transforming self

More and more I’ve been trapped into thinking about power in overly simple, generalized ways. Ie: my previous attempt at a more creative/informal/free expression on how I felt doing a Masters degree. Having some experience now working as a TA, I have felt first hand the effects of “power”. When I speak with people in the class, they do treat me a bit differently – or I act a bit differently – or something in between. I don’t want people to act differently with me, but it happens anyways. If I was teaching the class, what would I expect? How would this transform the way I see things?

I am someone who shrugged off responsibility as much as he possibly could. I left a great job as a web developer to go study anthropology – the office life didn’t cut it. Traveling the world certainly contributed to my feeling of being trapped – some say traveling is something good to get out of your system early, but in my experience I have had a hard time staying put ever since my first trip backpacking in Mexico. I suffer perpetual wander lust. Responsibility is a big challenge!

I’m hesitant to embrace but i am enjoying, the roles provided to me at the university. So is anthropology really a “game of power”? Yes and no. I’ve applied concepts from readings on colonialism and decolonizing anthropology. When you look at it in this light, its easy to see how anthropology was established within very particular, and very dominating relationships.

But now I see domination everywhere and there is so much more going on outside of this framework of power relations. By looking at anthropology within this power structure context, I have been a bit negative, and narrow minded. It lead me to a particular line of logic – ie: blogs vs journals, traditional vs contemporary, aka everything is “versus”. oh did I mention “teachers vs students” 😛

I think this touches on the idea Wacquant discusses in “Shadowboxing with Ethnographic Ghosts: A Rejoinder” (2005) – where he argues that his book “Body & Soul” contained “praxeological” rather than “logocentric” theory. Is he talking about a kind of theory that gets away from this generalizing tendency?

I particularly enjoy his discussion of apprenticeship as a method rather than participant-observation. It fits into my own research project. I am an apprentice, I am learning about anthropology, I might even end up a professional anthropologist someday. I’ve also fully engaged myself in blogging and become quite drawn into it. As Wacquant describes, it has led to ““… moral and
sensual conversion to the cosmos under investigation” (Wacquant 2004:vii in Wacquant 2005).

I found this next quote in his conclusion to be quite inspiring:

“We should all be concerned with properly relating data and theory; with knowing where our concepts come from; with not overloading our analyses with extraneous moral baggage; and with the perils of projecting our social unconscious onto our object.” (Wacquant 2005)

It’s too easy to project theory. It can be blinding.


4 responses to this post.

  1. This blog is starting to become quite busy…I must hang around here more often. Serious, interesting discussions, very thought provoking, and you get some really good feedback.


  2. Posted by Jeremy Fewster on June 10, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Hi Owen,
    Here’s a funny little poem by Marshall Sahlins in power:

    Power, power everywhere
    And how the signs do shrink
    Power, power everywhere
    And nothing else to think

    – Marshall Sahlins


  3. Posted by Jeremy Fewster on June 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    What I think Sahlins is trying to say here, is that the concept of power has entrenched itself as a new kind of functional concept; a kind of conceptual rubric under which a wide variety of cultural practices get ‘explained’. A silly example: forcing a child to share his/her cookie, and forcing him/her into indentured labour, are certainly both examples of the excercise of power, but one would have to be somewhat dogmatic to equate the two – this is what some philosophers might call vulgar formalism. Personally, I think (or am thinking for now) that this kind of semantic hyper-inflation cheapens the currency of terms such as power, resistance,complicity, violence (not just epistemological) and so forth. When I was a TA, I also felt this kind of authority that you spoke of, and did struggle to assess it. However, I realized that students (or my student self) did expect a certain inquality between themselves and their professors. It would be strange if one’s prof came into class and declared no expertise on their subject, and that the students views were equal to theirs – what would be the point? Although I want my views to be heard, I also want to be corrected, challenged, shown evedence unknown to me, etc. All this presupposes a certain tentative submission, on my part, to the expertise of my professor. Maybe this view is a tad old fashioned, but I’ve had profs with what appeared to me to be a full-blown neurosis about their own authority in the classroom, and found those courses to be lacking , so say the least. Anyway, I’m now rambling – nice blog, and keep in touch over the course of your feildwork. Cheerio!


  4. The last time I tried to talk about moving away from power, my gender and ethnicity were thrown back at my face.


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