Part of my argument in the recent neoliberalism debate was that,
evidence of discontent about any aspect, be it ever so narrow, of what have been identified as neoliberal transformations is taken, without further justification, as a rejection of all of the phenomena that have been so identified
My point was that just because lots of people in different countries are critics of, say, structural adjustment programmes, we cannot leap to the conclusion that they share the same conception of the state and civil society and all agree on the proper balance of power and resources between the two; their motivations and assumptions might be quite different in each case.
This is a formal problem of cross-cultural description or comparison: the conversation at cross-purposes. We recognize something familiar in other people’s statements, and rush to fill in the rest from our own common-sense ideas, which may be quite different. My favourite example of this is one that operates in both directions — a reciprocal conversation at cross-purposes. (more…)
On Saturday I had the pleasure of taking part in GDAT, an annual debate on anthropological theory hosted by Manchester University. GDAT, the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, was started in the late 80s by Tim Ingold, and has been organized and chaired more recently by Soumhya Venkatesan. This was the third GDAT I have attended and I think it’s a brilliant institution. People come from all over the country, and the discussion is always highly engaged and critical in the best sense.
This year’s motion was: The concept of neoliberalism has become an obstacle to the anthropological understanding of the twenty-first century. James Laidlaw was proposing, I seconded, and Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Keir Martin opposed.
Thanks again for taking the time to engage with me earlier. Sorry that this is a bit of a long reply…
In your comment you note:
the fundamental questions remains: Why are only “religious” communities able to augment this in-group cooperation not, say, political parties or sport clubs?
This is certainly an interesting question, and one that is not affected by the objections in my previous post, but I do have some reservations on this count too.
The explanatory power of evolutionary theory is clear. However, these days, people seem to rush to evolutionary explanations for all sorts of real and perceived human behaviours. The danger of doing this is that in going straight to the question of the origins of what we’re trying to understand, we fail to put in the effort to adequately study the nature of the phenomenon, or even to establish satisfactorily that the phenomenon is real. As a result, it’s all too easy for commonsensical assumptions and misapprehensions to get incorporated into the story. And when it comes to human behaviour, things are often more complicated and more variable than common sense would lead us to expect.
It’s probably about affiliation and endogamy, Michael!
This is a particularly common problem, in my view, in evolutionary studies of religion, and I’ve just read a blog post that’s a case in point. In It’s about Fertility, stupid! The Evolutionary Adaptivity of Religion‘, Michael Blume claims that:
Religiosity (defined as behavior towards superempircal agents) is today clearly adaptive: Members of competitive religious communities are building stronger families with more offspring worldwide as their secular neighbours of the same education and income levels. This is observable in empirical studies, censusses worldwide, as well as in case studies (i.e. Amish, Hutterites, Mormons, Orthodox Jews). In contrast, non-religious populations and those religious communities who do not build and support families inevitably succumb to cultural evolution (i.e. late Greek and Roman Polytheism, Gnostic groups, the Shakers) and are replaced by demographically successful religious competitors.
Here’a another exercise in the anthropology of ignorance, this time focused on ignorance in education — a special issue of Critical Studies in Education from 2009.
The introduction, by Neriko Musha Doerr explains:
While resonating with Bourdieu’s theoretical formulation that it is relations of dominance that create the legitimacy of knowledge, this project pushes a step further and argues that the relations of dominance can create legitimacy even in ignorance.
Critical Studies in Education 50(3) (2009)
I’ve just come across the work of Joanne Gaudet, a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa who has been working on issues of ignorance and the productivity of ignorance from a sociological — and especially sociology of science — point of view. She has a website with a number of interesting looking working papers at http://www.ignorancemobilization.com.
She defines ‘ignorance mobilisation’ as follows:
“The use of the borders and the limits of knowing, including the intentional and the unintentional consideration or bracketing out of what is not known, towards the achievement of goals (i.e., social, cultural, political, professional, and economic)”
(Gaudet, 2012, Gaudet et al., 2012)
Ignorance mobilization complements ‘knowledge mobilization’ in the social scientific investigation of research and innovation.
Jenny Diggins (Sussex) and I have just issued the following call for papers for a panel on the anthropology of ignorance, to be held at the IUAES Congress in Manchester next summer. Feel free to get in touch if you’re considering submitting a proposal but want to discuss it first.
Call for Papers at the IUAES Congress, at the University of Manchester, 5th-10th August 2013
Panel Title : Cultures of Ignorance
Deadline for abstracts : 13th July 2012
The China History Podcast comes all the way from sunny Claremont, California, courtesy of Laszlo Montgomery, and is highly recommended. I’ve been listening to it on and off since last summer and have learnt a lot from it.
It’s a great introduction to some key episodes and themes in Chinese history, and the host has a nice, calm, leisurely style of delivery that makes a good contrast for turbulent history he is usually recounting. And at 3-4 episodes a month, of 30+ minutes each, this guy is amazingly productive.