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Anthropology Through a Double Lens

Anthropology Through a Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory

Daniel Touro Linger
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Anthropology Through a Double Lens
    Book Description:

    How can we hold both public and personal worlds in the eye of a unified theory of meaning? What ethnographic and theoretical possibilities do we create in the balance? Anthropology Through a Double Lens offers a theoretical framework encompassing both of these domains-a "double lens." Daniel Touro Linger argues that the literary turn in anthropology, which treats culture as text, has been a wrong turn. Cultural analysis of the interpretive or discursive variety, which focuses on public symbols, has difficulty seeing-much less dealing convincingly with-actual persons. While emphasizing the importance of social environments, Linger insists on equal sensitivity to the experiential immediacies of human lives. He develops a sustained critique of interpretive and discursive trends in contemporary anthropology, which have too strongly emphasized social determinism and public symbols while too readily dismissing psychological and biographical realities. Anthropology Through a Double Lens demonstrates the power of an alternative dual perspective through a blend of critical essays and ethnographic studies drawn from the author's field research in São Luís, a northeastern Brazilian state capital, and Toyota City, a Japanese factory town. To span the gap between the public and the personal, Linger provides a set of analytical tools that include the ideas of an arena of meaning, systems of systems, bridging theory, singular lives, and reflective consciousness. The tools open theoretical and ethnographic horizons for exploring the process of meaning-making, the force of symbolism and rhetoric, the politics of representation, and the propagation and formation of identities. Linger uses these tools to focus on key issues in current theoretical and philosophical debates across a host of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, history, and the other human sciences..

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0369-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    On the way to the new millennium, anthropology, still a young field, became prematurely forgetful. Anthropos almost vanished, crowded out by culture, the discipline’s celebrated contribution to social science. That contribution has been valuable, but too imperious in its claim on human lives. This book, while reserving an important place for culture, seeks to recover a focus on human beings for an anthropology worthy of its name.

    The essays collected herein run against the strong culturalist current that has carried anthropology for the past several decades. Culturalism is a type of social or historical determinism. It consigns human beings to...

  4. Part I: Meanings

    • Chapter 1 Has Culture Theory Lost Its Minds?
      (pp. 29-49)

      For most cultural anthropologists, the “native’s point of view” remains the paramount object of ethnographic research. Nevertheless, interpretive and psychological anthropologists have come to envision the object differently. Positions on both sides of this blurry divide are varied and complex, but a sketch of ideal types is a useful point of departure.¹ By and large, interpretive, or symbolic, anthropologists tend to look at the human situation from the top down, or outside in. Culture makes people: the native’s point of view is overwhelmingly a cultural product, the subjective imprint of a collective symbol system. A revisionist wing of interpretive anthropology,...

    • Chapter 2 Missing Persons
      (pp. 50-62)

      History and anthropology continue to edge closer to each other. Culture, the anthropologist’s stock in trade, has become an indispensable component of historians’ accounts. For their part, anthropologists increasingly emphasize cultural change. Attuned to cultural relativism, they have readily made the further leap into historical relativism. One might say that both disciplines are trying to free themselves from ethno-and tempocentrism.

      I endorse this effort, but I have reservations about the widespread tendency to elide considerations of biography, consciousness, and personal agency from analyses of meaning. This erasure—the Problem of Missing Persons—afflicts both history and, less forgivably, my own...

    • Chapter 3 The Metropolis, the Globe, and Mental Life
      (pp. 63-76)

      Big theories in social science often treat subjectivities as social realities, assigning them to a group, a social formation, or an epoch. Well-known examples of concepts designating suprapersonal subjectivities are Durkheim’s conscience collective (1964 [1893]), Marx and Engels’s versions of “consciousness” and “ideology” (1972 [1845–46]), and Foucault’s episteme (1976). Such top-down notions of subjectivity differ significantly in certain respects, but all make a strong claim: that collective or historical macroenvironments embody something like mentalities.

      Durkheim outlines his position in The Division of Labor in Society (1964 [1893]):

      The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the...

