the social change thing

Jim heartfield jim at
Tue Aug 10 02:24:58 PDT 1999

>From: kelley <kcwalker at>

I enjoyed this account of anthropology and sociology from Kelley.

But I wonder if the dichotomy early (bad) anthropology, later (good) anthropology works. It is often argued that the early is bad because it loads preconceptions onto the people being studied, where the later is aware of its limitations. Kelley points out that the early explorers imposed a model of progressive development (like Morgan).

But isn't it also the case that the later anthropology imported its own Arcadian vision of stability and order. This from Levi-Strauss' lecture on structural anthropology:

'Although they exist in history, these societies seem to have elaborated or retained a particular wisdom which incites them to resist desperately any structural modification which would afford history a point of entry into their lives. Those which best protected their distinctive character appear to be societies predominantly concerned with persevering in their existence. The way in which they exploit the environment guarantees both a modest standard of living and the conservation of natural resources. Their marriage rules ... reveal... a common function, namely to set the fertility rate very low and to keep it constant. Finally, a political life based on consent ... seems conceived to preclude the possibility of calling on that driving force of collective life which takes advantage of the contrast between power and opposition, majority and minority, exploiter and exploited. In a word, these societies, which we might define as "cold" in that their internal environment neighbours on the zero of historical temperature." pp 46-7.

Here Levi-Strauss' imposes a utopian wish for societies without class conflict or change, that he imagines he sees in 'primitive' societies. But by and large the persistence of such societies is entirely bounded by the limitations upon progress within a global market system. What Levi-Strauss adores, many people are trying to escape.

>anthropologists relied on the accounts of explorers, traders, missionaries
>and colonial officials. when anthropologists did do fieldwork it was to
>collect artefacts and information about a group's history so it could be
>fit into an evolutionary schema much like morgan had done. they weren't
>interested in language, customs, habits. ** they tended to call this

