Anthropologica (New Series) 2000
Aucoin, Mckenzie Pauline. Articulated Meanings: Studies in Gender and the Politics of Culture-Introduction. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(1): 3-10.
Pauline Mckenzie Aucoin addresses issues concerning gender, and its relation to cultural politics (in her introduction). Firstly, she questions if the social construction of gender could be appreciated through a feminist cultural analysis. Secondly, she addresses the ways that various social factors intersect in the negotiation and portrayal of culture and collective identity. Thirdly, she addresses how identity and perspective vary within gender groups (as members are positioned differently within society) and she includes that gender meanings are constantly being constructed and challenged. Finally, she addresses issues relating to how gender articulates women’s identities. The larger intellectual concern that framed Aucoin’s specific argument concerned un-empowered people of any given society.
Aucoin set out to prove that gender is a key factor to be accounted for in the study of cultural politics in Anthropology.
DAVID SZYMKOWICZ York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Aucoin, Pauline McKenzie. Blinding the Snake: Women’s Myths as Insubordinate Discourse in Western Fiji. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(1): 11-28.
Aucoin argues that anthropology’s understanding of myth must be expanded beyond its role in legitimizing dominant ideology, to encompass a role as a site of discourse where ideologies can be challenged. She does this by examining how women in Western Viti Levu, Fiji, produce culture, specifically at how women’s myths challenge male constructions of gender. She looks at what distinctions are used to discriminate gender; what values are invested into genders (as manifested by status); and gendered cultural representations which bound the ability to construct subversive representations.
Many anthropological notions of myth are problematic in that they view myth as simply supporting dominant ideology. Aucoin’s study of women’s myths illustrates how they are also a medium in which ideology is being challenged. She posits that these myths are a means by which women criticize social practices which define the value of men over women, and challenges the meaning given to symbols used in male-dominant mythology, language, and religion.
Aucoin outlines the current, male dominant gender system, and the practices which maintain it. In particular she looks at the “order of space,” which expresses hierarchy through a spatial axis (higher/lower), the traditional religious system with the snake as a symbol of power and immortality, and the order of knowledge which privileges sight – excluding women (who are not permitted to witness rituals). Her frequent explanations of Western Fijian terms, which illustrate how these hierarchies are integrated with language/signification, are especially effective. There is also a discussion of other counter-hegemonic women’s practices, which provide additional context for understanding her analysis.
In particular Aucoin looks at two women’s myths, and the context within which they are told. She then discusses the “political practices of space, knowledge and representation”. In the case of both of these myths Aucoin illustrates how orientations are inverted, challenging dominant meanings and the male-dominated order of knowledge. Aucoin introduces the term “insubordinate discourse” to highlight the subversive quality that myths can possess, and concludes that mythology must be seen by anthropologists not as a legitimizer of a culture, but as a place where different models may be contested.
IAN MOORES York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Briggs, Jean L. Emotions Have Many Faces: Inuit Lessons. Anthropologica, 2000. 42:157-164.
Professor Jean L. Briggs initially gave this article as a lecture at Memorial University. This article has a conversational tone, which clues the reader into the possibility it was a speech. This tone does not take away from the article; it gives it a more expressive attitude, which suits its content. Briggs’ addresses the significance of emotions in anthropology studies. Furthermore, she highlights her main concern as how socially and culturally constructed emotions play a very important role in lives internationally. The author uses her experience with the Inuit people to emphasis this point.
Briggs begins by describing her experience of being ostracized by an Inuit village. When reaccepted a few years after her initial visit, she concentrates her studies on the Inuit children learning Inuit emotions. She recounts first hand observations that brought her to understanding the mistakes she made on her previous excursion. Her main subject of study was a three-year-old girl who she refers to as Chubby Maata. Maata is at that age where the adults around her engage in a type of drama that teaches a lesson. “Adults stimulate children to think by presenting them with emotionally powerful problems, which the children can’t ignore.” Briggs interprets some of emotional terms that the Inuit use to illuminate just what Maata has to learn. This part of the article becomes somewhat unclear since the material being covered is quite confusing, yet it conveys the hardships of what an Inuit child has to be taught to be part of the society.
Briggs frames her personal analysis of Inuit emotion with a review of emotions in her discipline. It starts off with the story of Briggs being rejected from the Inuit society, then moves on to reflect generally the worth of emotions (past and present), in anthropology, followed by Briggs depiction of Maata’s lessons in Inuit emotions. The article finishes by relating Briggs observations to ” …how we culturally construct, socialize, and utilize the palette of emotions in our everyday lives.”
