The Center exists to explore boundaries and their interconnective or intersystemic properties: boundaries between individuals, between human groups, between humans and animal species, between human and extraterrestrial species, and, ultimately, between human thought and physical reality. The perspective or bias that inspires these explorations is that the essence of a person, group, species, idea, or object is its edges: the interactions or intersystems it sets in motion in the process of being.
Cultural Anthropology: Theory and Practice
The work of the Center proceeds along two broad but closely related fronts: a general inquiry into the nature of culture or semiosis/symbolization; and an application of cultural analysis or anthropological semiotics to institutions and crises of modern life, including the ecology movement, popular culture (movies, TV, sports, music), the abortion issue, and terrorism. In both instances, cultural anthropology appears to have gone seriously astray, abandoning its earlier efforts to construct a theory of culture while abdicating its responsibility to engage the social issues that animate contemporary life.
Applying cultural anthropology or cultural analysis to these theoretical and topical problems thus involves an interrogation of the field of cultural anthropology itself. This is all to the good, since the current somnambulistic malaise of the discipline warrants action -- lets wake up!
The Center's website is a collection of documents (some published, some unpublished, some doubtlessly unpublishable), of manuscripts in progress, and of journal-type entries that are mostly commentaries by Center thinkers on recent events and social/cultural trends. Whatever their literary and conceptual merits, which may indeed be slight, these pieces are truly peripheral: they deviate from canons of anthropological writing just as they do from those of mainstream "intellectual" journals. Neither fish nor fowl, but smelling of both, these works represent the best sustained thought we've been able to achieve and are herewith consigned to the denizens of the World Wide Web. May you have fun with them. Or, as your waiter says, often in a disconcertingly imperative tone: "Enjoy!".
Please note: This site is under continuous revision for updating. Additional content to follow.
News (January 2016): The Open Anthropology Cooperative ( www.openanthcoop.ning.com ) has kindly featured the Center in an e-seminar and forum discussion, "From the Center for Peripheral Studies (OAC Branch): After Lance, the Sky's the Limit," loosely based on the Lance Armstrong essay below (see Essays). The seminar-forum began in August of 2013 and has now ended. It has attracted several original thinkers, whose interaction is both informative and stimulating. The Cooperative hosts many forums and topical discussion groups with an anthropological theme. In addition to offering quality material to anyone interested, the Cooperative has distinguished itself as an example of what the field of anthropology can realize when set free to roam across the intellectual landscape of the Web. It is well worth a visit.
Please note that my recent thinking on a wide variety of subjects, theoretical and topical, is to be found at the OAC forum site. In our latest undertaking, several of us pursued a collaborative effort at a detailed cultural analysis of the Twilight Saga phenomenon (which features humans, vampires, and werewolves) that has attracted a huge following on a global scale. At present I am editing my contributions to the forum, which amount to a book-length text, for inclusion here at CPS.
New Work (August 2015). Essay:
Global Warming is Not a Crisis
First appeared on Savage Minds (www.savageminds.org) in the anthropologies project on climate change directed by Ryan Anderson.
New Work (October 2014). Essay:
By the Time We Got to . . . Visions of Freedom through American Decades: Two "Movements"
If there is a single core value in American culture, it is the idea of freedom. This essay explores the workings of that idea in two major social phenomena of our recent past: the protest movement exemplified here by David Graeber’s Occupy Wall Street; and the psychedelic movement represented by Woodstock. Charting the careers of those movements provides a certain insight into two visions of freedom as these make themselves known in American culture, American society, the American mind. That dual cultural analysis feeds into a cultural critique of American society, a critique that is as bare-knuckled as I can make it. The critique culminates in a set of anthro-agitprop proposals focusing on pressing social issues of our time: abortion; the corporation as person; the “war on drugs”; and gun control.
Lance Armstrong: The Reality Show (A Cultural Analysis.
Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality: An Anthropological Essay.
(Rejected by the American Anthropologist, 2000. Published online at the Center, 2004 and 2010.)
Rejected by the American Anthropologist: Pee-You! Review of "Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality."
Jonestown: An Ethnographic Essay.
Shit Happens: An Immoralist's Take on 9/11 in Terms of Self-Organized Criticality.
Shit Happens: Essay Rejected by Prickly Paradigm Press. Prickly??
News Flash! Cultural Anthropology Solves Abortion Issue! Story at Eleven!
(Being a Cultural Analysis of Sigourney Weaver's Aliens Quartet)
The Vanishing White Man: History and Myth in Guyanese Culture (with Postscript). (Expanded and revised. Originally presented to Wenner-Gren Symposium, "Symbolism through Time")
National Science Foundation Proposal: Where Is Everybody? Inter-Species Communication and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: An Anthropological Approach. (Including: Autopsy of a Proposal: Peer Review, the Ethnographer's Eye, and a Fundamental Problem.
