Tuesday, February 24, 2009


¡Hola! Everybody...
This will be one of those lonnnnnng work weeks...

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-=[ Anthropology ]=-

“When the missionaries first came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

-- Desmond Tutu, South African Bishop

When I attended university, I was in my late 30s, married, and was actually exceedingly well read. I would say, without conceit, that you will probably not meet many people that have read more than I have.

I went to school not so much to "learn" in the traditional sense of the word, but to become a part of a community of scholars. I didn’t attend school to “get a career,” or make more money, but because I wanted to engage with like-minded individuals and test what I had learned previously and in that way, learn anew. I learned many things, chief among them that learning in the context of a community is quite different from learning in isolation.

I learned that my notions of science, or rather, how knowledge is gathered and accepted (or not accepted) is not as logical as I had thought previously. I quickly wanted to explore the origins of knowledge, and how culture impacted what we accepted or didn’t accept as knowledge. It has become part of my life’s work, to research the researchers, to focus the light of my curiosity on those who study others.

It led me to a completely new body of work called cultural studies and into the realm of the philosophy of science. It started innocently enough: I was taking a class on counseling and there was a section on cross-cultural issues and I learned that how people describe their ailments have a deep connection to cultural values. I learned Western “medical science” wasn't so much a science as it was an art, deeply influenced by cultural mores and a body of research conducted mostly by privileged white men.

In addition, much of the research I was coming across regarding Latino/as, for example, seemed to me to be deeply flawed -- not congruent with my own experiences growing up Latino in the US. Then while working as a research assistant, I came across Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions and I discovered that the history of science wasn’t one that marched in a straight line, with newer innovations replacing older ones as they became known or discovered. Kuhn wrote about paradigm shifts in a way that demonstrated that the history of science is one of fits and starts, rather than a linear evolution.

Then I came across anthropology and in reading earlier anthropological works, I came to see clearly that culture is an inescapable equation when it comes to “science.” Some of this science history is sad, tragic even. As part of a class assignment, I came across the following piece written by an American Indian poet. See if you get its message:

Anthropology (excerpt)
Chrystos. (1991). Dream on (1 ed.). Vancouver, BC: Press Gang Publishers.

We have been conducting an extensive footnoted annotated indexed and complicated study of the Caucasian culture hereafter to be referred to as the cauks for ease in translation.

The most important religious ritual, one central to all groups, is the mixing of feces and urine with water. This rite occurs regularly on a daily basis and seems to be a cornerstone of the culture's belief system. The urns for this purpose are commonly porcelain, of various hues, although white is the most frequently used. The very wealthy rulers have receptacles of carved onyx or malachite with gold plated fixtures. We have been unable to determine what prayers are said during this ritual because its solitary nature & the fact that the door to the prayer room is always shut.

The main function of the majority of non-city dwellers is the production of an object called a lawn. Numerous tools for the cultivation of this lawn are sold in the market places. It appears also to have a sacred character, as no activity occurs on it & keeping it short green & square is a constant activity.

The main diet of the culture is available from push-button machines or orange plastic small markets and was found by our researchers to be completely inedible. It is truly amazing what the human animal can subsist on.

Another prominent feature of the cauks is the construction of huge monuments built in clusters in the villages. These are not living quarters but are used about five days a week for a ritual involving papers which appear to be sacred, given the life or death quality with which they are handled. The papers are passed about, often with consternation and eventually cast away when the spell is complete.

The mechanisms for healing disease appear to our eyes to be woefully complex & at the same time, inadequate. People who are seriously ill are quarantined in jails of pale green or white and often used to feed machines which appear to run on human blood.

Children who are born deformed in any way are usually confined to jails built for this purpose. The elderly are also jailed, there being no value system of respect for them. Those passing through transitions are called "crazy" and also jailed. Animals from distant lands again are jailed. In fact, there is some discussion of an alternative theory of central religious belief -- that the actual spiritual purpose of the culture, is to jail as much as possible. Extensive use of fences is the key argument to this theory.

Our data is yet incomplete. We hope by 1992 to have a more comprehensive overview, at which time a traveling exhibition of artifacts (including exhumed bodies to illustrate their burial practices) will tour for the education of all. Their attitude toward all non-cauk peoples is extremely hostile & violent. Many of our researchers have been massacred & yet, in the interests of science, we persevere.

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