Anthropology before the narrators of globalization

Received: March 2, 2017

Acceptance: March 10, 2017

ANDhe text by Gustavo Lins Ribeiro raises key questions to rethink the current situation of anthropology. His historical gaze shows that few foundational traits persist because the world has mutated since the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. A defining past characteristic - "understanding the structures of otherness" - is blurred when we recognize that anthropology can no longer be "the cosmopolitics of the West", nor "the celebration of the power of the white man."

The relocation of anthropological knowledge in the globalizing process, which made most nations and ethnic groups interdependent, is one of the reasons why anthropology, as knowledge consecrated to the local, has lost relevance in recent decades. Lins Ribeiro rightly mentions other reasons: competition with other disciplines, hyperspecialization, changes in the relationship between culture and nature, anti-intellectualism (in part due to the “empire of screens” and the informative vertigo caused by the internet). The text points out some faults in anthropology itself: "the culture of auditing and productivism" associated with the business model with which academic life is reorganized, as well as "the absence of professors" from public debates.

I would like to expand the repertoire of world changes that modify the role of anthropology and explain why and how some anthropologists see in these transformations opportunities to reconfigure our discipline. It is also necessary to point out what theoretical and epistemological challenges we face, not only to de-westernize but to describe this era of globalized interdependence in which there is no longer any all-encompassing narrative. I advance it like this: how to place at the center of the discipline not culture or otherness, but the interculturality of societies and stories about social life that are difficult to measure?

I agree with Lins Ribeiro that we live in a post-multicultural era. But only in the anthropological knowledge and in the practices of some organisms, such as certain NGOs. Multiculturalism prevails in national policies and international institutions. In the areas most sensitive to what is called the universality of the human, democratic pluralism or "the Anglo-Saxon ideology of administration of inter-ethnic conflicts" continues to influence: segregating ethnic groups into different neighborhoods, promoting tolerance, moderating –only moderating– Unequalizing effects of differences, for example through quotas or quotas, without assuming the challenges of growing intercultural coexistence.

On the other hand, aggressive multiculturalism is rising. I hesitate to call it multiculturalism because in Brexit, Trumpism, European right-wing racism and others, nationalism dominates; But perhaps all multiculturalists have in common imagining that coexistence with different people requires distancing them, with the fewest possible rights. In their most exasperated versions they seek the annulment of the others: Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Africans, Latinos. The slope Light Of these nationalist multiculturalisms he admits the existence of the different ones as long as they are separated by a wall, a sanitary distance.

The coexistence of these and other human groups, due to migrations, tourism, the transnationalized industrialization of culture, invalidated the predominant narratives in the 20th century. We must start from the evidence that there is no a theory of interculturality nor a ethics capable of managing with consensus the multiple ways of organizing family life, sexuality, work and commerce, knowledge about education or health and many other areas of social life.

New narrators of universality

Two stories from recent years propose transcultural integration modes with a global vocation: postcolonialism and technosocial rationality. I am going to analyze them briefly to explore what the role of anthropology can be in its models for the resolution of intercultural conflict.

1. The postcolonialism it is a narrative that attempts to operate as a theory of globalization. Born in decolonized Asian and African countries in the second half of the 20th century, she contributes to overcoming the vague notion of the Third World by describing the colonial conditions of those societies, their persistence in post-emancipation discourses, and postulating an epistemological change to redefine the subalternity. Two criticisms made of postcolonial thought show the limitations of their undertaking: a) Being built by intellectuals of oriental origin who produce in western universities, where they participate in the postmodern linguistic turn in the humanities, their works focus on language and representations , not in the material and social conditions of existence; b) Their analyzes focus on intercultural differences and give little space to the contradictions of capitalism and the neoliberal orientation of globalization (Dirlik, 2007; Aroch, 2015).

These limitations make it problematic to transfer postcolonial theory to Latin America, where from dependency theory to sociocultural studies that link symbolic production with its economic conditions (Jesús Martín Barbero, Norbert Lechner, and Boaventura de Sousa, among others) developed conceptual frameworks. keeping in view our peculiar articulations between the national and the foreign, the neoliberal economy and the resistance and alternative movements, that is, the historical-epistemic positions in which our conflictive modernity is debated.

The sophistication of the discursive analysis of Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak or Anthony Appiah helps us to reinterpret the classical studies of Latin American historians of art and literature. But we cannot, in countries that ceased to be colonies more than two centuries ago, reduce our complex interculturality and inequality to colonial legacies. This colonial heritage persists, without a doubt, in the oppressive treatment of native peoples and Afro-Americans, but the current contradictions of our development go beyond that interpretative key.

