Renato Rosaldo

May 5, 2009

Today’s lecure was really interesting, and it fits really well with what I am working on for my assignment, as well as what we’re studying in ANTH204. It’s great to see an example of someone who tried out a bunch of theories that didn’t quite work before he found the understanding he was looking for in experience. After studying Geertz and some other anth. theories (and critiques) this semester, Rosaldo’s example is a perfect demonstration of the way anthropologists should incorporate scientific and interpretive approaches to get a holistic view of culture. I think that this is the way towards closer understanding of our species.

The emphasis on experience, and being attentive to emotion is relavent to ANZAC day too. I have tried to define exactly what the majority of the population feels about ANZAC day. The words that fit closest I have come up with are: Pathos, pride and maudlin. Pathos is what the soldiers and family of dead soldiers would feel – suffering from a real life experience. Pride is what we assume NZ citizens feel – pride in soldiers, country, etc. Maudlin is defined as ‘foolishly sentimental’ which I guess is the point of the rhetoric in the speeches and statements about the event. Layers of questions are building up now….Rosaldo would be proud!

ANZAC day

April 19, 2009

To be honest, I have never bothered to remember what day ANZAC day is or even find out what it represented exactly. All I knew was that ANZAC day was a war memorial for NZ and AUS, that enthusiasts did the dawn parade and everyone wore fake poppies. The closest connection I have with the event is my partner’s father, who fought in the NZ army in 3 wars. I know he’s very involved in the community and organizations surrounding the military as an ex-soldier, and have wondered at his collection of medals, uniforms, plaques, weapons, stories and life-long injuries – physical and mental.

So being a born and bred New Zealand chick with a passion for history, I am glad for this oppourtunity to find out more about ANZAC day and maybe finally make it to one of the events. After the documentary in class, a chat with my partner’s dad and some initial web-browsing research I have come to the conclusion that the day is, at basic level, a day to remember (consequently making the doco. title quite apt.). My first question is: Remember what?

Some answers I have come up with (in this, my first hour of research) are:
– ANZAC day is like a military funeral – we’re remembering the sacrifice of NZ soldiers. It’s the people and their efforts that we are remembering, to mourn and to thank them. The fact that it’s been broadened from remembering Galipoli to all wars NZ fought in is interesting
– ANZAC day is important for the identity of the nation. The nation’s public image, popular ideology and political position are features of the conceptual foundation of the ritual. For example, I am not interested in our association with Australia, or have any emotional attachment to any individual who died in a war, but I feel some comfort that there is a day that our nation remembers/celebrates/thanks those who protected it. I also really enjoy the fact that it’s the only nation-wide event that doesn’t distinguish between maori descendant New Zealanders and the rest of us, which I think is really important for New Zealand to start doing. We need to be able to have a communal identity, not a segregated one.

Moving house has changed so much about almost everything in my life. All of my daily rituals are altered, and most of my recreational ones too. For example, I have to get up half an hour earlier, walk a different route to uni and sometimes even bus (Which is a whole new universe – the bus system here SUCKS big time!) and all my housework, like how and when I do cooking and cleaning, is completely different because there are more people than in my last place, and different layout of space. The sun hits the washing line at different times, there are different parks to take my dog to in the area and a whole new set of landlords and bank accounts to deal with.

Moving house isn’t seen as a big deal, especially in the flatting culture among New Zealand youth – and I suppose most people who flat aren’t as attentive to housekeeping detail or the micro-structures that drive our daily life as I (as an aspiring anthropologist) am. But I would argue that moving house can have a huge impact on your life, especially if the area is unfamilliar, the hot water runs on gas instead of electricity and theres another 5 people and a kitten added to your household and consequently frequent social group.

I’m only just learning how to get the dishwasher to work, how to get the hot water tap running smoothly and where to put the trash on which day, the easiest ways to get to uni and the best buses to get home on. Lighting the oven is becoming less scary and being able to smoke in my room while looking at the ocean is actually helping to lower my stress levels.

I do wonder if the practice, or the impact of shifting flats every year or so can be compared with anything in other cultures.

Cult Xmas

April 2, 2009

The article about German socialist christmas got me thinking about the way I was brought up to practice christmas. My parents didn’t believe in the ideology of denominational christian christmas (being in a fundamentalist “christian” group) so we didn’t celebrate it the way all of my friends did – we didn’t get the tree or decorations, traditional food or piles of presents. We did of course go to church, but that was just because they utilised the time off work the national holiday brought to get together and have big national conferences. They had nothing to do with christmas.

As a kid, not getting presents was awful. My brother and I (And a few other kids in the group) convinced our parents that we did deserve something at the end of the year, if not for christmas, for being good (Kind of the logic Santa is said to use I guess). So we got one present a year from our parents(Aside from birthdays). We called them “End of Year Presents”. I remember my budget was about $50, and I would plan for months what I would spend it on – a strange turn on the nature of the reciprocity, as the traditional christmas present is a surprise.

My extended family did practice traditional christmas (Being secular middle class English migrants) and some years we would get to go to my grandparents house for christmas. We would get to decorate the tree, eat roast ham, pop crackers and wear the hats. We even got presents from them and other relatives and sometimes even family friends (the presents were always for my brother and I, not my parents) Strangely though, we were never expected to give gifts because, aside from the years where we helped granny and poppa celebrate christmas, we still didn’t claim to celebrate it ourselves.

