m of care – mar 31
A FURTHER EXPLORATION OF CULTURE
In the concluding session of The Dawn of Everything reading group, people expressed their happiness with the reading group as it has unfolded through these many months and a wish to continue. The group has initially decided to meet next at the regular time, to continue a discussion of culture as it figures in cultural anthropology, and to do so through discussing an article by Marshall Sahlins that offers background on the issue of schismogenesis, a significant element in The Dawn of Everything.
This reading group will take place on Thursday 31st March 2022 at 8pm (London time), and will be a discussion of Marshall Sahlins’s article entitled ‘Two or Three Things that I Know About Culture’. Link to the article.
notes/quotes from meeting:
vassily: on last lines of article..
ellen judd(presenting): main point.. symbolism fundamental to our species.. basic to how we think about ourselves.. we use language/concepts.. he thinks that’s what anthro is really about.. and gets lost.. can’t make sense w/o understanding (the symbols).. create a list of all the things you can do that wouldn’t involve symbolism/meaning.. symbolism imbues everything we do
is it though? symbolism?.. i think that’s whalespeak
ellen: he also wants to underline how structured it is.. so he’s emphasizing that structure is important to culture.. what we do w culture/symbols is incredibly creative.. so openness and structure
ellen: on structure.. on how we reframe our traditions.. he’s wanting to reject the idea that we have limitless freedom in making culture.. he feels tension between agency and structure.. feels compelled to write against the hubris of people thinking we can remake culture.. he wants us to rethink about the challenges of culture that influences us more than we realize.. he’s against extreme individualism.. he probably overstates.. because he doesn’t reject agency.. he’s worried about that problem of over emphasizing how much we can remake our culture as an act of will.. he’s seeing it as more than the individual.. intensely shared
ellen: i think he wants to say culture can be changed.. but it doesn’t have no properties.. important to look at symbolism.. i think he’s wanting us to see the weight culture may have for those trying to create change.. it’s intrinsically shared and not totally conscious of how it operates.. problem comes when get into the specificity of this
ellen: what motivates sahlins.. is a feeling that the meaningfulness that culture has isn’t being fully respected.. he wants us to see the weight that that has.. can see that in doe.. on indigenous being ignored/misunderstood.. post modernism can easily refuse pre culture..
ellen: on importance of schismogenisis.. trying to say that since culture imbues everything we do unless we take account of everything we do.. so ways and resources to do things diff
? not resonating with this.. sounds like naming the colour ness
ellen: challenging because we don’t understand how our own minds work.. so want to see how we think about the structure that exists in our culture
or just let go.. and trust us
ellen: i think it’s inescapable that there is some structure.. but i don’t think it’s as ordered as i think he’s suggesting
[ellen adds to chat: Symbols are central to culture in Tylor’s sense. As defined by Abner Cohen (1979), “Symbols are objects, acts, concepts or linguistic formations that stand ambiguously for a multiplicity of disparate meanings, evoke sentiments and impel men [people] to action.”].. i think this might be more helpful than what sahlins is putting here
ellen: i think the way we share things are open..
ellen: shared link – adjectives have to be put in a proper order.. [https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-37285796]
ellen: what we need to understand more is where the positions of opening are and how they can be culturally developed and realized.. beyond looking at how to break thru a culture.. how you use your culture to do it.. have to look at symbolism and culture to address this.. if we want to think culture is not just a matter of being ordered.. but how to get someplace other than what we are.. to give us resources w which we can do something else.. i think that’s what david graeber picked up on .. he’s trying to challenge our ideas of what our culture gives us.. and see openings..
michael: question on functionalism.. that this was a new functionalism.. but he was critiquing functionalism..
