following the lead of Boas, it has been culture itself.” (43-44)

“Ruth Benedict, one of Boas’ first students, conceived of a culture as a Gestalt, a total pattern … Although Benedict’s approach is now regarded as too simplistic and reductionist, because of its tendency to view cultures in terms of one or two key themes, it has continued to prove a powerful means for organizing and integrating the minutiae of ethnographic observation.” (44)

Clifford Geertz “used cockfighting – a popular form of entertainment in Bali – as an image that also serves to characterize beliefs and practices … In this way, Geertz is able to show how disparate elements of Balinese culture create a ‘fabric of meaning and belief’ that is consistent and mutually reinforcing. For Geertz, cultures can be read as texts, much as one might read a novel or a poem. The trick, according to Geertz, is to seek out cultural ‘texts’ that the people of the society themselves find compelling – as the Balinese are fascinated by cockfighting – and to not only understand them as they see them, but to see the ways the themes of these ‘texts’ illuminate other aspects of the society.” (44-45)

Some “refer to cultures as if they were autonomous things with lives of their own. Alfred Kroeber once compared culture to a coral reef, which is built up by the secretions of millions of tiny animals, but which existed before any of its living members, and will outlast them all, providing a structure within which future generations will be constrained.” (46)

“Anthony Wallace argued that the contents of the individual mind are in fact highly divergent, and that what culture does is not so much impose a uniformity, but provide a set of shared communicative symbols that organizes this diversity.” (47)

“The essentialism attributed to culture found itself expressed in ethnographies that routinely assumed ‘one people, one culture, one society’. But, as Arjun Appadurai recently asked, doesn’t this premise fly in the face of ‘unequal knowledge and the differential prestige of lifestyles, and discourage attention to the world views and agency of those who are marginalized or dominated’? ” (47)

Big Point!

“Perhaps it would be best to join with most anthropologists today, who tend to view culture not as a thing in itself, but as a learning device for uncovering meaning in social life.” (47-48)

“the anthropological concept of culture has been our discipline’s most significant contribution to modern thought. In uncovering the fundamentally arbitrary and learned basis for the differences among and between human communities, the culture concept has been a powerful weapon in combating racism, national chauvinism, and the ‘scientific’ racism’ that characterized much of anthropology in the nineteenth century” (48)

Cultural Relativism (really good breakdown)

  • We start from the premise that our beliefs, morals, behaviours – even our very perceptions of the world around us – are the products of culture, learned as members of the communities in which we are reared.
  • If, as we believe, the content of culture is the product of the arbitrary, historical experience of a people, then what we are as social beings is also an arbitrary, historical product.
  • Because culture so deeply and broadly determines our worldview, it stands to reason that we can have no objective basis for asserting that one such worldview is superior to another, or that one worldview can be used as a yardstick to measure another.
  • In this sense, cultures can only be judged relative to one another, and the meaning of a given belief or behaviour must first and foremost be understood relative to its own cultural context.
  • That, in a nutshell, is the basis of what has come to be called cultural relativism. (49, formatting added)

“In addition to these aspects of cultural relativism we must also entertain the moral dimensions of cultural relativism … Behaviour that might be nonsensical, illegal, or immoral in one society might be perfectly rational and socially accepted in another … do we deal with the stranger in our midst when that stranger’s culture is morally different from our own? At what point are segments of a given community entitled to a claim of cultural distinctiveness that demands autonomy and respect? Are soccer hooligans or terrorists entitled to claim the protection of cultural relativism?” (50-51)

“One wonders, ultimately, if it is logically possible to simultaneously subscribe to both the notion of universal human rights and a belief in the relativity of cultures.” (52)

“we note with Clifford Geertz that the crimes committed in the name of cultural relativism pale in comparison to those committed in the name of cultural and national chauvinism or, for that matter, almost any other ‘ism’. His stance is one of ‘anti-anti­ relativism.” (52)

Terms:
 
bricolage—kind of collage in which the odds and ends of culture are turned to uses for which they may never have been intended but which fit into an underlying pattern
 
embodiment—when we act, we act not simply as minds but also as physical bodies
 
Some anthropologists on “Culture”:
 
Continue reading Monaghan & Just – Bee Larvae and Onion Soup: Culture

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

Luhrmann—When God Talks Back

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage Books.]

Points

  • Based on over four years of participant observation at Evangelical “Vineyard Christian Fellowship” in Chicago and Northern California.
  • trying to find an answer to the “deep puzzle of faith … how sensible, reasonable people, living in more or less the same evidential world as the skeptic, are able to experience themselves as having good evidence for the presence of a powerful invisible being who has demonstrable effect on their lives and are able to sustain a belief in that presence despite their inevitable doubts” (xvi).
  • Answer – “In effect, people train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God. They learn to reinterpret the familiar experiences of their own minds and bodies as not being their own at all—but God’s” (xxi).
  • Vineyard members learn a new theory of mind (participatory) which “asks congregants to experience the mind-world barrier as porous, in a specific, limited way” (40).
    • specifically meaning that you can hear things in your mind that did not originate there, but limited to God speaking to you
    • The 1960s were a ‘great awakening,’ significantly among the hippie movement in California, which espoused a new, friendly, personal type of Christianity that became evangelism throughout the next decades—which leads to churches like Vineyard
  • Vineyards basic view on the God-relationship: “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body” (41).

