Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Shore is not a relativist.

That is, he seems to think that not all cultures work well. I'm thinking of what he says about his/our culture. Shore is skeptical, at best, about the ability of the “postmodern frame of mind” (134) to continue to make meaning. He admits that “no one really knows for sure,” but that he suspects that his culture is pushing the limits (158). “Meaning integration” (159) requires a natural/organic context, which he believes is utterly lacking in the modular, digital (post)modern schema. He gives the example of “cyberpunk” movies, such as Alien Robocop, etc. which are “without organic shape or vegetable presence” (158). I have to just say, keeping up the spirit of saying that some stuff is just no good, that this is a serious misstatement in regard to the Alien series, in which the organic/vegetable presence is quite excessive. The same is true for David Cronenberg’s (cyberpunk) movies.
But setting aside the “he soooo wrong” thing… I don’t know if he explains how serious this fear about the contemporary West is, and he may soften his position about it at some point that I missed. But I have to say the more serious he is about this -- that a society drawing on a particular set of cultural models could come to an inability to make meaning -- the less consistent he seems with his account of the incredible adaptability of the human brain. In a way, I feel like this negative assessment of contemporary Western culture repeats the old assessment of irrational natives, only on the grounds of “meaning” rather than “reason.”

One thing he really seems to fear/dislike is the postmodern/poststructuralist cultural model of the “surface.” On page 55, Shore mentions, not for the first time, that few people have reconciled “the idea [of] cultural models with an agent-centered poststructuralist vision of culture,” and goes on to lament that those who have usually describe what happens in terms of discourse, speech and surface. Elsewhere, however, he seems to lapse into such a description. Sounding a bit like Lave and Wenger, in Chapter 10, he describes how Murngin learn the foundational “walkabout” schema “not by direct transfer of a narrative model to novices but by the translation of the narrative into a sequence of kinesthetic experiences and performances. These symbolic acts do not so much recount the model of knowledge creation in the myth as actually enact the model in the very forms of knowledge transfer” (315). He sounds like L and W because he gives some sense of learning as practice/performance which is a surface phenomenon. But he still calls what happens in learning “internalization,” although he does not offer a description of this process, saying instead that this is “One of the central problems for cognitive anthropology” (314)….

I’m not sure where I’m going with this…. I could say that Strauss and Quinn’s book can be read as a response to this call for a theory of internalization. But that’s not where I wanted to go. I wanted to say something about Fleck and the pervasive thought collective/cultural model that says that humans have relatively, relevantly distinct insides and outsides and “Would it not be possible to manage entirely without something fixed?” (Fleck 50).


Blogger mdl said...

What did you think about his characterization of the impact of post structural theory on the "subject" of anthropology: (from page 55): "in this poststructuralist version, the agents of culture are no longer hypothetical....the concrete person has been been given new life in anthropology, the very concept of culture...has receded from view." This is not how I would characterize the impact of post structural thinking on theories of the subject in other discplines. If anything, agency is something that must be resurrected. So, one of two things is happening here: either I am misunderstand what he's saying here, or poststructuralism may have had vastly different impacts in different disciplines. How did you read this?

3:56 PM  

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