Notes: Katja Thieme & Shurli Makmillen, “A Principled Uncertainty: Writing Studies Methods in Contexts of Indigeneity”

Thieme, Katja, & Shurli Makmillen. (2017). A principled uncertainty: Writing studies methods in contexts of indigeneity. College Composition and Communication, 68(3), 466-493.


Thieme & Makmillen situate research methods as reproducing disciplinary epistemologies and trouble assumptions of validity and universality by situating research methods as a principled response, drawing on indigenous rhetorics and genre theory.

Keywords: cultural rhetorics, disciplinarity, genre, indigenous rhetorics, methodology, research methods, rhetoric, writing studies


Bhattacharya, Kakali. (2007). Consenting to the consent form: What are the fixed and fluid understandings between the researcher and the researched? Qualitative Inquiry, 13(8), 1095–115.

Cole, Daniel. (2011). Writing removal and resistance: Native American rhetoric in the composition classroom. College Composition and Communication, 63(1), 122–44.


“At the heart of critical questions on a method’s transparency and reproducibility are concerns about what it is that is being reproduced if research follows the path of established forms of inquiry” (p. 468).

“References to methods are a shorthand that is similarly indicative of community practices and allegiances. Like genre names, method references focus on central but isolated aspects of a process that involves rich and varying sets of steps and interactions. These shorthands can create a sense of stability and naturalization” (p. 469).

2017 Summer Reading List (so far…)

4/24-5/5: Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press.

4/24: Sewell, John I. (2014). “Becoming rather than being”: Queer’s double-edged discourse as deconstructive practice. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 38(4), 291-307.

4/25: Morris, Charles E., & Sloop, John M. (2017). Other lips, whither kisses? Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 14(2), 182.

4/26: Samek, Alyssa A. & Theresa A. Donofrio. (2013). “Academic drag” and the performance of the critical personae: An exchange on sexuality, politics, and identity in the academy. Women’s Studies in Communication, 36(1), 28-55.

4/27: Fox, Ragan. (2013). “Homo”-work: Queering academic communication and communicating queer in academia. Text and Performance Quarterly, 33(1), 58-76.

4/28: Bessette, Jean. (2016). Queer rhetoric in situ. Rhetoric Review, 35(2), 148-164.

4/29: Pamela VanHaitsma. (2016). Gossip as rhetorical methodology for queer and feminist historiography. Rhetoric Review. 35(2), 135-147.

4/30: Horst, Heather & Daniel Miller. (2012). Normativity and materiality: A view from digital anthropology. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, (145), 103-111.

5/1: Muñoz, José Esteban. (2000). Feeling brown: Ethnicity and affect in Ricardo Bracho’s “The Sweetest Hangover (And Other STDs)”. Theatre Journal, 52(1), 67-79.

5/2: Chávez, Karma. (2015). The precariousness of homonationalism: The queer agency of terrorism in post-9/11 rhetoric. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 2(3), 32–58.

5/3: Yep, Gust A. (2002). From homophobia and heterosexism to heteronormativity: Toward the development of a model of queer interventions in the university classroom. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 6(3-4), 163-76.

5/4: VanHaitsma, Pamela. (2014). Queering the language of the heart: Romantic letters, genre instruction, and rhetorical practice. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 44.1, 6–24.

5/5: Villarejo, A. (2005). Tarrying with the normative: Queer theory and black history. Social Text, 23.3–4, 69–84.

5/6-5/19: Thompson, Peter & Slavoj Žižek (eds.). (2013). The privatization of hope: Ernst Bloch and the future of utopia. Durham: Duke University Press.

5/6: Portolano, Marlana. (2012). The rhetorical function of utopia: An exploration of the concept of utopia in rhetorical theory. Utopian Studies, 23(1), 113-141.

5/7: Happe, Kelly E. (2015). Parrhēsia, biopolitics, and occupy. Rhetoric & Philosophy, 48(2), 211-223.

