Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Review of M. Rynkeiwich, *Soul, Self, and Society: A Postmodern Anthropology for Mission in a Postmodern World*
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Basically, the student had asked whether it was possible for an anthropologist to pursue “social justice” issues while retaining his culturally relativist training (a question, incidentally, that is also addressed in parts of Michael Brown’s excellent article in the June 2008 issue of Current Anthropology titled “Cultural Relativism 2.0”), and while retaining his public identity as a Christian. Indeed, he said, he was committed to the social justice issue BECAUSE he was a Christian and thought that’s what we Christians should do. The student also asked for advice on where to go to graduate school if he wanted to continue pursuing this matter within the rubric of anthropology.
Of all the many responses to his question, I thought the following one by Adam Kiš was especially useful. Adam obtained his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida in 2007. He is currently Country Director for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in São Tomé e Principe, in Africa. Here’s his response:
I think the original question was about the compatibility of anthropology and social justice. As you have no doubt noticed by our responses, we are a varied and dynamic lot! I, too, entered anthropology with the same vision in mind—to change the world—and I do not think that anthropology and social justice are in any way incompatible. That, I believe, is because anthropology is such a widely eclectic field. I was just reminded last week of how broad our discipline is; I was skimming through an old issue of American Anthropologist in which all articles related to the intersection of culture and food. Tell me in which other discipline would both the techne of French cheese production and short-term marriage contracts among migrant goldminers in Guinea (my dissertation topic) both feel perfectly at home?! I'm coming to believe that the only things that un ite disparate anthropologists worldwide are our common training (and even that's up for dispute) and our peculiar research methods (again, up for dispute). Perhaps even more generally than that, maybe anthropologists only have a curiosity for humanity in common. I don't know what our least common denominator is, but I do know that there is plenty of room both for non-interventionists and for idealistic pursuers of social justice within the fold of anthropology. You have nothing to be apologetic about in your affiliation with the latter.
I think that if you seriously want to pursue social justice and are still enthralled with anthropology, then you need to seek out a graduate department with that commitment (as I did). "Applied anthropology" is a general term for those who use what they learn to make a tangible difference in the world, but even that is broad. Are you applying your findings to improving cross-cultural business relations of Fortune 500 companies? Are you applying your findings to bridge the communication gap between poor peasants and the holders of opportunities and resources that the peasants seek? Are you applying your findings to diplomacy and staving off unnecessary wars between misunderstanding sovereign nations? Are you applying your findings to minimizing HIV transmission within a specific group of people? At the very least, seek for a department that is accepting of applied anthropology generally. If you are looking for a specific sub-specialty, you'll need to target your search further. But I am almost positive that you will find some mentor within anthropology's ranks who views the world through the same lens that you do. Our ranks are too broad not to include a little of everybody!
By the way, don't enter the discipline expecting to figure it all out, either. I've recently finished grad school and am now into the applied phase of my intended career trajectory (I hope academia will accept me back in 5 or 10 years after a spell practicing in international development!) and I don't expect to ever completely resolve the tension between cultural relativism and Christ's imperative that we help the needy. But, as someone on the list already pointed out, anthropologists tend to be a little more comfortable with ambiguity than most .. Blessings on you as you seek to prayerfully change the world for Christ.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Paul G. Hiebert (1933-2007) was a pastor and missionary in India, and later professor of missiology and anthropology at Fuller and Trinity, authored many articles and books, of which Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008 was the last one, which he just finished before his death. The book’s thesis is that if the gospel aims at a transformation that is both individual and corporate, it needs to touch all levels, including the deepest level of worldview in order to be radical and total.
In the conclusion of the first chapter, Hiebert explains the model on which the rest of the book is based and presents as preliminary definition of worldview in anthropological terms as “the foundational, cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions and frameworks a group of people makes about the nature of reality which they use to order their lives” (p 25-6). They can also be called “people’s images or maps of reality” (p 26). The building blocks of his model include among others Opler’s themes and counter themes but significantly modified, and Redfield’s seven themes not as imposed etic categories but as suggestive themes to be explored.
Hiebert’s book is an excellent summary and clarification of the model of worldview at a time when main stream anthropology seems to move away from it. He makes it clear that it includes the cognitive, affective and evaluative assumptions and frameworks or maps of reality to organize our lives (p 25). It needs to combine synchronic and diachronic approaches without reverting to reductionism or compartmentalization. The often used term “deep structure” is misleading and Hiebert makes it clear that the causality goes both ways (p 32). In chapter four (p 89ff) it also becomes clear that “worldview” is not a method in itself but that other methods are needed and that any result will only lead to an approximation of a culture (p 90).
