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The Social Life of Achievement

The Social Life of Achievement

Nicholas J. Long
Henrietta L. Moore
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Social Life of Achievement
    Book Description:

    What happens when people "achieve"? Why do reactions to "achievement" vary so profoundly? And how might an anthropological study of achievement and its consequences allow us to develop a more nuanced model of the motivated agency that operates in the social world? These questions lie at the heart of this volume. Drawing on research from Southeast Asia, Europe, the United States, and Latin America, this collection develops an innovative framework for explaining achievement's multiple effects-one which brings together cutting-edge theoretical insights into politics, psychology, ethics, materiality, aurality, embodiment, affect and narrative. In doing so, the volume advances a new agenda for the study of achievement within anthropology, emphasizing the significance of achievement as a moment of cultural invention, and the complexity of "the achiever" as a subject position.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-221-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Achievement and Its Social Life
    (pp. 1-30)
    Nicholas J. Long and Henrietta L. Moore

    It’s a rainy winter’s day in Atlanta, Georgia, and a weary anthropologist is heading for his flight. The subway train is lit a sickly yellow, and the figures in the carriage huddle into the corners of their seats, hands in their pockets and coats zipped up to the neck. It’s the kind of journey on which even a quick, friendly smile could make all the difference. At first no one looks back. They focus their eyes on their knees, the floor, a point somewhere just outside the window. Then somebody meets his gaze – not exactly a reciprocation; a scowl. He...

  6. 1 The Achievement of a Life, a List, a Line
    (pp. 31-42)
    Kathleen Stewart

    The social life of achievement is a phantasm of attachment and dream circulating across bodies of all kinds – human bodies, bodies of thought, plant and animal bodies, bodies of pain and pleasure, assemblages of histories and politics, forms of caring and abuse solidified into models of what counts for the family or the social. Every word in the phrase – social, life, achievement – tweaks labours, attachments, judgements, sacrifices, generations; worlds of finance, education, health, luck and hope; forms of compulsion, addiction and accumulation; and pieced together modes of daily existence of all kinds. The force of the phrase, and all it...

  7. 2 Against the Odds: A Professional Gambler’s Narrative of Achievement
    (pp. 43-60)
    Rebecca Cassidy

    In this chapter I argue that both gambling and achievement should be understood in relation to the embodied and materialised technologies that frame interior processes. Interviews with a professional horserace bettor, who I shall call Brian,¹ will be used to show how changes in taxation and regulation have transformed the experience of betting on horseracing in the United Kingdom. Brian’s narrative illustrates how achievements are mediated by material contexts which are themselves the result of broader political and economic shifts. Modifying Appadurai’s concept of ‘regimes of value’ (Appadurai 1986: 15), I refer to these contexts as ‘regimes of achievement’ and...

  8. 3 Men of Sound Reputation: The Achievement of Passionate Aurality in Guyanese Birdsport
    (pp. 61-81)
    Laura H. Mentore

    Amidst the many rare and colourful birds that put Guyana squarely on the ornithological map and lend their songs to its distinctive soundscape, there is a small and rather plain looking bird, the chestnut-bellied lesser seed-finch (Oryzoborus angolensis). Known locally by the onomatopoeic nametowa towa, these seemingly unspectacular finches enjoy perhaps the most curious and complex social life of all, for they hold centre stage in the arena of birdsport – a traditional and much beloved pastime among Guyanese men. The typical bird race entails placing two finches adjacent to one another in their respective cages, whereupon they embark on...

  9. 4 Political Dimensions of Achievement Psychology: Perspectives on Selfhood, Confidence and Policy from a New Indonesian Province
    (pp. 82-102)
    Nicholas J. Long

    Achievement is a highly political issue. Under the conditions of contemporary globalisation, in which citizens of different nations are faced with the prospect of vying against each other for lucrative and prestigious jobs in the ‘global knowledge economy’, securing ‘international competitiveness’ is a priority for governments around the world. Indeed, the rise of achievement indicators that rank nation-states and regions according to how ‘competitive’ they are globally – something measured in terms of economic performance, poverty reduction and levels of ‘human development’ or ‘well-being’ – means that more than jobs and income are at stake. Success in these rankings is also a...