5/8: Newman, Eric H. (2015). Ephemeral utopias: Queer cruising, literary form, and diasporic imagination in claude McKay’s home to Harlem and banjo. Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, 38(1), 167-241.

5/9: Stempfhuber, Martin & Michael Liegl. (2016). Intimacy mobilized: Hook-up practices in the location-based social network Grindr. Österreichische Zeitschrift Für Soziologie, 41(1), 51-70.

5/10: Harvey, David O. (2011). Calculating risk: Barebacking, the queer male subject, and the De/formation of identity politics. Discourse, 33(2), 156-183.

5/11: Chaput, Catherine. (2010). Rhetorical circulation in late capitalism: Neoliberalism and the overdetermination of affective energy.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, 43(1), 1–25.

5/12: Endres, Danielle, and Samantha Senda-Cook. (2011). Location matters: The rhetoric of place in protest. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 97(3), 257–82.

5/13: Walker, Paul. (2017). Let’s disagree (to agree): Queering the rhetoric of agreement in writing assessment. Composition Forum, 35. Web.

5/14: Thieme, Katja, & Shurli Makmillen. (2017). A principled uncertainty: Writing studies methods in contexts of indigeneity. College Composition and Communication, 68(3), 466.

5/15: Bacha, Jeffrey A. (2016). The physical mundane as topos: Walking/dwelling/using as rhetorical invention. College Composition and Communication, 68(2), 266.

5/16: Stormer, Nathan, & Bridie McGreavy. (2017). Thinking ecologically about rhetoric’s ontology: Capacity, vulnerability, and resilience. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 50(1), 1-25.

5/17: Wingrove, Elizabeth. (2016). blah Blah WOMEN Blah Blah EQUALITY Blah Blah DIFFERENCE. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 49(4), 408-419.

5/18: Daniel, James Rushing. (2016). The event that we are: Ontology, rhetorical agency, and Alain Badiou. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 49(3), 254–276.

5/19: Bowen, Lauren M. (2017). The limits of hacking composition pedagogy. Computers and Composition, 43, 2017, 1-14.

5/20-5/28: Cooper, Davina. (2014). Everyday utopias: The conceptual life of promising spaces. Durham: Duke University Press.

5/20: Vallerand, Olivier. (2013). Home is the place we all share, Journal of Architectural Education, 67:1, 64-75.

5/21: Jennex, Craig. (2013). Diva worship and the sonic search for queer utopia. Popular Music and Society, 36(3), 343-359.

5/22: Faris, Michael J. (2014). Coffee shop writing in a networked age. College Composition and Communication, 66(1), 21.

5/23: Dean, Tim. (2015). Mediated intimacies: Raw sex, truvada, and the biopolitics of chemoprophylaxis. Sexualities, 18(1-2), 224-246.

5/24: Heard, Matthew. (2013). Tonality and ethos. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 46(1), 44-64.

5/25: Scott, Tony and Lil Brannon. (2013). Democracy, struggle, and the praxis of assessment. College Composition and Communication, 65(2), 273-298.

5/26: Walker, Paul. (2013). Composition’s akrasia: The devaluing of intuitive expertise in writing assessment. enculturation, 15.

5/27: Bhattacharya, Kakali. (2007). Consenting to the consent form: What are the fixed and fluid understandings between the researcher and the researched? Qualitative Inquiry, 13(8), 1095–115.

5/28: Cole, Daniel. (2011). Writing removal and resistance: Native American rhetoric in the composition classroom. College Composition and Communication, 63(1), 122–44.

5/29-6/11: Butler, Judith, Zeynep Gambetti, & Leticia Sabsay (eds.). (2016). Vulnerability in resistance. Durham: Duke University Press.

5/29: Schotten, C. Heike. (2015). Homonationalist futurism: “Terrorism” and (other) queer resistance to empire. New Political Science, 37(1), 71-90.

5/30: Migraine-George, Thérèse & Ashley Currier. (2016). Querying queer African archives: methods and movements. WSQ: Womens Studies Quarterly, 44(3&4), 190-207.

