Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cultural anthropology's place on the map to democracy

Cultural anthropology in a nutshell: Human life occurs in group realities, lived systems of concepts and practices, meanings and activities, that lay out the structures and contents of worlds of experience. The worlds of experience built out of meanings and practices that we occupy and enact include forms of agency and personhood, general structures of intention and desire, general conceptions of self and others, and the social and physical terrain of everyday life. We are socialized into group realities, with their particular systems of concepts and practices, which we then produce and reproduce as we enact ourselves and live our everyday lives using the available symbolic and material resources. Sociocultural realities (group enactments of worlds of experience and practice) are potentially (and usually) constituted with various forms of inequality and domination built in. Building inequality into daily life generally benefits the privileged by making it hard to see from the inside, where the inequality may appear "natural." Thus, people can enact inequality, as either privileged or subordinated, as they enact everyday life, without being fully aware of what they are doing.

Anthropology thus raises (but tends to avoid addressing too clearly) the question of what we can do about the realities we live in. Does having a good higher-order theory of human reality, language, and power enable us to develop a better 'language-practice' that could facilitate the construction of better realities, based not on power concentration but on democracy, freedom, time, love, or whatever other values groups of like-minded people decide are best for them at any given moment? I don't see any good reason not to be optimistic, to believe (even as faith if necessary, as it probably is) that groups of humans acting in good will have the capacity – the freedom and the ability – to create much much better ways of living than we've got going now.

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