CHRISTINE MINNERY York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Cole, Sally. Reflections on Anthropology in Canada: Introduction. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(2): 123-130.
Sally Cole introduces Canadian anthropologists, their current research advancements and the emerging possibilities in anthropology in the last century. Cole has summarized the work of eight male and female anthropologists and their discussions on anthropological theory and practice in the form of narratives that Cole hopes will become vital foundations for future students of the discipline. The narratives reflect issues of class and gender; the persistence of psychological thinking in anthropology; the importance of political economy; the dialogues of the local and the global; the argument of colonial and neo-colonial contexts in anthropology; the relationship with first nations people; the training of students; the development of participatory research protocols; interdisciplinary affiliation; and an emphasis on reflexivity.
The authors included in Cole’s introduction are Canada’s elite in anthropology: Tom Dunk (McGill), Marie-France Labrecque (CUNY), Jean Briggs (Harvard), Regna Darnell (Pennsylvania), David Scheffel (McMaster), Claude Gelinas (Montreal), Lynne Phillips (Toronto) and Francine Saillant (McGill). Their research taps into many different facets of Canadian history and society and are from different areas and concerning the diverse people of Canada: aboriginal people of Quebec, the Inuit society in the Artic Canada, and of the Shuswap nation of British Columbia.
Cole has provided a brief description of their education, orientation in the field of anthropology, their research and arguments and observations in a brief and concise manner that resembles that of a diagnosis pertaining to the health of Canadian anthropology as a discipline.
XOCHITL RUBIO ISLA York University (Maggie Macdonald).
Dunk, Thomas. National Culture, Political Economy and Socio-Cultural Anthropology in English Canada. Anthropologica, 2000. XLII(2): 131-146.
Thomas Dunk explores the idea that there is a distinct quality about socio-cultural anthropology in English Canada. In his article, Anthropology in English-Canada represents scholars based at predominantly English speaking Universities in Canada. Dunk examines the concept of national culture, political economy, and socio-cultural anthropology in English-Canada in order to gain a better understanding about the relationship between a distinctive Canadian culture and the tradition of Canadian anthropology. For Dunk, the distinction between national traditional anthropology and anthropology departments outside of Canada is shown in the way that Canadian anthropologists need to focus more attention on historical, political and economic links with their work.
Dunk questions the representation of Canada’s national culture as bicentric /or multicultural. He suggests that a true `national’ culture in Canada is absent despite English-Canada’s endeavour to construct its solid portrayal. He highlights a contradiction in the Canadian constitutional policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism used to define Canada as a diverse country. Dunk scrutinizes the way the public sphere in English-Canada neglects the cultural, political and economic interests and needs of indigenous, Quebecois and non-Anglophone immigrant communities. He explains that the education system, the media, the work force and the bureaucracy are powerful entities in English-Canadian society that negate non-English cultural Canadians and enforce assimilation of the English language.
Canada’s concept of bilingualism and multiculturalism is described as political and economic tools. In particular, multiculturalism is described as an elitist ideology for marketing Canadian capital in the global system for international economic opportunities. He includes a historical analysis of national conflicts with aboriginal communities about forestry, mining, oil, gas and hydro-electric projects. He includes Canada’s national and international economic reliance on Aboriginal communities for the fur trade, the timber trade and the paper economy; New foundland for the fishing industry; Quebec for the wheat economy; furthermore, immigration for labour.
The author critiques the anthropological labour market in Canada. He asserts that academic and intellelectual institutions outside of Canada shape the national anthropological framework, since there is a history of Canadian anthropologists with university degrees from outside of Canada. Anthropologists with degrees from Europe and the United States are more revered than anthropologists with Canadian degrees. Dunk questions the presence of a neo-colonial mentality within the English-Canadian anthropology departments. English-Canadian scholars are positioned in a self-contradictory state of defending self-reflection while also struggling with the universal significance of their interests, concerns and theories. He describes English-Canadian anthropologists as being entangled in a web of cultural, social and economic spheres that encompass a hierarchal global system. He concludes that Canadian-English anthropology is a mirror of the global economic and political forces.