5/31: Adams, Heather, Jeremy Engels, Michael J. Faris, Debra Hawhee, & Mark Hlavacik. (2012). Deliberation in the midst of crisis. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 12(4), 342-345.

6/1: Stormer, Nathan. (2016). Rhetoric’s diverse materiality: Polythetic ontology and genealogy. Review of Communication, 16(4), 299-316.

6/2: Pflugfelder, Ehren H. (2015). Rhetoric’s new materialism: From micro-rhetoric to microbrew. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 45(5), 441.

6/3: Agnew, Lois P. (2015) The Materiality of Language: Gender, Politics, and the University. Rhetoric Review, 34(1), 106-110.

6/4: Burnett, Cathy, Guy Merchant, Kate Pahl & Jennifer Rowsell. (2014). The (im)materiality of literacy: The significance of subjectivity to new literacies research. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 35(1), 90-103.

6/5: Richardson, Timothy. (2014). The authenticity of what’s next. Enculturation, 17.

6/6: Yergeau, Melanie, Elizabeth Brewer, Stephanie Kirschbaum, Sushil K. Oswal, Margaret Price, Cynthia L. Self, et al. (2013). Multimodality in motion: Disability and kairotic spaces. Kairos, 18(1).

6/12-6/17: Rand, Erin. (2014). Reclaiming queer: Activist and academic rhetorics of resistance. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.

6/12: Rand, Erin J. (2013). Queer critical rhetoric bites back. Western Journal of Communication, 77(5), 533-537.

6/13: Bessette, Jean. (2013). An archive of anecdotes: Raising lesbian consciousness after the Daughters of Bilitis. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 43(1), 22-45.

6/14: West, Isaac. (2013). Queer generosities. Western Journal of Communication, 77(5), 538-541.

6/15: Ahlm, Jody. (2017). Respectable promiscuity: Digital cruising in an era of queer liberalism. Sexualities, 20(3), 364-379.

6/16: Nichols, Garrett W. (2013). The quiet country closet: Reconstructing a discourse for closeted rural experiences.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 3.1.

6/17: Scott, J. Blake. (2003). Extending rhetorical-cultural analysis: Transformations of home HIV testing. College English, 65(4), 349-367.

6/18-6/23: Waite, Stacey. (2017). Teaching queer: Radical possibilities for writing and knowing. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

6/18: Waite, Stacey. (2015). Queer literacies survival guide. College Composition and Communication, 67(1), 111-114.

6/19: Kopelson, Karen. (2013). Queering the writing program: Why now? how? and other contentious questions. Writing Program Administration, 37(1), 199.

6/20: Coles, Gregory. (2016). The exorcism of language: Reclaimed derogatory terms and their limits. College English, 78(5), 424.

6/24-6/30: Shipka, Jody. (2011). Toward a composition made whole. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

6/24: Shipka, Jody. (2009). Negotiating rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological difference: Evaluating multimodal designs. College Composition and Communication, 61(1), W343-W366.

6/25: George, Diana. (2002). From analysis to design: Visual communication in the teaching of writing. College Composition and Communication, 54, 11-39.

6/26: Marback, Richard. (2009). Embracing the wicked problems: The turning to design in composition studies. College Composition and Communication, 61(2), W397-W419.

6/27: Davis, Matthew, & Kathleen B. Yancey. (2014). Notes toward the role of materiality in composing, reviewing, and assessing multimodal texts. Computers and Composition: An International Journal for Teachers of Writing, 31, 13-28.

6/28: West-Puckett, Stephanie. (2016). Making classroom writing assessment more visible, equitable, and portable through digital badging. College English, 79(2), 127-151.

6/28: Fortune, Bonnie. (2013). Queering the hackerspace at miss baltazar’s laboratory and beyond. Make/shift, (14), 38.

6/29: Kohtala, Cindy. (2016). Making “Making” critical: How sustainability is constituted in fab lab ideology. The Design Journal, , 1-20.

7/1-7/7: Sirc, Geoffrey. (2002). English composition as a happening. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

7/1: Ball, Cheryl E. (2004). Show, not tell: the value of new media scholarship. Computers and Composition, 21, 403-425.

