05 July 2013

Anthropology, the Foucauldian roadblock, and undisciplined knowledge


How do we know what we know, and why know anything at all? I think anthropology is about meta knowledge: how people find, create, interpret and share knowledge.  Meta-knowledge is the knowledge that we have about knowledge, and anthropology does this better than anything.  Pace Philosophy.  But Tim Ingold called anthropology ‘philosophy with the people left in’, and this is my all-time favourite characterisation of what we do as anthropologists.   

Anthropology is the about the potential of undisciplined knowledge, and consists—at least the really interesting parts of it do—of undisciplined knowledge, knowledge outside of the disciplining power of knowledge and the knowledge of power (our original sin, anthropologically speaking).  

Anthropology holds out the possibility of getting past the Foucauldian roadblock: that is, the roadblock to thought that has been presented by Foucault’s thought itself and his ideas about the disciplining of knowledge as road-blocks or limits to discursive knowledge. (Wittgenstein was there first, but abandoned that position; not so Foucault).  

The knowledge/power nexus has been seductive, addictive, but unproductive.  Or, to the extent that it has been productive, it has been productive of more of the same.  Foucault’s verbal volume in other mouths seems to anaesthetise many minds and, like Marxism, to compel repetition of the master’s insights. However valuable this is, it is not a (one of many, no dobut) way(s) forward.  

The Foucauldian paradigm, like Structuralism before it, strands us in a hall of mirrors in which everything, we always already know, is a simulacrum, a transgression/transformation, a disciplining of discourse, a rupture.  

What is real? Does it matter?  Of course it does: but why does not ‘not real’ matter so much?  That perhaps is one of the really real anthropological questions.
The history of ‘interesting’: what catches attention, what makes mere rock (the substance) a stone, that is something that can be used, or used to make a stone tool. And all the sequellae of that original ‘ah, that’s interesting … what can I do with it?’

Why are there social relations and not ‘nothing’--that is, not a Hobbesian vision, which is still a set of relations, however, bloody, but actually no relationships at all--that is, purely single organisms as ‘populations’?  Effectively, why is there ‘society’ and not just ‘population’ (and what are the consequences of treating societies as if they were ‘populations’, e.g. genocide, vaccines, racism, statistics, modern economics, etc.

Why does the zeitgeist bite?  Why does the zeitgeist (culture, discourse, ideology) always get us one way or another?  Why are we seduced by cultural schemes, leaders’ dreams, Microsoft’s ‘themes’? 
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