Rule of Thumb: Forget Anomalies

Vogue magazine

I’ve come up with a little rule of thumb I try to keep in mind when coming across a piece of data that, prima facie, might appear anomalous. Instead of thinking “weird; how do I explain this?,” I force myself to ask, “what set of assumptions or grid of classification makes this anomalous?”

Obviously, what one group thinks is “weird” may be “normal” to another group. It follows that nothing is exceptional in and of itself; something becomes exceptional only within an ideology that renders it as such. As a scholar, what interests me more than the “anomaly” is the means by which something is made anomalous. We should always historicize, for when we take for granted the anomalous status of something we naturalize the ideology that renders it anomalous.

5 Replies to “Rule of Thumb: Forget Anomalies”

  1. I suspect the point is to sell Vogue, with Orientalism as the hook. “Caught you looking!” and such like.

  2. But weren’t they — like all social life — political all along, just in support of a politics with which “we” agreed, thus allowing us to see them as neutral, apolitical…? The “politicization of _______” thesis is just a way to mark some other group’s pursuit of interests not acceptable to some set of observers/classifiers, no?

  3. Oh indeed. What I find particularly interesting in this case is the implication that Buddhism somehow stood apart from the formation of national identities in pre-Modern Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand – it was always some special apolitical thing apart, from time immemorial.

  4. Precisely. A useful rhetoric to normalize a very specific set of interests and relationships…

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