ellen: important to his argument.. just didn’t think it connected well w doe.. he’s suggesting that anthro and radcliff brown were all about how societies do things.. he wants to take other approach.. more elaborated in american anthro.. trying to examine meaning of culture.. trying to shift meaning from social relations to meaning traditions.. both would say both culture and society matter.. just diff points of entry into it.. so he’s saying functionalists reduce too much
simona: he criticized behaviorism
ellen: i think he certainly would reject that.. i don’t think he ever took that on.. i think he’s rejecting any form of reductionism
max lawson: it’s like a dilemma w words.. dilemma of symbolism.. i struggle w this dualism..
ellen: yes.. on multiple levels.. one thing we might have to do mentally is see contrast.. but larger/diff problem .. western culture tradition oriented toward looking at binaries.. either or w no and.. why so occupied w this or that.. what he’s arguing for here is.. don’t leave culture out when looking at society
max: seems like it’s form vs content.. but doesn’t work like that.. mind/brain same.. then indigenous spoken thru western motives
i think our souls (if we listen that deep) are unsettled w binaries.. ie: not yet scrambled ness
max: terry turner.. the fire of the jaguar.. and his use of video.. this idea of people being very critical of him giving video cameras to people he’s working w in amazon..
ellen: yes.. and was challenge for students.. oh.. indigenous made this film.. not (just) about them.. i think everything you’re saying is real important.. i think there’s another message he’s trying to get out.. that in our very connected world now hard to see diff in other cultures.. that there are really important diff’s..
max: kind of comes down to power.. seems a western trap.. dominant voices..
ellen: and he’s trying to say that culture is a resource against that
michael: when people make claim about ‘our culture’.. trying to defend selves in a collective interest.. when normally society is about power relations between diff people.. or something right close to you.. sounds like argumetn is.. we should talk more collectively.. and culture is that.. society is diff’s in individuals..
ellen: i think this is an effort to put people back into the social sciences..
ellen: i think sahlins is saying if don’t pay attention to meaningful elements of people’s lives then people aren’t in
ellen: (to nika’s question of academic ness) i think there is a problem w articles.. some specialized arguments we don’t have to pay attention to.. maybe don’t need a long article.. but reasons why we need to think about culture.. i think if you look at portion david graeber was writing/teaching.. he was trying to change our culture
but.. graeber model law.. graeber model law (graeber revolution law): ‘you’ll never ever be able to convince a person thru logical argument or even brilliant rhetoric that a free and just society is possible.. you can show them.. you can start doing it‘ – David Graeber
ellen: we also need to get to another way.. diff econ.. recognize some diff way of living.. and we’ll need resources to do that.. to build a culture that is diff.. in course of doing that have to draw upon cultural resources
[vassily in chat: At the end of p. 413 there is an interesting quote re the debates we just had about culture v. society.. ‘Your people are hard to understand. My brother lived with you people for twenty years, and he said he was used to you; but he cannot understand yet why you people act as you do. You are all the same in one way. We are all the same in another. What is wrong with you?’]
simona: on culture used as borders.. and making it not being able to communicate.. while diff’s i want to have at m of care.. and italian sociologist who speaks about these diff’s as ways to get out of the frame or our
simona: if have to contradict somebody in italy.. just say they are wrong.. but this is very rude in england.. but if put things in english way in italy.. can’t be understood.. nevertheless we’re all mixed and there are plenty of connections of our language.. i think incommensurability is overderrated.. quote from david in intro of possibilities ‘incommensurability overrated.. none of us understand each other
[simona shared full quote in chat: ‘I often make the argument that (at least as a theoretical problem) incommensurability is greatly overrated. Take any two people, even in the same family or community, and you are likely to find half a dozen incommensurable perspectives. None of us completely understand each other. In practice, the fact that we don’t rarely gets in the way of our living together, working together, or loving one another, and it is often an actual advantage when people, say, come together to solve a common, practical problem. It’s only when we start imagining that the world is somehow generated by the descriptions we make of it that incommensurability becomes a well-nigh existential dilemma. Of course, the world is not really generated by the descriptions we make of it,’]
shaw communication law – the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’ – george bernard shaw
simona: it is true soc sci can only get % of reality.. always have enormous reduction when making theory.. but have to do this in order to say something meaningful .. the idea is the essential is to create new ways to say something meaningful..
why do we have to say something meaningful?