7/2: DeVoss, Dànielle Nicole, Ellen Cushman, & Jeffrey T. Grabill. (2005). Infrastructure and composing: The when of new-media writing. College Composition and Communication, 57, 14-44.

7/3: Symposium. (2014). The maker movement in education: Designing, creating, and learning across contexts. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 493-494.

7/4: Martin, Lee. (2015). The promise of the maker movement for education. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 5(1), 30-39.

7/5: Kera, Denisa. (2014). Innovation regimes based on collaborative and global tinkering: Synthetic biology and nanotechnology in the hackerspaces. Technology in Society, 37, 28-37.

7/6: Halverson, Erica R., & Kimberly M. Sheridan. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495.

7/7: Charlton, Colin. (2014). The weight of curious space: Rhetorical events, hackerspace, and emergent multimodal assessment. Computers and Composition: An International Journal for Teachers of Writing, 31, 29-42.

Notes: José Muñoz, “Queerness as Horizon: Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism” in Cruising Utopia: The Then and Now of Queer Futurity

Muñoz, José E. (2009). Queerness as horizon: Utopian hermeneutics in the face of gay pragmatism. in Cruising utopia: The then and there of queer futurity. New York: New York University Press, 19-32.


Muñoz insists on queerness as a not-quite-here and that queerness as utopian and uses this positioning of queer as a means to be beyond the pragmatic and neoliberal.

Keywords: Queer, Queer Theory, Queer Futurity


“This ‘we’ does not speak to a merely identitarian logic but instead to a logic of futurity. The ‘we’ speaks to a ‘we’ that is ‘not yet conscious,’ the future society that is being invoked and addressed at the same moment. The ‘we’ is not content to describe who the collective is but more nearly describes what the collective and the larger social order could be, what it should be… This is to say that the field of utopian possibility is one in which multiple forms of belonging in difference adhere to a belonging in collectivity” (20).

“The not-quite-conscious is the realm of potentiality that must be called on, and insisted on, if we are ever to look beyond the pragmatic sphere of the here and now, the hollow nature of the present” (21).

“I suggest that holding queerness in a sort of ontologically humble state, under a conceptual grid in which we do not claim to always already know queerness in the world, potentially staves off the ossifying effects of neoliberal ideology and the degredation of politics brought about by representations of queerness in contemporary culture” (22).

“Indeed, to live inside straight time and ask for, desire, and imagine another time and place is to represent and perform a desire that is both utopian and queer” (26).

“Indeed it is important to complicate queer history and understand it as doing more than the flawed process of merely evidencing. Evidencing protocols often fail to enact real hermeneutical inquiry and instead opt to reinstate that which is known in advance. Thus, practices of knowledge production that are content merely to cull selectively from the past, while striking a pose of positivist undertaking or empirical knowledge retrieval, often nullify the political imagination” (27).

“These ephemeral traces, flickering illuminations from other times and places, are sites that may indeed appear merely romantic, even to themselves. Nonetheless they assist those of us who wish to follow queerness’ promise, its still unrealized potential, to see something else, a component that the German aesthetician would call cultural surplus. I build on this idea to suggest that the surplus is both cultural and affective. More distinctly, I point to a queer feeling of hope in the face of hopeless heteronormative maps of the present where futurity is indeed the province of normative reproduction” (28, original emphasis).


Notes: Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987). “The Homland, Aztlán/El otro México.” In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.


Anzaldúa introduces the idea of borderlands and discusses her experience of living along the Texas-Mexico border, historicizing her experience within cultural contexts.

Keywords: Cultural Rhetorics, Culture, Decolonial/Postcolonial


“But the skin of the earth is seamless.
The sea cannot be fenced,
el mar does not stop at borders.
To show the white man what she thought of his
Yemaya blew that wire fence down” (3).

“This land was Mexican once,
was Indian always
and is.
And   will be again” (3).

“Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them…. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary”

“[Borderlands are] a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants” (3).


