FREE ELECTRONIC LIBRARY - Dissertations, online materials

Pages:     | 1 || 3 | 4 |   ...   | 6 |

«Planet M : The intense abstraction of Marilyn Strathern Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen Anthropological Theory 2009 9: 371 DOI: ...»

-- [ Page 2 ] --

‘cyborgs’, ‘Cantor dust’ and, more abstractly, the image of the fractal. Here we want to stay with the paradoxical formulation: things that are what they are by virtue of being at the same time more and less than themselves. The real virtue of the paradox, we would suggest, is that just as it renders incoherent the pluralist metaphysic of things, it serves as a coherent rendering of the postplural alternative. Sure, we may assume, things cannot be both more and less than themselves. ‘More’ and ‘less’ are comparatives after all, and it is hard to see the point of comparing something to itself, let alone of finding it different. But this is just to say that the postplural alternative to ‘the thing’ is, precisely, the comparison. Stripped of the assumption that it must operate on things other than itself, that is exactly what a comparison would look like: something that is both more and less than itself. Which is just to say that on a postplural rendition, the differences that pluralist comparisons measure ‘between things’ now emerge as constitutive of those very same things, and can therefore best be thought of as residing within them. This, lastly, implies also that the pluralist distinction between things and the scales that measure them also collapses into itself: saying that differences are to be thought of as internal rather than external to comparisons is also to imply that there is no outside postplural point from which comparisons could be viewed, measured or, indeed, compared. So comparisons are, if you like, things that act as their own scales – things that scale and thus compare themselves.

Now, it will be evident that this line of thinking has taken us fairly directly to a conceptualization for which Strathern’s work is perhaps most famous, and on which she herself pins her flag most firmly, namely ‘the relation’ (e.g. Strathern, 1995). That comparisons are relations in the Strathernian sense goes without saying. For example, the thought that places Strathern most obviously in the vicinity of post/structuralism, namely that relations are logically prior to entities, would be one way of rendering her point about scales and their relationship to things. Here, however, we want to stick to the apparently narrower notion of comparison, and this partly because we would argue that rendering Strathern’s relational universe ‘comparative’ adds something to it (indeed, we will argue that the ability to add to thoughts by narrowing them down is at the heart of Strathern’s notion of comparison). In particular, a focus on the notion of comparison in Strathern’s work redresses one potential source of dissatisfaction with the concept of the relation and the universe it comprises, namely its apparently inordinate malleability – the virtue it appears to make of a complexity that can ‘run riot’, to recall one of Strathern’s own formulations. From the point of view of exegesis, we consider that the advantage of a narrower focus on the notion of comparison in Strathern’s work, over that of the relation, becomes clear when one articulates the contrast between ‘plural’ and ‘postplural’ renditions of comparison in starker terms than she does herself. In fact, as we shall explain, it may be because Strathern does not offer an explicit and sustained account of this contrast that her position (typically cast in terms of the blunter notion of the ‘relation’) can sometimes be mistaken blithely for a kind of postmodern-sounding relativism.

Consider a contrast of images. On the one hand, depicting the drive to control complexity from which pluralist modes of comparison draw strength, Strathern presents two images that correspond to what we have called ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ scales of comparison: respectively, the map and the tree (2004: xvi–xvii). Scaling up and down to alter a form’s scope over content corresponds directly to what one means by ‘scale’ 375

–  –  –

when referring to a map: the proportion that holds between a territory (content) and its depiction (form). Analogously, qualitative switches from one form of comparison to another (e.g. focusing on economic as opposed to religious dimensions of a given set of data) involve the assumption that each of these forms is related to the others in terms of the lateral and vertical relations that make up a genealogical tree. For example, while one might imagine economic and religious scales to belong to the same ‘generation’, like siblings, one might posit the scale of the ‘social’ to contain them both, like a parent.

