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Dominant philosophy and technocratic trajectories.
Kayvon Reza Dehghan The University of Kent at Canterbury
This paper picks up issues Sherry Ortner (1984) discusses in her work Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties. It is not my intention to give an exhaustive account of anthropological thought since Ortner made her conclusions. Rather my aims is to demonstrate how currents Ortner identified within 1980¶s anthropology developed though the 1990¶s and today are calling today for a discipline wide transformation of anthropological understanding. I argue that the anthropological currents Ortner highlighted, over twenty years ago, have developed into pressing fields for anthropological progress as a result of a developing body of literature concerned with technologies. I argue that a wider understanding of this concept within the anthropological mainstream will mark an extremely important point of development for the discipline as a whole. Introduction Sherry Ortner's (1984:158) paper Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties is a reexamination of theory and methodology in anthropology from the 1960s to the 1980s and this type of concern ³with the relations between various intellectual trends in the field, within and across time´ emerged at the beginning of a period where anthropologists were becoming increasingly concerned with being reflexive, and this trend became more explicit over the next two decades, though some would argue it is still not being fully explored (Prattis 1997). Ortner herself writes that much of she says in her paper can be subsumed within the epigram ³Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product.´ (Ortner 1984:158) It is my argument that Ortner's reflexive discussion that highlighted practice and history as currents moving forward in the field, today the ideas Ortner was grappling with are brought into greater clarity if explored through the theoretical lens of the anthropology of technology, a field that had not formed as a distinct paradigm when Ortner was writing in the eighties, though it was definitely beginning to emerge.
Leaving practice behind Ortner (1984:157) identified Michel Foucault as someone who was writing in the late 1970 s/early 1980 s as part of the trend of practice her paper identified as a predominant current in 1980 s anthropology defined by the study all forms of
As well as how action could be channeled though a technique of acting upon oneself with an aim of individual transformation. (Foucault 1988:18 emphases added) Foucault. truth and epistemology (Prattis 1997:91) and question inherited notions of expertise and authority within the discipline. medicine and psychiatry can be read as a attempt to de-fetishize and de-reify inherited modes of objectification as Jackson had cried out was necessary in anthropology. Mauss s work on techniques of the body demonstrated how Man is a Social Product and what may be viewed as the most natural behaviors like standing up or sitting down were in reality highly socialized.human of human action. Foucault brought to light how there are not only techniques that permit us to produce. practice) demonstrated how from within an individuals actions and the specificities of the techniques they employ on in acting on matter. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face-value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific truth games related to specific techniques that human being use to understand themselves. but at ethics. can be extracted information about the bigger social system that individual is a part of. The 1990 s Lemonnier (1992:1) wrote that by 1992 the study of material culture in a social and economic context under the heading of an anthropology of technical . Yet Foucault was not satisfied with an explanation of how the techniques people use to act on matter in the world betray the social system in which they were enculturated. but from a particular political angle (Ortner 1984:149). or manipulate things. submitting them to certain ends. For Maussthe study of human action (i. Foucault s examination of areas such as economics. or use systems of symbols and signs. Foucault was not alone in his tack during the 1980 s and Gell s (1988:7) work on Technologies of Enchantment bears more than passing similarity to Foucault s concept of technologies of power (Foucault 1988:18) into positing a tec hnique where-by human action is directed to exert control over the thoughts and actions of other human beings (Gell 1988:7). He highlighted that human action (practice/techniques) could also act upon other humans with the goal of determining the conduct of other.e. T his is a line of thought being picked up in modern day anthropology and to which we will return after a short discussion of the 1990 s. biology. transform. in using the term technique revived a discourse begun 50 years earlier by Marcel Mauss (1935). And what term did Foucault choose to discuss the varied ways human practice not only bore testament to an individuals cultural training and modification (both in body and attitude) but how action could also be directed to modify other humans and oneself but technologies (Foucault 1988:18). Foucault s approach akin to that taken by Jackson (1984) also writing in the 1980 s highlights the problem the reflexive turn created in anthropology as it forced academics to take a very hard look not just at theory and methodology.
do societies adopt certain technological features and reject others? (Lemonnier 1992:2) demonstrated how technology choice is shaped within a society by political traditions (Hadjilambrinos 1999:1111) and that innovation in technologies wit hin a society is constrained by existing institutional structures and political traditions (Hadjilambrinos 1999:1112). Writing on the cusp on the new millennium Unruh (2000) working in the same field as Hadjilambrinos further documented the link between technological systems and governing institutions. the exact direction taken up today by anthropologists. combined with the fact that despite apparent economic and environmental advantages it was becoming clear that technological choices were often not made on a rational basis. (Lemonnier 1992:2).systems was a growing field. . The question was taken up though not immediately within anthropology. even if the results heavily suggest an outcome that will benefit for the population may require extensive social change if they are to be successful would still take another decade to be mirrored in an anthropological discourse. Hadjilambrinos s (1999) analysis of forces directing technological change in techniques of energy generation in France and Demark drew attention to how technological systems themselves are social productions and how in answering the question why if all other things are equal. Hadjilambrinos s argument that the incorporation of new and innovative technologies in order to transform the status quo. The notion of a Techno-Institutional Complex and technological lock-in proposed by Unruh became a way to further discuss issues of social institutions and customs shaping technology choice and the need for challenging paradigms of technology within our social system and create a push towards technologies being replaced by new dominant designs that resolve the existing environmental contradictions (Unruh 2000:823). why and how a given society uses a particular technology and not another is rarely taken into account. The social dimension of technological action that is. The ubiquitous nature of technologies in the field both these authors were writing in (energy generation) and the invention of effective but non-traditional but techniques to realize traditional goals. However the limitedperspective the field etched out still had flaws. but still in its infancy.
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