Re: CFP: Postmod ling anth

Gerold Firl (
24 Jan 1995 19:34:23 -0800

In article <3feko1$ahv@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM> claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM (Cameron Laird) writes:

>The proposal below, which I reproduce with the permission of its authors,
>bears on a number of issues that have been raised in these newsgroups.

It does indeed, and it is a most interesting document. I have some
questions. I have never read any postmodern anthropology, so I am inferring
wildly from my limited experience, but what I see here is a tendentious,
pretentious, contradictory confabulation of self-absorbed ideology
masquerading as some kind of science. Perhaps some kind soul could explain
what is going on here?

>"Postmodern" anthropology has been criticized however by
>feminist and materialist scholars for over-emphasizing issues
>of representation and aesthetics to the exclusion of embodied and
>material aspects of anthropological practice.

Note the use of the term "material". It almost seems like the postmodern
anthropologist might have some inkling that material issues have some
significance to human culture; trifling matters such as getting enough to
eat, getting shelter from the elements, marriage customs, conflict
management and war; but no. Get this:

>Specifically, postmodern anthropologists have been charged with staging
>dialogues between ethnographers and their subjects in
>ethnographies without sufficient attention to the politics of the
>ethnographic encounter (Abu-Lughod 1993, Gal 1989), ...

The postmodern anthropologist has been taken to task for insufficient
consideration of the *politics* of the ethnographic encounter! Who cares
about the culture, who cares about the language, the important question is
whether the "anthropologist" was wearing the right tie for the interview!
Why not dispense with these messy subjects altogether? A true postmodern
anthropologist will only interview his or her own self, to avoid
contaminating the data with all those political problems.

But wait, there's more:

>...for over-emphasizing writing as anthropologists' most central task to
>the exclusion of more significant kinds of political action (Enslin 1994),
>and for painting anthropologists as artisans/writers rather than workers
>in specific institutional and global-economic contexts (Fox 1991,
>Mascia-Lees, Sharpe and Cohen 1989).

Apparently, the postmodern anthropologist has more important things to do
than writing about culture. Such simplistic actions might require that some
effort be expended to understand the culture, and once having written
something about it, might expose the postmodernist to unseemly debate.
Far better to engage in *political* action (Enslin, 1994); that way no one
can question you, since if they do, they expose themselves as imperialists.
Or at least as purveyors of hegemonic discourse acting to perpetuate the
exploitative power structure. Puh-leeze.

> Linguistic anthropology can also benefit from considering the
>political and economic implications of its own writing practices.
>Linguistic anthropologists have tended to use relatively objectifying,
>detached presentational rhetorics that are themselves (as Abu-Lughod
>1993, Fairclough 1989, Gal 1989, Gouldner 1979, Smith 1987, Rosaldo 1986
>and others have noted) often involved in professional, management and
>administrative structures linked to the management of internal social
>groups as well as (neo)colonialist/imperialist projects.

Uh, yeah. Note the stylistic lean of the "discourse" above. Couched in the
cumbersome jargon of the acedemic tenure-seeker, the lack of substance is
obfuscated through the use of a dialect which can only be mastered by a
rigorous course of study at an expensive, private institution catering to
the oppressed class of would-be acedemicians who can pay the tuition, but
don't have the intellectual qualifications to contribute any insights into
the complex issues of culture and language.

"Objectifying, detached presentational rhetorics" are bad-speak, because
they are associated with "(neo)colonialist/imperialist projects". Plus,
they're always talking about facts, and data, and testable hypotheses,
which are so bothersome. Far better to spout some feel-good postmodernese
about the solidarity of the oppressed and the evils of capitalism, liberally
sprinkled with the appropriate buzzwords ("discourse" being the most
reliable tag).

To me, the goal of anthropology and linguistics is to understand culture
and language. These postmodern poseurs appear to have lost sight of that.
Why bother with such nonsense?

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf