Archive for February, 2011

The Emerging Picture of Prehistoric Arabia
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 15: 461-490 (Volume publication date October 1986)
M Tosi
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to my Tutor….

My dearest Simone,

I was more consciously aware of holes in my knowledge when reading “The Emerging Picture of Prehistoric Arabia.”  A greater familiarity with the geography of the region, a very clear picture of the geological timeline and geological processes, a better understanding of non-Western history all would have helped.  Certainly I understand how to consult a map and appropriate reference materials, but I’m finding that I can no longer put off committing to memory a wider body of information.  I have too often told myself not to waste brain space on information that I could easily look up.

When I chose this article I didn’t immediately have in mind the fact that Arabia stands apart from the typical timeline of agricultural development.  Certainly I had been exposed to discussions of pastoralism, hunting and gathering and maritime economies, but I don’t know that I had given much thought to them in a prehistoric context in the sense discussed by Tosi, that study of the prehistory of the region could be used to complement “traditional focus on agricultural origins and early urbanism” and used to develop “a more comprehensive definition of economic evolution.”  It’s worthy of a bookmark.

As to the archaeology in the region, both the geographical and political climates in the region make establishing a prehistoric chronology difficult.  Erosion hampers the recovery of organic remains resulting in only a handful of radiocarbon dates; remains such as rock carvings and megaliths lack the contextual means of dating; passing of data from colonial authorities to local authorities and still more local authorities results in loss of context for the collected data.   Tosi’s discussion of all of these seemed interesting, but I wasn’t in a mind to digest it.

The author seemed to be an interesting sort.  Andrew Lawler wrote the following in a May 2010 article in Science:

“He told colleagues he was looking for ancient lapis lazuli mines. But when Maurizio Tosi crossed into Afghanistan at the height of the war between the Soviet Union and the mujahedin in 1984, his real goal was to locate wooden boxes that had once contained American-supplied Stinger missiles. Those missiles threatened Soviet helicopters, and Moscow was eager to trace the route they had taken into Pakistan. … ” (Link)

I should be able to locate the full text of this article soon.

Of late I have been distracted and uninspired.  Inspiration isn’t necessary for productivity, but it helps.  I hope that you do not grow tired of me.

Ever true,


Letters to my Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

A copy of America Day by Day came in at my local library.  I’ve only grazed and skimmed so far, but I’m delightfully excited about the level of detail you share about your experience and observations traveling in America.  I have high hopes of gaining insight into my very American self.

When I lived in London, I loved being “that American girl,” no matter the tone in which it was said.  Something hit me in the face when there — I was American first and black second when it came to how others saw me.  I hadn’t noticed beforehand how much I had felt that in America, I was black first and American second when it came to how others saw me.  Perhaps, this has something to do with why it is that “foreigners” usually easily identify me as American no matter how I’m dressed or how I speak whereas other Americans have frequently thought me to be foreign since I was a teen.  I will reflect more on this as a read your travel journal.

I will save my comments on my regularly scheduled reading in anthropology for next week.  I won’t bore you with the details, unless you ask.

My warmest regards,

Functional Analysis in Anthropology and Sociology: An Interpretative Essay
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 19: 243-260 (Volume publication date October 1990)
S N Eisenstadt
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to my Tutor….

My dearest Simone,

I’ve read enough in anthropology to be frustrated by my lack of basic knowledge of the discipline. I don’t know why exactly I haven’t been able to focus more on enjoying what I am learning no matter how little it feels or how confused I may be at times. I study anthropology because I enjoy it, because I think it will make me a better fiction writer, because I think it will make me a better a thinker, a better person. Maybe my American self demands that I tie study to some concrete and not-too-distant money-making goal? I think a bit of your commentary on American culture is on point. In “An Existentialist Looks at Americans” you write on the American obsession with concrete results, the lack of joy in doing a thing. You write also of how concrete results are often measured in dollar signs for Americans:

“…to cut the result from the human movement which engendered it, to deny it the dimension of time, is also to empty it of every sort of quality: only dry bones remain. With quality lacking, the only measure that remains with which to estimate the work and achievement of man is a quantitative one–money.”

Chris Rock spoke of this American obsession with money in a comedy routine. I believe it speaks directly to your writing on Americans:

As copied from Wikiquote (with edits) (Link):
The number one reason people hate America… the number one reason is because of our religion. Americans worship money; we worship money. Separate God from school; separate God from work; separate God from government; but on your money it says, “In God we trust.” All my life I’ve been looking for God, and he’s right in my pocket. Americans worship money, and we all go to the same church, the church of ATM. Everywhere you look there’s a new branch popping up … remind you about how much money you got and how much money you don’t got. And if you got less than twenty dollars, the machine won’t even talk to you.

OK, so that’s that. What do I have to say about “Functional Analysis in Anthropology and Sociology: An Interpretative Essay?” Eisenstadt writes about his analysis of bureaucratic empires. One thing in particular coincides with some of my recent thoughts on politics. He writes:

The rulers…attempted to limit the influence of the very aristocratic system of stratification and legitimation that made them rulers; meanwhile the lower strata of the population, to whom the rulers attempted to appeal, began to “aristocratize” themselves. Such contradictions generated struggle, change, and the eventual demise of these systems.

