Ethnography and the Historical Imagination


To what extend of the mystic warriors of the Naparama?


1. This discipline has have very limited impact on our own culture.
2. Failness of disenchantment of “others:” our popular and professional discourse which radically opposite prehistorical tradition to capitalist modernity is lurking the primitivism since the fashion of evolusionalism.
3. Reflection of modernity: treating modernity (and postmodernity) as a problem in historical ethnography. That is to say: interrogating between the West and the rest together, breaking the historical displace of the West and the rest, and to explain the great conjunctions by examining the processes and practices of significant social phenomena both global and local.

What kind of historical anthropology do we strive(奮鬥) toward?

Premise: we belief Thompson’s admonitory metaphor: ideas, ways of knowing are not like objects in a supermarket.

Negative voice: we seek specifically to avoid.

1. Avoid the distinction between ideological and objective history.
--Nadel: Ideological history: Malinowski’s description of myth: it is the past as told by people to account for contemporary shape of their world.
--Objective history: “Factual” chronicles, the work of dispassionate observer, are scripted “in accordance..with universal criteria of connexion and sequence.”
--Social knowledge is never value-free or priceless, and there are no universal criteria of connexion and sequence.” We should all aware that “Universal Historiography” is itself a myth, and how parochial it is.
--Our historical anthropology begins by eschewing (避開) the very possibility of a realist or an essentialist history. Our objective method is to show as cogently as possible how the realities become real, how essences become essential, etc. in terms of how they are constructed.

2. Avoid three different forms of historiography discussed before.
--The rapprochement relations between history and anthropology.
--The first form: Cyclical dynamics consigned to structural time. Their actions were always reinforcing the system in place, never to transform it. British functionalism and Marxists concerned with the reproduction of systems of domination.
--The second form: Statistic Model of deducing “ principles”: Misleading of these statistical appearances, such as Tswana’s primogeniture principle, and, perhaps, Highland Burmese’ asymmetrical alliance system. That’s the enchantment capacity of statistic statement to render soft facts into hard fictions.
--The third form: Anything is based on the same axiom: “All social order exist in time.” Leach “every real society is a process in time.”
i. gumlao and gumsa: internal inconsistencies, encouraging a countermovement impelled by the self-interested actions of individuals, who appealing to diverse value, abetted the process of structural change by pursuing their own ends.
ii. critics to Highland Burma: utilitarianism, rationalize the behavior of homo economicus, describing gumsa, gumlao and Shan as idea types without subject them to historical analysis but retreat them as factual realities, failing to locate the Highland Burmese communities in continent and global context, reducing history to a repetitive pattern of social equilibrium.
iii. what we can learn from this assertion, that societies are “process in time:”
i. the world is experienced as ambiguous and incoherent, and from Leach’s account we require good grounds for claiming the nonexistence of a system or a structure.
ii. We have not ended up with any generally accepted theories or models of the historicity of non-Western societies. As long as without someway of grasping those historicities of other cultures, anthropology will continue to cast “other cultures” in the timeless shadows of its own dominate narratives.
iii. Escape the Western tropes, the individual and the event. Biography, private diary, ethnographer’s notebook.

3. Avoid recapitulating the eccentricities and ethnocentricities of the West, the individual and the event.

4. Three challenges to any historical anthropology: to address the equation of structure and indeterminacy, of form and incoherence, involved in tracking the movement of societies and peoples through time; to disinter the endogenous historicity of local worlds; to rupture the basics tropes of Western historiography-biography and event-by situating being and action within their diverse cultural contexts.

Positive conceptual foundations

1. the idea of culture (p27): semantic space, field of signs and practices, construct and represent self and others hence society and history, not abstract order or relations of signs; Culture is always historically situated and unfolded, ensemble of signifiers-in-action, integrated, relatively, be contested.

2. Power: is itself not above, nor outside, culture and history, but is directly implicated in their constitution and determination. not be added to them.

3. agentive mode and nonagentive mode of power: external control directly to the human agency; natural and ineffable determine beyond human agency. Two empowered dimensions of any culture.

4. Hegemony: Things come to be taken-for-granted; go without saying; independent to human agency.

5. Ideology: negotiable, articulated to system of worldview, everyday practice with self-consciousness, systematic and contested, master narrative and collective symbolic productions, dominate groups.

6. Compare Hegemony to Ideology: permeate vs originate; beyond arguments vs open to contested; mute vs argument; invisible and visible.

7. The more successful regime, the more of its ideology will disappear into the domain of hegemonic practice. world-as-represented and world-as-experienced.

8. The historical anthropology based on this new understanding of culture and society offers possibility of dissolving the dualistic paradox illusory.

How do we do an ethnography of the historical imagination?

1. dealing with the encounter of the West missionary and the African

2. General methodological point: meaningful practice rather than events; the human body; Objects flow; Mundane practices; homemade hegemony: domestic and space; colonization of consciousness.