What and Who We Sponsor

In EMU’s two week graduate assistant training workshop, we were asked to write our literacy narratives. Below is my draft for that assignment:

Literacy seems to always be a deceptively easy word to define. It may be easy enough to use it as the ways in which one comes to communicate with others—often discussed as being through reading and writing alphabetic texts. However, if literacy is only talked about as reading and writing alphabetic texts, there is something that seems flat and emptied about it. Literacy has the capacity to understand communicative acts and practices as culturally located and imbricated with the technologies used to create or surround such acts (See Haas, 2008; Cushman, 2011; Shipka, 2011).

When I was in preschool, my teacher asked my class what we each wanted to be. Many of my male peers responded with “lawyer,” “doctor,” “astronaut,” or “president.” Many of my female peers replied with similarly interspersed with answers such as “mother,” “wife,” or “princess.” I answered that I wanted to be a mermaid and was immediately informed that this was not an appropriate answer—it is hard to be a successful mermaid in this economic climate—and so I answered with father and was again shot down. Defeated, I answered writer. Whether out of spite, stubbornness, genuine interest, or some premonition of a four-year-old’s intuition, it is an answer that I’ve stuck by ever since.

I include this as an opening anecdote as it at once sets up my journey toward understanding writing and literacy, if simplistically, but also seems to meaningfully come into contact with the boundaries of acceptable literacies that permeate the educational contexts I’ve inhabited since disciplinarily or institutionally. In many ways, my teacher and my answer pushed me in a direction that made visible these demarcations of valued and acceptable literacies within education—I could be a writer because that was something that was understood by my teacher to be something appropriate for a male student proceeding into grade school to pursue.

My family moved from Delaware to Virginia when I was eight, midway through the school year. That year would be the first that I encountered standardized testing. The SOL’s. I failed the test in Virginia history—a subject widely taught in early education in Delaware. By whatever assessment apparatus was used, I landed in a series of “slow track,” remedial classes going forward. This lasted until my family moved to North Carolina when I was twelve, where I would be tested again and placed into all advanced classes. How does this connect to literacy—and why is this writing so episodic? My momentary occupation of this system was yet another encounter of boundaries, of ways of being and knowing that would be valued in an institutional context. This is not to say that this essay should be concerned with the woes of standardized testing—in fact, it was in some of these remedial classes that I was able to play—really play—with writing. I was able to tell stories and communicate through more experimental language, but technologies: I composed through Legos and toys, I wrote an essay through still shots of myself using sign language that I edited post-print, I learned code from a friend and turned in a hacked version of the school’s website as a final.

The writing strategies I’d been able to explore in that setting allowed me to subversively compose in future settings—though often unsuccessfully until later into my undergraduate experience at East Carolina. After hearing many of the questions I had about writing and my interests within English Studies, my mentor, Will Banks, encouraged me to change my area of focus from Literature to Rhetoric and Composition and to apply for a job as a peer tutor in the University Writing Center. The writing center and my classes that focused in rhetoric and composition gave me a vocabulary to talk about writing and to explore the possibility of writing much more formally with instructors and mentors who encouraged playfulness as a form of invention.

But what I’m struck with, even now, is how these literacies I’ve discussed all take place within classrooms for instructors, or are in service of such enterprises. Why haven’t I described the cruising practices I learned in gay clubs and bathhouses? Or the ways in which queer neighborhoods and spaces can be “read” as much as they are navigable or traversable? Or the ways that I learned to code my performance of self with levels of masculinity so that I would appear nonthreatening to the cis/hetero men that I interact with in professional settings? Or the countless other literacies or literacy moments that my cultural positioning as a queer person informs my sense of self and citizenship, my research, and my pedagogy? I feel this is largely because of those interactions with boundaries of acceptability I interacted with earlier on that have been continually reaffirmed. Literacy, with all of its bagginess as a term, within institutional contexts seems to make so much distant, inaccessible, and invisible. Instead, conventional uses of the term literacy seem to only promote a certain list of activities, technologies, and products, promoted by sanctioned professionals, within certain contexts. Subversion of such should only be done cleverly and not too radically in order to avoid discomfort (What would a student think if they knew their instructor had history in the baths?).

