Laryngitis=Typed Class Notes Introducing Victor Turner

I feel pretty good, but have no voice whatsoever.  So, since I have four and a half hours of class to teach today, I’ve spent the morning typing out my introduction to Victor Turner for my class on Ritual.  We’ve spent most of the first three weeks discussing Durkheim’s Elementary Forms and van Gennep’s Rites of Passage, but the students have not been given formal introductions to Marx or Weber in this class (though they’ve likely encountered them elsewhere).

The reason I’m really posting this here, though, is that I’d like to submit these notes to the collective wisdom of both of my readers.  Anything in here you’d care to quibble about?  Let me know!

RITUAL – Introducing Victor Turner
Erik W. Davis

In many ways, Turner sets the stage for contemporary interventions in the anthropological theory and study of ritual. He combines in his person and scholarship a lot of the concerns from conflicting and previously unassociated theoretical approaches: Marxism, Durkheim, and Van Gennep.

Durkheim and His Competitor Trains of Thought

Recall that Durkheim is considered one of the three major founders of Social thought (inclusive of both Anthropology and Sociology), along with Karl Marx and Max Weber. Each of these founders has a distinctive approach to key problems: the nature of the social division of labor, the relationship of economic and social organization to ideology and religion, ‘modernity,’ and the role of institutions in social life.

Each of them were confronted by an apparently radically novel social situation – capitalism – which seemed to break definitively from all previous forms of traditional society. It is difficult to overemphasize the extent to which all three of these thinkers, regardless of their differences, saw the contemporary modern period as a period of profound social flux and change. All of them also tied these changes to capitalism, the new division of labor in society into classes, and the role of religion. Summarizing any of these individual’s thought does violence to their subtlety. However, schematically, we can characterize them in the following ways:

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BBC Documentary: Tales From The Jungle: Malinowski

I am always on the lookout, nowadays, for good teaching materials on the internet, especially good documentaries. Here are all six parts of the BBC4 Documentary, “Tales From The Jungle: Malinowski.” A tidy little piece lasting roughly one hour, it covers the importance of Bronislaw Malinowski, ranging from his methods (participant observation) to his investigations on Baloma and Kula exchange. His diaries range throughout the story, coloring his accomplishments and adding nuance.

The video was criticized on technical grounds (and perhaps, but vaguely, on more substantive matters) over at Savage Minds, and the comments there are worth a gander.

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Generation Doomed

So, education is becoming a privilege. But it would be simplistic to respond by advocating state education. Our entry into the system of global finance via student debt simply confirms what Ivan Illich has always said about the function of organised schooling (as opposed to education), that it is our induction into wage relations, its hidden curriculum a rehearsal of roles in the productive chain. As Michael Aglietta has argued in his Theory of Capitalist Regulation, debt rests on this division of labour. While in training, we are learning to be in debt, and that being in debt means participating in the current composition of work.

For those able to attend university, the mode of production begins to mirror the speculative operations of global finance. Like theorist Paolo Virno’s service sector virtuosi, student/workers endlessly perform their self-publicity, legions of Nathan Barley-esque ‘self-facilitating media nodes’ betting that frantic networking now will pay off in the future. In this exhausting dance of likeability, only the moderately dissociated (and heavily trust-funded) can survive. And in the differential admission game played by universities, the hot product offered to the student/consumer is precisely the possibility of access to this or that hyped network: the dangling carrot of the internship scheme.

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