Interestingly, Hiebert contradicts the often heard claim that there are several worldviews in the Bible. Despite the diversity of contexts in the Bible, Hiebert points out the underlying unity of the biblical story (p 265) and suggests a tentative list of underlying worldview themes that are cognitive, affective, evaluative, and diachronic. His argument is that Abraham’s understanding was only a starting point of biblical revelation and others built on it until it came to its climax in Christ and to understand biblical worldview, we need to start with him.
I found this book to be a great treatment of a missiological theme from an anthropological view point, including and integrating many topics Hiebert has written about over the years. It therefore gives an excellent overview over many anthropological concepts related to worldview. It does seem to respond to some major critics of the worldview concept. Hiebert proves again to have excellent insights into the dynamics of conversion and spiritual transformation and what we need to understand about other people’s maps of reality if we want to see their lives transformed through the gospel.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I agree with Ed Zehner and Brian Howell's comments about worldview analysis being rather marginal to anthropology.
What follows is a rather long and ad hoc disquisition on why I am not enthusiastic about worldview analyses. This is rather off the cuff, but I hope some at least find it provocative.
When I studied missiology in seminary, I was introduced to diagrams of culture as looking like an onion, with worldview at the center and other social realities (values, rituals, economics, technology, etc.) forming concentric rings outward. Or again diagrams of culture featured worldview as the foundation, with other cultural elements built on top. Or images of worldview as “depth” were contrasted with other cultural elements which were merely “surface.”
Sometimes arrows were drawn to highlight the direction of causal influence. But in every case worldview was always the first cause, the independent variable as it were, the foundation, the center, with other things affected and determined by worldview.
In short I had learned to think that the order observable in culture is primarily a cognitive and rational order, like a philosophy. I assumed that if I could learn to discover the “theory of everything” that lies at the core of any culture, that I would then understand cultural order (and also not need to pay too much attention to the details). I assumed that what I would be doing in graduate school was learning to map this rational order—and that this worldview would be the explanation of everything else related to social and cultural order.
But when I began studying social science at the University of Chicago, and then anthropology at UC Berkeley, it was rather disturbing to me to discover that none of my professors organized their work around the concept of “worldview.” Indeed, I was unable to find a single ethnography written by any mainstream anthropologist, organized around the construct of worldview. [Can anyone name such a work?]
The first class lecture I attended was by a cultural materialist, who drew a diagram exactly upside down to the way I “knew” culture operated—indicating that a subsistence base of hunter gathering is the independent variable affecting all sorts of value laden things such as the social requirement that one share what one hunts beyond the nuclear family. He argued that hunter-gatherers for material reasons will almost always develop such an ethic of sharing, unlike American seminary professors who seldom share their basic material acquisitions outside their nuclear family. He suggested that all sorts of possible food items (such as sacred cows in India or unclean pigs in desert ecologies) were banned as food for ecologically adaptive reasons, and that it was a mistake to think that the true first cause was a religious belief. These “religious ideas” were dependent variables, affected by the underlying independent variable or causal elements associated with the material base.
My second course was on “symbols and rituals” (the closest class title at Chicago to my worldviewish interests). My first class assignment was to read and summarize Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. The logic of religious symbolism here was foreign to anything I learned in seminary. Here I learned that religious ideas (about gods or totems) were not rational thoughts, but symbolic representations of social order, representations not understood as such by the religious believer. Furthermore as the course proceeded, I learned that the social order is not a rational order, but a symbolic, structural and functional order. Social rituals help to construct such order, as do myths. They are to be analyzed not in terms of rational philosophy—but in terms of what they actually accomplish in constructing social order.
Since Harvey Conn had said that Levi-Strauss’s structuralism helped us understand “deep” culture, I next signed up for Valerio Valeri’s course on cognitive structuralism. Before long even in my dreams I was analyzing binary oppositions involving nature vs. culture, raw vs. cooked, oral vs. anal, etc. I learned that while Amazonian myths naturally make use of bits and pieces of everyday life (possums, jaguars, macaws, etc.) that they were often organized around such binary oppositions and various mediations. But at the end of the day such research and analysis did not really disclose coherent philosophy.
