Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Postmodernities
by Michael M.J. Fischer
[Fischer, Michael M. J. 1999. “Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Postmodernities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1):455–78.]
Really good overview of social theory and anthropology of the po-mo 1990s, and brief encapsulation of general social theory in the twentieth century
- “Emergent forms of life’ acknowledges an ethnographic datum, a social theoretic heuristic, and a philosophical stance regarding ethics.
- The ethnographic datum is the pervasive claim … that traditional concepts and ways of doing things no longer work …
- The social theoretic heuristic is that complex societies … are always compromise formations among … emergent, dominant, and fading historical horizons.
- The philosophical stance toward ethics is that “giving grounds” for belief comes to an end somewhere and that “the end is … a sociality of action, that always contains within it ethical dilemmas or … the face of the other.” (456)
Anthropologies of late modernity … provide challenges for all levels of social, cultural, and psychological theory, as well as for ethnographic field methods and genres of writing. There are three key overlapping arenas of attention.
- The continuing transformation of modernities by science and technology,
- The reconfiguration of perception and understanding, of the human and social sensorium, by computer-mediated and visual technologies and prostheses.
- The reconstruction of society in the wake of social trauma caused by world war and civil and ethnic wars; collapse of command economies; massive demographic migrations and diasporas; and postcolonial and globalizing restructurings of the world economy, including the production of toxics and new modalities of long-term risk.” (457-458)
- “The general social theories of modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have to do with the dynamics of class society and industrial processes (Karl Marx); with bureaucratic, psychological, and cultural rationalization (Max Weber); with repression and redirection of psychic energy from gendered and familial conflicts (Sigmund Freud, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno); with abstraction of signs and tokens of exchange (CS Pierce, F Saussure, Georg Simmel, Thorstein Veblen); and with the complexification of the conscience collective with the division of labor (Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss).
- In contrast, general theories of the postmodern or late modern era stress the processes and effects of the “third industrial revolution” (electronic media, silicon chip, molecular biology), as well as of decolonization, massive demographic shifts, and the cross-temporal and cross-cultural referentiality of cultural forms.” (458)
- “computer-mediated communication provides also a design studio for social theory. It provides materials for thinking about a conjuncture of two kinds of science that can no longer do without one another: (a) explanatory structures that are breaks with normal experience, that can only be arrived at through the prostheses of instruments, experiments, models, and simulations, and (b) experiential, embodied, sensorial knowledge that acts as situated feedback.” (469)
- “No longer is it possible to speak of modernity in the singular. …
- “The rubric “alternative modernities” acknowledges the multiple different configurations that modernities have taken and the recognition that modernization and globalization are not homogenizing processes.” (470)
- “Among the important makers of these alternative modernities are the tremendous disruptions of the second half of the twentieth century: World War II, the struggles for decolonization, the collapse of the Soviet empire and its command economies, civil wars in Africa and Cambodia, and the “disappeared” in Argentina.” (471)
- Composing ethnographically rich texts on emergent forms of life generated under late- and postmodernities that can explore connections between changing subjectivities, social organization, modes of production, and symbolic or cultural forms, is a challenge that the anthropological archive is increasingly addressing. … The new is never without historical genealogies, but these often require reassessment and excavation of their multiplicity.
Anthropologies of late modernity (also called postmodernity, postindustrial society, knowledge society, or information society) provide a number of stimulating challenges for all levels of social, cultural, and psycho- logical theory, as well as for ethnographic and other genres of anthropological writing. Three key overlapping arenas of attention are the centrality of science and technology; decolonization, postcolonialism, and the reconstruction of societies after social trauma; and the role of the new electronic and visual media. The most important challenges of contemporary ethnographic practice include more than merely (a) the techniques of multilocale or multisited ethnography for strategically accessing different points in broadly spread processes, (b) the techniques of multivocal or multiaudience-addressed texts for mapping and acknowledging with greater precision the situatedness of knowledge, (c) the re- working of traditional notions of comparative work for a world that is increasingly aware of difference, and (d) acknowledging that anthropological representations are interventions within a stream of representations, mediations, and unequally inflected discourses competing for hegemonic control. Of equal importance are the challenges of juxtaposing, complementing, or supplementing other genres of writing, working with historians, literary theorists, media critics, novelists, investigative or in-depth journalists, writers of insider accounts (e.g. autobiographers, scientists writing for the public), photographers and filmmakers, and others.”
Continue reading Fischer – Emergent Forms of Life
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
by Max Weber Translated by Talcott Parsons With an introduction by Anthony Giddens
[Weber, Max.  2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Translated by Talcott Parsons. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]
Broken down by Giddens [then broken down further by me]—
- “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 […]
- “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]
- “A rationalised capitalistic enterprise implies two things: a disciplined labour force, and the regularised investment of capital […]
- “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]
- “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? […]
- “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 […]
- “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 […]
- “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 […]
- “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]
- “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).
