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ANTH 1001: Introduction to anthropology
Monday, May 25, 2020 (Week 13)
Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1001/2020/5.1.1
For the full text of this lecture, see The charisma of the coronavirus.
At the end of a normal semester, I usually ask students to
That’s still a good idea in this abnormal semester. Learning is a process of change. Learning is not simply acquiring facts. Hence there is no “right answer” to the question of what is anthropology. Your learning is the changes you see in your own thinking.
This semester there were a lot of changes, most of which were unplanned. There was a lot of learning going on that we did not expect. Let’s take stock of this learning.
In the face of a global catastrophe, you might wonder whether anthropology matters at all anymore.
Anthropology studies the normal patterns of life in specific communities; nothing about the pandemic is normal!
I would still say that anthropology can tell us a lot about the global pandemic
Max Weber argues that society is a system of patterns of action, each of which has a specific meaning for the people—the actors—who perform them (Weber  1972).
For Weber, people are rational and are capable of seeing the consequences of what they do. Patterns of action can be distinguished based on how much and what kind of rational thinking they involve (Weber  1946).
This is how Weber distinguishes among the kinds of authority people will obey (Weber  1946):
(with apologies to Roy Wagner 2000.)
At several times during the colonial period in Papua New Guinea, a number of prophets arose who predicted the immanent end of the rule by white Australians, and the arrival of boats and planes from far-off places with the ancestors. Followers left their villages to live together to await the new era.
Colonial officials thought that people were experiencing mass hysteria, or that they had become brainwashed by a cult that promised to magically create wealth (cargo, hence “cargo cult”). Actually, these were as much political movements as they were religious movements (Burridge 1954; Worsley 1974; Lindstrom 1993). Either way, this was Weberian charisma in action.
Specifically, this is an excellent example of the potential for charismatic authority to compel people to critique their everyday existence. It’s not crazy to think that colonial rule should end and cargo should be redistributed. It is very critical of colonialism, though (Burridge 1954; Jebens 2004). The colonial government of PNG was right to be worried.
cargo : culture :: prophets : anthropologists (Wagner 2000)
The charisma of the coronavirus gives us the same critical insight into our own everyday lives. The pandemic gives us the same opportunities to critique our own cultures that anthropology gives us.
Our consciousness of contagion is making us aware of the social fabric that is normally invisible. It’s like the video of the guy with invisible ink who eats at a buffet (日本放送協会 [NHK] 2020). When the black light is turned on, suddenly everyone can see that his ink has spread all over the room.
When an anthropologist enters a new situation, she reacts to everything that is unfamiliar, and people react to the anthropologist’s strange behavior too. These reactions are the clues to the imponderabilia of everyday life.
The anthropologist sees things that others ignore, but not because the anthropologist is an expert or because she has special insight into other people. Through anthropology’s methods of observation, we can induce in ourselves a new state of consciousness. (In this respect, anthropologists are also like shamans.)
During this pandemic, we have been made subject to the authority of the state bureaucracy and its rationality. This authority is not charismatic; it tells us that it will do the rational thinking for us.
Because a coronavirus is an object of scientific knowledge, we are dependent on experts to tell us what to think about it and what to do about it.
The science being used by governments only sees individual cases, and now is moving to a framework based on individual responsibility for risk.
Anthropology teaches us to see things under an ultraviolet light in which our social connections and our intrinsic interdependencies are visible.
Budryk, Zack. 2020. “Fauci: ’You Don’t Make the Timeline. The Virus Makes the Timeline’.” Text. The Hill. March 26, 2020. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/489636-fauci-you-dont-make-the-timeline-the-virus-makes-the-timeline.
Burridge, K. O. L. 1954. “Cargo Cult Activity in Tangu.” Oceania 24 (4):241–54.
Jebens, Holger, ed. 2004. Cargo, Cult, and Culture Critique. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. http://books.google.com?id=F5v7UD4FOigC.
Lindstrom, Lamont. 1993. Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Wagner, Roy. 2000. “Our Very Own Cargo Cult.” Oceania 70 (4):362–72. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/222380627.
Weber, Max. (1921) 1946. “Politics as a Vocation.” In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, 77–128. New York: Oxford University Press.
———. (1919) 1946. “Science as a Vocation.” In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by C. Wright Mills and H. H. Gerth, 129–56. New York: Oxford University Press.
———. (1922) 1972. “On the Concept of Sociology and the Meaning of Social Conduct & Characteristic Forms of Social Conduct [Selections from Economy and Society].” In Max Weber: Basic Concepts in Sociology, translated by H. P. Secher, 29–62. Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press.
Worsley, Peter. 1974. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of “Cargo” Cults in Melanesia. New York: Schocken Books.
日本放送協会 [NHK]. 2020. “クルーズ船の接触感染 実験で検証 新型コロナウイルス.” NHKニュース. May 8, 2020. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20200508/k10012422171000.html.
General info: The goal of this class | What we will do in this class | Readings, other class requirements, and online resources | A note about attendance | The keys to success in this class | A guide to effective email | The ANTH 1001 class Canvas site (requires USYD login)
Lecture outlines and guides:
|Module 1: What makes us human?||Weeks 1–3|
|1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.3.1, 1.3.2||Ryan Schram|
|Module 2: Can an anthropologist really leave her culture?||Weeks 4–6|
|2.1.1, 2.1.2, 2.2.0, 2.3.0||Ryan Schram|
|Module 3: Is family universal?||Weeks 7–9|
|3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.3.1, 3.3.2||Jadran Mimica|
|Module 4: Where is the mind?||Weeks 10–12|
|4.1.1, 4.1.2, 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.3.1, 4.3.2||Jadran Mimica|
|5.1.1, 5.1.2||Ryan Schram|
Assignments: Online discussion posts and responses | Weekly reflections | Module 1 concept quiz | Tell me a story...: An analysis of qualitative data | Proposal for a Grade 12 lesson on kinship | Comprehensive (open-book, take-home) essay response assignment