>imagining Otherness was pioneered by quantitative researchers in the US,
>not ethnographers. social surveys were part of progressive reform
>efforts, funded by a wealthy elite alarmed by immigration and urbanization.
> sponsored first by churches, then by corps, then gov't in an attempt to
>count, quantify and categorize Otherness to determine how many from
>different denominations, religions, nationalities and to chart each group's
>supposed problems adjusting. people were transformed into a statistical
>aggregates to be reported in census of exotic lifestyles. the 1911
>Immigration Commission survey was the culmination of this research which
>b/g in 1880s. obviously numbers were important here and no one gave a fig
>about how they felt or attempted to understand them as romanticized others.
>the idea of interviewing and hanging out with ppl was a last resort and not
>seen as esp objective. 'hanging out' was about getting a feeling for
>urban geography and space more often than not. robert park @ chicago
>school encouraged ppl to hangout and get a feel for a community but he
>always insisted on the use of objective, impersonal techniques detailed
>an exception was DuBois's _The Philadelphia Negro_ which was sponsored by
>Susan Wharton who was an advocate in the settlement house movement assoc.
>w/ jane addams. Du Bois conducted 5000 interviews which sought to describe
>the conditions of black life--poor housing and infrastructure, menial and
>poorly paid jobs, etc. --and aimed at a kind of social uplift. Dubois
>accepted the paternalistic benevolence which inspired the settlement house
>park's chicago school sociology can be accused of many things but it wasn't
>necessarily about trying to reform various others so they'd assimilate and
>magically rid the city of social problems. if anything, park can be
>accused of naturalizing 'natural areas' of the city assuming that the
>ethnic enclaves, bohemias, hobohemias, havens for drug addicts, etc were
>natural to the city and something to be celebrated because of its diversity
>and freedom. the strain of sociology that posed the city to the community
>was found in louis wirth's work and those who followed him. iow, there
>were competing approaches to urban research.
>he can also be accused of conceiving of sociology as the pursuit of
>knowledge for the sake of knowledge, not esp. concerned w/ moral uplift or
>reform but with the professionalization of the discipline.
>the lynds_ Middletown_ study in the early 20s was first major attempt to
>employ ethnographic methods used by ethnologists of native americans.
>their work was sponsored by the Council of Churches concerned about
>christian communities, modernization and moral values. the first forays
>into othering on the part of interpretive sociologies, then, was initially
>the othering of 'middle america'.
>the lynd's did this b/c they were so worried that they wouldn't be able to
>study people like themselves: they were afraid of being too subjective and
>missing the obvious. so they consulted clark wissler, an ethnologist of
>native americans who argued that culture was the result of environmental
>their second study in 1937 was inspired by the lynd's shift toward
>socialism and was conceived as a critique of capitalism via an examination
>of the power relations which determined social life.
>their work influenced community studies of class and power such as warner's
>_yankee city_ which, again, studied whites. his was an effort to
>understand the power the states and subjective classification of
>status and class.
>chicago school ethnographic methods also emerged b.c many of the ppl who
>b/c sociologists had been social reformers, social workers, and some had
>been poor, transients, and gang members themselves. these folks pushed
>for ethnographic methods because they argued that survey data and documents
>were not especially reliable--particularly official documents from police
>depts and settlement houses. this was based on their own experience as
>part of the system or subject to the system. iow, they saw other methods
>as flawed and inaccurately portraying the poor or certain ethinc groups,
>for ex, as criminally prone when they knew this to be the result of police
>records and bigotry.
>their motivations were, like booth in london, to undermine the dominant
>assumption that crime was the result of cultural, biological or racial
>deficiencies. they were interested in showing how crime was influenced by
>the environment: poor housing and infrastructure, poorly paid jobs, etc.
>i guess you could say they othered in the name of undermining what they
>thought was a more pernicious and damaging othering.
>this is not to suggest, of course, that middle class moralism wasn't
>involved. it was. obviously, many also felt that social reform meant
>encouraging immigrants to adapt middle class norms, etc.
>a second major influence was w.f. whyte's _street corner society_ whyte
>was trained as an economist and was interested in documenting housing
>conditions. whyte pioneered participant observation, though that wasn't
>his intent initially. he didn't even call it that. he wasn't interested,
>at first, in getting to know people or understand them. he was concerned
>about poverty and eradicating poor material conditions and elicited the
>help of someone once affiliated w/ a settlement house in order to get
>access to housing and talk to people about their living conditions. this
>isn't much of a surprise given the popularity of muck raking journalism at
>the time.
>another indirect influence was the frankfurt school's authoritarian
>personality studies. paul lazarsfeld, who pioneered statististical survey
>methods in the 40s as the most objective, scientific approach to social
>research, was originally part of community studies of unemployment. [cf.,
>jahoda et al (1933)] _marienthal_ was notable as the forerunner of
>community studies research on unemployment, prompted by the closing of a
>mill which employed nearly everyone in an austrian community. they were
>interested in the german trad of psychologistic research but were hoping to
>study the connection between psychology and social structure revealed by
>massive unemployment.
>lazarsfeld was unhappy with that approach. in his intro to mirra
>komoravsky's _the unemployed man and his family_, which was a continuation
>of the authoritarian personality studies only in depression era US, he
>notes its weaknesses insofar as she interviewed people about the effects of
>unemployment on family life and her work was biased and subjective. she
>was trying to show how the patriarchal model of the family was premised on
>male breadwinning.
>later, lazarsfeld campaigned for statistical procedures which and referred
>to these as survey methods. so, the term participant observation came
>about to distinguish it from lazarsfeld's work. in the mid to late 40s,
>then, the method of p-o b/c assoc. w/ ethnography and took on it's meaning
>in direct relation [and opposition] to quant. modeling of quasi-causal
>correlations between aggregate data.
>** a notable exception here is the work of frank cushing who lived w.
>zuni's and b/c a zuni shaman and war chief while working as an ethnologist
>for the Smithsonian. they booted him for his involvement in uprisings
>since it was more customary for ethnologists to view living native
>americans as artifacts suitable for display at the world's fair.

-- Jim heartfield

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list