Re: a dissident voice

Robert Johnson (johnsorl@COLORADO.EDU)
Fri, 10 Feb 1995 08:29:30 -0700

On Thu, 9 Feb 1995, REBECCA JOHNSON wrote:

> Regarding Robert Johnson's post (below)....
While the issues he raises
> are relevant (although a bit extreme even for me) -- and we all know
> they are relevant because they wouldn't have pissed off so many
> people if they hadn't hit home -- the largest problem I have with
> them is, *they are not constructive criticisms*.
The issue is not one of semantics.

Would it not be constructive for anthropology to divest itself of
its continuing collusion in the processes and justifications for the
retention of the lands and heritage of Native Americans obtained
through murder, treaties obtained at the point of a gun or starvation,
or commercial appropriation?

> how about proposing actions
> we could take to do something about it?

My proposals stated actions which would divest anthropology of its
collusions in these injustices.

> Posting inflammatory
> criticisms of a discipline which is already hyper-self-conscious
> about its role in the world doesn't seem to help the matter much.

My proposals were not inflamatory. Inflamatory would describe the
responses to them. Anthropology should be self-conscious of its role
in the continuation of injustice against Native Americans and other
indigenous peoples

> Perhaps the suppression of dissent really does occur as you describe
> more often than we would like to admit -- but hasn't
> anthropology been more sensitive to it than lots of other
> disciplines?

When was the last time anthropology was confronted with its suppression
of dissent?

> I'm not saying this to excuse whatever faults may still
> exist, but to point out that in the context of Western social
> institutions, the discipline of anthropology really ain't so evil.

The collusion of anthropology in these injustices can best be described
as a process of the banality of evil.

> Is it more productive to fight a relatively small amount of
> colonialism in a marginal discipline, than it is to use the
> resources of that discipline -- problematic as they may be at the
> moment -- to fight colonialistic tendencies in larger segments of
> Western society?

Anthropology will remain a marginal discipline as long as it remains
an integral part of the rationalizations of the continuing injustices
against Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.

> But to my original point -- academic anthropology
> works within the larger framework of academia, with its rules,
> constraints, and codes of behavior...

That is one of its most basic problems.

> academia operates within the
> larger framework of society, partly through governmental control of
> purse strings.

It is a mercenary science.

> Given the larger context, what do you suggest
> anthropology do to fix the problems you find?

It can begin by supporting and working to effect my proposals to
decolonize itself.

> I have been thinking
> long and hard lately about my own position as an anthro grad student.
> I find myself sceptical of *everything* I read, critical of that of
> which I am sceptical, and becoming cynical about the ability of
> anybody to say anything meaningful outside of particular contexts.

This describes the beginnings of a process of consciousness which many
within anthropology are experiencing. My proposals were not cast into
a void.

> I once heard this referred to as *debilitating scepticism*, and that's
> just what I find it to be. It seems to me that anthropology is a
> particular way of creating an understanding about the world, with its
> own traditions and contexts.

Its tradition is colonialism. Its context is within the continuation of
these injustices.

> Maybe the problems you have identified
> stem from a contextual specificity of anthropology, which prevents us
> from engaging in meaningful dialogue with alternative points of view.

It is one of the contextual specificities my proposals wish to address
and eliminate.

> If so, is the radical decolonisation you propose really a viable
> solution?

It is one of the only viable solutions proposed.

> I could see anthropology fragmenting even more than it is,
> becoming an anarchic assemblage of parties who associate as
> anthropologists because they share a particular rejection of other
> disciplines' ways of knowing more than they reject each others, rather
> than because they have a positive set of shared knowledge, method,
> and theory.

Anthropology is an anarchic assembly with the characteristics you describe.

> Anthropology would not be a community, rather a
> confederation of groups who identify as anthropologists not because
> of what they are, but because of a shared sense of what-they-are-not.

An excellent ethnographic observation.

> What good would this do anyone?

It allows anthropology to continue its process of denial with the
continuing subsistence of its members.

> Anthropology would be even more
> marginal than it is now...

That is impossible.

> The only real solution to problems
> as extreme as you have posed them, is to create an alternative
> discipline.

Not an alternative discipline but an alternative vision and reality.

> Maybe the journal which you mention as if it were a
> threat would be a new beginning.

It will be a threat and hopefully a new beginning.
Decolonial Anthropology may be contributed to by sending submissions
to fax #303-451-7228. I will publish it at my own expense. Keep
trying, there may be attempts to sabotage this effort. It would be
inadvisable. The U.S. West phone company has ways to contain abuses.

> I confess, I am insanely curious about your motivation for this
> particular tack on this issue. What do you think might be
> accomplished by inflammatory statements (and from your experience
> with HISTARCH, you must have known what the reaction would be) that
> couldn't be accomplished by addressing the issues in a manner more
> appropriate within the discipline?

Ethnomethodology has been a tact of the discipline. I regret that I
used it. It confuses the medium with the message.

> If you're trying to change the
> System from within, you have to work by the System's rules.

Not true.

> Otherwise, why don't you begin your journal?

I have, with promises of critical revue by numerous publications!

The process of decolonization of Anthropology has begun.