When I speak of theoretical frameworks linked to particular conditions of our continent, I am thinking of concepts such as post-imperialism, transnationalization, globalization from below, and the international division of intellectual labor, which are not exclusive to our region or stem from indigenous traditions. They are constructed by researchers such as Federico Besserer, Gustavo Lins Ribeiro, and George Yúdice, for example, based on research on Latin American sociocultural processes and in critical dialogue with specialists from other centers and peripheries, including postcolonialists.

We are not essentially post-colonial, because our subordination today does not have the structure of the political-military occupation of our territories. Some features derived from the periods in which this occurred, mixed with others from classical imperialism (dependence on the US economy and unequal exchange of raw materials for manufactured products) remain. But what remains of colonialism and imperialism is relocated in networks controlled by transnational companies (from multilocated factories of food, clothing, cars, to the ubiquitous artistic, media and digital corporations). When Said wanted to understand the role of the decisive "cultural forms" in configuring "imperial attitudes, references and experiences," recalls Lins Ribeiro, he chose the novel as his object, like other postcolonial authors (Ribeiro, 2003: 54). Now, the hegemonic cultural forms are those that globally produce the cinema, television, the multimedia corporations that administer the network.

This neoliberal denationalization, in which the structures of domination are blurred, does not allow the seats of power to be focused solely on empires such as the United States or the United Kingdom. The transterritoriality of corporations tends to de-responsible the dominators. Every time we want to complain about the failures of a product manufactured by a transnational company, we verify that the public limited companies do not have clear owners or central addresses. When they give us a phone number, if we call they tell us that the lines are busy and ask us to wait because "your call is very important to us." Who we? If we get an answer and they don't comply, it is impossible to talk to the same employee again. We only identify “chains” of stores, banking “systems”, “internet servers”.

Hence, as Paulina Aroch emphasizes in her critique of postcolonial textualism, we need an empirical knowledge of the international division of material and symbolic labor that allows us to see “behind language” (Aroch, 2015: 27). If we want to answer Spivak's question, "Can the subordinate speak?", We must find out: what is speaking in today's globalization? Who and where is he speaking from? Who finances an electronic corporation, a website, an art biennial, or political or artistic experiences of social participation? What are the historical environments and interests of which they speak, produce material and cultural goods, circulate them and appropriate them today?

They are not just theoretical questions. Their answer depends on the possibility of understanding the causes that trigger current conflicts and being able to intervene politically. If migration and deportations, the territorial location of transnational companies and the construction of the wall to separate themselves from Mexico and Latin America are at the core of the politics of the US right, it is because it is not only about discursive racism, but about intervening in the sociomaterial conditions of the international division of labor. Postcolonial textualism offers few intellectual resources to act in the socioeconomic dimensions that mobilize the right wing by directing the crisis of capitalism to its benefit.

2. The geopolitical vision of technosocial rationality It is sometimes associated with economic neoliberalism, especially by favoring the governance of national technocratic elites and international organizations (IMF, World Bank, etc.). His inability to manage intercultural conflicts has been highlighted by economists (Krugman, Stiglitz, Wallerstein) and by anthropologists (Lomnitz and Lins Ribeiro himself in other texts).

This way of “organizing” the contradictions of globalization is expressed in the war strategies that are replacing physical confrontations between armies with cyber wars. Mass deaths are reduced to figures, urban ecological devastation, for example in Iraq and Syria, are simplified into triumphant images of those who bomb under the pretext of ordering the chaos caused by terrorists from other cultures and staged as a spectacle of barbarism. Social scientists, who are not allowed to get to what happens to men, women and children, are partially replaced by a few investigative journalists. The daily consequences then appear, delayed, in the millions of migrants who, suffering from mafia trafficking, try to reach Europe or are shipwrecked in the Mediterranean.

I want to highlight here the soft, socially and technologically progressive version of the unification of the world sponsored by technosociality. It is usually linked to recent uses of the notion of hybridization. Hybrid car manufacturers, which combine a gasoline engine, a hydraulic engine and a compressed air pump, hope to cut the consumption of polluting energy sources in half. Promoters of the sharing economy, encouraged by the expansion of Uber, a car-free transportation company, and Airbnb, which organizes tourism without counting on rooms, imagine how to extend this model that saves staff and costs to cleaning services, design graph and lawyers: the combination of software, the internet and the crowds will make it easier to automate and redistribute millions of micro-activities around the world. The future of employment is heralded as a hybrid system that will include processes performed by computers with tasks performed by humans.