The Serpent's Children: Semiotics of Cultural Genesis in Arawak and Trobriand Myth. (Edited and revised. Originally published in American Ethnologist.)
The Cultural Continuum: A Theory of Intersystems (with Postscript). (Originally published in Man.)
Are There Cultures to Communicate Across? An Appraisal of the "Culture" Concept from the Perspective of Anthropological Semiotics. (Edited and revised. Originally published in Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics, Simon P. X. Battestini, editor.)
The Transatlantic Nanny: Notes for a Comparative Semiotic of the Family in English-Speaking Societies (with Prefatory Note, "A Little Whiff of Carrion"). (Expanded and revised. Originally published in American Ethnologist.)
Structure and Process in the Interpretation of South American Myth: The Arawak Dog Spirit People.
(Edited and revised. Originally published in the American Anthropologist.)
Toward a Semiotic Analysis of Ethnicity in Quebec. (Edited and revised. Originally published in Questions de Culture 2.)
Small Town Newspapers: Ethnography and Folkloristics of Everyday Written Narrative.
On Being Carib. (Edited and revised. Originally published in Carib-Speaking Indians: Culture, Society, Language. Ellen B. Basso, edited.)
American Dreamtime: A Cultural Analysis of Popular Movies, and Their Implications for a Science of Humanity. Appx. 2.5 MB; 356 pages.
From the "Preface" to American Dreamtime:
A conventional self-image Americans hold of themselves and their society in these final years of the twentieth century is that of a practical, realistic people engaged in building an ever larger and more complex technological civilization. At the same time, however, we spend countless billions on activities and products that fly in the face of our supposed commitment to a down-to-earth realism: Our movies, television programs, sports events, vacations, fashions, and cosmetics seem to be the pastimes of a whimsical, fantasy-ridden people rather than of the stalwart folk of our national stereotype. How are these conflicting images to be reconciled? Are we really a practical, self-reliant people who simply like to escape our busy lives occasionally by retreating into a fantasy world? Or is our vaunted practicality and common sense actually a mask for a frivolous, wasteful nature intent on partying while Rome burns and the national debt ratchets up another trillion dollars? This book sets out to explore those conflicting self-images by focusing on the intimate ties our daily activity and thought have with a world of myth. Written from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist, American Dreamtime approaches modern culture as an anthropologist does a “primitive” society, seeking in its myths and rituals clues to its fundamental nature.
The theme of the book is that myth is alive and well in America, and that its temples are the movie theaters across the land. Movies and myths, I argue, issue from the same generative processes that have brought humanity into being and that continually alter our lives, our societies, and the ultimate destiny of our species. The “Dreamtime” of the title is taken from a concept documented for certain Australian aboriginal groups, according to which the origins of everything — plants, animals, humans — both occurred and are occurring in a kind of waking dream that is at once past and present. The candidates I propose for Dreamtime status are recent movies whose phenomenal popularity signals their resonance with the modern psyche: James Bond movies, the Star Wars trilogy, Jaws, and E. T.
The Dream and the Dance: A Comparative Study of Initiatory Death. Appx. 2.3 MB; 150 pages.
Keywords: myth, ritual, Timbira, Hidatsa, cultural analysis, semiotics, metaphysical rebellion, ethos.
Brief Essays: Expanded/Revised Versions of Anthropology News Commentaries
Joke Reviews: Revise and Resubmit I, II (Darwin and Geertz). Anthropology News. 2001, 2002.
Who Wants to Be an Anthropologist? Anthropology News. December 2000.
As Others See Us: The Last Undiscovered Tribe Is about to Expose Themselves.
Anthropology News. February 2000.
The Human Race. Anthropology News. January 1998.
Where Is Everybody? Anthropology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Anthropology News. December 1996.
The Logic of Things That Just Happen. Anthropology News, November 1995.
My Latest Publishing Success! (2011)
Well, okay, Misadventure. But, hey, I did play the SIT-PIG – as in Submit It To Publish It Game – with the esteemed Center for a Public Anthropology (which fosters accountability) and the University of California Press. My essays on 9/11, Jonestown, and the abortion issue just weren’t accountable enough or, perhaps, public enough.
So, back to electronic dust. Here’s how it went down, down, down.
Spurned by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, Alas! (2012)
Regarding the bold new proposal by the SCA: "Theorizing the Contemporary."
Contributions: Outstanding Work by Original Thinkers
The Center's mission statement identifies its ultimate goal as mapping some of the contours in the complex relationship between human thought and physical reality. To that end we are fortunate to have this brilliant and provocative essay, Without Earth There Is No Heaven, by Edwin Dobb, Carnegie Lecturer, Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley.