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comparative study of social transformations


The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

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edited by





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a superstructure in one society and as relations of production in
another. . . Money capital has the same internal properties
whether it is restricted to children's games or dominates the
process of production. (~riedman, 1975: 163)

2 Transactionalism may in fact be regarded as a British .analogue of socio-
biology, albeit a far more sophisticated one, in that both of them edit
culturally relative conceptual schemes out of their analysis, and replace them
with the strategies of a culture-free maximizing agent.

3 Ortner, incidentally, is quite mistaken in her representation of the Marxist
concept of ideology as a "narrowing of the culture concept" (140), or in her
assumption that "culture (=I ideology') " for Bloch (1 53) . If one had to
attempt a translation into Ortner's theoretical language, one would have to
say that ideological schemes are a subset of cultural schemes, and have
certain properties, such as being transmitted in certain formalised social
situations, contradicting common sense knowledge, and stability through time
(see also the quotation from Althusser on different types of practices above).
Culture also includes non-ideological schemes, which may or may not be
compatible with current scientific theory, but which are acquired in a
different type of situation and which are formally more flexible or "creative"
in response to new situations. These would include the sort of schemes
investigated by the ethnoscientists, for example.

4 This omission is all the more surprising considering the importance she
attaches in her monograph on Sherpa ritual to Pivinitv and Experience by
Godfrey Lienhardt, a product of this tradition. It must be said that the best
work in Britain on religion was produced at Oxford until French structuralism
made a real impact in the late sixties.

5 Weber was the first to admit that not all human action is subject to cold,
rational calculation, but that much of it is "emotional":

The more readily we ourselves are susceptible to them the more
readily can we imaginatively participate in such emotional
reactions as anxiety, anger, ambition, envy . . . Even when such.
emotions are found in a degree of intensity of which the observer
himself is completely incapable, he can still have a significant
degree of emotional understanding of their meaning and can
interpret intellectually their influence on the course of action
and the selection of means. (weber [1975] : 92)

It is always much more satisfactory, however, to build ideal constructs of
rational actions, where it is much easier to achieve "adequacy on the level of

We apply the term "adequacy on the level of meaning" to the
subjective interpretation of a coherent course of conduct when and
in so far as, according to our habitual modes of thought and
feeling, its component parts taken in their mutual relation are
recognized to constitute a "typical" complex of meaning. (weber-,
1975: 99)

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Internal coherence and adequate subjective grounds for action are much clearer
in rational than in irrational action, and it is the search for these that
define sociology. Ortner's plea for the consideration of more complex
"motivations" such as "need, fear, suffering, desire, and others" (151) was
anticipated by Weber, but has met with little effectual response since his
day, for the reasons I have given.

6 Animal behaviour can be "explained" in terms of its material consequences
because one can safely assume that genetically determined behaviour which
produced deleterious effects has been eliminated by natural selection over
long periods of time. The cultural materialist claim that culturally
determined behaviour can be "explained" in the same way rests on the
assumption that conceptual schemes unfavourable to subsistence and
reproduction are eliminated by natural selection in just the same way as
genes. This assumption is highly dubious, given the relatively fast rate of
cultural as compared to biological change, intra-generational learning, and
the coexistence of very different cultures in the same natural environment.

7 Other writers who deserve more attention than I can-give them here are
"political economists" such as Wolf and Mintz, whose early focus on peasant
societies caught up in national political movements and the world economy
anticipated and indeed stimulated much current writing on these matters.

8 Foucault's call for a theory of strategies without subjects may be
understood in this sense: certain practices require those engaged in them to
continually expand the sphere of application of those practices. For
Foucault, power relations are embodied in the discursive practices of the
disciplines and are embedded in the non-discursive practices of institutions.
These disciplines and institutions produce both a certain type of known object
and a certain type of knowing subject: neither the motivations of the subject
nor the structure of the object can serve as the point of departure in
historical explanation.

9 It is quite true, as Ortner states, that using "history" as a cover term
only hides important distinctions between theoretical approaches (159).
Indeed, each approach will generate its own sort of historical methodology.,
The Oxford school has long adhered to a sort of historical particularism as a
means of recovering primordial cultural patterns which have broken down under
the impact of modernity, or as a means of demonstrating the continuity of the
unique world views through the ages (cf Dumont , 1972 [1966] : 242) .
10 A related situation arises "when class differences are also, historically,
cultural differences", as a result of colonial conquest (cf 0rtner,155). In
this case the "culture" of the masses may have a greater relative autonomy
from the "culture" of the rulers than in cases where class differentiation
arose more gradually within a society, and may allow for the more violent
structural changes if an indigenous class of rulers is able to replace the
foreign one. But it may equally be the case that local conceptual schemes are
simply irrelevant to the objective functioning of power and succeed in
producing only futile millenarian type movements, while dominated classes with
a more accurate understanding of the way the dominant system operates are more
successful in undermining it.

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34 "Gender, History and Deconstruction: Joan Wallach Scott's
Gender ~ n d ' ~ h e Politics Of History," by William H. Sewell,
Jr., August, 1989, 20 pages. Also CRSO Working Paper #400.

35 "The Social Origins Of Dictatorship, Democracy and
Socialist Revolution in Central America," by Jeffery M.
Paige, September 1989, 12 pages. Also CRSO Working Paper

36 "Max Weber Meets Feminism: A Reconstruction of Charisma," by
Cheryl Hyde, September 1989, 24 pages. Also CRSO Working
Paper #407.

37 "Understanding Strikes In Revolutinary Russia," by William
Rosenberg, September 1989, 3 6 pages. Also CRSO.Working
Paper #408.

3 8 "Child Labor Laws: A Historical Case Of Public po1'icy
Implementation," by Marjcrie McCal1-Sarbaugh and Mayer N.
Zald, October 1989, 41 pages. Aslo CRSO Working Paper #409.

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