A seductive line of this reduction of intercultural complexity is the one that trusts that our different ways of thinking and feeling, of producing, consuming and making decisions, will become uniform or at least comparable when turning them into algorithms. The variations between cultures, and between subjects within each culture, would be losing importance as the different social logics are translated into genetic and electronic codes: biology will merge with history, predicts Yuval Noah Harari. Do you doubt that this will happen? Remember, says this historian, “that most of our planet is already the legal property of non-human intersubjective entities, that is, nations and companies” (Harari, 2016: 355). Technical difficulties and political objections will arise that slow down the algorithmic reorganization of the world, for example of the labor markets in which many trades and professions will disappear. But it is possible that others will emerge, such as the "designer of virtual worlds". Humans could still be needed, but not individuals understood as autonomous beings, since we know that they are “collections of biochemical mechanisms that are constantly supervised and guided by a network of electronic algorithms” (Harari, 2016: 361).

Two comments. What is plausible about this utopia - partly realized - relativizes the prominence given in modernity to nation states and territorial subjects in general. It requires giving strong attention in our investigations to the anonymous entities that access our communications, they know more than we do about how we interact on a local, national and global scale, how information is distributed and hidden. They establish global systems of behavior and initiatives to modify them, they generate new modes of sovereignty, which we experience when using Google, Yahoo, Waze and all their brothers, their Big Brothers.

The second question is what anthropology can do in this new scene. Our first inclination is probably to look for cultural and subjective differences not captured by the databases, which face-to-face interactions remain indecipherable to algorithms and will continue to require qualitative ethnographies. But there is more. If, as Harari suggests, in this post-liberal world in which individual decisions will fade "some people will remain both indispensable and indecipherable, but will constitute a reduced and privileged elite" (Harari, 2016: 318), there are attractive tasks for anthropologists.

Above all, it will be necessary to understand what mutations of the human and the social will engender this type of inequality –not only difference– and how to reduce the new gaps between a superior class and the rest. This new inequality and its promotion by a right wing that appropriately appropriates knowledge is inciting for an anthropology that does not see its field only in difference, but also in inequality, connections and disconnections, which incorporates the emancipatory role into its horizon. of the socio-digital networks and the force of submission of the hypervigilance that accompanies them.

It is key to distinguish between submission and agency processes (or ineffective algorithms). Researcher Anita Williams Woolley asks: technology increases our ability to interact with very diverse others, but do we want to? (Williams Woolley, 2016: 2-3). It is said in studies that explore this contradiction that multicultural teams within a company build collective intelligence that is more productive, more sensitive to errors, than groups where there is no divergence of habits and ways of thinking. Very good. But the slow and frustrating negotiations in international organizations dedicated to peace, human rights and regulating world trade, do they not cast doubt on the scale to which collective collaboration informed by algorithms can be extended? In his study on the World Bank, Lins Ribeiro showed that this organization, despite employing people from more than 130 countries, limits its cosmopolitanism through the homogenizing power of the language (English), managing diversity under a single ideology development and eliminating experiences of otherness by linking only with local political and administrative elites (Lins Ribeiro, 2003). The study on the World Trade Organization conducted by Marc Abélès describes a similar desire for homogenization, but the hegemony of the rich countries is destabilized when it comes into tension with the imbalances of the market economy: the ethnography carried out for three years by researchers from Argentina, Cameroon, Canada, China, Korea, the United States and France reveal the intercultural complexity of their commercial diplomacy, the persistent divergences despite the games of transparency and secrecy. Ethnography makes the reverse of that scenography visible (Abélès et al., 2011).

Our training as anthropologists can enable us to grasp what in the new technosocial rationality there is, in the words of Harari, of "data religion", the search - beyond the Homo sapiens- of a Homo Deus. This emerging religion, “dataism”, assumes that different cultures are diverse patterns of data flow that can be analyzed using the same concepts and tools (Harari, 2016: part iii). As humans are unable to handle such huge data streams, the task must be entrusted to electronic algorithms. Does it make sense to distinguish between public and private, democratic and authoritarian systems, when the majority of voters do not know enough biology and cybernetics to form relevant opinions? Neither the rulers, pending the polls and the algorithms, are capable of resolving or directing the conflicts. So freedom of information is not granted to humans but to freedom of information? Asks Harari. Perhaps we are in a simple transfer of power: just as the capitalists assigned it to the invisible hand of the market, the dataists believe in the invisible hand of the data flow. As in the critique of that alleged abstract and wise power of the market - in which we learned to discover logos, and behind the logos social forces that are hidden -, anthropology attentive to the diversity of experiences can now detect that life is not It boils down to processing data and making decisions.

