This biographical and, in part, phenomenological anthropology of older people in post-industrial England illuminates a local and generationally specific communitarian critique of and form of resistance against the process of individualisation. Rather than presenting communitarianism conventionally as an abstract political ideology or set of ideas about locality, it is conceptualised as emerging from and being reinforced by experiences of ageing, especially bodily ageing. It these respects, the article responds positively to Tatjana Thelen and Cati Coe’s call to take the anthropology of ageing out of its current condition of relative intellectual marginality, by recognising ageing and its related care arrangements as key structuring features within societies and political organisation and by treating them as a window onto understanding broad-scale social and political processes.
Sexual Performativity and Gender Dissidence in Dickens's Dombey and Son
This essay considers some of the implications of a critical turn from a concern with a 'political technology of the body' in the Foucauldian sense to one with embodied micropractices. I will contend here that a critique of social experiences that is conceptualised through attention to individualised, or intersubjective, corporeal practices, is necessarily limited. A critical focus on the affective or performative self potentially colludes with a political agenda that privileges the bourgeois concept of individuality over that of collectivity, and performative micropractices over the transformation of social relationships on a structural level. This article approaches these issues by investigating two forms of sexual deviance, enacted by the figures of Paul and Edith Dombey, in Dombey and Son - a text that explores the problematic of nineteenthcentury gender-specific discipline and resistance, but also a narrative that points to the conceptual limitations resulting from individualised notions of embodiment and embodied resistance. I will suggest that this novel codes Paul and Edith's resistance to Dombey's regime of gender-discipline as specifically physical and sexualised forms of deviance.
Distinctions between Gift and Commodity in Contemporary Societies
Michaela Benson and Denise Carter
According to Mauss’ seminal works, it was through obligations laid bare by the gift exchange process—the obligation to give, receive and reciprocate—that pre-modern societies were symbolically reproduced. Mauss’ distinction between those early societies and the encroaching capitalist world has led to questions about whether gift exchange can play a similar role in today’s highly individualised and impersonal contemporary societies. In addition, it has also stimulated a great deal of debate about the relationship between gifts and commodities. If, as many theorists suggest, commodities are a central feature of daily life in capitalist societies, there is the possibility of fluidity between gift and commodity. This invites several interesting questions about the forms and functions of exchange: what forms does exchange take in contemporary societies; what implications, if any, do these forms of exchange have for relationships in contemporary society; and, does gift exchange still have a function in society?
The article focuses on Chinese students' hopes and expectations before leaving to study abroad. The national political environment for their decision to go abroad is shaped by an official narrative of China's transition to a more creative and innovative economy. Students draw on this narrative to interpret their own educational histories and prior experiences, while at the same time making use of imaginaries of 'Western' education to redefine themselves as independent individuals in an increasingly globalised and individualised world. Through a case study of prospective pre-school teachers preparing to study abroad, the article shows how personal, professional and even national goals are closely interwoven. Students expect education abroad to be a personally transformative experience, but rather than defining their goals of individual freedom and creativity in opposition to the authoritarian political system, they think of themselves as having a role in the transformation of Chinese attitudes to education and parent-child relations.
Contested Rationalities of Time in the Theory and Practice of Work
At the beginning of the twenty-first century work has attained a new local and global quality. Localised and individualised efficiency deals are established where previously standards would have been set nationally and bargained for collectively. At the same time, work is negotiated in the context of a global labour market and global competition: the world, not nations, is the market where labour is traded and the fate of much future work sealed. Electronic communication, low transport costs and deregulated, unrestricted trade dissolved many of the boundaries that used to delimit the competition for work on the one hand, the negotiations over conditions on the other. Since the leading industrial nations have committed themselves to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the rules set out by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it is difficult for any nation to extricate itself from the logic of the competitive global market. ‘At a world level’, as Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann (1997: 7) point out, ‘more than 40,000 transnational corporations of varying shapes and sizes play off their own employees (as well as different nation states) against one another.’ There are always workers somewhere else able and willing to do the job cheaper than North Americans or North/West Europeans.
In an earlier paper (Dressler, 2001), I suggested that medical anthropology as a research enterprise could not ignore either meaning or structure in human social life in the production of health. Rather, drawing on the early work of Bourdieu, I argued that we need to take into account both how the world is configured by the collective meanings we impose upon it, as well as the social structural (and physical) constraints on our behaviour that exist outside those meanings. Human health can be understood, in part, as the intersection of meaning and structure. Here, my aim is to extend this perspective in three ways. Firstly, I present an expanded theoretical framework within which collectivei meaning and social structure can be conceptualised. A useful theoretical framework must take into account paradoxical features of culture, including the seeming contradiction that it is a property both of social aggregates and of individuals, and that, ultimately, social structural constraints external to individuals depend on shared meaning. Secondly, I review recent research employing this perspective conducted in Brazil, the southern United States and Puerto Rico. These studies have all employed a 'structural-constructivist' theoretical orientation, using especially the concept of 'cultural consonance', or the degree to which individuals incorporate shared meaning into their own beliefs and behaviour. Where individual efforts to attain a higher cultural consonance are frustrated by structural constraints, poor health results. Thirdly, I consider some of the policy implications of this perspective. While much work in traditional public health focuses on a highly individualised notion of meaning (as in 'health beliefs'), it seems unlikely that the health of populations can be altered substantially without taking into account the structures that constrain individual action.
English higher education, like other parts of the public sector and higher education in other countries, is currently undergoing considerable change as it is being restructured as if it were a market in which universities, departments and academics compete against one another. This restructuring is producing new processes of subjectivity that discipline those who work and study in higher education institutions. Feminist poststructuralists have suggested that this restructuring is enabled partly through new forms of accountability that seemingly offer the 'carrot' of self-realisation alongside the 'stick' of greater management surveillance of the burgeoning number of tasks that academics, amongst others, must perform. This paper, located in the context of these changes, builds on Judith Butler's insight that processes of subjection to the dominant order through which the self is produced entail both mastery and subjection. That is, submission requires mastery of the underlying assumptions of the dominant order, In this paper I adopt an auto/biographical method and a critique of abstract social theories to explore how the neoliberal restructuring of universities interacts with the gender order. Many universities are being remoulded as businesses for other businesses, with profound effects on internal relations, the subjectivities of academics and students, and practices of education and scholarship. Yet I doubt if we can understand this, nor resist the deep corruption, through grasping neoliberalism's dynamics alone. A longer memory and a more concrete analysis are needed. Today's intense individualisation impacts on pre-existing social relations, which inflect it unpredictably. From my own experience, I evoke the baseline of an older academy, gender-segregated, explicitly patriarchal and privileged in class and ethnic terms. I stress the feminist and democratic gains of the 1960s and 1970s. I sketch the (neoliberal) strategies that undermine or redirect them. I write this, hoping that the next episode can be written differently.