Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Truth in Advertising?

By the time I finished the introduction to Culture in Mind I was very excited. Shore tells us his book is structured around the following questions: “…5. How are public forms of knowledge transformed into personal forms of knowledge? How do cultural practices connect models in the world to those in the mind? What happens to this knowledge in the process?” (p. 11) The mechanism whereby culture enters the mind; at last! Unfortunately, by the time I got through chapters 9-10 it still all seemed somewhat allegorical. Was I unrealistic to expect more? Am I unimaginative? Did anyone else share my disappointment?
Maybe I need to read Vygotsky to receive this information from a psychologist rather than an anthropologist. While I do appreciate the narrative, the story-telling quality of the ethnography, I’m having difficulty accepting it as “the truth.” Maybe that’s revealing my naiveté, my scientism, giving credence to a psychological account of phenomena and not an anthropological account; or maybe it’s a result of my training in psychology and limited exposure to anthropology? I don’t know; but, whatever the reason, and as much as I like Shore’s book, and laud his effort to explain culture in mind, I just cannot get past the nagging question: What is the connection between the events witnessed, and the analysis of the events? Particularly, in Ch. 9 Shore is analyzing analyses of events which purportedly took place among the Australian Aborigine in the 1930’s witnessed by other anthropologists.
I like Shore’s theory. It makes sense to me that cultural practice must be internalized and passed on from generation to generation through the process of externalizing the internal thoughts and feelings of the previous generation to the new. It also makes sense to me that this information would be stored as a piece. And schema and connectionist theories seem to account for how this could occur. So overall, Culture in Mind seems to me to be an elegant story of how these processes could occur. But in the final telling, I would be more persuaded by a more meticulously documented story with evidence gleaned in a more controlled, experimental environment, rather than second- or third-hand observations analyzed from a distance of over 50 years.

5 Comments:

Blogger jmj said...

GT: My understaning of Shore's theory is that culture connects with the individual through the interplay of institutional and personal schemas. In other words, there are schemas that are possessed by many people due to shared culture and schemas that I possess based on my particular experiences. Where those two interact and effect changes on one another is the "culture in mind."

I may be way off-base here. I would be interested in hearing other people's summaries of Shore.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

jmj, I'm not sure if your description of culture in mind is exactly what Shore presented (I'm not suggesting it's not; I think you hit the mark), but I liked it! Thanks for providing the visual of the schemas interacting~makes sense.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

GT: It might be interesting to reflect on why you feel that controlled experiements provide more reliable data than more "natural" qualitative settings. If we consider Shore's examples of anthropologists attempts to study Aboriginal and other cultures, it seems that the more the anthropologists attempted to "control" or formalize their interaction with the people they were studying, the less authentically those people shared their culture (stories, inside information) with the researchers. If those researchers had been able to create a controlled, experimental environment, their data probably would have had little to no resemblance to the subjects' lived cultures--even though it may have appeared statistically reliable.

12:25 AM  
Blogger gt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:04 AM  
Blogger gt said...

Annie,
My criticism of Shore and Ethnography generally is that their "authentic" representations of other cultures are themselves cultural configurations that cannot but distort the other.
My suspicion of ethnography is based on the criticism of Tyler, S. (in Cintron, 1993) that prior to writing up the results of ethnographic research there was only a disconnected array of chance happenings. The ethnographic experience, then, is the experience of writing the ethnography.
So for me the big question still remains: where did this "authentic" experience occur; in "nature" or in the mind of the ethnographer?

10:16 AM  

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