At the same time that we take on these uncertain challenges of the new ways of managing an interculturality appeased by sociometry and biotechnology, international geopolitics has become an interdependence of fears. The others with whom we aspire to increase trade, tourism and academic exchanges, from which we take music and medical resources to broaden our cultural horizon, are presented as threatening references. The exchanges are fraught with suspicion. Along with interdependence, nationalisms, ethnicities and separatist attempts of the regions grow.

Scenes where anthropology relocates

So that the investigations of these processes do not remain in renovations of anthropological knowledge within the academy, it is necessary to rethink their social insertion. How to rethink the role of social scientists in politics? It seems useful to remember that the fall in the relevance and prestige of anthropology in debates is a general condition of all social sciences and intellectual work at a time when mass media and lately social networks are the protagonists of the formation and obsolescence of public agendas. The dizzying rate of accumulation of confrontations and catastrophes, in which –without disappearing its effects– those of this week replace those of the previous one, reduces the place of long-term research and substantive reflection. As the text by Lins Ribeiro points out, the anti-intellectualism of politicians, the media and - as we saw - the tendency to expect from algorithms all the necessary knowledge to make decisions contribute to this vertigo.

For this reason, one more task of anthropology is to understand, for example, the new processes of reading, assimilating and forgetting data at this time when we read fragments. The misdiagnoses of the crisis by publishers and bookstores, misunderstood by surveys that confused the decline of these companies with the disappearance of the book and the "deep" way of reading, are being modified through ethnographic studies. From an observation open to changes, we warn that the questions must be changed: instead of inquiring how much It is read (on paper) we find out as It is read on paper and on different types of screens, at school and at home, but also in transport, on the street, in emails and text messages, along with images and music, individually and socially (which explains the growth of attendees at book fairs while booksellers and publishers become distressed) (García Canclini and others, 2015). I point to this example as one of the many interactions in which anthropology is showing that surveys, statistics, and algorithms are insufficient. When pre-electoral polls fail in Argentina, the United States, the United Kingdom in Brexit, and Colombia when voting against the peace accords, qualitative differences are discovered in behaviors that cannot be captured by quantitative methods.

Is anthropology becoming less relevant or can it remain so in other ways? The second is appreciated when the anthropological vision renews institutions as traditional as museums. In these sanctuaries of the conservation and commercialization of heritage, and therefore of the right, of nativism and neoliberalism, anthropological interculturalism and post-colonialism have been altering the evaluation criteria. They expose the partiality of the notions of beauty and exceptionality enshrined by UNESCO to decide, from the Euro-American ethnocentrism, what deserves to be the heritage of humanity. Anthropologists have succeeded in getting many museums on all continents to help audiences to get to know diverse cultures, multiplying points of view, getting to know objects along with their appropriation processes. It is about relocating the arts, popular and media cultures without making sharp differences between their objects, but rather perceiving the distinctions between one and the other as operational strategies and staging of curators, videos and the network (Elhaik and Marcus, 2012; García Canclini, 2010). The conservationist notion of heritage can be reformulated, along the lines proposed by Howard Becker and Robert Faulkner, if we conceive of heritage as repertoires, in the way that jazz musicians combine partial knowledge, melodies that some know and others do not, to carry out collective activities with meaning, with a different meaning from the program with which they were created.

Finally, I evoke the presence of medical and forensic anthropology at the most painful frontiers of repression and resistance. Is there a more radical way of working with identity than identifying the disappeared, restoring their remains to families and communities, challenging the silence and complicity of police, mafias, judges and governments? Interdisciplinary work, with archaeologists, computer equipment, pathologists, radiologists and lawyers. Crossing and collaboration of community organizations and local, national, and international institutions, human rights and political associations. Relocation of local dramas in international research and power networks: forensic anthropologists have developed their tasks in 16 Latin American countries (from Argentina to Mexico), in eight Africans, in seven Europeans (from Bosnia to Spain), in Oceania, Asia and the Middle East. They take their findings to scientific publications, reports and recommendations for national and international organizations. In the midst of diverse cultures, religions and political situations, from the graves accumulated by the apartheid In South Africa, the dictatorships of the southern cone, Ciudad Juárez and Ayotzinapa, even those kidnapped by the FARC in Colombia, have strengthened threatened civil society groups, reestablished, at times, trust in governments and courts, legitimized witnesses and gave support psychological treatment to victims and their families. A model of scientific work that often requires distancing ourselves from the discredited political and medico-legal systems and collaborating so that each society sees how to remake them.


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EncartesVol. 5, No. 10, September 2022-February 2023, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 22, 2022.