DANIELLE COGHLAN York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Gosselin, Claudie. Feminism, Anthropology and the Politics of Excision in Mali: Global and Local Debates in a Postcolonial World. Anthropologica, 2000. XLII(1): 43-60.
In this article Claudie Gosselin explores the practice of female genital mutilation, different debates and discourses surrounding it and attempts to exemplify ethical dilemmas which anthropologists face in the study of such a controversial topic.
Within the first portion of the article Gosselin presents literature of many western and third world feminists and activists alike on the topic of female circumcision, bringing to light the debates surrounding this surgery. One such debate is that of human rights. The stance taken by this view is that such surgery is a savage and mutilating practice, marked by violence towards women and in turn violating the human rights of the women who undergo excision. On the other hand, is the debate that such a practice is detrimental to the health of the women involved and therefore must be abolished. Both discourses are an attempt to liberate these women, however, as Gosselin points out, work to the opposite effect. Such discourses actually colonize these women, bringing into view the difference between `us’ and `them’, and at the same time decontextualising this practice and reducing women to their genitals.
Secondly, female circumcision is looked at in Mali through the ongoing debates between those who are pro and anti-excision. What Gosselin suggests through the examination of these debates is that female circumcision has acted as a symbol, a metonym for discussions of other issues whether they be politically, ideologically or economically charged.
What are also examined are the problems that anthropologists face when dealing with female circumcision, namely the problem of cultural relativism. The questions raised are where do we draw the line? Can and should an anthropologist think and act relativistically when studying this topic, should we be the mediators between the two sides, or should we leave this area all together. Gosselin does not pose any concrete answers to these questions, however states that it is up to the individual to decide what position they will take when studying female circumcision.
TERESA WHALEY York University (Maggie MacDonald).
MacLean, Hope. The “Deified” Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(1): 75-90.
Hope MacLean’s article The Deified Heart: Huchiol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art deals with the Huchiol Indian yarn painters of Mexico and their concepts of the soul in relation to art production. Soul concepts play a large role in the creation of the traditional yarn paintings. The Huchiol believe that in order to create “true art” you must be spoken to by the gods and therefore receive a deified heart. A main focus in this article is how the Huchiol view themselves and how in return they are viewed by white people.
The Huchiol retreated to the mountains when the Spanish invaded Mexico, therefore, they were able to escape Christianity. This in turn allowed them to continue practicing a Pre-Columbian form of Shamanism. A Shaman is a person, male or female, who has been spoken to by a god or artistically influenced by one. It was stated that the art of the Huchiol was never influenced by gods, but was in turn the result of hallucinogenic drugs such as peyote. MacLean interviews a number of regular artists, ones who vowed they were influenced not by drugs, but through deities. The main form of the Huchiol art was yarn painting. Yarn paintings were used as small religious decorations, but with more monetary appeal the Huchiol yarn painters began to mass produce their craft and the size of the art was eventually changed to suit the needs and wants of the purchasers. Huchiol Indians who create art for the purpose of sale are seen as not being true Shamans. An aspiring Shaman makes a vow to the spirits, and it is the spirits who decided whether or not this person will eventually become a Shaman, and be able to produce the visionary art.
The meaning of the paintings is considered a very important part of the painting itself. Meanings can come from dreams, drug induced hallucinations or may be borrowed from others. Opening your soul up to another meant that the gods were creating a flow of ideas within you, therefore creating Shamanic art. The art is therefore interpreted to the artists liking once he or she has received the idea from the god. The ideal of Shamanic art can come from various sources; neither is deemed more important then the other. It is not the content of the art that is important; it is whether the artist had an open heart while conceiving the inspiration for the piece. Art is a channel for communication with the gods, and being able to communicate with the gods is one of the integral parts of being a Shaman.
SUZANNE GRONDIN York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Meneley, Anne. Living Hierarchy in Yemen. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(1): 61-74.
In this article Meneley suggests that rather than concerning oneself with the shortcomings of a gendered hierarchy, anthropologists must concern themselves with how these systems reproduce themselves. We must also acknowledge that women’s identity in these systems are heterogeneous, involved in complex relationships of varying power and motivations.
The article is separated into seven parts which guide the reader through Zabid, Republic of Yemen, through an understanding of its social structure, the practices of Muslim women, their relationships in this social structure as a whole, as well as the contradictions and inherent inequalities of power acquisition within this society.