I’ve been thinking more of the second part of that statement, of how attempts to appeal to the “lower strata” can lead to demise. There’s this whole fiction of the “middle class” that’s grown up in the politics. As near as I can figure, the term “middle class” can only properly be applied to the children of nobles who aren’t in line to inherit a title. But these new middle class are repackaged peasantry desperate to identify as something else, desperate to “aristocratize” themselves; they seem to believe that they can somehow use existing social structures to limit or in some small way control the behavior of the ruling class, you know, democracy and all that. I do not believe it a sustainable thing for governments, for rulers, to appeal to this sentiment, at least not in the current fashion. I would be curious to read Eisenstadt’s work with a mind to how it speaks to more recent “democracy” movements. I believe this current cult of the middle class to be one of the more insidious movements against freedom and intellectual advancement. I believe you write about this very thing as well… the complacency and such of the petit bourgeois.

Perhaps we will pick this up later? I am constantly saying this, I know.

With all my heart,

The Changing Role of Women in Models of Human Evolution
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 15: 25-66 (Volume publication date October 1986)
L M Fedigan
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dear, kind Madame,

Reading Linda Marie Fedigan’s “The Changing Role of Women in Models of Human Evolution,” I was again struck with the thought that women in academia are more attuned to academic bias which is, I suppose, as one would expect.  Much the same as when reading the review for “Groups That Don’t Want In: Gypsies and Other Artisan, Trader, and Entertainer Minorities,” there was an undertone of “Here’s the state of the literature…such as it is,” and justifiably so.  In American schools there is this pretense that academia is more independent than it is; that there is some raison dêtre other than support of the state and the status quo.  There is a sense that new and innovative and pragmatic thinking will be appreciated, but it is a false sense for the most part.  It seems that many American academics like to believe that they love Plato Socrates when really they are just as Aristotelian as the rest of the Western world.

In an essay on Americans (Philosophical Writings (Beauvoir Series)), you write that the existentialists believe that the realness of freedom lies in pursuing some end and effecting some real change upon the world and this is why you “approve, to some extent, the American way of judging a man by what he has done.”  A man is not simply the product of his birthright, but more the product of his accomplishments.  I believe that your observation is true, that this is a real ideal in American culture.  And I believe that it is this ideal that requires the pretense of appreciation of the novel in American academia.  If a man is what he does, there is a different valuing and definition of “doing” than what one finds in other Western cultures.   Birth is given to the notion that hard work based on skill or knowledge or facts is always rewarded.  However, this ideal is much more real in American folklore than can be found in actual practice.  Conservatism in academia has a much longer and deeper history than American pragmatism.

As to some of the specifics of the review, there seemed to a consistent narrative in the literature reviewed that cast women’s reproductive abilities in a negative light.  The fact that women had babies held them back and made them dependent on men for protection and sustenance.  Fedigan writes that the prevailing ideology as far as who gets to reproduce is not only a matter of selecting for desirable male traits, but also a matter of men choosing which women should be so lucky as to serve as incubators for the genetic stuff of the superior males.  She writes: “…Darwin helped to pioneer what I call the ‘coat-tails’ theory of human evolution: traits are selected for in males and women evolve by clinging to the mean’s coat-tails.”  Female reproduction is a hindrance or at most an aside.  Male reproduction, on the other hand, is the stuff that builds and sustains.

Thinking more modernly, we have these notions of the world in crisis because women are having babies; overpopulation will be the death of us all.  Damn those women!!  I remember this being a particular gripe of my first anthropology professor, “Women having babies is not the problem,” she often cried out.  I didn’t love my first anthropology professor in that way that many women often love their first anthropology professors, but on this we agreed.  The world in crisis couldn’t have almost entirely to do with the consumption and output of modern societies, could it?  It seems these narratives of how women having babies is a problem for women, for cultural development, for the health of the planet are deeply embedded in modern human societies.  I think it would make for interesting study to look at them all.

Men laid claim to their own bloody and violent birthing schemes.  I think the popularity of “Man the Hunter” comes from a desire to take ownership of an ability natural to women.  The blood and guts and endurance and bonding that comes from hunting is much more important to how human cultures evolved and developed than any contribution of women.  Men can be tough, too!  I think the popularity of looking to other primates or modern day hunter-gatherer societies for clues into the development of early human cultures does much to support male-dominant schemes of early cultural development in that doing so limits the type and scope of questions asked even when those questions would tend to look more favorably on female contributions.  I think the focus on the tangible and easily measurable leads to significant shortcomings; it’s so easy to misinterpret or ignore significance in these comparisons.  Things that look the same across cultures may not have the same significance, may not have the same mind applied to the thing.

I’ve always thought that women giving birth was the key to understanding early human cultures and the development of cultures and the male desire to dominate in culture as well as the methods he uses to do so or claims to have done so.  I’ve always believed that early cultural traditions and rituals surrounding the importance of women giving birth are key to understanding the prevalence of misogyny across modern cultures.  I’m not sure of the influences that lead me to this place, but I’ve thought this since I was very young.  I believe there was much Marxist thinking floating around in rural Mississippi.

OK, it’s getting late again.  Reading Fedigan, I feel very encouraged to read more of Friedrich Engels.  I agree with him that it seems that women played a more significant role in early human cultures and that that role fell into decline.  I am interested to know more of the details of his thinking.

Yours in mind and spirit,