I took Jack Potter for Marxist anthropology, and learned that again a material base was the independent variable, and ideologies dependent and instrumental. Unlike the cultural materialists, the Marxist material base was not thought of as functional or adaptive for the entire system, but a base which structured unequal power relations. Ideologies were not really good-faith efforts at reasonable understanding, but were instrumental efforts to justify (or sometimes resist) hierarchies. Subordinate classes often internalized such ideas as a kind of false consciousness. Every element of discourse should be subjected to a hermeneutics of suspicion. To look at Hindu philosophies underpinning caste, and spend all one’s time trying to see how wonderfully philosophical and elegant they are, is to miss the point, I learned. What all these supposedly rational efforts are doing is rationalizing and justifying social inequality. That is what lies at the core. Analysis should involve linking discourse to social effect. The order of ideologies is not rational, but instrumental.
Next I took Gerald Berreman for symbolic interactionism, where I learned that people are not philosophers trying to establish rational order, but they are attempting to pursue all sorts of agendas (sexual, political, etc.)—but that they must do this by constantly constructing an identity, and presenting this identity to others, manipulating it to fit their lines of actions to that of others. People live life socially, on a stage. The order we observe is largely a dramaturgical order – produced not by would-be philosophers but by would-be actors.
Then I studied with Alan Dundes, who introduced me to folklore and various sorts of discourses as constructing an order reflective of psycho-dynamic realities. Rather than discourse and belief involving innocent efforts at rational order, rituals, discourses and beliefs about everything from witchcraft to football reflected guilt, sublimated sexual desire, etc. and needed to be recognized as rationalizations, projections, displacements, etc. The order in culture is a psychological order.
>From my advisor Brent Berlin I learned ethnosemantic analysis, which searched for a kind of rational order, but at a rather microscopic level (categories of colors, plants), nothing as encompassing or ambitious as worldview analysis. On this model, culture is more on the order of folk science, rather than folk philosophy.
I did work hard to find scholars working in more intellectualist veins (which I will not summarize here), and took great comfort in the work of Max Weber on the protestant ethic. Just a few weeks ago I was reading through my field statements for my comprehensive exams taken at Berkeley in 1987 or so, and was startled to discover how strongly I was trying, at that time, to justify rational and intellectualist approaches to culture.
But an interesting thing happened in my dissertation fieldwork, where I discovered and began to find exciting, a variety of forms of order—and not just rational/philosophical order. My analysis of everything from rituals of purification to witchcraft now features symbolic, psychological, dramaturgical, conflict and other dimensions as explanatory.
In retrospect, I now believe that the social and cultural order which we study is shaped by many dynamics other than rationality (functional, dramaturgical, instrumental, ideological, structural, etc.). Furthermore “beliefs” are constructed through narratives and practices which are minimally or only tangentially oriented towards achieving rational coherence, abstraction and consistency—and very much affected by instrumental, dramaturgical, functional, economic, political, ideological, adaptive dynamics. That is, such statements of belief are often dependent variables, caused by other non-philosophical independent variables or linked to other cultural elements less through a rational order than a functional or instrumental order. People spend their lives trying to subsist, to achieve honor, to “score” with women, to retaliate, to justify themselves, etc. Lust and passion, love and desire, hurt and shame, envy and pride, death and sorrow, fasting and purging, going on vision trips, eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage—are the stuff of everyday human life.
Furthermore while I retain an interest in the cognitive order, I now believe this order to be grounded in and shaped or structured by metaphor, story, vocabulary, symbol, myth rather than abstract rational thought. And this cognitive order is often less philosophically comprehensive and integrated than often thought, involving clusters of symbols and metaphors which are related to each other less through abstract rationality than through practical action, manipulated towards personal or social ends, and with apparent contradictions philosophically of minimal concern to social actors. Admittedly, in most cultures (especially in contexts where one’s culture is questioned) one can find a small sub-set of intellectually oriented people attempting in a post-hoc fashion to articulate abstract and rational defenses of one’s culture. With a worldview approach, one might naturally tend to gravitate towards these intellectuals as providing the “real” explanation of cultural order. In my view privileging such intellectuals’ explanations and justifications as correct, is an error.
It appears to me that many worldview approaches to culture are grounded in an overly rational model of personhood. Pilate was able to cognitively conclude, “I find no fault in him,” but nonetheless command “take him out and crucify him.” That is, in practical everyday life, people are not primarily motivated to try and be rationally consistent and orderly. They are motivated because they want food, sex, honor, power, etc. etc. and human cultural order reflects these dynamics.
I now believe that a wide variety of theoretical approaches can help me understand some of the order which I find among people. Rational elements are but one sort of order, not to be overly given pride of place in our explanatory systems.
