Cross about Fabian comment

Corinna A Snyder (cas20@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Fri, 1 Apr 1994 11:07:57 -0500

I think that this discussion about Fabian is implicitly about a much
larger dilemma in anthropology today, our relationship to theory. Other
disciplines often come to us for information precisely for the reason that
we are perceived to have a "sense of what (life) is like _at the concrete
level_" (to take license with Carrier's comment earlier). However, we
ourselves have come to wonder just what constitutes that sense of
concreteness, both for ourselves in writing our ethnographies, as well as
in the life we observe in fieldwork. Abstraction is constant, necessary,
foundational in the basic semiotics through which meaning is
constitututed. Concrete examples are helpful analogies, but analogies
nontheless, not necessarily _clearer_ depictions of the same process.
Lastly, to praise abstract dense theory, Hegel is not exactly overflowing
with easily graspable concrete illustrative examples, yet he is _crucial_
to so many of the theoretical paradigms we take for granted and use with
practiced ease. His complexity points to the hard work it takes to talk
about abstract processes in a revealing way, abstract processes that
structure what become understood to be "concrete" realities.