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phalangingle in theoryishotcrew

Can I just substitute an interpretive dance in place of a list?

Although I am generally of the opinion that I would never be a member of a club that would have someone like me as a member, I decided to give this a try.

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  1. "Foucault" in "Dictionnaire des philosophes" 1984, - Maurice Florence

 

  1. Distinction - Bourdieu

 

  1. El Laberinto de la Soledad - Paz

 

  1. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - Goffman

 

  1. Borderlands/La Frontera - Anzaldua

 

  1. The Interpretation of Cultures  - Geertz

 

  1. Aberrations in Black - Ferguson

 

  1. Ain't I a Woman  - bell hooks

 

  1. Giving an Account of Oneself - Butler

 

  1. Selections from the Prison Notebooks - Gramsci


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Comments

I can't say I've read anything on this list. So let me ask a totally different sort of question. One of the things that is valued in this group (at least by me) is a willingness to engage with perspectives completely outside one's own disciplinary training, perhaps even those potentially hostile to it.

With that in mind, let me mention that I have friends - mostly in the sciences, but not exclusively - who regard "cultural studies" and similar fields as passing intellectual fads, lacking intellectual heft and unlikely to still exist in a few decades. Anthropology, of course, will stick around, but not the many flowerings of separate Latino Studies or African American studies, and so forth.

I am guessing from your list that you would not agree with this view. How would you respond to those who hold it?
I think it's an interesting question! (I hope it gets an answer.)

Which book?
That book looks interesting. In some imaginary future where I have the time to read things completely unrelated to my research, I might read it.
Our previous discussion ended with placing Geertz on the side of theory cast as different from an empirical ethnographic text. This common criticism emerges again when Geertz is positioned as a literary scholar. Geertz does indeed draw on the analytic tools of literary theory, but his "text" is not a literary document. Social life as text peaks critics ears. 'Only an intellectual could describe the world as text, as something to be read and contemplated from a distance'. Further, given Geertz's advocacy for a semiotic approach to culture, these critics argue that the text metaphor requires the bracketing of signs and symbols from "for historical or contemporary context or for political or even social realities" [I cut off the misinformation from informants piece of the criticism because I need to think about that some more].

I would respond to these criticisms by pointing to "Ideology as Cultural System" and "Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight". In IC Geertz is critiquing approaches that reduce ideology to psychological or social systems. Geertz argues for a consideration of the cultural system in addition to the psychological and social system (see outline of argument in previous discussion). He isn't making the argument that analysis of cultural systems take the place of psychological and sociological analysis. Instead he points to the inadequacy of analysis that lacks an interpretative theory of culture.

The "Deep Play" essay includes a discussion of arrival, initial relations with natives, observations of cocks fights, accounts of everyday language, and observational data on the size of bets at cock fights. Geertz is not providing insular ruminations nor is he simply offering a reading of the cockfight. In the essay he notes practices of housing the cocks and conventions for treating the body of cocks after fights. He also notes that before Dutch invasion, the cock fight was an open event with adult males establishing their citizenship in carrying their cocks into the ring. "Deep Play" should not be considered a simple rumination or work of "theory" (as opposed to ethnographic). Geertz gathered the material for the essay through fieldwork, not armchair anthropology.

I will have to think more about the nativism and aestheticizing dirty reality criticism (I have not encountered this one yet).
I can see how those charges are made and before looking at the essay again I held a very similar view that Geertz is only giving a semiotic account at the expense of social and historical context. The essay does not give a detailed historical account of the cock fight, but it does present the cock fight as something that changes over time in relation to social structure (pre-colonial vs colonial times).

Geertz documents his observations of the cockfights and derives statistical accounts of the matches. He writes "of the fifty-seven matches for which I have exact and reliable data on the center bet, the range is from fifteen ringgits to five hundred, with a mean at eighty-five and with the distribution being rather noticeably trimodal:" and goes on to describe the various sizes of two betting pools. After noting the economy of the cockfight, he argues that the money doesn't make the cock fight deep. The dramatization of the status structure makes the cock fight deep. Betting patterns follow a social logic:

Kin generally do not bet against a member of their kin group; when a kin member is not involved in the match then an member of an allied kin is chosen over a member of a non allied kin; local cocks are supported over foreign cocks. These, and other social patterns, are not interpreted from the "text" of a single cockfight, but from observation of over 50 cock fights.

Regarding the argument that the following are passing intellectual fads: American studies, ethnic studies, chicano/a latino studies, American Indian studies, cultural studies, African and African American studies, gender studies, etc

These various disciplines (and those that declare themselves anti-disciplinary) are more than an "intellectual fad", they represent an array of intellectual, social, and cultural movements developing epistemological critiques of dominant disciplines. These movements have gained more than discursive space within academia, they have also established institutions with and outside academia.

Universities increasingly have to market themselves as multicultural. Ethnic studies departments often have the most diverse faculty. These faculty are also key resources on campus for students from historically underrepresented social groups. Unless this work is recognized, the ability of scholars in these departments to produce institutionally valued products (publications) is diminished.