[vassily in chat: Re functionalism there are usually two reasons why anthropologists reject it: 1. societies are seen in isolation to each other (which is not true) 2. it’s difficult to imagine how societies can change (which is not true and very defeatist as well).. Functionalists: Malinowski, Durkheim, Parsons, etc. They all start from society as something that is there, and then try to explain how it holds together. The way that Sahlins or Graeber see society is something that is always created and recreated through a whole load of creative actions (ones that involve in Graeber’s work the making of people)]
simona: very concept of schismo comes from gregory bateson article about cultural diff’s..
vassily: also a psych dimension of bateson as well.. ie: why people argue endlessly..
because we keep trying to define meaning.. naming the colour ness et al
vassily: on needing to get culture into society
ellen: we can’t do w/o thinking about cultural dimensions of our lives.. but a lot of the discourse about that doesn’t seem to be very hellpful
yeah that.. huge red flag we’re doing it/life wrong
ellen: i think the core is about realizing other’s diffs
[simona in chat: ‘David: All social theory is a massive simplification of reality. Anybody presents a theory, if you just say, “Yeah, well, life is way more complicated than that,” you know you’ll always be right. But if that’s all you have to say you’ll never say anything particularly interesting, you’ll just be right and you’ll be boring! So if you want to say anything interesting, anything new, you have to massively simplify reality, which means being to some degree, wrong, and to become a great theorist is, to some degree, to have the courage to just persist in obviously wrong insights to their logical conclusion! Claude Lévi-Strauss would say things that were totally absurd half the time but he was a great theorist, he said things that no one else would have thought of, he would just push through anyway, despite all common sense. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, in a way that’s a courage that most people will not have – to be wrong in a way that can tell you something new about the world …When you strip down reality to 3% of what’s going on there, you can see patterns that would not have been visible otherwise, that you would never have seen, and there is a partial truth that’s revealed. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s good, that’s how knowledge of human beings advances. However … The dangerous thing is when that 3% view of humanity acquires weapons! When someone says, “History shows the dialectic can only lead in one direction … The material infrastructure determines the ideological superstructure … Therefore do what you’re told or I’ll shoot you.”
[vassily in chat: If we wish to continue applying terms borrowed from political economy […] it might be more enlightening to start looking at what we’ve been calling the “consumption” sphere rather as the sphere of the production of human beings, not just as labor power but as persons, internalized nexuses of meaningful social relations. […].. This is not to say that everything has to be considered either a form of production or of consumption (consider for example a softball game; it’s clearly neither), but it at least allows us to open up some neglected questions, such as that of alienated and nonalienated forms of labor, terms which have fallen somewhat into abeyance and therefore remain radically undertheorized. What exactly does engaging in nonalienated production actually mean? Such questions become all the more important when we start thinking about capitalist globalization and resistance. Rather than looking at people in Zambia or Brazil and saying “look! they are using consumption to construct identities!” (implying they are willingly, or perhaps unknowingly, submitting to the logic of neoliberal capitalism), perhaps we should consider that in many of the societies we study, the production of material products has always been subordinate to the mutual construction of human beings. What they are doing, at least in part, is simply insisting on continuing to act as if this were the case, even when using objects manufactured elsewhere. In other words, maybe it is the very opposite of acquiescence.. from ‘The very notion of consumption’ in Possibilities]
interesting that we all feel unsettled.. but persist on trying to naming the colour
max: what i struggle w is how to define culture.. so how could i define culture
ellen: i don’t think we have to do that.. one of problems we have w thinking about it as a thing
[simona in chat: The very idea of consumption https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/david-graeber-possibilities#toc11%5D
ellen: we hav to think about cultural boundaries.. because people are so insistent about that now.. but don’t have to give them priority
?.. but if it’s.. the talking.. ness is keeping us from us
ellen: so enriched by elements of other people’s cultures.. not all a ball and chain..