GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 27, 2016

A Brief Note on the Latest Chronicle of Love & Resentment

Filed under: GA — adam @ 2:25 pm

I may be very naïve, but I think (have thought for quite a while) that there is a very simple answer to the question Gans poses here regarding intellectual exchanges with the social science. In fact, Gans, it seems to me, alludes to this answer in the accompanying letter to the GAlist: “The difficulty inherent in the fundamental idea of presenting a radical transition as an event seems to me insufficiently examined.” The way to overcome this difficulty is to treat all transitions, radical or not, as events—which is to say, to insist that in the human sphere there are nothing but events. Ideas, and their reproduction and dissemination, are events. There are big events and small events. What’s the difference?—the small events are measured against the big events—that provides us with our “quantitative data.” Social scientists, one might say, would find this approach disorienting, and reject it—most will, but most will reject anything coming from the “Humanistic” side. A dialogue will always be with the insufficiently disciplined within the constraints of a narrow discipline—inevitably a small minority. But, if we like, we can help things along by reading their concepts in originary terms: “society,” “mind,” “structure,” “value,” and all the rest obviously have origins as concepts—such origins lie at the origins of the disciplines themselves, which emerge, like anything human, as events—but even more important is the way these and other concepts lie at the origin of anything one then goes on to attend to. We attend from a concept like “ritual” to certain practices that we distinguish from other practices—on that basis, and only on that basis, can we go on to “quantify” ritual (in terms of rates of occurrence, what other events its occurrence “correlates” with, “major” and “minor” rituals, etc.). This gets complex, of course, because a concept like “ritual” emerges as a concept within the ongoing event of distinguishing what “we” do from rituals—from that perspective, we can try to, as Michael Polanyi puts it, “indwell” within the ritual event itself—and, as a result, more fully indwell our own reality as something-other-than-but-derivative-of-ritual. Since events only occur among humans, the whole point of identifying originary events and transforming them into conceptual frames (the way we mark historical breaks—pre- and post-French Revolution, for example—is the way all concepts originate, in events that carry their concepts with them insofar as those generated as new embodiments of disciplinary power get to name the event). So, our way of engaging the social scientist is simply to ask them to hypothesize the event(s) generating the concept(s) they are using. If they are interested in seeing their concepts in a new way, as a framing (qualitative) that makes the quantitative possible, we are equipped to help them answer the question. Knowledge comes from creating events of shared observation of those events that made the event of knowledge possible, and in that sense contain, we might say “eventuate,” the event of knowledge. This perhaps implies a tactical shift from the approach I take Gans to be proposing: from singling out for discussion the single event separating human from animal, frame every event, “real” and knowledge-making, as precisely such an event.

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