  10. 5 Directive and Definitive Knowledge: Experiencing Achievement in a Thai Meditation Monastery
    (pp. 103-119)
    Joanna Cook

    The first time that I heard the famous life story of Khun Yai, one of the most seniormae chee(nuns) in the monastery where I do fieldwork, I was one of a large group of Thai and foreign meditation students sitting on the ground outside her room.¹ She spoke animatedly from her wheelchair and her words were translated by a juniormae cheefor those who could not speak Thai. Her life story involves nine years as a peripatetic renouncer in the jungles of northern Thailand, meeting celestial beings, experiencing supra-mundane protection through the strict observance of her moral...

  11. 6 Autism and Affordances of Achievement: Narrative Genres and Parenting Practices
    (pp. 120-138)
    Olga Solomon

    The concept of achievement demands a narrative lens: achievement is durative and agentive and thus by its very nature it denotes a narrative of becoming. To capture a phenomenology of achievement, I propose to direct this narrative lens at autism, a developmental disability that disrupts normative expressions of sociality but that, as Murray (2008: 5) suggests, ‘contains its own logic and methods’ that command analytic attention. The view can be traced to Hans Asperger, who, writing in 1944 in Vienna about what is now known as ‘Asperger’s syndrome’, commented that in autism there is difficulty in learning in conventional ways;...

  12. 7 Achievement and Private Equity in the U.K.: A Game of Abstraction, Sociality and Making Money
    (pp. 139-157)
    Sarah F. Green

    What counts as achievement in private equity for those who founded the sector in the U.K.? The question has one obvious answer: making as large amounts of money as possible. Rather less obvious is what the money stands for as an achievement: given that private equity makes money out of money, as is the case for all financial techniques, and that the quantities of money made by successful practitioners are many orders of magnitude larger than could be normally accounted for in terms of the effort put into the activity, the kind of achievement indexed by the money is not...

  13. 8 For Family, State and Nation: Achieving Cosmopolitan Modernity in Late-Socialist Vietnam
    (pp. 158-181)
    Susan Bayly

    The economic and political challenges of marketisation in ‘late-socialist’ Vietnam have generated many new and remarkable understandings of achievement. Drawing on recent fieldwork in Hanoi, my concerns in this chapter are with the often painful complexities of those perceptions, including the dilemmas of moral life and selfhood now widely referred to as ‘achievement disease’ (bệnh thành tích).

    My study’s context is what is referred to as ‘renovation’ (đổi mói), a process defined as a post-planning or post-‘subsidy’ transformation, rather than the death of socialism.¹ Vietnamese attach great importance to the story of the country’s leap from extreme poverty in the...

  14. 9 Practising Responsibilisation: The Unwritten Curriculum for Achievement in an American Suburb
    (pp. 182-205)
    Peter Demerath

    When Ann Rice opened the door to her house for our interview I could see that she set her jaw in the same way as her eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Julie.¹ She was White, in her mid-thirties, and was dressed business casual. She lived with her husband and three children in an attractive well-maintained, two-storey home on a quiet curving street in one of the most appealing neighbourhoods of Wilton – the suburb of a large Ohio city in the Midwestern U.S.A. where I had begun my study of class culture and academic competition the previous autumn. Julie was about to finish...

  15. 10 Competing to Lose? (Black) Female School Success as Pyrrhic Victory
    (pp. 206-228)
    Signithia Fordham

    Achievement is simultaneously the holy grail and the third rail¹ of America’s claims to be a meritocracy, the double-sided centrepiece in the nation’s assertions regarding equal opportunity for all and the structuring of social life so that fairness of outcome is rarely achieved. The state school system is where merit and achievement are initially defined, identified, measured and evaluated. It is also the first official site where race and gender differences are concurrently denied and reified. This chapter is based on ethnographic data obtained from an American high school in upstate New York, and reveals how intertwining ideas about achievement,...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 229-230)
  17. Index
    (pp. 231-238)