Vineyard members engaged in many practices that trained their minds to work this way

  • Figuring out whether or not it is really God is a practice called discernment, based on four tests:
    1. Is it not something you normally would have said?
    2. Is it the type of thing you think God might say or imply?
    3. Is the message confirmed through others’ experiences or larger circumstances?
    4. Is it followed by a period of peace?
  • Another way Vineyard members practice hearing God—pretend you’re hanging out with him
    • set an extra place at the table, pour him a cup of coffee, or even have a complete ‘date night’
    • with practice, this behavior enacts a type of play that children have with imaginary friends—completely given over to the reality of the pretend, like in Huizinga’s magic circle
  • Another type of training is “opening your heart” through emotional practices
    1. “crying in the presence of God”—be openly emotional when giving or receiving prayer
    2. “Seeing from God’s perspective”—look at situations past your own limited view
    3. “practicing love, peace, and joy”—practice it consciously
    4. “God the therapist”—tell him your problems
    5. “reworking God the father”—sometimes dads are scary and demanding; God is not
    6. “emotional cascades”—sudden moments of epiphany, when you physically feel God’s love
  • “It is a profoundly social process. It is the evangelical church that teaches discernment, encourages the playI and models the six emotional practices. It is no small matter to become confident that the God you imagine in the privacy of your mind exists externally in the world, talking back. In the struggle to give the invisible being its external presence, the congregation surrounds the individual and helps to hold the being out apart from the self, separate and external. It is the church that confirms that the invisible being is really present, and it is that church that reminds people week after week that the external invisible being loves them, despite all the evidence of the dreary human world. And slowly, the church begins to shape the most private reaches of the way congregants feel and know” (131).
  • Vineyard gives classes in prayer and regards some practiced members as “expert prayers”
    • These practices are important even to non-believers because “we cannot understand how God becomes real to someone until we understand that a person’s experience of God emerges out of the vortex not only of what they are taught intellectually about God but also of what they do practically to experience God—above all, the way they pray, and what the bring to their prayer experience as unique individuals” (156).
  • Vineyard members practice St. Ignatius’s “Spiritual Exercises”— training the imagination to picture the imaginer as a part of the life of Jesus

So how does this work?

  • Luhrmann says that the congregants who have the more intense experiences and the most verbal relationship with God have high rates of the absorption personality trait.
    • when you get absorbed in something, it seems more real to you, and you and your world seem different than before. That is why it is related to hypnotizability. Both rely upon your ability to throw yourself into something and then to involve yourself intensely in the experience” (199).
  • This gave her a hypothesis: “that when people believe that God will speak to them through their senses, when they have a propensity for absorption, and when they are trained in absorption by the practice of prayer, these people will report what prayer experts report: internal sensory experiences with sharper mental imagery and more sensory overrides (sensory experience in the absence of sensory stimuli). Note the combination: an interest in interpreting a supernatural presence (the participatory theory of mind, taught by the social world of the church); a willingness to get caught up in one’s imagination (an individual difference); and actual practice ( they do something again and again, which has consequences)” (202).
    • So she tested it in Northern California by having subjects listen to training tapes for 30 minutes every day for a month.
    • She found that the subjects “entered the project with a broad, generic desire to hear God speak or perhaps just to get their prayer life moving again; they spent thirty minutes a day imaginatively immersed in the scriptures; and then they had unplanned idiosyncratic experiences that they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears” (216).

evangelical—based in three beliefs: literal truth of the Bible, one can be saved through a personal relationship with Jesus (being “born again”), and one should spread the gospel

absorption—the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and to most imaginative experiences in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations. That is not to say that absorption is equivalent to hypnosis or dissociation or trance: manifestly it is not. But absorption seems to be the basic, necessary skill, the shared capacity of mind that allows what we choose to attend lo become more salient than the everyday context in which we arc embedded. It is the ability to use a book to take your mind off your troubles. That cuts both ways, of course. Some people use novels to keep the world at bay long enough to recover and regain the strength to return. Others use novels-or soap operas, or reality television-to escape and ignore the troubled marriage or the needy child. In both cases, individuals use their mind to change their relation to the reality they perceive … That is why absorption is central to spirituality. The capacity to treat what the mind imagines as more real than the world one knows is the capacity at the heart of experience of God” (201).

Young—The Harmony of Illusions

The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Allan Young

[Young, Allan. 1997. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton University Press.]