However, as a potential literacy sponsor, am I to also affirm these boundaries that surround and contain acceptable literacy? Would that be “professional”—another word that seems coded with implications to appear, perform, and act in ways that support a white, cis/heteropatriarchy (See Cox, 2012)? Are there ways to explore the subversive and potentially disquieting capacity of literacy productively and still set up students for success, in so far as success is measured?

I don’t mean to suggest that my classroom explores the cruising practices of gay men. Though, I do intend to raise the questions surround why it does or does not explore those practices and forms of communication, to raise the questions of what and who we sponsor. I was fortunate to have mentors that sponsored disruptive and subversive literacy practices and I intend to do the same in my own work.

Brief List of Citations

Brandt, Deborah. (1998). “Sponsors of Literacy.” College Composition and Communication, 49(2), 165-185.

Cox, Matthew B. (2012). Through Working Closets: Examining Rhetorical and Narrative Approaches to Building LGBTQ & Professional Identity Inside a Corporate Workplace.

Cushman, Ellen (2011). The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Haas, Angela M. (2008). “Wampum as Hypertext: An American Indian Intellectual Tradition of Multimedia Theory and Practice. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 19(4), 77-100.

Shipka, Jody (2011). Toward a composition made whole. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Carolyn Steedman, “Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust”

Steedman, Carolyn. “Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust.” The American Historical Review, vol. 106, American Historical Association, United States, 2001..doi:10.2307/2692943.



Steedman responds to Derrida’s Archive Fever and explores the purposeful consideration and, indeed, fever to archival work, the doubled Everythingness and Nothingness that it considers.

Keywords: Archives, Methodology, Method, History


“Derrida broods on revisionist histories that have been written out of these archives of evil (a shadow of a suggestion here, then, that it is not archives he has in his sights so much as what gets written out of archives: formal, academie history); but he broods as well on never giving up on the hope of getting proof of the past, even though documentary evidence may be locked away and suppressed” (1162).

“But as English-language readers, we are forced to have the fever, and, if we are historians, forced to exasperated expostulation that archives are nothing like this at all” (1163).

“In a parody (but not quite a parody) of empirical doggedness, we might ding to the coattails of one figure of Derrida’s, one image, one literal meaning of “fever” (which wasn’t even a word that was there to start with), and find not only a different kind of sickness but also the magistrate who is actually present in his text, though wrongly named” (1164).

“It remains completely uncertain—it must remain uncertain, that is its point—who or what rises up in this moment. It cannot be determined whether it is the manuscripts or the dead or both who come to life, and take shape and form” (1171).

“The archive that isn’t there in “Archive Fever” is not and never has been the repository of official documents alone. And nothing is there from the beginning. Archives hold no origins, and origins are not what historians search for in them. Rather, they hold everything in medias res, the account caught halfway through, most of it missing, with no end ever in sight. Nothing starts in the Archive, nothing, ever at all, although things certainly end up there” (1175).

“There is everything, or Everything, the great undifferentiated past, all of it, which is not history, but just stuff.” The smallest fragment of its representation (nearly always in some kind of written language) ends up in various kinds of archives and record offices (and also in the vastly expanded data banks that Derrida refers to in “Archive Fever”). From that, you make history, which is never what was there, once upon a time. (There was only stuff, fragments, dust.)” (1176).

“Contemplating Everything, the historian must start somewhere, but starting is a different thing from originating, or even from beginning. And while there is closure in historical writing, and historians do bring their arguments and books to a conclusion, there is no End—cannot be an End, for we are still in it, the great, slow-moving Everything” (1177).

“There is a double nothingness in the writing of history and in the analysis of it: it is about something that never did happen in the way it comes to be represented (the happening exists in the telling or the text), and it is made out of materials that are not there, in an archive or anywhere else” (1179).

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.



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


“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).