When I see many missiologists using the construct of worldview, I see a tendency towards generalizations which are abstract, distant from lived human experience, and non-falsifiable. I see students longing to find a short-cut to human understanding, a short-cut to which their seminary (philosophical) training will give them privileged access, as well as ability to render judgment. A worldview is a “theory of everything” and if I can just grasp your theory of everything, then I know all I need to know (without really knowing you). But while the “worldview” construct is easy to use pedagogically to teach people that others may see things differently, it is unfortunately not easy to use as the theoretical underpinning for research. I find myself frustrated when students want to write a dissertation on the “worldview” of Chinese, or whatever, not merely because of its tendency to essentialize, but because I cannot find good models for how to do responsible research-based analysis of this sort that I can direct students to.
Finally, I have missiological concerns. The very construct of worldview as being a coherent “theory of everything” invites the question of whether this coherent theory is right or wrong, true or false. And if all of culture is thought by a missionary to be determined by “a worldview,” a worldview that from a Christian standpoint can be said to be wrong, then this naturally inclines the missionary to judge all cultural elements as wrong. That is, in my view the worldview model of culture is a prescription for ethnocentric judgment. My own view is that in any society one can become a Christian in ways that continues to be distinctively reflective of the culture while being fully biblical and Christian. Whole swaths of culture may be perfectly compatible with Christian faith. But it is only possible to understand this when one comes to recognize other elements of order than that of worldview.
I could say more about patterns of evangelism which assume a cognitive and unitary view of the person (vs. the divided self of Sigmund Freud or the apostle Paul), but have run out of steam. I suspect this is enough to chew on for now.
In many ways, questions among the cultural anthropologists I interact with the most have shifted away from descriptions and discussions of particular cultures to the issue of the relationship between societies and the construction of identity/difference. I am particularly struck by this as I prepare by contemporary theory course for this semester. So questions of world view are increasingly tied to how the world view is constituted in response to another world view, and except for the psychological anthropologists who think in terms of the distribution of cultural knowledge, the culture concept is dissolving into issues of hegemony/counter-hegemony. The trendy topics in which to investigate the construction of difference in relationship to globalization seem to be sexuality, violence, and history.
I also feel like there is an increasing disconnect between the anthropology represented in introductory textbooks and the anthropology discussed by grad students. Entry into the field is, to my mind, becoming increasingly difficult for anyone who does not have an anthropologist to teach them.
That said, I shall throw a few titles out because they wrestle with compelling issues, and the significance of these issues might be enough to engage someone who is not an anthropologist enough to sustain them through the various theoretical discussions and postures. All these books deal with the construction of identity/difference in ways that address how people think about themselves and problems in the world.
Briggs, Charles. 2003. Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare. University of California Press.
Foster, Robert. 2002. Materializing the Nation: Commodities, Consumption and Media in Papua New Guinea. Indiana University Press.
Frank, Gelya. 2000. Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America. University of California Press.
Hinton, Alexander. 2005. Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. University of California Press.
I also recommend Max Forte's work (since it has been mentioned), but his work is harder to find and more expensive to purchase than the above titles (as I can attest, the University Press of Florida marketing and sales operation is not very robust).
I'm not including any examples of the literature on sexuality for three reasons. First, most evangelical Christians probably would have a visceral negative reaction to this work; second, I find that much of the work on sexuality unreflectively draws on Queer Theory and feminism in ways that lead to strange, mysogynistic implications about which the author's seem unaware; and third, much of this work raises serious concerns about human subjects' rights and the ethics of research.
[On this third point, on the basis of later discussion, I understand Prof. Birth to be referring to the tendency--not just in this particular subfield--for ethnographic researchers to sexualize their relationships with informants, and for some savvy informants to engage in reverse-exploitation of the social-informational gateways to their communities, to the detriment of all, including the researcher, the informant, the community studied, and the larger anthropological community and those who use the information we generate. -- EZ]
P.S. And of course one can always encourage people to read my books ;) —although they probably are poorly suited for this particular set of questions)
[Note: As of January 2009, the Cornell University libraries listed the following books by Prof. Birth: (1) Any time is Trinidad time : Social Meanings and Temporal Consciousness (University of Florida Press, 1999); and (2) Bacchanalian sentiments : Musical Experiences and Political Counterpoints in Trinidad (Duke University Press, 2008). The latter is also available as an on-line ebook though libraries that have bought the appropriate licenses. -- EZ]
For those who didn't read all of Ed's earlier post, I would recommend you do. It's very good! I won't rehash his critique, but I do have my own in a 2006 article in Christian Scholar's Review. I agree with Ed that the Worldview concept, though not completely moribund in mainstream anthropology, is extremely marginal. If you can find even one paper at the 2008 American Anthropology Association Meetings with “worldview” in the title, I'll buy you lunch.
