reply to Whitehead

Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 9 Jan 1995 14:07:13 CST

I understood what you said the first time, and I agree with you. When you
see this stuff *on the ground*, you don't see people making neat distinctions
between rank order and hierarchical order. But I need not remind you that
you also don't find people *on the ground* doing your cultural analysis for
you. Or the analysis of group structure and organization, etc.. People
don't make those distinctions *on the ground* because they don't need to.
They already share all those ideas and meanings and premises. They can be as
muddled and as contradictory as they want to be. The anthropologist, however,
is supposed to make those distinctions on the way to being clear about the
description of what those folks are doing and how they are doing it. We can
describe the muddle, but we are not supposed to redistribute or perpetuate it.
The distinction between rank and hierarchy is the observer's distinction made
for the obsever's (and reader's) benefit. That we hardly ever see the people
we're observing make these distinctions is both a fact and a warning. We need
to be very careful about making sure we observe HOW they gloss what we,
analytically, understand as distinct levels of order. Here's two examples.

The flap that kicked off this thread was the use of "man" or "mankind" as
a term including both genders. It can also work the other way around. The
simplest example is synecdoche, where part represents whole, as in "She lives
four doors from the corner." What riddles do is to use synecdoche to
camoflage properties of a category, any member of which is a proper answer
to the riddle, e.g., a house with no door. House is a case where a whole
represents some, but not all of its properties--hard exterior, enclosing space,
and harboring living beings. Door is a part representing a whole, the category
of openings. I'll leave you to guess the answer.

Example 2, a Pohnpeian feast, wherethe only identities that are relevant to
the interaction are the titles that participants hold. One of the participants
is a man from Palau who is married to a Pohnpeian woman. Now comes the part of
the feast where people are asked to get up and entertain others with song,
dance, story, or whatever. The paramount chief asks the Palauan man to do a
dance. What he wants is a Palauan dance, but he can't come out and say that,
because participants' ethnic identities are irrelevant to the context of the
feast. So what he says is "Paul, please do one of your dances for us." But
he uses the SINGULAR form of the pronoun, thereby reducing ethnic identity to
an (accidental) attribute of Paul's personal history. Although Paul's Palauan
identity is never mentioned, everyone understands that Paul should do a Palauan
dance, because most people there know Paul. Part represents the whole with a
clever manipulation of no more than a pronoun. I saw this repeated many times
over with Kapingamarangi men and women who drank kava with Pohnpeians and were
asked to sing one of "your (sing)" songs, meaning a traditional Kapinga
chant. I knew one old Kapinga man, for example, who only sang traditional
chants when he was drinking with Pohnpeians.

One of the advantages of keeping clear the distinction between rank and
hierarchy for anthropologists is that it allows you to apprehend and appreciate
subtlety (including irony) in the field situations we observe.

Mike Lieber