Nakomaha: A Counter-Colonial Life and Its Contexts. Anthropological Approaches to Biography.
Oceania 2007, July, 77, 2
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Anthropology sits uneasily on the tension between the individual and the social. Though, by definition, social anthropologists study the social, periodically some of its practitioners strive to reassert the importance of the individual. Concerned by the almost dehumanized nature of ethnographic generalizations and abstract formulations, they aim to reincorporate into their work the life-courses of individuals and their experienced dimensions (e.g. Burridge 1994). In recent years, with the general move from structure to agency, the balance has shifted slightly from the social, and the need for recognizing the roles of individuals has become somewhat more prominent (see, e.g. Cohen 1994; Rapport & Overing 2000: 178-195). Thus Rapport, in a strong version of this shift, has recently propounded the value of studying 'transcendent subjects'; he wishes to promote a social-scientific appreciation of individuals who make themselves 'ex nihilo and in an originary fashion', transcending the limits of their own socialization (Rapport 2003: 1). Studying individuals like these, he claims, can provide insights not normally found in conventional ethnographies. In this and associated ways, a focus on individuals can highlight the degrees of idiosyncracy members of a society are prepared to tolerate, and may serve to stress the unpredictability of a person's responses to their world (Herzfeld 1997: ch. 1). A sense of culturally-determined predestination is anathema here, as the individual's ability to make choices moves centre-stage, along with the factors of chance and accident. Okely emphasizes a related, political dimension: that if we are to study individuals and active subjects, we should investigate 'moments of resistance to the conditions of subordination', as they promise 'insights into the structures of power' (Okely 1991: 3). For her, domination and reactions to it are the key topics to pursue. This shift to agency, whether self-fashioning, quirky, politicized, dovetails with an increasing interest in autobiography and biography (e.g. Behar 1993; Brettell 1999; Home & McBeth 1998; Plummer 2001; Reed-Danahay 2001; Shostak 1982). From the interwar decades to the 1950s anthropologists in the 'culture and personality' school lauded the illuminating potential of the 'life history' approach. For them, its benefits included the ability to study in a revelatory manner topics such as deviance, cultural structure, culture change, personality, roles, values and socialization. But the popularity of this approach waned as the culture and personality school itself went out of fashion (Langness 1965). The approach came to be seen as too rigidly tied to a comparativist project with an a priori list of categories and values. The result was a 'dishonest and distorting' enforcement of data according to a preset agenda, which was insensitive to ethnographic particulars and to the locals whose lives were being analysed (Kendall 1988: 12). Added to these criticisms were persistent worries over just how 'representative' the supposedly typical biographical subject actually was (Goldman 1996: xx). In recent times, biography has regained some popularity in anthropology thanks above all to those who have adopted hermeneutic or phenomenological approaches. In these more sophisticated versions of the life history, anthropologists demonstrate heightened concern with the mutually transformative nature of the biographical encounter, the narrative modes available to the local, and the status, to be discerned as finely as possible, of the resulting text (e.g. Reed-Danahay 2001; Watson & Watson-Franke 1985). Thus Clifford identified the otherwise-jumbled series of different registers in which Shostak compiled her account of a San woman's life and so queried the status of the book itself (Clifford 1982), while Crapanzano did not classify his portrait of a Moroccan as a traditional life-history, but as more akin to a modern novel that 'bespeaks the fragmente
- 2,99 €
- Categoria: Ciências Sociais
- Publicado: 01/07/2007
- Editora: University of Sydney
- Tamanho da impressão: 64 páginas
- Línguas: Inglês