Happy Mortal

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How I Flow

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Arjun Appadurai argues that anthropologists should not study people groups as blocs defined by a certain ethnicity or geographical location.  Instead, Appadurai examines people groups in terms of five disjunctive flows.  The flows do not necessarily depend directly on each other and they can cross racial, political, and international boundaries.  These are the five:  ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes.  Here are examples of each at work in my own life.

  1. Ethnoscape:  My mom met my dad when she moved from California to Switzerland to learn French (he was her French teacher).  After my parents split-up, my Mom moved back with me to California.  So, in order to understand me and my family, one would have to take these transatlantic migrations into account, migrations that cross ethnic and geographic lines.
  2. Mediascape:  One of my favorite shows is BBC’s The Office (the US version’s daddy-mamma).  Some of my friends and I have spent hours watching David Brent and co.  We even talk to each other using lines from The Office.  If you wanted to understand a major part of my cultural currency, you would have to take a look at this show and how it flows from British culture, humor, and production, into my living room.
  3. Technoscape:  My Dad works for the Swiss government.  Right now he is serving a post in Shanghai, China.  In order to stay in touch, we talk to each other on Skype (it’s free!).  We video chat every Monday at 4pm in LA (Tuesday 8am, in Shanghai).  So to get a handle on the technology that connects me to my peeps, you would have to follow the Skype flow from west coast US to east coast China.
  4. Financescape:  Currently the economy in Iceland is under severe strain after experiencing 5 years of the highest economic growth among the countries in the OECD.  According to Georg Brynjarsson, this meltdown can be externally traced to the subprime crises in the US.  My wife has family living in Iceland.  Because they are struggling right now, this may affect her family’s ability to hang on to their historic house in Denmark.  So, to understand some of her current anxiety, you would have to follow a flow that went from the US to Iceland to Denmark and back to the US.
  5. Ideoscape:  I do yoga multiple times a week.  I love the way that it teaches me to be in touch with my body-mind.  The yoga DVD that I use was made in Hawaii by Rodney Yee, a Chinese American.  But ultimately, Yoga originated in India.  Now there’s a long flow.

Appadurai’s way of studying people groups makes a lot of sense to me in an increasingly interconnected world.  What are some of the flows that make you and yours who you are?

5 Comments

  1. Interesting take on anthropology. I would think that Appadurai’s approach has validity which increases in correlation to globalization.

    I’ve been re-reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which ties indigenous groups inevitably to their geographical resources. He hypothesizes that the geography of euroasia (similar latitudes and altitudes) enabled the spread of ideas, crops, livestock and resources, while the reverse was true in the Americas.

    But in our current world, ethnicity and geography are not the barriers they used to be, and ideology becomes a more unifying factor.

  2. Definitely. Appadurai does argue that this way of doing anthropology is demanded as globalization increases. So, he wouldn’t claim that other ways were invalid, only that they are becoming invalid in the face of global flows.

  3. I just took the time to write one up and it was way too long. But this is a cool idea. I like the way he approaches it. However, it also kind of made me feel lonely. If I am put into the “old” anthropological groupings I would be one of millions. But looking at my anthropological flow I doubt that there are any people out there like me. And what do you do when no one comes from the same background as you do? It’s a weird thought.

  4. That’s a good question. I like to feel both unique and connected to a group. I don’t think Appadurai about the flows in terms of individuals, but maybe that is a possible consequence of his thought. It reminds me of a weepies lyric I really like, “I don’t give a damn/I’m happy as a clam/nobody knows me at all.”

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