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Vehicles: Cars, Canoes and other Metaphors of Moral Imagination

David Lipset
Richard Handler
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Metaphor, as an act of human fancy, combines ideas in improbable ways to sharpen meanings of life and experience. Theoretically, this arises from an association between a sign-for example, a cattle car-and its referent, the Holocaust. These "sign-vehicles" serve as modes of semiotic transportation through conceptual space. Likewise, on-the-ground vehicles can be rich metaphors for the moral imagination. Following on this insight,Vehiclespresents a collection of ethnographic essays on the metaphoric significance of vehicles in different cultures. Analyses include canoes in Papua New Guinea, pedestrians and airplanes in North America, lowriders among Mexican-Americans, and cars in contemporary China, Japan, and Eastern Europe, as well as among African-Americans in the South. Vehicles not only "carry people around," but also "carry" how they are understood in relation to the dynamics of culture, politics and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-376-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Charonʹs Boat and Other Vehicles of Moral Imagination
    (pp. 1-18)
    David Lipset

    Marx and Engels regretted the consequences of the ʺicy waters of egotistical calculationʺ on moral order ([1888] 1969: 11). The solidity and sacredness of meaning were melting away and being profaned by bourgeois capitalism. At the same time, they viewed the change as potentially diagnostic. ʺManʺ might now be ʺcompelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kindʺ (12). However, more than 150 years later, it seems that their qualms, rather than their bittersweet optimism, abide in modern social thought.

    What has won conceptual privilege?Absence. Absence is perceived in metaphors and...

  6. Part I. Persons as Vehicles

    • CHAPTER 1 Living Canoes: Vehicles of Moral Imagination among the Murik of Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 21-47)
      David Lipset

      Utilizing Bourdieuʹs concept ofhabitus(1977) I make two related ethnographic-theoretic points in this chapter. First, it orients my discussion of how canoes are metaphorically deployed as moral bodies among the Murik of Papua New Guinea (PNG). And then second, I adapt it to elucidate a characteristically postcolonial circumstance, namely, how this localhabitusinforms the way modernity is perceived and morally evaluated.

      To begin: a brief methodological aside abouthabitus. It consists in self-evident, routine practices, forms of comportment, and commonsensical assumptions or ideas through which actors unconsciously reproduce fields of inequality in society. Now I admire Bourdieuʹs theoretical...

    • CHAPTER 2 Cars, Persons, and Streets: Erving Goffman and the Analysis of Traffic Rules
      (pp. 48-66)
      Richard Handler

      In email conversations that preceded this volume, David Lipset and I were discussing Erving Goffmanʹs descriptions of vehicles. David told me that when he was learning to drive in 1967, he inherited Goffmanʹs late-1950s black Volkswagen beetle from his father, who had bought it second-hand from Goffman when they were colleagues at Berkeley.¹ This anecdote sent me back toBehavior in Public Places, to one of the few vignettes in the Goffman corpus in which an interacting ego is the driver of a car. Goffman is analyzing ʺexposed positions,ʺ in which individuals cannot protect themselves from being engaged by strangers....

  7. Part II. Vehicles as Gendered Persons

    • CHAPTER 3 ʺItʹs Not an Airplane, Itʹs My Babyʺ: Using a Gender Metaphor to Make Sense of Old Warplanes in North America
      (pp. 69-87)
      Kent Wayland

      Fifi,Goodtime Gal, andMiss Mitchellare just three of the more than one hundred aircraft flown by the Commemorative Air Force, a World War II heritage group in the United States, yet those three names evince a distinctive feature of how the groupʹs mechanics and pilots relate to the aircraft: the planes are female.¹ This metaphor is long-standing; it parallels the common gendering of automobiles and reflects centuries of gendering ships. Despite this deep tradition, the metaphor is not dead, or even sleeping. Indeed, borrowing meaning from the domain of women shapes both work on and with the aircraft...