  5. Part II: Politics

    • Chapter 4 The Hegemony of Discontent
      (pp. 79-110)

      At the heart of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony is his most vital insight: culture is political.¹ For Gramsci (1971), hegemony springs not only from the explicit ideological, moral, and philosophical underpinnings of power but also from less fully conscious, transparent realms of thought—the experientially insistent world of common sense. This taken-for-granted portion of culture, the fragmented “‘spontaneous philosophy’ of the multitude” (421), muddies perceptions of injustice, inducing political passivity. In short, common sense makes revolution hard to think.

      I will argue against imaging common sense as a paralyzing mystification. The most insistent common sense is embodied knowledge, an amalgam...

    • Chapter 5 The Semantics of Dead Bodies
      (pp. 111-125)

      Staring from the back page of my local Brazilian newspaper are the faces of the dead—bloated, crushed, streaked with blood. The photos invite unpleasant fantasies. They spur uneasy questions. Who is this? Who did that? How did it happen? Could this ever be me? Is this something I could ever do?

      During my mid-1980s stay in São Luís, most of the city’s several dailies featured such images of violent death. The yellowest journals displayed grainy, often grotesque photos on page one, and would run particularly gruesome shots repeatedly, whenever a story resurfaced. On the back page or on the...

    • Chapter 6 Wild Power in Post-Military Brazil
      (pp. 126-144)

      In 1985, civilians finally assumed control of the Brazilian government after more than two decades of military command. Like their counter-parts elsewhere in the Southern Cone, the Brazilian generals, crusading in the name of anti-communism, had governed through arbitrary decrees and had sponsored outrageous violations of human rights (Arquidiocese de São Paulo 1985). Repression peaked in the middle years of the regime—the early 1970s—a dark time followed by an agonizing period of controlled distention (distensão) and opening (abertura) culminating in the peaceful 1985 transition. The national government has remained in civilian hands since then, and without question the...

  6. Part III: Identities

    • Chapter 7 Whose Identity?
      (pp. 147-163)

      In a hybrid world, identity has paradoxically become a pressing popular and scholarly concern. The accelerated circulation of people, goods, and messages has kindled widespread anxieties. Unease over identity feeds ambivalent attitudes toward cosmopolitanism, ethnic mixing, immigration, standardization, international investment, and supranational organization. It motivates, at least in part, innovations in tradition, anti-globalization protests, ethnic renovation projects, revisions of history, and, more menacingly, the xenophobic hatreds that have embroiled much of the planet in intractable wars.

      At the same time, quickened communication has multiplied identity possibilities. A bigger menu of identity options would seem to offer greater opportunities for self-discovery,...

    • Chapter 8 The Identity Path of Eduardo Mori
      (pp. 164-182)

      Anthropologists tend to think of people as living “in” culture or “in” history. In this chapter I shift perspective to reveal culture and history in a person. I highlight the ways in which Eduardo Mori, a Brazilian of Japanese descent, engages and transcends social facts.¹ In so doing, I seek to complicate our vision of the relation between persons and history and to suggest a fruitful approach to questions of identity.

      Eduardo Mori was born in Brazil to Japanese immigrants and grew up among Brazilians of many races and ethnicities. He now lives and works in Toyota City, an auto-manufacturing...

    • Chapter 9 Do Japanese Brazilians Exist?
      (pp. 183-196)

      In this final chapter I look at the significance of self and place for Moacir Aoki and César Kawada, two Brazilians of Japanese descent living in Japan. Their stories suggest that it is misleading to refer to Japanese Brazilians collectively as “a diaspora.” I further question whether people such as Moacir and César should be regarded as “Japanese Brazilians” at all. The chapter thus raises explicitly an uneasy, controversial question that threads through this entire book. How should an anthropologist conceive of and describe another human being?

      I interviewed Moacir and César during my mid-1990s field research on Japanese Brazilians...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 197-212)
  8. References
    (pp. 213-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 235-237)