Meneley explains that hierarchical relationships are lived through everyday practices of what is and is not moral and mature behavior for Muslim women and their societal companions. These practices form, and must be understood as a rigid dichotomy composed of subordination and domination. It is in Zabid that the practices of female modesty are central to the formation of personhood, family faithfulness, and class structure. The inability of the akhad (servile class) to perform these practices which demonstrate self control and morality sustains this hierarchy of status. The inability was found to be tied to financial and education inequalities rather than a presence of aql (lack of social sense).
The elite maintain that this lack of will justifies the class system. Lack of will then becomes a hegemonic tool in constructing the ‘commonsense’ idea of the system, and the simultaneous creation of the ‘moral self’ and a ‘legitimate hierarchy’. The same practices which denote a moral life and Muslim piety (veiling, avoidance, etc) legitimize women’s subordination to men while simultaneously legitimizing the akhdam’s subordnation to the elite through the inability to perform these identical practices.
The elite classes do not mention these inequalities. It is the akhdam that are morally flawed in the eyes of the elite, and thus it is the akhdam who help form the imaginings of personhood, emotions, piety and propriety among Muslim women of Zabid.
Meneley describes her informants, within the wider sphere as, people with multiple identities depending on the context. She views the elite Muslim women as ‘Muslims’ or at times ‘oppressed Muslim women’, or those who receive and allot subordination. These identities stem from their relationships with their superior husbands and the akhdam. Further justification arises from religious ignorance, which is central to this social hierarchy, and those guilty are assigned a child like status.
Meneley explains that we must understand that women also contribute to systems of domination and subordination within a society that constrains them. Understanding this we must realize that women can be identified as reproducers of the wider system of class structure inequality in Zabidi society.
To conclude, Meneley clearly and concisely explains that unequal resource acquisition is the prerequisite for a society based on subordination and domination. Specifically the Zabidi instance shows that without a form of disposable income Muslim women of lower classes are denied the opportunity to practice as Muslims of self control, instead they display signs of aql, and thereby justify their position at the base of the hierarchical pyramid.
LUKE ASPLAND York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Phillips, L and Ilcan, S. Domesticating Spaces in Transition: Politics and Practices in the Gender and Development of Literature, 1970-99. Anthropologica, 2000. XLII: 205-216.
In their critical re reading of gender development literature, Philips and Ilcan (2000) examine the way in which gender boundaries and distinctions have been culturally produced in relation to the concept of spatial domestication via anthropological constructs of women and men, gender relations, places in transition and through development policies. The authors employ the concept of “spatial domestication”. Spatial domestication is a process which embodies populations through complex hegemony and acts as a domain to compress society, via politics, economics, spatial divisions, etc. In Philips and Ilcan critical analysis of key anthropological texts, spatial domestication is artificially constructed boundaries which are a result of development policies implemented via international capital and global organizations.
The following key issues are examined by Philips and Ilcan: What is the nature of the spatiality that is born within women and development literature? And how do these notions of space inform us of the placement of gender within the practices and politics of development?
Philips and Ilcan examined key feminist texts that have influenced approaches to understanding the role of women and development over three decades. Among these texts is Ester Boserup’s influential publication, Women’s Role in Economic Development (1970), which created a framework for later discourses on gender and development. Boserup’s research was concerned with the increasing marginalization of women through development policies.
Spatial boundaries embody a particular relational meaning that orders and structures people, places, economies, and environments.
Focusing specifically on how development policies and modernization have shaped spaces in transition, Philips and Ilcan argue that Boserup’s representation of village dynamics creates binary divisions which are a result of gendering towns (“male towns” and “women’s dwellings”) Through her research, Boserup projects and imposes her socially conditioned conceptual map upon village scenes in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, thereby creating an environment in which men and women and their relationships are socially constructed.
Philips and Ilcan argue that gender relations have been socially and discursively produced and “framed” in anthropological development. These gendered assumptions and practices of development marginalized women and have also disempowered women.
NAZNEEN KHAN York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Rethmann, Petra. A Hopeless Life? The Story of a Koriak Woman in the Russian Far East. Anthropologica, 2000. 42(1):29-42.
