Re: industry finger up the academic wazoo

John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 19 Oct 1996 00:44:39 +0900

>My own view is that anthropologists should not only be able to provide
>readers with detailed portraits of what life is *really* like in various
>kinds of American communities -- rich, middling and, poor ones -- they should
>also be able to set the American experience with prosperity and poverty in a
>world perspective. For more of the latter to happen, however, bridges will
>need to be built between the kind of work now being done by internationalist
>writers like Paul Kennedy (_Preparing for the Twenty-First Century_ 1993) and
>Robert D. Kaplan (_The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st
>Century 1996), by social commentators and critics as diverse as Michael Lind,
>Felix Rohatyn, and Charles Sykes (_A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the
>American Character_ 1992), and by anthropologists like Nancy Scheper-Hughes
>and Phillipe Bourgois. To top it off, this new anthropology will need to
>have the readability and elegance of an Oscar Lewis work. Right now, I don't
>see this kind of thing happening. If anyone else has, please let me know.

Here is a vision enormously worth pursuing. Scanning the book ads in recent
issues of The New York Review of Books, the American side now seems to be
mainly the business of investigative reporters. Isn't the core issue how to
do what they do, but also do it better, by getting in that "world
perspective" that Mike is talking about?

For research purposes of my own, I am now reading _Tokyo: A Spatial
Anthropology_ by Jinnai Hidenobu (U. California Press, 1995). It reminds me
of how much might be done, by archeologists as well as cultural
anthropologists, by starting with the spaces in which people live. I'd also
like to get some visual anthropologists involved. What would we find, for
example, in comparing detailed visual records of slums, middle-class, and
elite dwellings in, say, Tokyo, Shanghai, Calcutta, Cairo, Athens, Paris,
London, New York, Mexico City....Real gritty, material stuff like how many
of what kind of objects are visible and taking up what kinds of space and
what all this says about commonalities and regional differences in cultures
of poverty, modest affluence and wealth?

Then I remember where I've just seen this kind of thing. A marketing
colleague at Hakuhodo has written a piece about the use of visual images in
a study of university student lifestyles in China (20 men and 20 women,
forty per city in each of 10 cities, 8 in the PRC, plus Taipei and Hong
Kong; total n=400. Interesting process. The students were provided with
36-shot disposable cameras and asked to photograph themselves, family,
friends, where they lived, play, and work. Then they were asked to draw
illustrations of ideal places to work, ideal homes (exterior and interior),
ideal families. For each photo or illustration they were also asked to jot
down what they'd included and why. The resulting data set includes 12,000
photos and 3,000 drawings and lots of text. An interesting question is what
an anthropologist would do with this kind of data that a market researcher
might not think of? Would the anthropologist's interpretations be deeper,
better informed, more useful to those with either academic or material
interests in predicting future directions in consumer culture? What would
our added value be?

Thanks, Mike, for stirring this up.

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo