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University of Nebraska - Lincoln University of Nebraska - Lincoln DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Anthropologist Anthropology, Department of 1977 A PERSONAL VISION of A MORE MEANINGFUL ANTHROPOLOGY A PERSONAL VISION of A MORE MEANINGFUL ANTHROPOLOGY (A Review of (A Review of Personal and Extrapersonal Vision in Anthropology Personal and Extrapersonal Vision in Anthropology by Robert Jay) by Robert Jay) David C. Dominik University of Nebraska-Lincoln Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Anthropology Commons Dominik, David C., "A PERSONAL VISION of A MORE MEANINGFUL ANTHROPOLOGY (A Review of Personal and Extrapersonal Vision in Anthropology by Robert Jay)" (1977). Nebraska Anthropologist. 139. This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Anthropology, Department of at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln. It has been accepted for inclusion in Nebraska Anthropologist by an authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln. A PERSONAL VISION of A MORE MEANINGFUL ANTHROPOLOGY by David C. Dominik Robert Jay, "Personal and Extrapersonal Vision·lin .. L In:;,: Reinvent~Anthrokol0gy, D. Hymes, (ed.). New York: Vintage Boo s. 1974. 41 In an unpublished paper presented to the AAA Annual meeting in 1969, Robin Ridington discusses llThe Anthropology of Experi- ence" (also the title). The paper relates the story of Jumping Mouse, a not-so-ordinary field mouse. Jumping Mouse leaves his brothers to satisfy· his curiosity about the rushing sound in his head. The story makes special note that Jumping Mouse can see only a short distance ahead of himself as he travels, the philo- sophical implication being that he has limited vision. Curiosity becomes a quest after Jumping Mouse sees the rushing river; he the strives to reach the sacred mountains ·way off in the distance. Along the way he encounters several guides; two of them are ill. In each case the medicine that will make them well (and will enabl them to guide Jumping Mouse to his goal) is a mouse's.eye. Even though it means arriving at his destination blind, Jumping r. .. louse gives his eyes to his ilbrothersll. Alone and unable to see, Jumpin Mouse waits beside the mountain lake for the end. H~ is certain h will be the victim of the "spots", t~e eagles overhead. Suddenly there is an impact and Jumping Mouse can see. He can see farther and further as he soars higher and higher. Jumping Mouse shouts, "Hello',. brother frog" and his friend shouts back, "Hello, brother eagle". Ridington applies the moral to anthropology when he says" " ... if anthropology really seeks to understand how' experience is organized in other cultures, how ex- perience encounters meaning it will have to recog- nizeother perspectives than its own intellectual- istic one. It will'have to open its1ef to the per- spectives of non-Western philosophy. In accepting these gifts from the people we study we will be able to see ourselves and our experience as anthropologists in a different light and as a result write better 1 I Published in THE NEBRASKA ANTHROPOLOGIST, Volume 3 (1977). Published by the Anthropology Student Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588 42 (sic) more meaningful anthropology. We are all mice but if we give our eyes .to our guides, the people we study, we too can become eagles". (29) If we allow ourselves to take a different perspective, if we let the people we study show us what is important to them, lie will have a better anthropology. If we relate ourselves differently to the people we study, we will be able to see ourselves differently and, therefore, write more meaningfully. Robert Jay makes a similar point in his essay "Personal and Extrapersonal Vision in Anthropologyd (1974). What he says "is that the relationships we form with the subjects of our work - for whatever reasons wes~ttle upon those rela- tionships - control the kind of kno'wledge that the material we gain will yield ... " (372) Jay begins· h,is essay by stating that participant ob- servation involves a "forked, 'have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too' relationshiptl and that this can affect. the lIyields of know- ledge often sought by anthropologists" (368). Citing R. D. Laing, Jay then says that the manne'r ~n which we relate to people as person~is very different ftom the manner in which we rekate to them as organisms. Such different relationships, he says, will yield different types of knowledge. The prob- lem with his anthropological iraining, he implies, is that it·· condi tioned him to look for patterned behavior in his subj ects ... Though he acknowledges the need to perceive such patterns, Jay also points out that he was seeing behavior in those terms to the detriment of the people. Not only was he beginning to see people as so many organisms in a system, but also he was ignoring non-patterned behavior and neglecting to ask how the people related such patterns to their own lives. At this point,. Ji:lY brings· forth a single example of what he is saying. This, 1. feel, is t·he weak point of the essay. Ruben Reina (1954) perceived certain patterns of behavior in the interactions of the people he. studied .. Eric Wolf (1966) developed a theory of friendship and applied it to Reina's information, using Reina's two separate communities as gen- erating the two types of friendship, emotional and instrumental. \ . The problem, as Jay sees it, is that Reina and his wife strived to maintain a personal distance