The institutional gains made by these programs have established networks of support for alternative approaches to method, central problematics, and theories. Mainstream disciplines will consider some of the work produces by scholars in these programs adopting and adapting the scholarship, ignoring it, or setting up a straw man that casts the work as interesting but flawed.

These programs are interdisciplinary or antidisciplinary. Rather than a passing fad, these programs consistently produce innovative work that crosses the boundaries between the social science and humanities. Certain groups of social and natural scientists call this scholarship soft, speculative, or just 'mere storytelling'. If these critics demonstrated a critical grasp of the theorists and intellectual movements they forecast as fleeting, I would take them more seriously. I am not familiar with the book Kataplexis mentions, but I think I have read the type of critique you are referring to. Too often these works rely on accounts of work that go no deeper than the introductory summary texts about an author or a theoretical perspective. Rather than trying to understand the logic of the work and its place within an intellectual and discursive field, a complex body of work is held up to the standards of a discipline it explicitly critiques and deemed lacking according to "rigorous" and "systematic" criteria.

Thanks for the answer, but I'm not sure you answered the question that I asked. Or perhaps I wasn't precise enough about the question. When I asked how you'd respond to the people who hold this view, I meant how you would respond to them. That is, what would you say to them, to convince them that they are wrong?

What you've written does not seem likely to make much progress in that direction. You seem to accuse such people of laziness and/or incompetence, as you claim that they have not "demonstrated a critical grasp" of their targets. Responding in this way might rally the faithful to your own cause, and maybe (with more evidence, presently lacking) persuade an impartial spectator. But those who disagree with you - even those who are genuinely open-minded - are likely to see this as empty gesticulation (which would only confirm their views!).

So, please, try again. What would you say to these people to show them that they are mistaken? Surely the intellectual value of these studies is not about "established institutions" or allowing universities to "market themselves as multicultural"? What do these studies contribute to intellectual inquiry, in a way that potentially hostile people ought to recognize?
I took 'passing intellectual fad' as a prediction so I pointed to some of the institutional factors in why I think these studies would not simply fall by the wayside while more established disciplines reabsorb their resources.

You are right that I didn't make a convincing case for the intellectual merit of these studies. So here goes,


These studies emerge from critiques and splits with established disciplines. Distance between these studies and established disciplines often requires translations of methodology, theory, and taken for granted concepts between them. The critiques of established disciplines by these studies are an opportunity for established disciplines to revise concepts and practices in response to critical readings. These studies undercut the possibility of changing mainstream criticism if they continue to rely on caricatures of established disciplines. Both critics of these new programs and scholars of these studies have much to gain from dialogue. Both the hooks and the Ferguson are important to many of the studies I named in my previous post.

Ferguson and hooks both critically read the 1965 report, the Negro Family: A Case for National Action. Daniel Patrick Moynihan prepared the report. A wave of criticism focused on how the Moynihan report repeated a culture of poverty thesis that blames the victim for reproducing a "tangle of pathologies." Since the 1980s, a range of social scientists have reconsidered the Moynihan report. A recent collection of articles in the Annuals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences reevaluates the legacy of the Moynihan report. Most of the articles cast the Moynihan report as a solid piece of social science that, far from blaming the victim, analyzed the social context of the break down of the black family. The work of women of color feminists is absent from all but one of the articles.

In Ain't I a Woman, hooks critiques the figure of the black matriarch, the powerful black women capable of castrating men. This figure supports the narrative of the emasculation thesis. The emasculation thesis attributes the problems faced by black families to the low status of black males in society (the result of the effects of slavery, Jim Crow racism, economic and residential segregation). Not only does this thesis narrate the history of African Americans through the experience of men, it also ignores the particular problems faced by African American women. Ferguson points to the Moynihan report as exemplary of a heteronormative liberal discourse. The status of black women in society is examined through an analysis of black men. The normative horizon of this discourse posits black women as heterosexual subjects in need of a male supporter. In the post civil rights era these policy goals fail to account for the reality of a post-industrial society with a rise in low income service labor, positions often filled by low income women of color.

Some of the articles in the Annuls set situate the Moynihan report in a social context of the black power movement. The black power movement rejected the figure of the castrated black male, The movement also contained normative investments in heteropatriarchy. The normative grammar of liberation took the form of a renew of heteropatriarchy as regulating the ideal family form. Whereas the Annuls collection gives an account of the black power movement's opposition to the Moynihan report, Ferguson discerns a connection between the two. They are both part of a discourse on black sexuality.

The accounts of the social scientists are not opposed to the works of hooks and Ferguson. The theoretical approaches of the articles in the Annuls collection lacked a strong analytics of discourse. If they would have engaged in the works of hooks and Ferguson they would be forced to reconsider their method, rhetoric, and commonly held assumptions.

