What is the Sahlins ref, Greg?
On Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 8:13 AM, Greg Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, this idea of projects works very nicely for capturing the mutual
imbrications of persons in one another's lives.
But I'm still caught up on "voluntary associations" vis a vis kinship. My
"beef" here is with the idea of historical discontinuity of primitive vs.
modern systems. I think there always were "voluntary association" as you
put it, and perhaps the major difference is one of scale.
Consider this passage from Marshall Sahlins on kinship:
"On the Alaskan North Slope, the Iñupiat will name children and sometimes
adults after dead persons, thus making them members of their namesakes’
families. Over a lifetime, reports Barbara Bodenhorn (2000: 137), an
Iñupiat may acquire four or five such names and families, although those
who bestow the names were not necessarily related before, and in any case
they are never the birth parents. Begetters, begone: natal bonds have
virtually no determining force in Iñupiat kinship. Kinship statuses are
set by the begetters of persons but by their namers. Indeed, it is the
child who chooses the characteristics of birth, including where he or she
will be born and of what sex.""
Thus, kinship itself can be a "voluntary association" that holds
groups together. Exogamous affinal kinship relationships make the point
still more clearly - kinship is always a "voluntary association" and one
that holds groups together in projects by virtue of imputing a sameness
Today it seems that the modes of establishing a sameness of substance are
making all kinds of inter-relations possible that were previously
unthinkable. Creating bonds by marital relations are rather limiting in
terms of bond-forming since marriages typically involve small numbers of
persons - notwithstanding polygynous and polyandrous marriages - which
increase the numbers of connections only slightly. Those numbers are
miniscule in comparison to the bonds that are formed by modern statehood
Benedict Anderson's book Imagined Communities provides a nice case study
the kinds of projects that you speak of, Andy, and with respect to the
emergence of "nationality". In Anderson's narrative, states are formed by
the process of nationalization of a language and, critically, by the
creation of a national press. Collective projects (the basis for imagined
communities such as a "state") thus are implied by collective
representations of happenings in the world.
But the situation has been transformed still more by recent developments.
Today a student in Brazil can watch a video of the tazing (or
pepper-spraying) of a student or bunch of students in California and
kind of shared substance - that she and I share some essential substance
commitment to a cause or oppression by a dominant power. It would seem
this creates whole new possible forms of kinship/nationalism/solidarity.
step towards conditions in which workers of the world might begin to see
their common situation?
maybe that's taking things too far.
On Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 7:16 AM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
And as Mike sketched a few days ago, what an amazing little country
The point is that in order to understand an object (such as the unique
nature of Finland, or the upsurge in Brazil) - complex, dynamic
we need *units* which are themselves processes of development. For
I don't believe we can understand a nation state as a collection of
groups* (eg ethnic, or economic, etc.), but rather as a process made up
many other distinct processes of development, i.e., projects, which
interact with one another.
Formally speaking, the "systems of activity" which Yrjo introduced are
indeed processes of development; but "project" is much more explicitly
Further, we individuals apprehend these units (be they "systems of
activity" or "projects") as *concepts*, and the rules, norms,
division of labour, etc. etc., *flow from the concept* as does the
*ever-changing conception of the *object*. If objects (and community,
norms, etc.), pre-exist an activity, then we don't have Activity Theory
all, we have some variety of structuralism of functionalism.
So it is important to begin from the project, each of which is a
particular instance of a concept, and all the elements (norms, tools,
of the project flow from its concept and the conditions in which it is
So for example, I don't think it is appropriate to conceive the social
movements, voluntary associations, protests, political conflicts and
alliances of 20th century Finland as "systems" or "institutions." They
projects, projects which constructed modern Finland, and which indeed,
day, become "systems", but never irreversibly. The institutions which
the products of social movements, protests, and so on (projects) are
irreversibly reified as "fields" or "figured worlds" or
"structures" or any of the other renderings of the social fabric as
composed of dead and lacking in teleological content.
Rauno Huttunen wrote:
Similar things happened in Finland too. See article by professor
Siisiäinen: Social Movements, Voluntary Associations and Cycles of
in Finland 1905-91 (Scandinavian Political Studies, Bind 15, 1992).
Lähettäjä: firstname.lastname@example.org [email@example.com]
käyttäjän Andy Blunden [firstname.lastname@example.org] puolesta
Lähetetty: 26. kesäkuuta 2013 3:30
Kopio: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Aihe: Re: [xmca] Re: Knotworking (ex: Double stimulation?)
But to make a distinction is not necessarily to set up a dichotomy.
In Australian social history the appearance of voluntary associations
the 19th century (mostly trade union-type organisations, but also
and recreation, mutual-aid of various kinds, and later political
and groups) was a significant development, which meant people
travelling long distances to stitch together the fabric of the
nation. In the US, the parallel role was played, I believe, to a great
extent, also by Protestant sects, who pioneered the building of new
bonds of sociability and trust across great distances.
These New World projects constructed a new kind of civil society and
basis for modernity. According to Hegel for example, modernity is
characterised by the eclipse of family as the chief bond and political
force in a state, by voluntary associations, such as professional
associations or regional community organisations, where people of
differing traditions construct new modern conditions of collaboration.
But of course, the family and the state both remain in place!
Greg Thompson wrote:
Yes, Andy, I think the anthropological notion of kinship captures
point that not all biological relatives are "kin". Anthropologist
David Schneider, for example, points out how kinship is really just
the Aristotelian notion of "identity", and that "kinship" is
fundamentally a matter of sameness of substance. Thus, political and
religious affiliations are, in his view, systems of kinship.
Seems like the same would be true of so-called "voluntary
(scare quotes because of skepticism of notions of voluntary and the
assumptions it makes about us as subjects). Any voluntary association
worth its salt will surely have this sense of shared substance (and
with regard to the making of this shared substance, Durkheim is
essential - but that's a different story for a different time!). And
don't most of these organizations have some sense of kinship built
into their relational terms, whether "brother" or "brotherhood" or
"family" or whatever?
On Mon, Jun 24, 2013 at 6:47 PM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com
Yes, there is no doubt that the commitment many people have to
continuing the work of their parents and even ancestors, and
investment in their children, evidences a project, an archetypal
project in fact. "Voluntary associations" are historically a
relatively recent invention, prior to which kinship was possibly
the most significant project in human life. Of course, it is not
always the case that a kinship relation always indicates the
relevance of the concept of "project" - I have cousins whom I
never met and to whom I have no commitment whatsoever.
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Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
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Brigham Young University
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