- 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:
- the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it,
- rational book-keeping” (xxxxv, numbers added)
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).
The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism
- Four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism:
- Baptist sects
- 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.
- 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”
- 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).
- “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).
- 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
Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience
by Thomas Malaby
[Malaby, Thomas. 2009. “Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience.” New Literary History 40 (1): 205–18.]
- The use of play as a theoretical tool, rather than being brushed off as a leisure activity, has taken hold across academic disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. Malaby wonders why Anthropology hasn’t been invested before now.
- He argue that “while the ingredients of a more useful conception of play as a disposition (as opposed to an activity) were always present, and even found expression on occasion, the field as a whole stressed only two viable possibilities: play as nonwork and play as representation” (205-6).
- BUT, “Departing from this pattern prepares us to recognize a better model for thinking about play, one that draws ultimately on the pragmatist philosophers’ portrayal of the world as irreducibly contingent. On this view, play becomes an attitude characterized by a readiness to improvise in the face of an ever-changing world that admits of no transcendently ordered account” ( bold added, 206).
Historically, play is divided in Anthropology
- Non-work—position held by Materialists
- Callois: “play is an occasion of pure waste” (206).
- play cannot be commoditized, so it is worth nothing
- Representation—position held by representationalists (gasp)
- Ex. Geertz & Deep Play
- play stands as a symbol of larger and deeper cultural meanings
- BUT WAIT: “What should interest us about this treatment of a game, however, is the way it trades one kind of reductionism for another. In his zeal to trump whatever material stakes were in play with the different stakes of meaning-making, Geertz eliminated from consideration any consequence beyond the affirmation of meaning. On his view, games become static appraisals of an unchanging social order; and thereby, one element that is vital for any understanding of the experience of play is lost” (207).
- “That element is the indeterminacy of games and the way in which, by being indeterminate in their outcomes, they encapsulate (albeit in a contrived fashion) the open-endedness of everyday life” (207-8).
- So the point is that games are indeterminate, much like our complexly contingent lives.
- “an approach to games that acknowledges this indeterminacy looks quite different from its past treatments. It connects games to other domains of experience by showing how they contain the same kinds of unpredictabilities and constraints that saturate our experience elsewhere, albeit combined in a contrived fashion. Viewed this way, games assume a powerful relationship to human practice and social process.”
- “What is more, this view allows us to see how games may be related to a particular mode of experience, a dispositional stance toward the indeterminate. This is an aspect of experience that disappears from view when practice is left out in favor of materiality or representation” (208).
- in Play and Work: A False Dichotomy, Stevens makes “a vital point that game researchers (and social scientists generally) are still prone to forget: if by “play” we are trying to signal a mode of human experience—a way of engaging the world whatever one is doing—then we cannot simultaneously use it reliably as a label for a form of distinct human activity (something that allows us to differentiate categorically between activities that are play and those that are not)” (208).
- So then “when the work/play distinction is left behind, we see instead in ludic practice a more useful contrast between a cultural form (a game-like activity, no matter how playfully engaged in) and a mode of cultural experience (a playful disposition towards activities no matter how game-like)” (209).
- Csikszentmihalyi’s flow is a mode, for instance
- For Huizinga, it is the play-element
- In the world, we also have this type of indeterminacy or contingency
- can be compared to Heideggerian thrownness
- also fits well into the concepts behind practice theory
- There are three main features to this disposition of play in the world
- “First, it is an attitude that is totalizing in the sense that it reflects an acknowledgment of how events, however seemingly patterned or routinized, can never be cordoned off from contingency entirely …”
- “Second, the disposition of play is marked by a readiness to improvise, a quality captured by Bourdieu in his development of Marcel Mauss’s concept of the habitus …”
- Finally, play is a disposition that makes the actor an agent within social processes, albeit in an importantly restrained way; the actor may affect events, but this agency is not confined to the actor’s intent, or measured by it. Rather, it allows for unintended consequences of action” (211).
- The playful disposition does not need games, but can be leveraged to other means: “just as with ritual, it is the power of the mode of experience associated with it that makes the deployment of the cultural form a tempting project for individuals and institutions”
Play and institutions:
- “In its study of ritual, anthropology undertook with great success a similar project, whose enabling insights should inform our current inquiries into play not least with regard to the relationship of these institutions to a social form they are beginning to deploy for purposes of their own …”
- “games, as outlined above, manifest a playful disposition that, seeming to lift them above institutional interests, can, by the same token, be seen to validate those interests impartially” (213).