This becomes a question of consideration more than understanding. In my previous reply I threw out a quick response about critic's ability to grasp the theories of this scholarship. Instead of lack of ability, it seems that examples like the reconsideration of the Moynihan report reveal a lack of consideration by mainstream disciplines. If mainstream disciplines engaged in dialogue with these studies they could both contribute to the scholarship and seriously reconsider established methods, theories, and worldviews. If these studies are viewed as 'intellectual fads' or as marginal movements then there is little incentive for scholars in the mainstream of their disciplines to engage them.

This scholarship covers a range of traditional disciplines and is building its own body of work and shared theoretical perspectives. While postcolonialism, discourse and cultural theory, feminism, critical race theory, and diaspora studies have all had some impact on mainstream disciplines, the various emerging studies engage more significantly with these intellectual movements.
I'm not sure I understand the example. (I'm also turned off by the jargon. How is "normative horizon" related to "normative grammar", and why should anyone ever use either term?) The Moynihan report was supposed to be a descriptive study of the actual condition of America in the mid-1960s. Some the things you mention here were probably true at that time: most African American women probably were heterosexual, and dependent upon men. (The same, of course, would have been true of most white women at that time.) If you want to understand a large-scale social phenomenon, it makes sense to look at what is true of most of your subjects. It's not clear to me, then, what the point of hook's critique is supposed to be.

I also can't follow the bit about the black power movement. This seems like a tangent from the Moynihan Report.

Anyway, even granting that these are important critiques of the dominant paradigms underlying social science, what keeps this critiques from originating within those disciplines? Why, for instance, couldn't a sociologist have pointed out that the Moynihan report lacked attention to women performing low-wage service labor?


A separate issue: I'm a bit deterred by your not answering certain questions above, especially the difficult and/or unorthodox questions. For instance, see ceciliaj's question directly above mine. This group values a certain amount of informality, and questions like those are a good test of your fit.
Ethnic studies departments often have the most diverse faculty.

OK, I'll bite. How are you defining "diverse"? One of the biggest problems with "diversity" in academia is that it is almost defined as "ethnic diversity." And when "diversity" means "this one specific thing," we've pretty much just failed at diversity. Sure, you may have a variety of ethnicities represented on the faculty, but too often such programs are not ideologically, politically, or methodologically diverse. One common complaint about such programs is that you have all the colors of the rainbow saying the exact same thing.

I think that such programs may try to be as you describe them, but they often fail.
"almost always"
In terms of the institutional function of an ethnically diverse faculty it doesn't matter whether it amounts to a rainbow that espouses the same ideology, politics, and methodology. Faculty of ethnic studies often serve on diversity committees, mentor minority students, and participate in activities that promote diversity. Highlighting this aspect of ethnic studies was part of my response to the idea that it is just an "intellectual fad." These programs are not just an intellectual movement, but also perform much needed institutional functions on campus. A priori pushed me on this and pointed out that this may be so, but it doesn't provide a compelling reason to buy into the intellectual work of these programs. If all ethnic studies programs do is fulfill this function, then their justification for existence is on shaky grounds because other departments could just higher more faculty from historically underrepresented communities. To this I would say that while theoretically, yes, this would logically make sense. However, most departments are making slow progress on these fronts (number of minority faculty members in many social science and humanities programs still seems to be low) and it remains the case that ethnic studies programs are to carry the burden of fulfilling the above mentioned functions.

Kurt_Hampson, you raise a good point about diversity. When I wrote diversity I had in mind ethnic diversity (especially minorities from historically underrepresented communities). This kind of diversity is especially important because America is a highly racialized society. Of course other forms of social location should be considered. As far as ethnic studies programs being relatively homogeneous in terms of ideology, politics, and methodology, I don't find this to be the case. In my experience ethnic studies programs have been departments most open methodologically. Also, while ethnic studies fashions itself as "anti-disciplinary," I do think a case can be made for an emerging canon of works. To the extent that common perspectives are emerging there is validity to the idea of rainbow homogeneity. This perspective, however, is one that I think is unique to ethnic studies and emerges as a critique of established disciplines. I attempted to convey this with the Moynihan report example citing two works that are common in ethnic studies (the hooks and Ferguson) that are not considered in a mainstream social science journal's recent reevaluation of the report's legacy. While the criticisms of the report by hooks and Ferguson are contestable (as Max_ambiguity's critical questioning of my example shows) they represent a perspective (women of color feminism) that is almost completely excluded from consideration in the journal. Politically ethnic studies may be more homogeneous than mainstream social science and humanities, but methodologically and theoretically I don't think it is.
I work in Native American Studies, and one of the biggest complaints by many Native scholars and students is that "ethnic studies" often equals "African American." I teach at a university near two reservations, and Native American faculty and students are dead last in terms of numbers compared to the rest of the population. One complaint is that, by painting "ethnic studies" with a broad brush, we have allowed African American Studies to dominate the field (one phrase I have heard to describe Native American Studies is "minority within minority studies").

That said, in your "emerging canon of works," which Native American scholars are in your opinion most fundamental? Which have most helped shape your opinions of ethnic studies as methodologically open?