Social · writing

Mary Catherine Bateson on Domesticity –

garden art at Dr. Bateson's New Hampshire farm

A nicely written article in the August 25th edition of the New York Times on anthropologist Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson (Margaret Mead‘s and Gregory Bateson‘s daughter) on her latest book which looks at domesticity, homemaking, and what it means to be part of a couple.

In Dr. Bateson’s parlance, homemaking is … a metaphor for community, for the design of an environment — professional or domestic or societal — that challenges and supports its inhabitants, an ideal closer to the arrangement of a Samoan village than a perfectly appointed living room. “It’s critical that home not just be a place that you use whatever is there, but that it be a place you are truly responsible for,” she said. “It’s not just your home and you get to mess it up.”

Homemaking, she added, is also a metaphor for longevity, a way of looking at the second stage of adulthood that precedes old age — what she calls “adulthood II” — which is the subject of her new book.

Yes, it’s a sequel to her 1990 meditation on the stop-and-start nature of women’s lives, except that this time she has invited men into the conversation.

more at At Home With Mary Catherine Bateson – Mary Catherine Bateson on Domesticity –

anthropology · culture

Claude Levi-Strauss dies at 100

I hope I live that long…no, really.

AP Story By Angela Doland

PARIS – Claude Levi-Strauss, widely considered the father of modern anthropology for work that included theories about commonalities between tribal and industrial societies, has died. He was 100.

The French intellectual was regarded as having reshaped the field of anthropology, introducing structuralism — concepts about common patterns of behavior and thought, especially myths, in a wide range of human societies. Defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity, structuralism compared the formal relationships among elements in any given system.

During his six-decade career, Levi-Strauss authored literary and anthropological classics including “Tristes Tropiques” (1955), “The Savage Mind” (1963) and “The Raw and the Cooked” (1964).

Jean-Mathieu Pasqualini, chief of staff at the Academie Francaise, said an homage to Levi-Strauss was planned for Thursday, with members of the society — of which Levi-Strauss was a member — standing during a speech to honor his memory.

France reacted emotionally to Levi-Strauss’ weekend death, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy joining government officials, politicians and ordinary citizens populating blogs with heartfelt tributes.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner praised his emphasis on a dialogue between cultures and said that France had lost a “visionary.” Sarkozy honored the “indefatigable humanist.”

Born on Nov. 28, 1908, in Brussels, Belgium, Levi-Strauss was the son of French parents of Jewish origin. He studied in Paris and went on to teach in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and conduct much of the research that led to his breakthrough books in the South American giant.

Beatriz Perrone Moises, an anthropology professor at the University of Sao Paulo, said “given his age, we were almost expecting this, but still I feel a kind of emptiness.”

“The Brazil he described in “Tristes Tropiques” is a very particular world of the senses and as he himself said there, it was a bit like rediscovering Americans, like the explorers of the 17th century. He often spoke about this emotion, this feeling. (For him,) Brazil that was less about the county itself than about the Brazil of the Indians and the feeling of walking in the footsteps of the 17th century explorers,” Perrone Moises told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo.

Levi-Strauss left France during as a result of the anti-Jewish laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime and during World War II joined the Free French Forces.

Levi-Strauss also won worldwide acclaim and was awarded honorary doctorates at universities, including Harvard, Yale and Oxford, as well as universities in Sweden, Mexico and Canada.

A skilled handyman who believed in the virtues of manual labor and outdoor life, Levi-Strauss was also an ardent music-lover who once said he would have liked to have been a composer had he not become an ethnologist.

