Archive for the ‘Social spaces’ Category
Last year Raquel Nelson was crossing the street with her 4-year-old son who was struck by a driver who fled the scene. Her son died and Nelson — just to be clear, the mom, not the driver of the car – was convicted of homicide by vehicle and reckless conduct (source). Nelson, you see, was jaywalking. Her apartment complex was directly across the street from the bus stop and a half-mile from the nearest crosswalk. None of the jurors on her case had ever taken public transportation.
If the end of exoticism is one of the characteristics of our time, and if classical anthropology based its study of alterity on this exotic distance from the other, is anthropology still possible, and if so, to what end? The author, Marc Augé, uses these questions as a point of departure for a probing interrogation of ethnological practice, starting with Lévi-Strauss.
For several years, the author has advocated an anthropology of “proximity” in place of the usual anthropology of distance. He has studied such emblematic places of Western modernity as the Parisian Metro, or such emblematic “non-places” as airports or freeways, treating as valid anthropological objects phenomena that others might judge less “pure” or “significant” than systems of filiation or matrimonial alliance. The proper place of the ethnographer, he argues, is sufficiently distanced to comprehend a system as a system, yet participatory enough to live it as an individual. How can one best arrive at such a place?
This book answers by outlining an approach to anthropology that focuses on negotiating the social meanings we and others use in making sense of the world, and on the processes of identification that create the difference between same and other. Why trace a line of demarcation between societies thought to warrant and require anthropological observation and others (namely, our own) thought to demand a different type of study? Once anthropology, through its study of rites, takes social meaning as its principal object, the necessity for a “generalized anthropology” that includes the entire planet seems obvious, especially in view of the rapid proliferation of new networks of communication and the integration of individuals into those networks.
An ever-increasing proportion of our lives is spent in supermarkets, airports and hotels, on motorways or in front of TVs, computer and cash machines. This invasion of the world by what Marc Augé calls ‘non-space‘ results in a profound alteration of awareness: something we perceive, but only in a partial and incoherent manner. Augé uses the concept of ‘supermodernity‘ to describe the logic of these late-capitalist phenomena – a logic of excessive information and excessive space. In this fascinating and lucid essay he seeks to establish and intellectual armature for an anthropology of supermodernity. Starting with an attempt to disentangle anthropology from history, Augé goes on to map the distinction between place, encrusted with historical monuments and creative social life, and non-place, to which individuals are connected in a uniform manner and where no organic social life is possible. Unlike Baudelairean modernity, where old and new are interwoven, supermodernity is self-contained: from the motorway or aircraft, local or exotic particularities are presented two-dimensionally as a sort of theme-park spectacle. Augé does not suggest that supermodernity is all-encompassing: place still exist outside non-place and tend to reconstitute themselves inside it. But he argues powerfully that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses, and concludes that this new form of solitude should become the subject of an anthropology of its own.