Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 1st, 2012

Part 2. Anthropologists poking at Capitalism: With the Four-Field Manifesto?

Note: you may read the first part of this article https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/part-1-anthropologists-poking-at-capitalism-with-the-four-field-manifesto/

A short recapitulation of the first part. What kinds of fairy tales that capitalists dump on us?  

The premises of the market-capitalist religion are:

  1. Humans are naturally greedy-selfish.
  2. Capitalism harnesses greed and selfishness for productive dynamism.
  3. Capitalism successfully delivers the goods.
  4. Capitalism is invincible.

The second part is “on how Capitalism has not delivered the goods…”

Cultural Anthropology: Capitalism has not delivered the goods.

One reason anthropology knows more about capitalism than any other discipline is that anthropologists have not just studied capitalism from the inside: most anthropology was done with people subjected to capitalism, people who were often forced to provide the labor or coerced into furnishing the raw materials for capitalist dynamism.

For much of the world’s population, capitalism has already been a miserable failure.

Of course indigenous response has varied:
1.  there have been those who have profited tremendously from capitalism;
2. people have ingeniously appropriated capitalist products and styles;
3. people have not just been pawns in the system but have actively influenced and altered that system; no one knows these facts better than anthropologists.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen writes in a 2010 foreword to Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History:

“Through the dual processes of integration and disintegration, wealth creation and poverty creation, empowerment and humiliation, global capitalism leaves contradictions in its wake. The story of contemporary globalization is not a straightforward saga of development and progress, nor is it a simple tale of neo-colonialism and oppression. It needs to be narrated from a local vantage point, and whatever their degrees of interconnectedness, localities are always unique blends of the old and the new, the endemic and the foreign, power and powerlessness”.

On balance, capitalism has at best been a mixed bag, at worst catastrophic.

And this fact applies not just on the edges of capitalism but at its heart–after some periods of relative stability and apparently fine-tuned management of the business cycle, we are back to lurching from crisis to crisis, in ways not seen since 1929 or the times of Marx and Engels. Trouillot wrote:

“Anthropologists are well placed to face these changes, first by documenting them in ways that are consistent with our disciplinary history. The populations we traditionally study are often those most visibly affected by the ongoing polarization brought about by the new “spatiality” of the world economy. They descend directly from those who paid most heavily for the transformations of earlier times. . . . We cannot abandon the four-fifths of humanity that the [ 1% ] see as increasingly useless to the world economy, not only because we built a discipline on the backs of their ancestors but also because the tradition of that discipline has long claimed that the fate of no human group can be irrelevant to humankind”.

The world needs cultural anthropology more than ever before. We may disagree on the importance of Writing Culture–but we can agree that when much of the world’s population gets written off as irrelevant, then anthropological fieldwork has become even more necessary. Back to Eriksen, who tells us Wolf’s “perspective is even more sorely needed than it was when Europe and the People Without History was written in the early 1980s”

Linguistic anthropology: Capitalism is not invincible

Capitalism is not just an economic system. What Trouillot terms the “geography of management” is accompanied by a “management of imagination” and a projection of “North Atlantic universals” through words like development, progress, and modernity:

“North Atlantic universals so defined are not merely descriptive or referential. They do not describe the world; they offer visions of the world. . . . They come to us loaded with aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities, religious and philosophical persuasions, cultural assumptions ranging from what it means to be a human being to the proper relationship between humans and the natural world, ideological choices ranging from the nature of the political to the possibilities of transformation. . . . As a discipline, we have launched the most sustained critique of the specific proposals rooted in these universals within academe. Yet we have not explored enough how much these universals set the terms of the debate and restricted the range of possible responses”.

We could continue. But it is here we most need the insights of a linguistic anthropology attuned to language and power, the condensed histories of words, and how words become harnessed to imagination.

Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection contemplates a similar project, examining how the particular universals travel: “This brings to light a deep irony: Universalism is implicated in both imperial schemes to control the world and liberatory mobilizations for justice and empowerment. . . . Universals beckon to elite and excluded alike”

The world needs linguistic anthropology more than ever before. We may disagree on universal grammar or Sapir-Whorf, but we can agree that the imagination of capitalist invincibility is built on shaky and contested terms–terms that can also be used toward emancipatory ends.

