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[Xmca-l] Re: Questioning universal core emotions
I have a colleague down the hall, David Crandall, that has been working
among the Himba for almost 30 years. I also have three students headed to
do research among the Himba in a month. So I've been picking up some
interesting details about the Himba.
It seems like it is true that they have increasingly had contact with
Western culture, as evidenced by recent protests in some of the larger
cities that were staged by Himba opposed to the building of a dam that
would cause flooding of some of the burial sites of their ancestors (
At the same time, they are non-numerate people that lack some of the key
Western institutions where kids learn (oddly enough) about "emotions"
(think of those pictures of happy and sad faces that Western schooling
takes into the classroom as the MEANS by which they teach literacy - these
means of teaching literacy always entail certain cultural ends - such as
"emotion" - concepts that are not emic concepts).
Among the western institutions that the Himba lack, the Himba lack the
Western model of schooling (one of my students is doing research on this
very issue). It is only in the last 15 years or so that Himba have begun
sending their children to school, and now only in small numbers. The Himba
are very skeptical of schools since, in their opinion, the schools don't
teach their children anything worthwhile. Knowing how to count is
unimportant to them since although they are non-numerate they are able to
keep track of large herds of cattle because they know each of their cattle
individually and can recognize when one is missing. But what really matters
are things like knowing how to properly honor one's ancestors. If one fails
to do that properly, then then ancestors will cause bad things to happen to
oneself. That is much more important than knowing how to count.
Carol, I also agree with your concerns with the methodology of the study,
it may not be reasonable to assume that this research is the same as the
Ekman tasks and of-course it is a Western-type task (but one might argue
that it is less so than the Ekman tasks since it is more open, arguable).
So Carol, I wonder what conclusions you would draw from your critique. Are
I wonder if there is a further possibility that these psychologists are
missing. Is it possible that "emotions" are not universal in quite a
different sense? Perhaps that the very category of "emotion" is not
I think this research points in that direction - when viewing a picture of
a face, people do not necessarily assume that the person in the picture is
"emoting". I assume that this would be true among Westerners as well, but
that possibility doesn't present itself in the research methodology since
Westerners are asked "what emotion is this?" The task is already defined by
the domain called "emotion" (with which they are already very familiar).
Anthropologists have done great work to show the problems with taking
Western defined domains into non-Western contexts (e.g. the domain of
"kinship" - David Schneider, the domain of "color" - John Lucy). The
argument is that even though this research turns up results that seem to
suggest that the domains are real even in non-Western contexts, the
findings are plagued by the fact that they assume these domains and force
these non-Western subjects into choosing within the pre-defined domain.
But then again, perhaps "emotion" is a universal category?
On Sun, May 4, 2014 at 7:55 AM, Carol Macdonald <email@example.com>wrote:
> Well Mike
> I am here working in Namibia for the year, and I would like to know where
> these Himba people are. I mean the ones referred to in the article: I am
> not sure they are *so *isolated - they are well recognised as one of the
> language groups. And I think there is also an elephant in the room here.
> This is a western-type task, and Luria would have been quick to point that
> out. What makes this woman think that this task would be the equivalent to
> the others.
> Just a couple of basic principles to cast a small aspersion on this
> On 4 May 2014 14:16, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> > Perhaps of interest
> > mike
> Carol A Macdonald Ph D (Edin)
> Developmental psycholinguist
> Academic, Researcher, and Editor
> Honorary Research Fellow: Department of Linguistics, Unisa
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602