The two images are themselves laterally related (on a tree they would be siblings) inasmuch as they both make the control of data possible by virtue, in Strathern’s words, of the ‘constancies’3 they imply:

[The map] implies the existence of certain points or areas, like so many villages or fields seen from the air, that will remain identifiable however much their features are replotted; all that changes is the perspective of the observer. [The tree] implies some kind of closure that defines a system of concepts and their potential transformation from within, insofar as only particular trajectories are ‘genetically’ possible from the principles one starts with. (2004: xvii) Both images are to be contrasted, on the other hand, to the imagery with which Strathern depicts postplural comparisons – cyborgs, fractals and so on. While Strathern puts these metaphoric depictions to all sorts of uses in her argument – thus displaying, one might say, the sheer malleability of the concept of comparison itself – one also gains the impression that a notion of a lack of control or, put more positively, an inordinacy of potential, acts as their cumulative effect. So, for example, if maps and trees rely on the constancies of identity and closure to contrive a sense of control over data, the cyborg suggests an image of inconstancy, or even incontinence: it ‘observes no scale’, being a ‘circuit of connections that joins parts that cannot be compared insofar as they are not isomorphic with one another’ (2004: 54). Indeed, the image of the fractal itself, with its ‘not-quite replication’ (p. xx) that generates a ‘proliferation of forms’ (p. xxi) inward and outward all the way, may produce in the reader a sense of asphyxia as well as one of beauty, vertigo as well as wonderment. Equally, it may provoke a typical quip made against ‘postmodernists’ at the time Partial Connections was originally written, namely that of anything-goes ‘flatness’. The impression could be borne out by the punch line ‘postplural realization’ that gives the book its name: ‘The relativising effect of multiple perspectives will make everything seem partial; the recurrence of similar propositions and bits of information will make everything seem connected’ (2004: xx).

Still, considering that the postmodernist message about multiplicity, partiality, pliable connectivity and so on, as well as the tetchy rebuke made of its levelling effects, are both by now well-digested in anthropology, we would suggest that something more interesting lies in Strathern’s characterization of postplural comparison – an extra dimension to her thinking on which she never quite comments explicitly in Partial Connections or elsewhere in her work, but which is nevertheless present in the manner in which she conducts her own ethnographic comparisons ‘postplurally’. This ‘eclipsed’ aspect of Strathern’s thinking pertains to the peculiar role that something akin to ‘abstraction’ plays in her concerns with comparison – although we wish to show that what is at stake here is something different than the logical operations one ordinarily associates with that term.


–  –  –

Plural abstraction The closest Strathern comes to an explicit statement of her concern with abstraction in Partial Connections is, tellingly perhaps, not as part of characterizing her own concept of comparison, but in the course of her most detailed commentary on an example of the pluralist comparisons it displaces. This is her discussion of attempts to provide an integrated frame for comparing societies from the entire Highlands region of Papua New Guinea with reference to a theme they are meant to have in common, namely the association of the use of bamboo flutes with male power (e.g. Hays, 1986). The problem with such cross-cultural comparisons, she argues, is that while they certainly do pick out significant ethnographic and historical connections, they also, necessarily, involve a slippage of levels. From where, one may ask, do they draw the features of the common theme whose variations they wish to chart? If, for example, in some cases flutes are focal to male initiation while in others less so or not at all, or in some cases the flutes themselves are conceived as male and in others as female or as both, while elsewhere bamboo flutes are absent altogether, then from which of these cases does the putatively common notion that flutes are an important element of male power draw its strength? Strathern


The difficulty with this comparison is that our supposed common regional culture is composed of the very features which are the object of study, the ‘meanings’ people give to these instruments, the analogies they set up... [T]he common cultural core, the themes common to the variations, is not a context or level independent of local usage. (2004: 73) At issue here is the familiar anthropological charge of essentialism: mistaking ethnographic categories for analytical ones. Yet, as we understand it, Strathern’s remedy is anything but the familiar one (namely the tautology of saying that all categories are by definition cultural since they always come from somewhere, so the modernist chimera of a culturally neutral analytical language for comparison should be replaced by the wiser proposal for a culturally laden dialogue, tutored by the anthropologist’s own reflexivity – in other words, the crisis-of-representation move). Rather than treating the slippages of levels that essentialism entails as grounds for its rejection, she effectively makes a virtue of them. In fact, were one to think of Strathern’s discussion of the above example as an ethnography of anthropological comparisons,4 one would recognize an instance of the very idea of comparison as partial connection (and only therefore a critique of its pluralist opposite, on grounds, so to speak, of ethnographic inaccuracy). From a pluralist starting-point, slipping from putatively neutral scales for comparison to culturally laden objects of comparison (viz. essentialism) is indeed a problem. But from the postplural position Strathern is articulating, that is precisely what comparison is: the ‘unwarranted’ melding together of what the pluralist takes for ‘scales’ and their ‘objects’ (things that scale themselves or equally, to complete the image, scales that ‘thing’ themselves). In fact, as we want to show, recognizing this allows one to arrive at a stronger characterization of comparison in Strathern’s work – its extra dimension.