Points

  • Young argues that the concept of traumatic memory, which is seen by some as having roots hundreds of years ago, is actually quite a recent invention
  • He argues that: “this generally accepted picture of PTSD, and the traumatic memory that underlies it, is mistaken. The disorder is not timeless, nor does it possess an intrinsic unity. Rather, it is glued together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied,treated, and represented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments that mobilized these efforts and resources” (5).

He does not deny that the suffering accompanying a PTSD diagnosis is not real:

  • “My job as an ethnographer of PTSD is not to deny its reality but to explain how it and its traumatic memory have been made real, to describe the mechanisms through which these phenomena penetrate people’s life worlds, acquire facticity, and shape the self-knowledge of patients, clinicians, and researchers” (5-6).

The book is broken into threes sections:

  1. an historical overview of trauma theories up to the beginning of WWI
    • Erichsen—”railway spine” in the 1860s—to deal with railway insurance
      • fear is the body’s memory of pain—memories come form physical stimulus, not images or words
      • So the traumatic event itself causes the continued anxiety
    • Janet & Freud
      • Repression and dissociation—horrible buried memory
      • The memory of the trauma (rather than the event) is the cause of the anxiety
    • Rivers, WWI & “shell shock”
      • Although seen by many scholars as the precursor to PTSD, Rivers is “observing that, in most cases, it is not the traumatic memory that produces the physical and emotional symptoms of the war neuroses (anxiety disorder) but rather the reverse: the symptoms account for the memory” (83).
  2. The DSM III revolution
    • 1940s pre and post WWII war neuroses
      • Kardiner—The Traumatic Neuroses of War, based on post WWI studies from the 1920s
      • Grinker & Spiegel—War Neuroses, based on field studies during WWII
      • no matching diagnostic categories between the two, so the War Department makes one…
    • The DSMs
      • DSM I—1952, nomenclature not universal, listed on spectrum from “Mental Illness, to Mental Health”
      • DSM II—1968, better, but still involved “neuroses”
      • DSM III—1980, built from scratch on completely positivist basis, that is, it was all descriptive, some critiqued this “cook book approach … making mental disorder equivalent to their aggregate of their symptomatic parts” (100).
    • PTSD
      • in DSM III, a person “gas experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone (124).
      • system worked like this:
        1. first order feature (PTSD) is defined by
        2. second order feature (an event outside the range of usual human experience),
        3. but then what is the third order (usual human experience)? Unlike the anecdotal research of Rivers, Freud, or Kardiner, the DSM relies on analogical comparison, which has no bounds.
    • so throughout all this time:
      • “What counts as a reasonable question, a satisfactory answer, a significant difference, an anomalous finding, or even an outcome—the criteria for each of these changed during this period. What did not change was the belief in the solidity of scientific facts and the conviction that psychiatry’s facts, being scientific, are essentially timeless” (9).
  3. PTSD in Practice
    • This section is based off of fieldwork in a U.S. Veterans Administration unit for the diagnosis and treatment of Viet Nam veterans suffering from PTSD in 1986-87
    • There is a long section that includes case studies of four different Vietnam War veterans being considered for PTSD diagnosis.
      • The four men all present psychometric and standardized diagnostic results consistent with a PTSD diagnosis
      • The case studies consist of transcripts of narratives from the men, which are significantly different
      • Following the narratives, transcripts of meetings between professionals at the center show how they rationalize these differences back into the requisite parameters using the open ended language of the DSM designation
    • the centers espouse an ideology of PTSD that allows the patients to talk about their own experiences using specific terminology that feeds back into the center, and back into the diagnosis.
      • The seventh chapter has a lot of group therapy transcripts where you can see this happening.

In the end, the book basically shows how the social creation and maintenance of PTSD (like Scott with blindness) can work in the process of creating a “kind” of people (like Hacking with MPD).

Continue reading Young—The Harmony of Illusions

Fortun—From Latour to Late Industrialism

From Latour to Late Industrialism

by, Kim Fortun

[Fortun, Kim. 2014. “From Latour to Late Industrialism.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 309–29.]

Points

In “late industrialism” disasters are everywhere, eminent, and normal

Critique of Latour and AIME

  • even though we ‘have never been modern’ modernist technologies exist and have left a real mess, what she calls “soiled grounds.” AIME elides this reality with its use of a “controlled vocabulary,” and the assumptions that entities end at their edges (chemical plants only produce chemicals, etc). AIME fails to recognize its own externalities as well as those of global capitalism (sludge that breaks out of the places where its “supposed to be”)

Abstract

I situate Latour’s latest project—An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME)—in the context of late industrialism and query both its conceptual underpinnings and the design of its digital platform. I argue that Latour’s semiotics (and associated conceptions of both networks and ontologies) are functionalist in a way that mimics industrial logic, discounting both the production of hierarchical differentiation within a given system, and the system’s externalizations. The approach thus underestimates the toxicity of its vitalism. Continue reading Fortun—From Latour to Late Industrialism