Anthropology and Activism

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 13 Jan 1996 17:19:51 +0900

First, I'd like to join Ralph Holloway in his response to
Mike Salovesh's posting on anthropological activism. That's
anthropology. That's humanity. Bravo! Bravissimo! Thanks,
too, to Nick Corduan, whose sympathies I largely share.

Can't, of course, resist throwing in my own two cents. I've
always had a problem in thinking of myself as an activist
on behalf of "my peoples." When I did my fieldwork in
Taiwan, the Daoist healer whose rituals I studied invited
me to be his disciple. He said that he'd had a vision in
which the Jade Emperor had told him that that's what I
should be. On a more mundane plane, it was clear that
having a scholarly American disciple was a feather in his
cap. I made the usual sorts of offerings, commissioned a
statue of Lao-tzu for his altar and a gold medallion to hang
around its neck. We were comfortable with our
relationship, a win-win situation for both of us. In a
broader sense the people in the town where I lived were
either Taiwanese or Mainland Chinese and, if Taiwanese
either Hokkien or Hakka. Our friends and informants also
included acculturated flat-land aborigines, the
Presbyterian descendants of non-Chinese who had lived in
the valley before the Chinese came, some less acculturated
mountain aborigines who lived in the mountains above the
valley with a status not unlike that of reservation Indians
in the U.S.A. We had friends who favored Taiwan
Independence, while others were firmly committed to
official declarations that Taiwan is part of China. A few
older people, disgusted with governmental corruption,
looked back nostalgically to the Japanese colonial period
which ended with Japan's losing WWII. If I were to be an
activist, and making the rash assumption that I could be
useful (rash, indeed; I hear you Mike), who would I be an
activist for?

Now I live in Japan and write about Japanese. As an
advertising man I am paid to write what is sometimes
pure propaganda. As an anthropologist should I also limit
myself to "my people's" official point of view? Interesting
question that.

John McCreery