Tim Ingold, the disciplinary liberator

7 06 2009

Enough with political talking heads; elections coverage is incredibly strenuous. Interwebs, talk some sense to me. Let’s see, there’s a quality Gil Scott-Heron tribute available on sixmillionsteps.com (love the Brian Jackson bit), an interesting discussion on history in media anthropology and then there’s a programmatic but very verbose paper by Tim Ingold on anthropology and ethnography.

My real purpose in challenging the idea of a one-way progression from ethnography to anthropology has not been to belittle ethnography, or to treat it as an afterthought, but rather to liberate it, above all from the tyranny of method. Nothing has been more damaging to ethnography than its representation under the guise of the ‘ethnographic method’. Of course, ethnography has its methods, but it is not a method. It is not, in other words, a set of formal procedural means designed to satisfy the ends of anthropological inquiry. It is a practice in its own right – a practice of verbal description. The accounts it yields, of other people’s lives, are finished pieces of work, not raw materials for further anthropological analysis. But if ethnography is not a means to the end of anthropology, then neither is anthropology the servant of anthropology.

Ingold, Tim (2008). Anthropology is Not Ethnography.  Proceedings of the British Academy 154: Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthropology, 69-92.

Somebody tell me what’s the word?

17 05 2009

Nobody does sociopolitically conscious soul music better than Gil Scott-Heron. His piercing voice, lyrics and sound float my boat, especially when I’m in a foul mood like tonight. How can they fire Bernard Dewulf?

Picture by Ivan Rott (flickr.com)

Gil Scott-Heron – Johannesburg (TVT, 1976)
Buy on Amazon or download at Soul Sides

Ode to Gil’s Black Aesthetics*

7 09 2008

Frustrated by the failure of the American Civil Rights Movement’s quest for racial and social progress but fueled by Black Power rhetoric, the Black Arts Repertory/Theater School was founded in Harlem, New York in 1965, an event marking the birth of the Black Arts Movement. Sharing a nationalist agenda with the Black Power Movement, the Black Arts Movement politicized African American literature, seeking to break free from European cultural standards and develop its own Black Aesthetic, one that would link an authentic African culture to an existing African American popular culture.

In defining a Black Aesthetic, proponents of the Black Arts Movement realized that their music and poetry could not be divorced. As cultural theorist Larry Neal (1968) wrote:

“Listen to James Brown scream. Ask yourself, then: Have you ever heard a Negro poet sing like that? Of course not, because we have been tied to the texts, like most white poets. … The key is in the music. … Our music has always been the most dominant manifestation of what we are and feel, literature was just an afterthought, the step taken by the Negro bourgeoisie who desired acceptance on the white man’s terms. And that is exactly why the literature has failed. … But our music is something else. The best of it has always operated at the core of our lives, forcing itself upon us as in a ritual. It has always, somehow, represented the collective psyche. … What this has all been leading us to say is that the poet must become a performer, the way James Brown is a performer –  loud, gaudy and racy.”

The Black Arts Movement failed to develop a method for its cultural analyses and by the mid-1970s, the Movement had all but died. Its performative art in tune with a Black Aesthetic did not though; it lived on in harmonious mixes of poignant poetry and strong beats. Enter Gil Scott-Heron.

Gil Scott-Heron – The bottle (Strata East Records, 1974)

[*based on a paper I wrote in 2001 to escape the encyclopedic horror of a literature course at university]

Neal, L. (1968) ‘And Shine Swam On. An Afterword’. IN: Napier, W. (ed.) (2000) African American Literary Theory. A Reader. New York: New York University Press, pp. 69-80.