15 September 2008

Gusher Academe

I assume my blog readership has suffered a detrimental blow these past few weeks, but hopefully this installment will rekindle what was lost of late.

I’m typing out this post in my cozy nook that overlooks Broad Street and Temple’s cafeteria. (I'm in Philadelphia for the year, p.s.) The leaves are changing shades already; fall is slinking towards the city. I feel at ease, and city life I’m learning.

Here’s what I’m taking this fall: World Urban Patterns, Writing for Journalism, Urban-Eco Footprints of Post-Metropolis Life, Anthropology & Social Policy, and Visual & Material Consumption.

I feel both incredibly challenged and invigorated by my classes. Tonight, I sat in our quiet study, and mulled over James Ferguson’s “Anthropology and Its Evil Twin: ‘Development’ in the Constitution of a Discipline.” When I explained to my roommate how “my mind has just been blown,” she equated my brain to a gusher, and I chuckled in concurrence. Ferguson’s essay completely deconstructs the discipline and says our vision of a world divided, of primitive versus modern, “has been constitutive of the anthropological domain of study” since its conception.

Basically, anthropology's founding key idea of social evolution has entirely shaped and stratified our “fields” of study, intensified by modernization theory, technology, capitalism, notions of progress, etc.etc.etc. That we seek to study “less developed” societies only reaffirms “developmental” distinctions among us, ones rooted in capitalistic progress and the idea that “there is a normal pattern of economic development that some countries fall ‘under’” (from Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard’s essay “The History and Politics of Development Knowledge”).

Ferguson challenges us to consider anthropology's disciplinary identity and “engage in some foundational work.” Does this sound like a colossal undertaking to anyone else? Is your head gushing sweetened liquidy goodness right now? Mine is. I think that’s a good thing. But, I am more than bemused as to how I engage the discipline right now, how I work for the wellbeing of others without seeing myself as modern me versus underdeveloped or "less privileged" them, how I defeat the binary that so saturates anthropology's roots and work.