Home 603Seminar in Ethnology

Syllabus

Week 1 Marcus

Week 2 Marcus

Week 3 Moore

Week 4 Moore

Week 5 Schneider

Week 6 Schneider Paper

Week 7 Spivak

Week 8 Spivak

Week 9 Parker

Week 10 Parker

Week 12 Lem

Week 13 Lem

Week 14 Gupta

Week 15 Gupta

Final Paper Elders

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
February 2, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

Rereading Culture: Week 2

Part IV Poetics

“Speaking with Names”: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache by Keith H. Basso

Experiencing both new language and new place in the pursuit of data for ethnography is always an unnerving experience according to Basso. I have never done this type of work, but can imagine that it would be. Given this predicament for ethnographers, there is the acknowledgement that there will be incomplete understanding of the combination of language and place, two skills that the “subject” indigenes take for granted.

Within the culture of the Western Apache, native speakers use a form of shorthand communication that is virtually non-intelligible to the outsider (ethnographer) without some explanation of what is taking place. Even with this explanation, the full understanding of Western Apache “speaking with names” cannot be accomplished by an outsider who does not share the history of experiences with others in the culture.

The Western Apache speak in a truncated fashion that references locations on the landscape to evoke the meaning embedded in them to the listener. The names are not only maximally descriptive but also associated with a tale, a myth, or a moral lesson, that listeners are immediately reminded of in their minds. The mind creates a picture of that place and fills in the story, tale, or myth with personal visualizations. The act of “speaking in names” is creative for the speaker and the listener.

A short conversation between a group of Western Apache informers is recorded and deconstructed so that the reader can get an idea of the complex nature of “speaking in names” and see how references to geographic locations are shortened, and the message or moral the speaker wishes to convey is embedded in truncated discourse. They are able to say a lot with a few words. Basso uses a large amount of words to convey to us what the Western Apache says in little.

There is more to this. The myths, tales of the place names are utilized in passing on desired behaviors to the younger members of the tribe. It is a teaching and learning process, a parenting process, for creating individuals who are community oriented, respectful, and sound. The memories embedded in these place names always refer to teachings of the ancestors. The ancestors are venerated and have a place of authority in Western Apache culture. So it is descriptive place names, that are able to transport the listener to specific geographic locations in their minds, that reference a myth, legend, or tale of the moral or teaching variety, that evokes the sage words and images of venerated ancestors.

Part V What’s Left, What’s Emergent

Nostalgia – A Polemic by Kathleen Stewart

This is kind of an odd one. The theme is nostalgia and the polemics of nostalgia. And a polemic is something hostile or disputable. Nostalgia good and bad? It is very hard to decipher and I think Stewart has been reading too much Bourdieu as a nearly incomprehensible source for quoted authority. If we are to be looking at cultural survival after a crisis like the portion title suggests, then she is talking about American nostalgia in the wake of mega commercialism or the epitome of capitalism that we all live in. We are stuck in this fast moving rut, where we use shopping malls to assuage our anxiety. Shops are created in a way to have an emotional impact on us, one that makes us think of another time when things were better. And that would be a nostalgic feeling that makes us want to own some of that olden time (so we buy?).

Stewart spends a great deal of time describing two mirages, one of wealth and power, the other of simpler times. She repeats over and over that “it depends on where you stand” what the perception will be. Then she goes into the exiles of Raleigh County, and how they depended on the mines for work, then the mines closed, and unemployment was high. Their looking back with nostalgia to a better time was back when the mines were open. That is not really a great job for anyone, yet that was a better time.
Post-modern, that’s all I can think of here.


Fictions that Save: Migrants’ Performance and Basotho National Culture by David B. Coplan

This is about how the singing performances by migrant (displaced) Sesotho singers, men and women, are being used as social commentary even though the wording (of their songs) seems to be very personal and self revealing. These people have been displaced by the imposition of capitalism. A once self-sufficient subsistence farming community, many Bathosos are forced into migrating to other areas and must stay away from their homes for long stretches of time in search of and in performance of wage labor. Some of the migrants have taken to the making of alcoholic beverages (illegal?), singing in shebeens (or “bars” is what we would call them), to entertain those who must labor physically when they get off work. And some are able to make a living at it at the same time keep alive Sesotho (the “pure” unadulterated language and culture of resident and displaced people from the kingdom of Lesotho). The singing and social commentary of these wandering minstrels are, according to Basso, defining Sesotho identity as the medium of entertaining song reaches all those displaced citizens from the kingdom of Lesotho and the messages become part of their national identity which they hold on to even when far from home. This is kind of related to the previous essay on nostalgia. The singers have created a venue for passing on nostalgia about where they come from and it becomes solidly embedded in Basotho collective identity.

Part VI Circulations


Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Contemporary Japanese Mass Culture by John Russell


The Japanese have a problem with stereotyping blacks. They regard them in the negative, which the author says the Japanese gained through association with western ideals especially American. Russell says that the depictions, illustrations, and images that are created by Japanese artists are insulting and derogatory to blacks, but the Japanese find the caricatures very amusing. Russell also says that this way of portraying people is used for any ethnic group in Japan, including whites with very pointed noses, or themselves with flat faces. This mode of portrayal of people is thought of as funny in the Japanese culture.
The portrayal of blacks in a negative light goes for literature as well with writers using tropes of the black adult paired with a young person (as blacks are childlike). A most important point Russell makes is that of the necessity of the Japanese to boost their own egos at the expense of the “other” ethnic group, and that Japanese feel unworthy in comparison to whites. Huh, who knew?

