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Who are these mysterious "they" who say a lot and show up everywhere uninvited?
August 8, 2010 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Why we urgently need to bring the concept of society up-to-date This post is taken from Disputed Questions: a series of debates organized by Neil Turner for the Open Anthropology Cooperative. I would like to argue for the motion: One of the major challenges of anthropology is the redefinition of the concept “society.”
posted by infini (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
But the need to make a world society fit for all humanity to live in is urgent for many reasons that I don’t need to spell out.

Well, okay.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:27 PM on August 8, 2010


Is it SEO spam?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2010


Even the author admits that "clearly world society is not yet a fact in the same sense as its principal predecessor", and I think it's equally obvious that we're nowhere close to the first truly post-national society -- as in, it may take two hundred years to appear, or five hundred, or it may never even happen. Why should we simply assume that we "urgently need to bring the concept of society up-to-date", when our current concept seems to fit society as it is practiced?

Since when is anthropology a prescriptive discipline rather than a descriptive one?
posted by vorfeed at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thatcher - There is no such thing as society. (via Abezier's comment in the Raoul Moat thread)

This is an interesting article although i understand about one word in three. Is he arguing that we need a world society and to put that above national societies? Is this sort of paving the way for the NWO? One world, one governtment, one society? (yeah, i wear a tinfoil hat). To be honest, i feel that there isn't much society left if you are poor in the uk. Thatch got her way, we have been split and set against one another.

Or is he talking about online communities coming together to work things out and assist and help one another? I can see his point, but in the past, people would do things for their neighbours, whereas nowadays they often don't know their next door neighbours. And it is difficult to offer practical help electronically in some ways.

Or is he talking about the homogeneity of society, everywhere becoming the same? Macdonalds and coke - the same in new york, london, moscow and beijing?

Or am i just stupid and not understood what this is about? You get a click anyway, as it interested me even though i am not shure i understand it.
posted by marienbad at 2:32 PM on August 8, 2010


And the one link in the post, goes to the exact same content on another SEO-ish site.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:33 PM on August 8, 2010


Really? flag it immediatemente
posted by infini at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2010


The idea of society started out as a Latin expression

Hold on wait, what? Surely the idea of society, or something very much like it, precedes the specific word for that idea. After all, were the Athenians really not cognizant of themselves as a society: what about polis, demos, the city-state, etc? Usually one starts with the Greeks, not the Romans, but an astute anthropologist would also ask: did the ancient Sumerians not have awareness of themselves as a society? The Iroquois Confederacy? The Egyptians, Mayans, Etruscans, etc? It sure seems awfully arbitrary and un-anthropological to imply the notion of society arose in the specific context of ancient Rome, and not earlier and elsewhere.

The idea of society started out as a Latin expression for an ad hoc alliance between stateless peoples in the event of an attack on any one of them. The latter would assume temporary leadership of the alliance and the rest would follow them (the word is derived from the root, to follow). Much later society came to be thought of as a centrally organized, bounded entity, medieval precursor of the nation-state.

But who or what on earth assumes "society" needed the modern nation state to become a coherent notion? The Greeks were not stateless: Sparta was a city-state. And the anthropological notion of "band-level society" suggests that wherever there are humans in groups something like society (and culture) occurs.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Open Anthropology Cooperative site looks like it should have been the one to be linked; perhaps the mods could point the link there... To, apparently, a comment on the third in a series of posts. Or maybe a larger post could be made out of the bigger series of debates.

I think it's equally obvious that we're nowhere close to the first truly post-national society -- as in, it may take two hundred years to appear, or five hundred, or it may never even happen.

What, 4chan doesn't count?
posted by kaibutsu at 3:17 PM on August 8, 2010


Since when is anthropology a prescriptive discipline rather than a descriptive one?

Exactly. Anthropologists are supposed to study what is, not try to create a replacement.

If this guy wants to preach, let him go to divinity school. If he wants to lead, let him run for elective office.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2010


If this guy wants to preach, let him go to divinity school. If he wants to lead, let him run for elective office.

Only priests and politicians are allowed to criticize society and offer ideas about how we might construct a better world? Really?

Some really smart people with backgrounds in academic anthropology are quite good at picking apart certain assumptions we make about what society is. They should be listened to (whether or not the writer who the FPP is about should be listened to is another matter).
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 3:37 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a little confusing. I assume the idea is not to change society (initially), but rather frame the discussion differently by changing the definition or re-framing the debate? I think it's kind of a backwards, unrealistic hope. It seems there are many more effective ways of improving "societies" (and most of them start with eliminating ignorance).
posted by Red Loop at 3:42 PM on August 8, 2010


If I understand Hart correctly he's saying something like: Anthropologists have thought of societies as being static and localized. Nowadays we're dealing rapid social change and large scale, often global, networks and organizations, and anthropologist need to rethink what it is their studying.

Hart isn't especially clear, and what he's saying isn't exactly anything new, but then again I don't think he's claiming to.
posted by nangar at 5:36 PM on August 8, 2010


Okay, now I get it. He's not expressing this especially clearly, but he's essentially saying that the problems of the modern world are huge collective action issues, and I would substantially agree with that: climate change, for instance, might be far more manageable if everybody cooperated in good faith to mitigate or ameliorate it. So he thinks anthropologists should have a hand in the direction of the human endeavor, rather than simply and exclusively observing the action of our species. But what insights should anthropologists use to accomplish that? It seems like the general descriptive consensus is that people generally perceive their social standing in the context of relatively small groups (family, network of friends, coworkers and acquaintances, your own fragment of a religious tradition, etc.). So if that's how we've observed people to be overwhelmingly naturally inclined, what does the study leading to such observations have to do with a radical transformation of those tendencies? I don't disagree that the world would be a much better place if everybody cooperated for the common good, I just don't see him offering anything distinctly anthropological to that goal.
posted by clockzero at 8:13 PM on August 8, 2010


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