- examples given
- Linden Lab and its semi-successful attempts at gamifying the in-house decision making process
- “gold-farming,” tying gameplay to actual capital accumulation IRL
- TopCoder.com having coders compete to write the best code for specific commercial uses—the company then owns the code
Game vs. Ritual
- There is an important “difference between the cultural forms of ritual and game. Rituals, despite the fact that they can go wrong—the fact, that is, they are subject to contingency—aim to bring about determinate outcomes …”
- and “Games, while also a contrived cultural form and subject to similar kinds of sponsorship, are marked by the legitimacy of their indeterminacy; that is, their outcomes are supposed to be contingent” (214).
and finally—BIG POINT
- “What is most provocative about the current moment, then, is how the explosion of thoroughly digitized games prompts us to confront the play element and its powerful yet indeterminate relationship to the emergent cultural form of computerized games. As institutions are coming to deploy games in their governance and in their engagement with a computer-mediated public, we may be well advised to see their efforts as similar to the age-old and ongoing attempts to employ ritual to prompt sentiments for nations or other groupings. The disposition of play is, in many ways, the latest sentiment to have been turned into the object of institutional desire. Some of us are prepared to bet that its roots in indeterminacy will be a bulwark against corporate takeover; but a bet is probably the most we can hazard. “
Continue reading Malaby— Anthropology and Play
An Introduction to the Information Age
by Manuel Castells
[Castells, Manuel. 2003. “An Introduction to the Information Age.” In The Information Society Reader, edited by with Raimo Blom, Erkki Karvonen, Harri Melin, Kaarle Nordenstreng, Ensio Puoskari, Frank Webster, and Professor Frank Webster, 1 edition, 138–49. London ; New York: Routledge.]
Nine facets of the Network society
- An informational economy—economic competition rests on knowledge and information, the technologies necessary for this knowledge and info, and the management of those technologies; not a service economy.
- A global economy—strategically works in real time on a planetary scale; excludes a majority of the population; Castells proposes a “Fourth World” designation (along with the First and Third) to represent not only large areas of the planet that are excluded from this economy, but also excluded communities within powerful nations.
- The network enterprise—companies link and form around projects, rather than stand alone in business ventures; the project itself either fails or succeeds, and the linkages dissolve or reform after the task is completed.
- The transformation of work and employment: the flexi-workers—due to the network enterprise, jobs are tenuous (downsizing, outsourcing, etc.) and workers must be flexible; now layoff are followed by temporary consulting jobs for the duration of the next project; no more “organization man.”
- Social polarization and social exclusion—trends toward increasing inequality within states; increasing accumulation of wealth at the top and poverty at the bottom
- The culture of real virtuality—we are and we are not living in virtual reality; we experience our lives outside of the confines of a computer system, but “when our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured in this inclusive, flexible, diversified hypertext, in which we navigate every day, the virtuality of this text is in fact our reality” (144).
- Politics—We get our political information through media; media needs to simplify messages; the simplest message is an image, and the simplest image is a person; politics degrade into personality wars and scandal becomes the most effective weapon
- Timeless time—through the hypertexting of past, present, and future information, we eschew linear progression, and in doing so, we eliminate the sequencing of time; we no longer need or have a concept of time in society
- The space of flows—the space of places can be understood as tradition physical space, wherein your surroundings and situation are dictated by local proximity; the space of flows, however, uses the networks to skip over unwanted geographic areas, reframing space into a logic of power and capital; for example, Manhattan and The White House can exist next to one another as two nodes in a space of flows, skipping over places like Patterson, Baltimore, and most of DC. Castells calls this “intra-metropolitan dualism” the most important form of social/territorial exclusion.
This networking logic effects society:
- capital flows can bypass controls
- workers are individualized, outsourced, subcontracted
- communication becomes at the same time global and customized
- valuable people and territories are switched on, devalued ones are switched off.
The network depends on cultural codes, so the only way to resist domination in a space of flows is to redefine them in a way that proves you exist and cannot be ‘skipped over’ or ‘switched off.’ Castells sees this possible through networked identity-based social movements
Continue reading Castells—An Introduction to the Information Age
The Beast Within, Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement
by Venetia Laura Delano Robertson
[Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. 2013. “The Beast Within: Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16 (3): 7–30.]
- Therians (along with Real Vampires and Otherkin) are part of the postmodern project of re-enchanting the West
- The Internet provides a perfect space for this re-enchantment, as it affords all of the necessary elements of what Christopher Partridge calls popular occulture—”a melting pot of Paganism, Esotericism, Jungian psychology, folk medicine, modern superstitions, and paranormal theories” (8).