There is a lot of information about media portrayals of blacks for instance in advertising. As recently as the late 1980s, Japanese stores used manikins that portrayed the exaggerated facial features of blacks, and in toy store windows black dolls were juxtaposed with stuffed animal monkeys.

It was not too long ago that we had (Little Black) Sambo pancake houses. They were around when I was a kid and the derogatory depiction of a little black person in caricature much like those mentioned above was not removed from their logo until the mid-1970s (approximately). That there is racial prejudice in Japan is probably so, as there still exists in the United States.

Representing Culture: The Production of Discourse(s) for Aboriginal Acrylic Paintings by Fred Meyers

Aboriginal art has been “discovered” and is being sold in art galleries throughout Australia and America. One question is what do these paintings represent? Because some buyers believe they are purchasing an authentic dream painting. They want something original, Aboriginal, primitive, or of religious significance that they can hang on their wall, to give the wall some significance. The Aboriginal painters agree that the paintings they produce are dream paintings, of cultural meaning, place, and location. They are interested in showing ownership, original ownership of the land they wish to retain physically tied to.

The dreaming places are depicted in their acrylic paintings that have now become popular and the Aboriginal communes that are producing them are finally bringing in some needed cash. Land, land, land is the problem, and reminiscent of the peasant farmers of Mesoamerica, the land has been taken away from them, and their sense of place has become disconnected. The dreaming, I believe, allows them to remain connected to place.

As these paintings appeared on the art scene, art critics took up their positions to evaluate the works in terms of value as “high art” or fine art. And the reviews were mixed. The curator for the museum where a large showing of Aboriginal paintings was held says that mixed critiques are a good sign that people are thinking about the paintings and their meanings. Is there any way that the sale of these paintings will help the original Australians establish a claim to the land that they desire returned? It seems that those participating in the buying and selling of the art pieces are not interested in that aspect of the Aboriginal plight, but think of the sales as helping the Aborigines to become more self-sufficient (that they already were before their land was slowly encroached upon!).

Part VII Media

Indigenous Media: Faustian Contract or Global Village? By Faye Ginsburg

A Faustian contract would be one that sacrifices spiritual values for material gain. How would allowing indigenous Australians to produce or be involved in the production of their own broadcast programming be Faustian in nature? From my point of view, Ginsburg must be referring to the outside pressures that Aborigines face on a daily basis from contact with the west. Broadcast programming is an element that comes to them from outside the culture and is therefore an imposition on their way of life. And being involved with something that furthers this imposition from outside may be a contract with the devil. But as Ginsburg points out, their way of life is changing, and to have input into the kinds of programming that invades their homes should help the Aborigines to cope with the constant changes their lives are undergoing.

The west is moving in and will not be stopped. So, as a way of a handout meant to “help,” there have been several programs implemented in Australia to assure that indigenous messages are transmitted across the airways to reach the still remote settlements of Australia’s original inhabitants in order to help in adjusting to change as well as integrate homage to past customary practices of everyday and spiritual significance. Ginsburg discusses the origin and evolution of three broadcasting companies in Australia that have Aboriginal programming as one of their highest priorities and have staff that are of Aboriginal descent or have programs that provide training to Aborigines interested in some aspect of media production for which there is a need or desire for indigenous expertise.

This is obviously done in an effort to help the Aborigines become less dependent on welfare. Welfare was necessary because the land they used to be able to subsist off of has been slowly removed from use. The west is moving in. It isn’t good to have all those Aborigines walking all over the land as they once did. Their land is being invaded; does the use of indigenous media fill the void of landlessness? I think not. But will the use of indigenous media help them adapt (in their own way) to new circumstances? Or will it just be a way of controlling their minds into conformity and homogenization with the rest of the west through the use of passive aggressive television messaging? Television bad?

Part VIII Experiment

Tango by Julie Taylor

I was so looking forward to reading this essay about the tango, that dance that everybody I know wants to learn how to do. It was nothing at all like I expected, much as the tango is nothing like I thought it was. So, this author lived in Argentina as a student. She was fluent in Spanish and Argentines mistook her to be Argentine. She was also cute and youthful. That is something Argentines admire and pretend to protect. She married an Argentine and had a child. But for some reason his citizenship is not recognized, and since she came to love the country of Argentina, she made sure her son was born in Buenes Aires, so that he was a citizen of Argentina, so that she would always have ties to Argentina. 

Anyway, she became a tango fanatic. The tango, she believes, embodies the essence of Argentine identity. The tango song and the tango dance are two completely different things. The song is not to be danced to, and the songs are stories of betrayal (when men are singing) by women, not to be trusted, take advantage of the poor emotionally defenseless man. The dance is one of rigidly fluid self-control, the man fully dominant, in charge, cool, and suave, and totally in command of the woman partner.

After detailing the tango from different angles, she shows us how she has been doing the paper tango with her exchange of stories of exile (a big theme in the essay), loss, and identity. Then there is the discussion of the film of the history of the tango. What is she doing here? I think she is showing us Argentine identity through the national dance of the tango. What theoretical model does Taylor use to give shape to her ideas?  Can the whole of a culture be described through one theme such as the tango?

Of all of the essays, this is the one I ended up thinking about the most. This most post-modern approach through describing a culture from within the culture, using the tango as a metaphor for the move and counter-moves in gender relations in Argentina was a fresh approach, an “experiment” in how to write about culture. The “I” gets to be in the description as a part of the story this way. She is one with the culture.   

Reference

Marcus, George E. ed.
2000 Rereading Cultural Anthropology, Third Ed. Durham: Duke University
Press. 

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last updated on June 13, 2011