Unfortunately, this has become a go-to concept in missiology and people often assume it is standard fare in anthropology generally. I think Paul Hiebert worked the concept as well as anyone, but in the hands of most, it has become a far more problematic concept than it's worth. It's interesting that Steve points to Mike Rynkeiwich's article as a defense of worldview [actually, it turned out Mike was merely commenting on something observed in Anthropology News], because I would recommend two of Rynkeiwich's articles in Missiology as good places to go for a Christian anthropologist who does NOT use worldview, but rather works with the concept of culture itself in some very helpful ways. The two with which I am familiar that I believe would be very helpful for missionaries seeking a more nuanced discussion of culture are:
1) “The world in my parish: rethinking the standard missiological model.”
Rynkiewich, Michael A. Missiology 2002-07-0130:3
2) “Person in mission: social theory and sociality in Melanesia”
Rynkiewich, Michael A. Missiology 2003-04-0131:2, 155
Both of these articles are specifically concerned with the missionary application of social theory and present the issues in accessible and well-reasoned ways.
Not as well reasoned, but perhaps helpful is my own article (Brian M. Howell, “Globalization, Ethnicity and Cultural Authenticity: Implications for Theological Education,” Christian Scholars Review Vol. 36 (3), Spring 2006, 3-31), which contains a critique of the world view concept, particularly as it concerns phenomena of globalization.
It seems to me the major turn in anthropology in the discussion about culture is the attempt to deconstruct the term and the attempt to specify how/ when specific cultural practices are created and reinforced. The result is that other categories than “culture” become useful. When the recent focus is on how “culture” gets constructed and reiterated and re-enforced in social life then it is helpful to think in terms of social history—that is, the ways ideas and conventions are created in specific cultural contexts and the ways they continue to be objectified and deployed for specific purposes in social practice.
At the risk of promoting a certain viewpoint and my own course I list here some articles that seem to me useful in examining the many contexts and mechanisms for the construction of cultural practices. Clifford Geertz ("Thick Description," Ideology as a Cultural System”; both essays appear in his The Interpretation of Cultures), Marshall Sahlins (Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities, Islands of History, Apologies to Thucydides), Pierre Bourdieu (several passages from Outline of Theory of Practice, especially on the creativity and “virtuosity” necessary in cultural practice); Raymond Williams (selections from Marxism and Literature); Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities); William Sewell (Logics of History); F. G. Bailey (The Prevalence of Deceit); Fredrik Barth (selections from Balinese Worlds), and some of the postmodernists such as James Clifford (introduction to his Writing Culture).
For those who care to put up with the nuisance of working through the WashU library system you can retrieve most of these on line by going to the WashU library site, and thence to “eres” [put it in the search box], to my name [Canfield] and my course “Works and Ideas of Great Anthropologists” (http://eres.wustl.edu/eres/coursepass.aspx?cid=1012), and enter the password “change”.
Steven, I don't know those sources or anything about “worldview.” It's been common since the early 1990s to criticize “anti-essentialism” very strongly, for numerous reasons. I've heard Jonathan Friedman do it most flamboyantly. But the critique is not usually performed by anthropologists in their own right (in a technical sense), but rather by anthropologists on behalf of others who make essentialist claims. This seems most common among anthropologists who work with indigenous “Fourth World” peoples like native Australians and native Americans. The term I've seen most often is “strategic essentialism” or, in the case of Maximilian Forte, “anti-anti-essentialism”: http://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2007/10/20/anti-anti-essentialism-1/ So far as I know, Forte takes the term from Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1992): http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Gilroy.htm
Point 1 of Forte’s essay: Do not meet the essentialist claim that “My people have been living here for thousands of years” with the evidence that “your people” by their own admission and by the historical record came here in 1750. To do so would be anti-essentialist. But we shouldn't ignore facts, merely defer their application. Instead of ridiculing the speaker, try to figure out what he means when he makes that statement. Maybe we can learn how such essentialist statements serve in a strategy for gaining a more powerful voice.
Point 2: Two wrongs don't make a right, and strategic essentialism cannot be equated with essentialism.