The ‘difficulty’ of essentialism in the pluralist take on comparison can be described as a failure of abstraction. As a plural ‘scale’ for comparing Highlands societies, flutes and male power are not


enough, i.e. they do not constitute a ‘level’ of analysis 377

–  –  –

that is consistently of a different logical order from the cultural ‘contexts’ that are meant to be compared. Indeed note that abstraction is integral to the pluralist notion of comparison: for scales to be able to measure things they have to be more abstract than them. Now, it is obvious that the distinction between abstract scales and concrete things cannot survive the transition to thinking of comparison postplurally unscathed, the whole point being that in such a transition the very distinction between scales and things is obliterated. Nevertheless, we argue, something of the distinction between the abstract and the concrete does survive – it leaves a residue or, to borrow a term from Strathern, a ‘remainder’ (2004: xxii). To see this we may turn once again to the pluralist image.

How is conventional, pluralist abstraction supposed to work? Consider the verb: ‘to abstract’ something involves isolating from it one of its predicates. Take, say, a dog and isolate from it its quality of being a ‘quadruped’. Or take the flutes PNG Highlanders use and isolate the quality of being ‘associated with male power’. As we have seen in relation to Strathern’s comments on the role of scale, such acts of isolation afford a battery of techniques that are supposed to help bring data under control for purposes of comparison – not least, quantitative scoping by analogy to maps and qualitative ordering by analogy to genealogical trees. To take the most rudimentary example, we assume that abstracting from a dog the quality of being a quadruped allows us to make analogies between it and a cat, or to study it from the point of view of its locomotion, contrasting it perhaps to other quadrupeds whose legs are otherwise different, or relating it evolutionarily to bipeds, or placing it within the class of mammals, and so on.

Abstraction increases the agility of comparison, one might say.

Pages:     | 1 || 3 | 4 |   ...   | 6 |

Similar works:

«This form should be used Circle K Chartering Checklist beginning October 1, 2004 The Circle K in Your Community booklet is designed to provide an overview of Circle K, its role as a Kiwanisfamily member, and the benefits it can provide to the school and community. A copy of this booklet may be obtained from the Sponsored Organizations and Programs Team at the Kiwanis International Office and should be read before analyzing the information in this publication. Reading this booklet will help a...»

«Modern Judaism Advance Access published February 24, 2012 Marianna Ruah-Midbar CURRENT JEWISH SPIRITUALITIES IN ISRAEL: A NEW AGE1 Downloaded from http://mj.oxfordjournals.org/ by guest on February 25, 2012 INTRODUCTION—CURRENT SPIRITUALITIES IN ISRAEL Recently, new spiritualities have been emerging in Israel, which combine Judaism and New Age spirituality. Surprisingly, these interesting phenomena are being overlooked by academic and public discourse regarding Jewish spiritual innovations....»

«REMEMBERING THE COUNTRY OF THEIR BIRTH: INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND TERRITORIALITY Maivân Clech Lâm The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land...»

«365 SPIRIT A DAILY JOURNEY FOR YOUR SOUL Aaron Zerah ♦ Inspirational Stories, Poems, Prayers, and Meditations from Around the World ♦ A Personal Note from the Author Every day is a good day. So it is revealed in every culture, every spiritual tradition. What makes a day good? Appreciation, insight, courage, willingness, joy and release — essentially meeting the day with presence. We humans are set up to take life, death, and everything for that matter, day by day. There's something about...»

«Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Syllabus Page 1 of 117 © Copyright ISCP 2007 Contents Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Syllabus Contents 1. Specialty Overview 2. Key Conditions 3. Initial Stage 3.1 Overview 3.2 Conditions Generic Surgical Skills and KnowledgeAll Specialties Basic Science Knowledge Dentoalveolar Pathology Oral mucosal lesions Infections of the Head and Neck Cranio Maxillofacial Trauma Facial pain Peri-operative care Salivary gland / Neck swellings Neck Swellings Salivary gland...»

«COMPARISON OF DIFFERENT APPROACHES FOR GUST MODELING IN THE CFD CODE TAU Ralf Heinrich, Lars Reimer DLR Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology Lilienthalplatz 7 38108 Braunschweig ralf.heinrich@dlr.de, lars.reimer@dlr.de Keywords: Gust response, Disturbance Velocity Approach, Resolved Gust Approach Abstract: Two different methods for modeling of gusts have been implemented into the CFD-code TAU. The first one is the so called disturbance velocity approach, a simplified method which...»

«Prolyte MPT-Tower Manual Assembly Instructions Make sure to read and fully understand this manual, and its specific notes and warnings, prior to assembly and erection of the structure. PROLYTE MPT-TOWER MANUAL ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS Contents: 1 System Description 2 Limitations of use 3 Scope of use 4 Identification, Parts 5 Dimensions & loading 6 General information 7 Assembly instructions 8 Additional assembly requirements for a stand alone tower 9 Additional assembly requirements for a goal...»

«Guidelines For The Use Of Coloured Pavement Surface Treatments and Markings In Brisbane City Council Prepared by: Strategic Asset Management City Assets Branch Brisbane Infrastructure Division Revision 2.1: November 2008 (Page Left Intentionally Blank) Guidelines For The Use Of Coloured Pavement Surface Treatments and Markings In Brisbane City Council (Ver. 2.1) Document Control Information 080130 Coloured Pavement Markings Guidelines (V2.0).doc Document Name 22/12/2008 2:53 PM Document Date...»

«CPC C12G 2016.11 C12G WINE; OTHER ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES; PREPARATION THEREOF (beer C12C) Relationships with other classification places C12H deals only with pasteurisation, sterilisation, preservation, purification, clarification or ageing of alcoholic beverages. Low alcohol beer is classified in C12C 12/04. Low alcohol wine is classified in C12G 1/00 and other low alcohol beverages are classified in C12G 3/08. References Limiting references This place does not cover: Beer; Preparation thereof...»

«California State University Stanislaus Research Compendium 2007-2008 University-wide Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity June 1, 2007 May 31, 2008 California State University, Stanislaus Activity No. ACTIVITY COA CBA COE CHHS CHSS CNS LIBR Totals 1 Books and Monographs 2 6 3 0 8 1 0 20 2 Book Chapters 0 1 4 2 18 7 0 32 3 Published Articles in Professional Journals 2 17 12 11 29 18 2 91 4 Published Case Studies w/Teaching Notes 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 Editorship 0 3 2 2 2 4 0 13 6 Editorial...»

«Minutes of the 28th Session of the ICOM Ordinary General Assembly 17 August, 2013 rd 23 General Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Prof. Dr. Hans-Martin Hinz, President of ICOM, opened the 28th Session of the ICOM Ordinary General Assembly and welcomed the participants. Item 1: Approval of the Agenda The President reminded participants of the items on the Agenda, which were all approved as presented. Item 2: Minutes of the 27th General Assembly of 6 June, 2012 The President invited participants...»

«1 Jenny Doetjes, LUCL, j.doetjes@hum.leidenuniv.nl To appear in: Semantics: an international handbook of natural language meaning, part III, eds. Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger and Paul Portner. Berlin: De Gruyter.97. Count/mass distinctions across languages 1. Outline 2. Correlates of the count/mass distinction 3. The Sanches-Greenberg-Slobin generalization 4. Count versus mass in the lexicon 5. Conclusions: count and mass across languages 6. References This article examines the...»

<<  HOME   |    CONTACTS
2016 www.dissertation.xlibx.info - Dissertations, online materials

Materials of this site are available for review, all rights belong to their respective owners.
If you do not agree with the fact that your material is placed on this site, please, email us, we will within 1-2 business days delete him.