Goodness, Justice, Civil Society
A response to Don Gardner
I am grateful (once more) for the attention Don Gardner has paid to my work, in particular to arguments pertaining to individuality and its relation to the aspirations of the social sciences. Let me begin with overlaps he sees between us: (a) prevailing images of what anthropology needed to be, historically (in order to be an adequate science) have led to too great an emphasis on developing taxonomies of cultural variation, along with the generalising and essentialising descriptions this entailed; (b) some of social science’s taken-for-granted vocabulary (such as ‘role’ or ‘status’) hampers our understanding of the nature of human agents and the springs of that agency; (c) questions of will and freedom, choice and moral responsibility are subtle and important; engaging with these is a necessary step for strengthening the social sciences, which cannot escape their philosophical roots. Notwithstanding, Gardner would take me to task for my understanding of causation, for not adopting a reasonable view on the hoary issue of ‘free will’ and for not taking account of post-genecentric accounts of human-evolutionary process.
This article is an interweaving of three strands: an account by Imre Kertesz of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, which he published as the novel, Fateless; an account of a walking tour in Suffolk that the German Anglophile, W. G. Sebald, published as the travelogue, The Rings of Saturn; and my own account of visiting the Auschwitz memorial site, which has been constructed on the edge of the Polish city still bearing the same name. Linking the three strands is the issue of the phenomenology of walking: the consciousness that is capacitated by this activity and the accompanying power to interpret one's life and surroundings in imaginative ways. Kertesz would walk the Nazi lager without stopping for death; Sebald would walk the Suffolk landscape without admitting the passage of time; I would walk Auschwitz without falling victim to the systemic constructions of others. For all, the physical activity is linked to becoming conscious of certain symbolic patterns in time and space. Walking, this article concludes, entails both a phenomenological objectivity, which may be appreciated by virtue of a common human embodiment, and a phenomenological subjectivity: an individual consciousness engaging in imaginative projects of disembodiment and otherness.
On 20 June 2006, Andrew Irving and I took a class of students to the Montreal Holocaust Museum. The students were attending Irving’s course, “Deathly Encounters: The Anthropology of Death, Consciousness, and the Body,” at Concordia University. He had arranged for a guided tour of the museum exhibit and for the class to hear the testimony of one of Montreal’s large number of Holocaust survivors.
National Identity as an Everyday Way of Being in a Scottish Hospital
This article reports on research undertaken in a Scottish hospital on the theme of national identity, specifically Scottishness. It examines the ways and extents to which Scottishness was expressed in the workplace: as a quotidian aspect of individual and institutional identity, in a situation of high-pro file political change. The research was to situate nationality as a naturally occurring 'language-game': to explore everyday speech-acts which deployed reference to nationality/Scottishness and compare these to other kinds of overt affirmation of identity and other speech-acts when no such identity-affirmations were ostensibly made. In a contemporary Scottish setting where the inauguration of a new Parliament has made national identity a prominent aspect of public debate, the research illuminates the place of nationality amid a complex of workaday language-games and examines the status of national identity as a 'public event'.
Paul Rabinow and George E. Marcus, with James D. Faubion and Tobias Rees, Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), viii+141 pp. ISBN 9780822343707.
The Enigma of Non-arrival
Nigel Rapport and Noa Vaisman
How people arrive at their convictions, and how they come to change them, remain immensely difficult questions. This article approaches convictions as manifestations of individuals' embodiment, and as allegories of their lives. As well as a rehearsing of moments of his own embodied learning, the main author engages in an email exchange with the second author, pondering how he might answer her questions about an anthropological methodology which more nearly approaches others' embodied experiences: the convictions represented by informants' words and behaviours. The article ends inconclusively. An individual's knowledge of body and self is part of that body and self, situated amid world-views and life-projects. Alongside the radical otherness of anthropologists' informants is the relative otherness of anthropologists to themselves. Our disciplinary conclusions concerning convictions, own and other, must remain provisional and open.
Carla Dahl-Jørgensen and Nigel Rapport
Work is not a narrow specialism. A workplace might be known as the site at which human capacities are applied for the purpose of addressing human needs (material and other). To work, one might conclude, is to be human. In his introduction to existentialism as a humanist accounting, Jean-Paul Sartre’s understanding is inclusive: