Monthly Archives: December 2010

Rice positivism

Nice one over at Language Log: “Rice positivists” vs. “contextualized popular epistemologies”, commenting on the latest teapot tempest among anthropologists of different stripes. It’s nicely written (Mark Liberman’s postings always are), and this bit makes me especially glad to NOT be in the game any longer:

What does remain troublesome is the normative quality of the positivistic ethos that dominates the major agencies funding anthropological inquiry. Since researchers need funding, they are driven to adopt the rhetoric and mindset of the dispensers. (In missionary discourse, they become “rice positivists.”) “Applicants” (supplicants) are confronted with schedules whose headings conjure a fictive future of positivistic research: background (theories), problem, hypotheses, methods, measurements, data analysis, conclusions—in sum, the ideological rhetoric of natural science research within the positivistic mode. For natural scientists, the rhetoric is a convenient game its veterans can work retrospectively, offering to study the problems they have already resolved. But for anthropological fieldworkers, the application schedule can become an exercise in fantasy and falsification.
(Murray Wax 1997)

…which reminds me of one of my stable of quotations:

Oh, how he hated grant proposals. The hollow promises; the vaunting celebration of past success; the self-advertising emphasis on importance and significance; the absence of understatement; the omnipresence of exaggeration; the servile allegiance to tradition, formula, and established procedure; the utter predictability of every other sentence; the implicit greed of the genre…
(David Carkeet Double Negative, pg. 31)


Haiti is just, well, impossible to grasp, especially if the grasping tools are limited to conventional media sources, if you don’t have a lot of historical background, if you don’t speak Haitian Creole (French gets you far enough to think you might be able to understand)… Here’s a fragment from a blog (Heart of Haiti) that would be worth tracking if one could bear it (via H5N1, which I’ve been following for a few years)

So what is this stability that the foreign powers are trying to impose on Haiti? For the last five years, Préval has imagined himself to be the CEO of a corporation called Haiti. His protégé Célestin seems to understand Haiti in the same way, if his presidential campaign can be taken as an indication. Haiti is a company that you run. You appear once in a while, as do presidents of corporations, to show off your expensive suits and to remind people of what ‘success’ looks like. You expect your employees to be well behaved and to work in the interests of the country/corporation. Their efforts will assure that the CEO is well compensated. Employees/citizens who do not cooperate are fired from the body politic, ‘shut out’ in the words of good Unity employees/candidates. Haiti is a business, a branch plant of the Washington head office.

That is what Haiti looks like from the company headquarters. However, Haitians see their country as something more than that. Turned upside down, as it was on Wednesday, they show that the CEO serves at their pleasure. (From the Dominican Republic, Preval appears to agree.) And they refuse to be fired from the nation for insubordination.

(extracted from the December 9 posting: The Real Source of Power)

links for 2010-12-12

Kitty kitty

I’ve taken extravagant pleasure in reading Phillip Lopate’s piece on Emerson in the Harper’s that arrived today. Three quotes that I just can’t bear not to rediffuse:

It is curious that Thoreau goes to a house to say with little preface what he has just read or observed, delivers it in a lump, is quite inattentive to any comment or thought which any of the company offer on the matter, is merely interrupted by it, &, when he has finished his report, departs with precipitation.


‘Tis strange, that it is not in vogue to commit hara-kiri as the Japanese do at 60. Nature is so insulting in her hints & notices, does not pull you by the sleeve, but pulls out your teeth, tears off your hair in patches, steals your eyesight, twists your face into an ugly mask, in short, puts all contumelies upon you, without in the least abating your zeal to make a good appearance, and all this at the same time that she is moulding the new figures around you into wonderful beauty which, of course, is only making your plight worse.

But the prize goes to this bit of insight:

A man of 45 does not want to open new accounts of friendship. He has said Kitty kitty long enough.

links for 2010-12-10