Anthropology Reading Journal Series II

Anthropology Reading Journal Series II 
XI. Monday, November 21: Methods and Concepts of a Global Ethnography I

This second set of readings surrounds the theme of globalization and offers a foundation in understanding the two books which we’ve reviewed concerning commodities and multi-sited ethnographic research.

Reading #1: Appadurai, Arjun. Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy

In Arjun Appadura’s paper, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, he emphasizes analyzing global cultural flows through what he calls scapes. Adhering partly to mediologist Marshall Mcluhan’s idea of a “global village”, in which people live in a world that is disassociated from any real physical place and are inundated by a variety of media and technology, Appadurai proposes that the complexity of our global economy can best be navigated through a framework of scapes. They are (1) ethnoscapes, (2) technoscapes, (3) mediascapes, (4) financescapes, and (5) ideoscapes, which serve to clarify the different ways in which our society has become global.

Appadurai goes on to describe each scape starting with ethnoscapes and how they represent the landscape of people – such as tourists, immigrants and refugees who travel in and around the world. The second, technoscapes, represent the fluid use of technology which allows for faster communication and the ability to make countries with no previous grounds in multi-enterprise, develop one. The third called financesapes, speaks to the global capital flows of money through exchanges such as the stock exchange, commodity speculation, etc. With mediascapes, Appadurai points to specific types of media, such as newspapers, tv and the internet and how they have an ability to transmit narratives and images around the world. The idea of mediascapes works well with the last scape of ideoscapes – the transferring of ideologies through such technologies and forms of media. Together, Appadurai’s proposed framework offers anthropologists a kaleidoscopic perspective in which to understand culture through a global lens.

What I found that Appadurai makes clear to his readers is that our global cultural ecumene is the product of identity and communities; we are no longer produced in a relatively contained space but rather we are made and experience life trans-locally, often through locales across the globe. In effect, globalization doesn’t mean homogeneity. One way to clearly see this theory at work is through anthropologist Anna Tsing’s work Friction. In it, Tsing examines the differences that arise in Indonesia’s rainforest industry during the late 1980’s and 1990’s. By analyzing the differences and disparities that have globally affected the rainforests in Indonesia and tracing this global connection, Tsing was able to engage in environmental activism. She successfully highlighted the importance of understanding and resolving local community needs through both the similarities and differences of friction in a global context. By applying Appadurai’s scapes, anthropologists can build a better understanding for comprehensive ethnographic research and writing that links the local with the global.

Reading #2: Graeber, David. 2002. “Anthropology of Globalization (with notes on NeoMedievalism, and the End of the Chinese model of Nation-State).”

Graeber’s article, Anthropology of Globalization comments on the anthropologist’s dilemma with globalization. Anthropologists, he argues, are the ultimate cosmopolitans and this newly-adopted perspective by the discipline places anthropology in a political crossroads that often clashes with the anthropologist’s intent to focus on the issues that cultural imperialism and homogenization cause.

In the face of globalization, anthropologists writing for the underdog can highlight the fact that the idea of the “little guy exists.” On the other hand, Graeber notes that this is part of the dilemma because if an anthropologist takes this activist stance, then does he/she stand to also lose the chance of effecting an even broader change on global conversations?

This line of questioning is what leads Graeber to further explore the issue. Critiquing Appadurai’s set of distinctions between financescapes, ethnoscapes, mediascapes, and so forth, Graeber notes the absence of transnational social movements and how these movements cannot rightfully be termed as a flow. He agrees with Tsing’s assessment that we would be better to speak of movements rather than flows as a way of understanding neoliberalism. He offers this criticism as a form of raising awareness that there exists a variety of approaches towards understanding globalization.

Another perspective he reviews is the idea of the return to neomedievalism, an older model of dispersed sovereignty, or nation-states. Graeber concludes that his issue with globalization’s historical past lies in part with his activist roots as an anthropologist. He finds that in the course of his reviews, he hasn’t found a clear answer for to how to analyze globalization and offer resolutions that are workable for everyone included. Indeed, it’s this very problem that he believes leaves room for more research and discussion.

Though Graeber’s overall message about reinvestigating to understand globalization is clear at the end of his paper, a distinction with concrete examples could have been emphasized in the beginning of this reading. It is only when he references Anna Tsing’s work that the importance of difference in approach becomes clear and the idea of the globalizing phenomena is better understood. Had Graeber further supported his claims with brief overviews of neoliberlist and neomedievalism ideologies, the paper would have read more smoothly.

Reading #3: Harvey, David. 2006. “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction.”