from· their.subjec~s and succeeded in doing so. According to Jay, this skewed the knowledge they derived from their study. Though be says he probably would have done the same thing,· he says that a study of interpersonal interaction (fri~ndship) demands relating to one's subjects as persons, not as people, in a system of patterned behavior. .. ' Jay's main fault occurs·in his reference to Wolf. Un- justly, I feel, he accuses Wolf of formulating his ideas to 43 support hi's. ideas. Specifically, he has chosen one phrase and .used .it out of context thus resulting in a negative connotation of Wolf's work. Wolf' says that "in solidary groupings like communities and lineages ... friendship can at bes tprovide 'emotional re lease and catharsis from t·he strains and pressures of role-playing" (11). He refers to a complimentary arrangement where friends compensate for each otheris emotional deficits. Using Reina's information, WOlf then suggests the type of community that would generate such friendships. Jay then takes Wolf's words and edits them for his own ideas. As a result, he says, the "kind of community one would expect to find such personal deficits (Jay"s term,not Wolf's) generated .... is in highly solidary communities,· where the emotional expression of each individual in hiS re- lations with others is severely cramped by 'the .. ' strains and pres'sures of role-playing'" (370-1). In Wolf's words, friendship provides a release for "strains and pressures", but in Jay's' words, friendship is inhibited by the "strains and pressures." Further, where Wolf uses his f:denship model as a building block, Jay cites it as a focal point by taking it out of con-' text. Such negligence detracts from -Jay's example, but' fort· ... unately does not negate his central idea. Jay goes on to cite a field problem encounter.ed by Clifford Geertz (1968).·' Briefly, Geertz experienced a breakdown in his relationship with an informant .. Jay chides Geertz for attempt- ing to explain the split in terms of a theory of culture. Rather, he says,' a theory of persons would have been much more appropriate for an explanation. The· lI realm of knowledge" Jay feels he would "be able· to explore" by choosing "with full aware- ness, to relate to my subjects fully as persons ... is a realm for which the concept of culture,and for that matter of social structure', ecology and the like (extrapersonal bases for explain- ing behavior) are only of peripheral value" (375). Before relatirg a field experience he had in a Malay' village, Jay complains of the difficulty he has in resolving a conflict. The problem is incorporating .the knowledge he acquires about· people as individual persons into his professional writing. My own experience has been similar. In mY'field work, part of my day was spent"hanging out" at a· local gas station. During the time spent there I would conduct informal interviews with patrons and employees. For several days I had the peculiar feeling that one particular employee was rather indifferent tome. .I exper- ienced a change in this "reliitionshipll '''hen t'he person took the time to tell me that he was going across the street to get a pack of cigarettes. His words were significant to me because they 44 marked a change in his attitude towards me. By showing con- cern to explain his actions, it was as if he were sayIng, "I'll be back in a minute, frien·dO' The problem is the same as with Jay: when it came time to write up my paper, there was no room, no place, for this remembered experience. . Jay's experience occurred when he was asked by some Malay villagers to give them some advice about dealing with their problems as he saw them. At the end of his talk Jay sensed a feeling of indifference in his audience, as if his iladvice (had not) made much sense to them". (379). His solution to this experience and to the problem of combining personal and professional writing is to IIplace first a mutual responsibility to my whole self and to those I go to learn from, in agreement with my desire to relate to them as full equals, personal and intellectual. I shall try to use my relationships with them to find out what topics are relevant to each of us, to be investigated through what questions and what modes of question- ing, and for what kinds of knowledge. I should like to make the first report for them, in fact with them ... 1l (379) To suggest that the problem with anthropology today is what Jay admits to as having been his problem would be a sweeping generalization. A counter-example that comes to mind is the anthropologist who was commended by the major of a Swiss village for her seeing his people "with the eyes of her he art" . It was evident to him that she re lated to the people as persons because it showed in her writing. His compliment is one which each of us would like to re- ceive from the people we study. I strongly feel that if - as Jay sugge$ts - we relate to others as persons and treat them as equals, if we give our eyes to our guides - as Ridington says - we will have a better and more meaningful anthropology. REFERENCES Reina, Ruben 1954 lITwo Patterns of Friendship in a Guatemalan Com- muni ty". American ~.An thropologis t 61: 44 - 50. Ridington, Robin 1969 Unpublished paper presented to the AAA Annual Meeting. New Orleans, Louisiana. Wo If, Eric R. 1966 "Kinship, Friendship, and Patron-Client Relations in Complex Socities". In The Social Anthroeology of ComJ?lex Societies, ed. M. Banton. AssocIation of SocIal Anthropologists Monograph No.4. London: Tavistock Publications.