Set in the northern shore of Kamchatka peninsula, anthropologist Petra Rethmann grapples with the misconceptions about Koriak women as members of one indigenous group in the Russian Far East. Presented in the format of an essay, Rethmann questions the influence of cultural differences and male power by detailing the life story of Lidiia, a Koriak woman participating in the state of social possibility and dealing with the extensive problem of gender and political asymmetry. Viewed from the standpoint of a Russian writer and Lidiia’s brother, Lidiia is portrayed in this story as a `scruffy and vulgar’ woman who appears incapable of responding to the daily needs of her children, performing household responsibilities and abstaining from sexual relations with Russian men. Through ethnographic study of Lidiia, Rethmann explores how regional structures of gender are prescribed and pan out in a concise manner and how gendered exclusion is a direct result of regional structures of social inequality.
Living in the village of Ossora in the mid 1990’s, Rethmann gives a description of the living conditions Lidiia had to endure with her three children. Rethmann’s findings show that the poverty Lidiia and many other Koriak women and men experienced is directly linked to the restructuring (that was suppose to create development, better houses, hygiene and education) imposed by the government of the 1920’s. Lidiia’s opportunity for a better education in Novosibirsk at the age of seventeen is analyzed in light of Soviet state models of gender and government programs. Lidiia’s decision to forfeit her education and get married to her former schoolmate, Oleg is looked at and the implications her decision has had on her present circumstances. Rethmann also looks at the deterioration of Lidiia’s marriage to Oleg, prior to his death which many attribute to his volatile relationship with alcohol in the latter part of their marriage.
Economic and social changes within the Koriak community gave rise to what many refer to as Lidiia’s `reckless’ behavior of drinking, her lack of responsibility to her children to her numerous antics with Russian men. Structures of inequality that placed both Koriak women and men at a disadvantage have made Lidiia a victim of her circumstances. The daily challenges and hardships of being a single mother and provider began to take its toil on Lidiia to the point where she resorted to the same destructive habit that supposedly killed her late husband. Rethmann looks at the lack of moral conduct of Koriak women being devalued in images that are racially deforming or as submissive women who rarely decline acts of sexual gratification to please men.
Rethmann concludes with the hope that this story will replace the view to post- Soviet analyses that shift to frameworks of nationality and cultural identity through Lidiia’s struggle with the dominant Russian centered models of femininity and primitivity, government policies and social change.
CLEO WALTERS York University (Maggie MacDonald).
Scheffel, David. The Post-Anthropological Indian: Canada’s New Images of Aboriginality in the Age of Repossession. Anthropologica, 2000. 45(2): 175-188.
The foundations of anthropological discourse are currently being challenged as the former “other” has found its voice. David Scheffel examines the “new public imagery of Canadian Indians after the lifting of the anthropological burden”. This essay explores emerging patterns of Canadian aboriginal representation throughout the public education system and government reports, as Canadian aboriginals prefer to “manage their own cultural heritage”.
Scheffel indicates that Natives are re-writing their histories as an attempt to “de-colonize education”, and “repossess the past”. He provides evidence from the Shuswap Nation in British Columbia who released “Cultural Series”, literature depicting their history. The work of the Shuswap writers has been circulating in British Columbia schools as well as been used for official government records. Scheffel compares “Cultural Series” by the Shuswap “academics”, with much older literature by James Teit, a white man who married a Shuswap woman and lived with the tribe during the early 1900’s. Teit published his own series of ethnographies during his life with the Shuswap, (where he also convened with Franz Boas). Teit’s ethnographies and “Cultural Series” proved to be strikingly similar. Scheffel’s evidence proves Shuswap historians plagiarized Teit’s work (since Teit was not fully acknowledged) while enhancing details (where necessary) in order to romanticize Shuswap culture.
These cultural fictions serve as nationalist rhetoric rather than objective academic knowledge. Scheffel is concerned that present day aboriginal historians are abusing their academic authority to compensate for the colonial mentality of white anthropologists of the past. The renewed image of “Nativeness” is overly romanticized, depicting the “noble savage” flourishing within a utopian society.
This form of reverse racism (deliberate exile of non-native anthropologists), and cultural romanticism undermines the legitimacy of objective ethnography and/or history, replacing it with nationalist propaganda. At the same time it leaves the discipline of anthropology at risk, since the non-native anthropologist is only called upon in the form of an advocate. Scheffel sums up this point stating, “Ironically, by dichotomizing society into good Natives/insiders, and bad Whites/outsiders, the ethno/nationalist iconography canonizes the very boundaries which postmodern multiculturalists have laboured so hard to tear down”.
SCOTT CLARKE York University (Maggie MacDonald).