I just found an interesting review of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s book, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. In it the author criticizes Tsing’s literary style, arguing that it will fail to convince the right audiences:
“Despite the interesting stories she weaves together on topics of considerable environmental and social significance, Tsing’s motivation to be “a hair in the flour” (p. 206)–that is, to “speak truth to power” or to be a fly in the ointment–is unfortunately and severely undermined by her own writing style (which has nonetheless become clearer and considerably less dense than in her first book, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen). Coming from the humanities end of the American anthropological continuum, her “evocation” and clever literary turns-of-phrase will simply put off most of those who need to read of these things–foresters, ecologists, policy-makers, and the like. (I would argue that the usual culprit of postmodernism is not the main issue here.)”
I’m too tired to comment properly, but there are some important links between audience and activism that this comment brings up. The reviewer clearly holds contempt for anthropology’s literary side, but maybe he has a point. Are policy planners, foresters, and ecologists the most important people to target to bring about change? Is Tsing’s audience a small group of ‘literary’ academics? Or is the writing style an appeal to a broader public? I haven’t read her first work, but Wadley points out she took on a “less dense” writing style. Who influences policy planners, foresters, and ecologists?
So many audiences… makes advocacy work through scholarship a real challenge. He continues:
“Over the next few years, like James Scott’s “resistance” and “legibility,” it will launch a spate of writing using “friction” and her other neologisms; one will not be able to attend the annual meeting of the AAA without bumping into numerous presentations about it. But will it become the hair in the flour that it should be? I fear not.”
And Tsing made this point, that she had misgivings of academic scholarship being a meaningful/effective vehicle for activism. I suppose the difference is Wadley wants to target different people to make things happen. And yes, I’ll throw “friction” into the thesis somewhere. lol.
Reed L. Wadley. 2007. “Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, 2005, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection.(Book review).” Borneo Research Bulletin. http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-7925843/Anna-Lowenhaupt-Tsing-2005-Friction.html
[If audience = academics, does scholarship work as an agent of change?]
[Don’t mask ‘getting a degree’ with ‘saving the world’] -> anthro’s often produce more than just a thesis. The act of being there can be positive (or negative). It’s wrong to assume the ‘thesis’ is the most important outcome of a research project. Journal articles, theses, etc –> academic audience, but during the research more important actions/dialogs occur.