Notes: Marc Agué “The Near and the Elsewhere,” in Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

Agué, Marc. “The Near and the Elsewhere” in Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995: 7-41.

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Summary:

Agué addresses walks through considerations and what may be considered disciplinary boundaries of the social sciences in terms of objects and methods and begins a discussion of the opportunities of anthropology to engage in contemporary study.

Keywords: Anthropology, Method, Methodology, Supermodernity, Non-Places, Scale

Quotations:

“It is therefore essential not to confuse the question of method with that of object. It has often been said (not least, on several occasions, by Levi-Strauss himself) that the modern world lends itself to ethnological observation, however bad we may be at defining areas of observation within reach of our investigative methods” (12).

“The field ethnologist’s activity throughout IS the activity of a social surveyor, a manipulator of scales, a low-level comparative language expert: he cobbles together a significant universe by exploring intermediate universes at need, in rapid surveys; or by consulting relevant documents as a historian” (13).

“[O]f the method and not the object: neither the empirical object nor, a fortiori, the intellectual, theoretical object, which presupposes comparison as well as generalization” (15).

“I am not convinced that the continuity of a discipline is proportional to that of its objects . The proposition is certainly dubious when it is applied to the life sciences, nor am I sure that these are cumulative in the sense implied by Dumont’s phrase: the outcome of research, surely, is new objects of research. It seems to me even more arguable in the case of the social sciences; for when there is change in the modes of grouping and hierarchy it is always social life that is affected, offering the researcher new objects which – like those discovered by the researcher in the life sciences – do not supersede the ones he worked on earlier, but complicate them” (17).

“The first of these concerns anthropological research: anthropological research deals in the present with the question of the other” (18).

“[R]epresentation of the individual interests anthropology not just because it is a social construction, but also because any representation of the individual is also a representation of the social link consubstantial with him” (19).

“Cultures ‘work’ like green timber, and (for extrinsic and intrinsic reasons) never constitute finished totalities; while individuals, however simple we imagine them to be, are never quite simple enough to become detached from the order that assigns them a position: they express its totality only from a certain angle” (22).

“Neither the culture located in time and space, nor the individuals in which it is embodied, defines a base level of identity above which any otherness would become unthinkable” (22).

“This overabundance, which can be properly appreciated only by bearing in mind both our overabundant information and the growing tangle of interdependences in what some already call the ‘world system’, causes undeniable difficulties to historians, especially historians of the contemporary – a denomination which the density of events over the last few decades threatens to rob of all meaning. But this problem is precisely anthropological in nature” (28).

“What is new is not that the world lacks meaning, or has little meaning, or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning: to give meaning to the world, not just some village or lineage…a situation we could call ‘supermodern’ to express its essential quality: excess” (29).

“We are in an era characterized by changes of scale” (31).

“This spatial overabundance works like a decoy, but a decoy whose manipulator would be very hard to identify (there is nobody pulling the strings). In very large part, it serves as a substitute for the universes which ethnology has traditionally made its own. We can say of these universes, which are themselves way: not only can they be (as we say) manipulated, but the broadcast image (which is only one among countless possible others) exercises an influence, possesses a power far in excess of any objective information it carries” (32-33).

“One of the major concerns of ethnology has bee;’ to delineate signifying spaces in the world, societies identified with cultures conceived as complete wholes” (33).

Its concrete outcome involves considerable physical modifications: urban concentrations, movements of population and the multiplication of what we call ‘non-places’, in opposition to the sociological notion of place, associated by Mauss and a whole ethnological tradition with the idea of a culture localized in time and space” (34).

“[N]ever before have individual histories been so explicitly affected by collective history, but never before, either, have the reference points for collective identification been so unstable. The individual production of meaning is more necessary than ever”(37).

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