Anthropology: Observe, describe, and propose

This account of contributions from each of anthropology’s major subfields is not meant to fragment and divide. The world needs anthropology more than ever, for anthropologists to stand with anthropology as a whole. As Tim Ingold opens Being Alive: “I am an anthropologist: not a social or cultural anthropologist; not a biological or archaeological anthropologist; just an anthropologist” (So what is an antropologist?)

Ingold’s comparison of anthropology with art and architecture is pertinent:

“The truth is that the propositions of art and architecture, to the extent that they carry force, must be grounded in a profound understanding of the lived world, and conversely that anthropological accounts of the manifold ways in which life is lived would be of no avail if they were not brought to bear on speculative inquiries into what the possibilities for human life might be. Thus art, architecture and anthropology have in common that they observe, describe and propose. There is, perhaps, a discipline waiting to be defined and named where those three fields meet, and if some readers would prefer to regard this book as a kind of manifesto for that discipline, then I shall not object”.

“After all, how could there have been a more perfect alignment of the stars than happened in 2008? That year saw a wave election that left Democrats in control of both houses of congress, a Democratic president elected on a platform of “Change” coming to power at a moment of economic crisis so profound that radical measures of some sort were unavoidable, and at a time when popular rage against the nation’s financial elites was so intense that most Americans would have supported almost anything.

If it was not possible to enact any real progressive policies or legislation at such a moment, clearly, it would never be. Yet none were enacted. Instead Wall Street gained even greater control over the political process, and, since Republicans proved the only party willing to propose radical positions of any kind, the political center swung even further to the Right. Clearly, if progressive change was not possible through electoral means in 2008, it simply isn’t going to be possible at all. And that is exactly what very large numbers of Americans appear to have concluded”.

The article summerizes with the 10-recommandations:

1. That poverty and inequality–globally and regionally–be placed at the forefront of policy agendas.

2. Progressive income taxes and taxes on conspicuous consumption, with revenue devoted to a true national healthcare system: Medicare-for-All.

3. Increasing inheritance taxes and other measures addressing wealth inequalities, with revenue devoted to prenatal care, infant nutrition and early childhood education. Particular attention to the ongoing racism manifest in infant-mortality disparities.

4. Abolition of off-shore tax havens, declaration of all income from investments, and full enforcement of capital-gains taxes, with revenue devoted to reparations.

5. Regulations on credit and banking so the financial industry becomes a boring sector dedicated to allocating investment, not a glamorous parade of outsized returns. Make banking boring again.

6. Investment in mass-transit and regional infrastructure to provide alternatives to individual automobiles.

7. An agricultural plan to phase out subsidies for mono-cropping, to encourage environmentally-sustainable farm management, and eliminate the tariffs harming the world’s poorest farmers.

8. A true jobs program to increase employment, with work targeted toward infrastructure improvement and environmentally-sensitive retrofitting. Consideration of measures such as reducing the work week in order to address contradictions of a high unemployment rate coupled to overwork by the employed.

9. Comprehensive immigration reform to bring rationality and humanity to a broken system.

10. Investment in education to create truly informed citizens. An educational system based on human holism, not just mono-dimensional economic efficiencies

Franz Boas in “An Anthropologist’s Credo, 1938)” wrote:

“In fact, my whole outlook upon social life is determined by the question: how can we recognize the shackles that tradition has laid upon us? For when we recognize them, we are also able to break them”.

Wallerstein wrote in The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century: “There is nothing to lose but our irrelevance. We can make the world less unjust; we can make it more beautiful; we can increase our cognition of it”

The life expectancy of irrelevance tends to be short. More courageous and healthier is the acknowledgment of the many dead ends within the human disciplines brought about or brought to light by current global transformations, including the death of utopia. Trouillot wrote:

“We might as well admit that all the human sciences may need more than a facelift; most will be deeply modified and others, in their current institutional shape, might disappear. As the world changes, so do disciplines

Note 1: Most excerpts were borrowed from the Findlay edition


adonis49

adonis49

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March 2012
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