Harvey’s paper, Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction, claims that neoliberalism is a project that subverts social democratic endeavors and restores class dominance to the elite. To start, Harvey explains that neoliberalism is a “theory of political economic practices proposing that human well-being can best be advanced by the maximization of entrepreneurial freedoms within an institutional framework characterized by private rights; individual liberty, unencumbered markets, and free trade.”(p. 22) However, what Harvey highlights in his paper is that this ideology of neoliberalism acts as a form of indirect imperialism. He questions who neoliberalism really serves to benefit. As a concept, it has been construed as an apparatus that seamlessly encompasses compelling values of liberty and freedom that appeal to many citizens.
Harvey gives historical background on this turn towards neoliberalism during the 1990’s, noting the Washington Census event which was associated with organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Worldbank and the US Treasury department. Harvey reveals startling statistics such as Britain’s doubled share of national income from 6.5% to 13% in the span of 20 years. This account of neoliberalism as a political project that reestablishes conditions for restoring class dominance show that though the optimistic aim was to revitalize global capital, the movement instead restored class power and stratification.

To further cement his argument, Harvey discusses at length several points in his rubric of accumulation by dispossession, which include, “the commodification and privatization of land and forceful expulsion, conversion of various property rights, suppression of common rights, commodification of labor power, colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets, monetization of exchange and taxation, the slave trade, and usury, the national debt, and the credit system as radical means of primitive accumulation.” (p.35)

The troubling description of failed neoliberalism as written by Harvey is not without a suggestion to resolve such problems. In his last section, Harvey reveals that his analysis offers up a perspective that highlights and points out the contradictions within the neoliberalist agenda. He makes an important point that recognizing these issues does not mean we are to look towards utopian Marxist movements for inspiration. Instead, it is to recognize that class struggles exist and occur in a historical capital accumulation. What Harvey concludes, in an optimistic tone, is that after recognition of neoliberalist rhetoric, work must be done from within the existing system in order to bring about change.

Reading #4: Marcus, George. 1995. Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-sited Ethnography.

In George Marcus’s paper, Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-sited Ethnography, the idea of performing multi-sited ethnographic research is introduced. This type of research is the study of multiple sites and the comparing of the emergent results of such study. Marcus writes on how the trend of ethnographic research is moving away from the single-site study towards an interdisciplinary multi-sited ethnographic approach.

In his paper, he first writes about the single-site approach and its relation to worldview context; working in archives, focusing on dynamics of encapsulations, relationships and languages. This differs from the more global and multi-sited approach to ethnography in which the anthropologist observes the movement of cultural objects and how they are given identity through time-space. This approach therefore develops through a lens in which we view subjects in a wider framework or web of global context. It offers anthropologist more information through comparisons. However, it can be argued that this type of study can also detract from providing a comprehensive understanding of the particular – thick description cannot be garnered because resources are spread thin.

What can occur, Marcus argues, is the loss of the subaltern, moving the concentration from subaltern to other areas of focus due to the nature of the research. Marcus does point out that for certain studies that heavily rely on comparisons, the multi-sited approach is quite appropriate. For example, the study of medical anthropology with regard to an issue like reproduction or comparative environmentalism. Another appropriate type of multi-site study is the migration study; follow the people, follow the commodity.

It is easy to see how the author Sidney Mintz does this in his analysis and historical account of the substance sugar. What makes his multi-ethnographic approach useful to anthropologists is how it reveals the rise of a commodity and its cultural significance to several different groups of people. Likewise, Anna Tsing’s ethnographic study relating her fieldwork in Indonesia’s rain forest industry shows us that the local and global create a dialogue with each other that cannot only be interpreted at the surface level. Global connections can exist even in one location through Appadurai’s concepts of scapes and flows.

Overall, Marcus points to how such a novel approach can lend to a wider and more comprehensive understanding of how culture, both material and immaterial, can show connections at levels that are both important locally and globally.

Reading #5: Rockefeller, Stuart. 2011. “Flow”.

Stuart Rockefeller’s article, Flow, brings to light two important aspects of the word: its true meaning in the scheme of globalization and its importance in creating a dialogue and exchange to the wider context of globalization. Rockefeller begins his paper with a reference to Raymond William’s essay on Keywords as a way to introduce the idea that the definition of the word has taken on many meanings over time. He imparts to the reader the many uses of the word flow, likening it to Appadurai’s scapes, in which flow can denote financial flows, ideas flows, etc.

To Rockefeller, flow has become synonymous with talking about larger global cultural and economic phenomena, denoting the movement of people, ideas, money, goods, etc. Rockefeller believes that culture is no longer constrained to one locality. Like Appadurai, he believes that culture is experienced trans-locally, across the globe. These flows can increase from factors that contribute to them, such as the advent of technology or media.
In later sections of his work, Rockefeller goes on to trace flow as defined by philosophers Deleuze and Guttari and its connection to deterritorialization; the allowing of a flow to impart a commodity, an idea, a polity into it; the act of becoming part of something else.

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