“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.
1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?
This is a fun question for me as a scholar and an advisor. Usually I tell people that I study “the anthropology of scriptures.” And as I tell students of religion preparing for job interviews, the response to the original question isn’t designed to satisfy so much as it is to peak the asker’s curiosity. I like to turn a point of information into a point of interest by pairing something presumably familiar (e.g. scriptures) with something presumably strange (e.g. anthropology). And in so doing, I hope to have provided an answer that is interesting enough that I’m granted the chance to elaborate.
If I’m successful at this, then I get to say how I’m interested in how and why some of the cultural texts people read also appear to read them back. We know people and social interests are at work in creating these media, yet we are also aware of instances where people relate to texts in and of themselves. What’s up with that? Quite a lot actually…. Continue reading “On the Spot with Richard Newton”
As I’m sure we’ve all heard by now, Kim Kardashian’s backside, displayed for the world’s consumption and viewing pleasure (or not) on the front cover of Paper Magazine, “broke the Internet” just a short while ago and has since caused a flurry of debate, shock, praise, and disbelief. Add to that a big-booty praise of “#allday” from her beloved husband, Kanye West which received thousands of Retweets. I’ll leave it for those entering into the debate with interests and intentions of conflict management and moral maintenance to weigh in on what Kim’s big ‘ole butt plastered on the Internet for the world to view and deconstruct means for progress, freedom, justice, feminism, America, motherhood, identity politics, women, sexuality, Kanye, blackness, and much, much more. Amazing how a bare ass on a magazine can speak to and says something about such a *****wide***** variety of topics!
Something more interesting — and fascinating (in my opinion) has caught my attention about the unfolding conversation and ensuing public debate and discourse — that has seemingly little to do with the perceived “object” of study here. I’m more curious about how all of these emerging grand claims to truth (seen in what follows below) sparked by Kim K’s naked badonkadonk are helping it to break the Internet and make possible the Sui Generis booty she (and the world) thinks is so NOT-unique, or, not unique enough to warrant all of the hype. One is not born a big booty, rather, one becomes a big booty, so it seems. We have manufactured the Kardashian booty that we so love to hate and hate to love. Continue reading “Manufacturing Booty: On How We Stake Our Claims”
Anytime “data” can answer this question, the stakes increase. “Yes” or “No,” the question is posed rhetorically, for in receiving an answer, the trouble of the “human sciences”—that is, the human in human sciences—sounds off in a chorus composed of intentionality, strategies of identification, and politically-charged and charred epistemological appeals and ethical slights-of-hand. In other words, when we take this question (and its implications) seriously, shit stands to “get real.”
We’ve got a well-known sacred spot at the University of Alabama. No, not our famed football stadium but, instead, where relics are buried from an earlier version of campus, the time of origins when the ancestors walked the earth — back when it was burned down by Union troops coming through Tuscaloosa, on April 4, 1865, within just days of the Confederacy’s famed General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union’s equally famed General Ulysses S. Grant, at the Appomattox county court house, in central Virgina. Continue reading “It Makes a World of Difference”
“In short, the ambivalence inherent in the very notion of the imaginaire and its complex relationship with the order of materiality compels us to relinquish a certain use of the concept that is nonetheless widespread. We should not take literally expressions such as ‘social imaginaire‘ or ‘historical imaginaire‘. They are convenient, but they suggest that a given social (or historical) imaginaire is a totality, endowed with a range of relatively coherent and restricted meanings. This might lead us to attribute to the imaginaire powers that we have just denied culture, and to confer on it the ability to over-determine political practice. When all is said and done, the concept of the imaginaire, understood in this way, is no more than a pedantic version of the concept of culture.” (227-8)
The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones. Clothes make the man, and political actors are well aware of this…. As for the military dictators of the twentieth century, they often thought that it sufficed to appear on television in a three-piece suit in order to civilise their regimes and reassure public opinion. One might say, again parodying the French title of J. L. Austin’s book How to Do Things with Words, ‘Dressing is doing.’ (195-6)
[This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]