- Also, “the hypermediacy of cyberspace promotes the appropriation of spiritual concepts into“open-source” belief systems, such as Neopaganism, that advocate creativity and individualism” (9).
- “Therians believe they have non-human (hence super-human) souls, unique metaphysical properties and abilities (animal-human auras, shape-shifting capabilities, memories of past lives), and are immersed in the language of magic; hence, constructing a Therian identity is indicative of new modes of self-sacralization” (11).
- breaks down the “tenets” of therianthropy: internally based experience; awakenings; and shifting (mental, phantom, and physical).
- “Though it is not religious in the traditional sense, Therianthropy is an eclectic ontological position system that draws upon myth, magic, and both main- stream and subcultural media to reify a self that is other-than-human” (24).
This paper will introduce a little-known online phenomenon: the socio-spiritual Therianthropy movement. Therianthropes are individuals who identify as part human and part non-human animal in a biological, mental, and metaphysical capacity. Therianthropes have, in essence, an anthrozoomorphic identity that draws upon the spiritual and supernatural associations of the animal kingdom. I discuss Therianthropes as animal-human “shape-shifters” to highlight the sacred and liminal identity these individuals have formulated through their engagement with “popular occulture.” Therianthropy, as both a web-based community and an identity, exemplifies the postmodern bent of new spiritual directions in the re-enchanted West. KEYWORDS: Therianthropy, animal, shape-shifting, identity, popular occulture” Continue reading Robertson—The Beast Within
The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace
by Vincent Mosco
[Mosco, Vincent. 2005. The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. MIT Press.]
- “computers and the world of what came to be called cyberspace embody and drive important myths about our time. Powered by computer communication, we would,according to the myths, experience an epochal transformation in human experience that would transcend time (the end of history), space (the end of geography), and power (the end of politics)” (2-3).
- “it is when technologies such as the telephone and the computer cease to be sublime icons of mythology and enter the prosaic world of banality—when they lose their role as sources of utopian visions—that they become important forces for social and economic change” (6).
- “cyberspace is a mythic space, one that transcends the banal, day-to-day worlds of time, space, and politics to match the “naked truth” of reason with the “dancing truth” of ritual, song, and storytelling (Lozano 1992: 213). Indeed,cyberspace is a central force in the growth of three of the central myths of our time, each linked in the vision of an end point: the end of history, the end of geography, and the end of politics” (13).
- “the real power of new technologies does not appear during their mythic period, when they are hailed for their ability to bring world peace, renew communities, or end scarcity, history, geography, or politics; rather, their social impact is greatest when technologies become banal—when they literally (as in the case of electricity) or figuratively withdraw into the woodwork” (19).
Continue reading Mosco—The Digital Sublime
Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State
by Michael Herzfeld
[Herzfeld, Michael. 2005. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. 2 edition. New York: Routledge.]
- big question = “what advantages [do] social actors find in using, reformulating, and recasting official idioms in the pursuit of often highly unofficial personal goals, and how [do] these actions—so often in direct contravention of state authority—actually constitute the state as well as a huge range of national and other identities” (2).
- “the nation-state’s claims to affixed, eternal identity grounded in universal truth are themselves, like the moves of all social actors, strategic adjustments to the demands of the historical moment” (5).
- KEY POINT (acc. to Herzfeld) = the idea of the polity—nation-state, local community, or international body—succeeds to the extent that its formal ideology encapsulates (or incorporates) all the inward flaws and imperfections to which it is officially and ostensibly opposed” (220).
- Anthropologists should adopt the combination of a “top down” and “bottom up” approach, located at what Herzfeld calls a “militant middle ground.” This ground is not only a space where cultural intimacy and its use/characteristics are taken into consideration as coming equally from the state and the individuals, but also a space wherein the anthropologists takes a stance of cultural relativism, while maintaining their own personal ethical and moral beliefs (taking action if deemed necessary).
- To shrug off binarism as a structuralist conceit is a mistake. Binarism and other essentialism play important parts of social life, and thus should be embraced by ethnography. It is important to note, however, that these binarisms act as convenient ways of describing the world, and should not be used as or confused with an abstract theoretical position.
cultural intimacy—”the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality, the familiarity with the bases of power that may at one moment assure the disenfranchised a degree of creative irreverence and at the next moment reinforce the effectiveness of intimidation” (3)
disemia—”the formal or coded tension between official self-presentation and what goes on in the privacy of collective introspection” (14).
structural nostalgia—”the longing for an age before the state, for the primordial and self regulating birthright that the state continually invoke” (22). Continue reading Herzfeld—Cultural Intimacy