It’s interesting how sub-cultures can bend the ideologies for such symbolic phenomena as christmas, and more interesting when we ask – why? I think the answer lies in the reason for having christmas in the first place – a national event. All communities seem to rely on at least one anual event to bring them together, however the authority imposes their ideology onto such events (Quite necessarily, initially at least, as there needs to be some focal theme or order to the event) and it loses meaning for others. Still, I think holidays are essential for humans and having a point in the year to come together doing the same thing is what makes us feel like we’re still connected to others somehow.

Report blog

March 24, 2009

My first instinct for this assignment was to do an awkward ritual in the modern world – like standing at the bus stop, crossing the road, grocery shopping, lining up for computers at the library, etc..

I planned to study the use of pedestrian crossings at the Brooklyn/Ohiro Road intersection (a ritual I am familiar with). However at the last moment I got another opourtunity – I was invited to ‘Drinks’ at the house of one of my boyfriend’s friends.

‘Drinks’ is a very specific ritual, and I’m not sure if many but my own demographic practice it in quite the same way. Original or not, observing this ritual would be less painful than the other ideas I had!

Documenting this ritual though, presented many issues. My presence had a huge effect on some elements of the ritual – especially in the legal context. I’m interested in what the general feeling is within Anthropology of where the line sits; The native Amazonians in the video we watched aren’t prohibited to perform their rituals so they have no trouble with it being documented, but in a culture where certain substances are banned, are we allowed to talk openly about their use? Or even show it being done? What responsibility does a student Anthropologist have?

It all started with Nick and I talking about an article on the NY Times website (5/03/09) about the drug laws in America – basically they’re realizing that the laws installed in the 70s that treat drug offenses the same way as violent criminal offenses are outdated and need to change so that they’re sent to rehab instead of prison. (Ross Kemp on Gangs is an amazing documentary series that delves into the social structures that create the need and fuel the inspiration for creating gangs around the world. A large issue in the series is the drug laws.)

Our conversation then turned to what other things might we look back on in 50 years and chuckle to ourselves about now naive we all were. We can see now, as we look back on religious influence in political and cultural structure that even if we understand their intentions, we can’t understand their logic. In the future our perception may change, as if coming out of a religious era. This era seems to be more concerned with science, so for example any number of scientific theories may be discovered or altered which would change our perception of the world; any number of things may be apparent to exist within our culture, but only after a change of time.

I thought the discovery of aliens, along with humanity’s reaction to the discovery, would be immensely interesting in the definition of ‘Life’. I myself have trouble imagining aliens to look like the generic man-like, technology obsessed monsters seen in most representations of the concept. I like to think of aliens more as either completely imperceptible beings, or maybe more like plants or simple life-forms such as worms, maybe butterflies. Throw in a few more magnetic fields, and you got big headed rabbits. I also like to think that there are billions of planets out there just like ours, and hope they don’t have fuckin lasers, or a death wish for humanity.

So the definition of life – what is it? Dictionary.com says that life is: “The condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.” I like to think of planets and stars as living, but are machines? Here is the big question. At first I thought of machines as man-made and therefore artificial and inorganic. But that isn’t a good enough argument, because they’re made of the same basic elements as all objects and beings on Earth, and if I understand correctly, the whole universe is in fact made up of different combinations and densities of the same elements. So, if we’re all made of the same stuff, what makes some objects capable of containing life? And are machines alive?

Start with the concept ‘Machine’. Dictionary.com says: “an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work “. It’s constantly being improved, expanded. It feeds off humans, and recreates more machines. They reduce the hunter fight or flight instinct in us, and is always in the process of refining itself. So it’s evolving and it’s parasitically living off humans. Nobody has the agency to stop the evolution of machinery, and it creates more machines itself at a blinding rate. The machine even does our most ‘evolved’ thinking – computers generate mathematical equasions used for science….

Lost my train of thought, will add to this another time….

Back online!

March 23, 2009

So I moved house last weekend and haven’t had internet for almost 2 weeks. It’s been driving me crazy not being able to post my blog that I wrote last week – a bit behind the times but I promise I’ll catch up!!

Images and Reflections
Victor Turner. The Anthropology of Performance

In this reading I found the most interesting point to be that Anthropology is changing the way it looks at things; Modern Anthropology is moving away from studies of static structures to look at the symbolic aspect of human behavior. “Ethnography of speaking” (21) was a powerful example in this reading – deciphering meaning in the way language is used in the “actual conduct of life” is something I agree is an important skill for the Anthropologist to have a firm grasp on.

The other main point I enjoyed in this reading is Turner’s exploration of Singer’s theory that when viewing a piece of art, (“Units of observation.”, “Cultural performances.” (23)) one is experiencing what the artist experiences within his culture. Within this expression and shared experience there are many sensory codes that are included to help outsiders decipher the message – ie: facial expressions, verbal techniques, gestures..etc. These help convey the reflections of the artist/performer (in a way they hope to have some agency toward change) to the audience who will hopefully pick up on the cultural realism (24) and understand them by reflecting on it themselves in their own cultural and intellectual context.

Artists rely on common human experience to be the context within which any art (Theatre, fine art, music, literature) can be understood and meaningful. Anthropologists have trouble, according to Turner, “Translating sights and sounds into language” (30). I think the best way of interpreting art is to study and compare the meanings it holds for both artist and audience. It is in the communication between these two parties and the consequential symbolism/meaning gained by each from that communication wherein lies the purpose of art. Individual, not generalized interpretation is important for anthropologists to study.