He was married three times and had two sons, Matthieu and Laurent.

anthropology · children · play

Review: The Association for the Study of Play Conference

I am currently sitting in the airport on my way home from the 34th annual conference for The Association for the Study of Play (TASP), held in sunny Tempe, AZ.
I gave a presentation about how parkour is a form of grown-up freeform play, as opposed to soccer or working out at the gym. Freeform or “unstructured” play is something you see kids do all the time, but grown-ups generally stop doing it all together. Parkour does not, and instead encourages grown-ups to keep that kid spirit of finding play in every aspect of your environment, and seeing play as important as work or leisure.
But enough about me, onto the conference. Most of the conference was dominated by early childhood development researchers (0-5 years old), and how play is beneficial to them. Which is great, I’m all for it. However, that sort of meant that left the rest of us anthropologists, sociologists, pirmatologists, psychologists, older kid play specialists, and other researchers out on our own. We were heard, for sure, but the conference was truly dominated by them; there were only seven sessions out of 21 that didn’t feature early childhood studies (this count includes workshops and panels).
But all moaning aside, it was a great conference, for one thing because you didn’t have to explain why you were studying play, or why it was important/beneficial/worth studying/etc. I reluctantly stayed through Saturday for the session on the use of digital photography in play studies, and it was the best session of the whole event. Two of the women were doing exactly what I’d like to do as a study and research focus (namely giving people (kids) cameras as learning and research tools and see what they come up with). Unfortunately, neither of them good answer exactly what they were going to do with their research once it was done. Dr. Laurelle Phillips had expanded the use of cameras at her school to other classrooms, but the school was located on her university so they could afford to buy three cameras per classroom. Doctoral candidate Carol Borran wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her work other than get her thesis. I spent the majority of Saturday talking with her and Dr. Pat Broadhead, and they were wonderful, both encouraging me to take time off from my research studies but also pursue a doctoral degree in my area of study. Dr. Broadhead said I could be Professor of Playful Spaces, which I must admit does sound cool. Usually the whole reason to go to conferences is to network, and while I regret I really didn’t get into it until the very last day, I got to see some amazing research and speaking with those two women was wonderful; just to hear their attitude about things, to get an outsider’s view of American attitudes to policy and pushing back against “the man.”
There was a paper I wished I’d seen but was canceled, which was a study of portrayal of masculinity through MMA fighting.
I got some good sun, good experience presenting (I think this was the first time ever I wasn’t really nervous going up and presenting in front of a group. I almost wondered what was wrong with me), and some good brain stimulation. So all in all good stuff.
For now I will leave you with a meditative question from the chair of the conference, Dr. David Kuschner: “If there is a toy in the woods and there is no one to play with it, is it really a toy?”


Time to Get Opinionated

Nothing worth doing an entire blog about, but just some stuff I needed to get off my chest:

Discourse analysis and semiotic analysis for that matter are much, much, much too broad and loosey goosey to be of much use. If you believe Foucault that EVERYTHING can be a discourse, then you’ll spend your entire life trying to determine if every thought you share or action you take is your own creation or just another discourse that has been ingrained into you. Semiotics is a different story in that you can say anything symbolizes anything, but you end up in the same pickle.

Power DOES exist, thank you very much.

There needs to be a word that describes the study of Family Structure in Archaeology. Maybe I just coined it, I’ll have to look it up.

Graduate school is very time consuming, and while I love it, I wish I could afford to be a starving college student so I had more time to work on my schoolwork (I say this while writing in my blog instead of doing my reading), because they expect you read (ahem *skim*) so freakin’ much! And fit in research papers and thesis work at the same time.

Anthropology needs to be a more holistic approach. There, I said it. Maybe I’m taking too much of a “four fields” approach, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe I’m oversimplifying, whatever, but I say that the study of human beings needs to be an integrated study, looking at all aspects of being human, bones to brains, and separation of biological from cultural from physical from linguistic anthropology is going about things all wrong. We need integration of the disciplines, we’re supposed to be studying human beings as a whole, not looking at bits and pieces and then arguing about how these bits and pieces are the one truth, or how they obviously don’t fit together, so the other bits and pieces must be wrong. ACK!

The U.S. Government is making it harder and harder to leave, visit, work, or even share ideas with the U.S. So much for freedom and liberty and international ambassador-ness and all that.