Wednesday, October 05, 2005

neuromantics w/o neuromancer?

The only thing that I can say about this book with any kind of authority at all, is that you simply *cannot* have a section addressed to “Cyberpunk and the Borderlands of Meaning Construction” and not mention William Gibson’s Neuromancer??? Gasp.

Seriously, first comment: I really liked the resolution between culture as either “fully fixed” or “universally shared.” Culture is both; it’s “constrained but not determined” by other factors (36). It seems like such an easy and logical compromise, that “cultural phenomenon are better characterized as conventional arrangements that may or may not be arbitrary” (37).

Secondly, this compromise of conflict trope is all over this work, much as it was Strauss and Quinn’s. I’m starting to feel curious about how many books published during the mid- to late-90s are into this rhetoric of compromise and integration. It’s like the day after a post-structuralist tornado leveled a town—everyone is standing outside their piles of rubble looking at each other’s stuff. The new ethos is to rebuild and reconcile. Or maybe not. Hmm.

Finally, one thing I found a little unconvincing was…not necessarily the theoretical foundation or goals of the book, but its structure. The “application” chapters seemed to reinforce the very split that Shore is proposing to reconcile. First, there are the case studies focusing on culture (I focused on the one on modularity as a foundational schema that informs different cultural models). Afterward, starting with 13, he tries to focus on the “in mind” part. I will have to take a look at these last two chapters again tomorrow (when I can do more than move my eyes across the page). But, it seemed like this latter part of the book was more a summary of existing theories and debates in cognitive science and other fields with little explanation of how they gel with previous chapters. I feel a little oppressed by his inclusion of so many different theoretical frameworks, almost as if his methodological approach was to give a massive overview of issues in cognitive science for his audience in anthropology, and then tell them the ball’s in their court (or perhaps I should have said, they’re up to bat?) Shore writes that “to make the case for culture in mind we need to turn these diverse bodies of research in anthropology and psychology on metaphor and on the psychology of analogy formation” (339). Elsewhere, he writes, “to study the place of culture in mind requires more than just a coordination of concepts from different disciplines. It also means relating models at very different levels of abstraction and organization” (343) So, here is the answer to my criticism. This book aims to envision and propose the research needed to conceptualize “culture in mind.” I think I need to revisit this last part again before assessing how the project is actually attempted here.

4 Comments:

Blogger Eileen McGinnis said...

I believe ASW addresses this structural issue as well: perhaps because the middle chapters were so engagingly wide-ranging and immersed in cultural particulars, I didn't feel satisfied when I finally alighted on Chs. 13-14, in which Shore at last attempts to show how culture gets in mind. It felt like a race to the finish, with a ton of terminology and summaries of existing cognitive research crammed into two chapters. I wasn't satisfied that his argument was fully developed, and wish he had devoted more space to outlining the gaps in his model of analogical schematization/projects for future research.

10:49 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

The more I think about it, the more I feel like Shore is one very well written literature review. Nothing amazing popped out, but I have gained a better understanding of why anthropology is so complex....

1:32 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

GFP nailed it. A literature review. Now, when you're trying to find middle ground, maybe this is the best way to go. But it seemed like the actual argument of the book got buried underneath the "recap" at points.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Sean McCarthy said...

I agree...to an extent. I think that we have to take into consideration that the texts we are reading are attempting to force new pathways between cognitive anthropology and other ideas of culture; much has to be explained to do this, and much has to be done to solidify it. So, if these books seem a little defensive, I think that in 20/30 years (academia is SLOW, after all) they will seem like foundational texts.

4:36 PM  

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