    • CHAPTER 4 Is Female to Male as Lightweight Cars Are to Sports Cars?: Gender Metaphors and Cognitive Schemas in Recessionary Japan
      (pp. 88-108)
      Joshua Hotaka Roth

      As a young adult, Koji dropped out of Japanʹs most prestigious engineering program to work as a mechanic for the Mazda racing team. The team was a perpetual underdog in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race but, in 1991, came from behind to beat the favorite Mercedes Benz team. Just one year later, however, Mazdaʹs team was disbanded, a casualty of the recession that hit Japanese automobile manufacturers in the early 1990s and rule changes at Le Mans limiting the power of Mazdaʹs rotary engine. Koji has gone on to have a successful career as a software programmer, but he...

  8. Part III. Equivocal Vehicles

    • CHAPTER 5 Little Cars that Make Us Cry: Yugoslav Fića as a Vehicle for Social Commentary and Ritual Restoration of Innocence
      (pp. 111-132)
      Marko Živković

      On a hot summerʹs day in Valencia, a few years after General Francoʹs death, the eponymous hero of Graham Greeneʹs novel,Monsignor Quixote(1982) worries about the fate of his old Seat 600. He prays to God that the little car may survive him and hopes that unlike many of his unanswered prayers this one does get ʺlogged in the Eternal ear.ʺ He cannot bear the thought that his Rocinante, as he calls the car in memory of his ʹancestor,ʹ Don Quixote, will rust on a scrap heap: ʺHe had sometimes thought of buying a small plot of land and...

    • CHAPTER 6 ʺLetʹs Go F.B.!ʺ: Metaphors of Cars and Corruption in China
      (pp. 133-155)
      Beth E. Notar

      In the spring of 2008, while doing research in the southwestern city of Kunming, I met a young Chinese man in his twenties called ʺJohnʺ (an English name he had chosen for himself). I struck up a conversation with him about his car—a silver sports coupe that he had parked on the street near my apartment. His car had been modified (gaizhuang guo) with a front hood cover, fancy hubcaps, and various decals, and he was polishing it lovingly while he waited for his girlfriend to get off work. Over the next months I had the opportunity to interview...

    • CHAPTER 7 Barrio Metaxis: Ambivalent Aesthetics in Mexican American Lowrider Cars
      (pp. 156-177)
      Ben Chappell

      Lowriders are cars customized within a particular tradition of popular aesthetics identified with Mexican Americans. The characteristic modifications of a lowrider include replacing the suspension with shortened springs and hydraulic cylinders powered by additional batteries in order to raise and lower the car at the driverʹs will. Hydraulics, along with particular custom wheels, are the most basic markers of lowrider style, but lowrider cars are also typically decorated with elaborate custom paint jobs and accessorized interiors. Such adornments constitute a distinctive lowrider aesthetic, the boundaries of which are subjects of debate among participants in lowriding (also called lowriders). Such debates...

    • CHAPTER 8 Driving into the Light: Traversing Life and Death in a Lynching Reenactment by African-Americans
      (pp. 178-193)
      Mark Auslander

      Since 2005, a multiracial group of activists has gathered each July to reenact the mass killing of four young African-Americans. Hundreds of supporters watch the amateur performers reenact the key events associated with the lynching; in the late afternoon, at the culminating moment of the reenactment, a sedan arrives at an isolated bridge, carrying the four African-American victims and a driver, playing the role of a local white farmer. A group of reenactors, playing Klansmen, emerges from the woods and wrestles the screaming victims out of the automobile and down the embankment, where they are repeatedly shot in front of...

  9. AFTERWORD. Quo Vadis?
    (pp. 194-208)
    James W. Fernandez

    In the foregoing collection of essays, our editors, David Lipset and Richard Handler present to the reader valuable and informative work on the figurative imagination¹—inspiring work, in fact, at least for this an-tropeologist. Indeed, it is a fundamental collection since, as all authors recognize, the vehicular is fundamental in the figurative imagination itself, as it is fundamental, as Lipset reminds us, to the Greek etymology of the term metaphor, that principle mediator of figurative thought: ʺto transfer from one place to another.ʺ As a member of the original metaphor mafia of the late sixties and early seventies,² I want...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 209-210)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 211-214)