Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in Post-revolutionary Vietnam – Google Books

Source: Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in Post-revolutionary Vietnam – Google Books


Postmodern Ideology and the Narrative Format

One of the key ideas in postmodern anthropology is the rejection of the rhetorical strategies by past researchers to make themselves seem as though they were objective researchers. This stems from the idea that the third-person perspective doesn’t show how a researcher knows a fact that they are trying to assert. The third-person separates the researcher’s personal experience from an attempt to be objective, but this creates biases that are not always evident when reading their ethnographies. While many postmodernists have presented ideas to counter this historical way of writing, they fail to realize the full extent of possibilities available to them. Some have touched on it, but they fail to realize exactly what is necessary. In the postmodern world, it is crucial for modern anthropologists to learn the narrative format of fiction writers.

This is not to say that anthropology should evolve to strictly be more similar to journalism, this is simply a way for readers to understand where the anthropologist’s assertions are coming from and what biases are present in their research. By studying the narrative format, field anthropologists can tell their experience through their own lens. By making a book in the first-person, with the anthropologist as a sort of “main character”, we can come to an understanding of how these field researchers came to their conclusions. Think of this as creating a history of the anthropologist’s experience that can then be used as a basis to use for the rest of their research, as well as be a data set for future researchers.

While this does not present a solution to understanding the “others” voice, it will lead to a greater understanding of how the gap of cultural difference can be crossed. This can be done in a similar fashion to how the main character evolves throughout the book. It starts with a character being placed into unfamiliar surroundings, and through trials, this character can now gain a good understanding of the culture they are studying. This is a great way of showing exactly how a field researcher can claim to be an expert. It also would allow for an outsider to look in and debate if an anthropologist can truly claim to be an expert.

Just as a helpful side note, this form of writing can help counter the idea that most researchers don’t make that much money. When this style has been used in other fields of study, they have become bestsellers. So embracing a narrative format has potential in both the world of academia and in the economic world.


Power, Knowledge, and Aliens

Foucault states that power is knowledge, instead of the common thought that knowledge is power.  When speaking about power, he would be referring to the individuals who hold a large amount of authority and credibility giving them a higher social status in society. His claim that power is knowledge assumes that these figures of authority use this power, intentionally or unintentionally, to add credibility to their already high position in society while influencing the rest of society- the lower class individuals. In Capitalism, Marx saw the association between the power of the upper class citizens and social relations through a societies means of production and political power of the state. The same economic class, the upper class, of individuals controlled both using force. Foucault agreed with Marx’s original analysis, but thought it was too restrictive. He added insight of the existence of an ideological state apparatus as a show of force such as institutions of education and politics. These powerful, wealthy institutions use their credibility to portray their claims to be the universal truth, which most individuals believe without questioning. This is seen within our social structure and social relations among one another in the United States.

Money is the means of our production, making it possible for capitalism to thrive. The richest one percent in the world own more of the means of production than the combined ninety-nine percent of the rest of the population. This gives the one percent the control over the structure of our society, not just the means of productions, exercising this power in the form of discourse and knowledge. This is the same at a national level as well as a international one. Individuals with the most money in our society are the same individuals who claim to have a certain amount of expertise within a subject (for example, science) and this expertise is given to the rest of the population, which is  immediately accepted due to the social position or status of the individual stating the scientific evidence. New discoveries are made often in science by people with degrees, but there are also people with degrees that hold social power that portray certain knowledge to be true that is not or we simply don’t have enough evidence to prove. A great example of this could be the show Ancient Aliens. On this show many people with degrees in various subjects discuss the possibility of alien life as it is a fact, relating all successes of previous civilizations to the existence of extraterrestrial life forms. It’s been exceedingly clear since I began college when I was 17 that they speak with no real evidence. They look at certain features of a particular culture and tie it into their theory to try to prove it. Their theory that they are trying to prove is the existence of aliens. They are doing this by devaluing past civilizations and using their power to create false knowledge and generalizations about previous cultures.

In our society we have the tendency to let the individuals with power determine our knowledge. We blindly trust those who seem older, wiser, and educated and ignore those who are young and have not yet graduated with a degree. I am not saying that we should not trust these individuals with titles, but to be aware that knowledge can be interpretations based on the context of the individual’s life and beliefs spreading the knowledge; for instance, the educated degree-holders on Ancient Aliens. As individuals we should feel personally responsible to learn the knowledge our world holds for us; therefore, we should seek answers ourselves and not immediately trust the first person in a position of power to tell us the objective truth.


Deconstruction in a Newer Era

In 1994, William O’Barr published Culture and the Ad: Exploring the World of Otherness in Advertisement. O’Barr attempted to look at how the portrayal of minorities in advertisement had changed over time.1 He particularly looked at print advertising from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. An important aspect to O’Barr’s analysis was the use of deconstruction.

Deconstruction looks to critically read texts to find the latent biases and meanings held within it.2 While the original use was applied to texts, Catherine Lutz and Jane Collin applied it to National Geographic photos and later O’Barr to advertising.3 O’Barr found that in the 1950’s and 1960’s, African American men were primarily bellmen, train porters, elevator operators, or shoe-shine boys and women mainly as domestics and cooks.4 However, this changed in the 1970’s when the portrayal of African Americans started to include executives over those positions previously used. O’Barr attempted to show how cultural views had changed over this period of several decades. It was through advertising that a cultural shift was shown in who could be what and how Americans perceived race.

Can this be applied to our world now? How can O’Barr’s assertion that advertising can show cultural view shifts be seen in advertising today? Let’s look at some more modern ads.


(three ads: from left to right, a Target ad featuring a girl with a physical disability, another Target ad featuring a girl with down syndrome, finally, an ad for Marriott showing a gay couple with their children)

(two ads: from left to right, a Nivea ad that features male based hair and skin products, a Dove ad for body wash that featured a African American woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath)


(three ads: from left to right, a Mr.Clean ad with a woman and her daughter cleaning, a Bosch ad showing the evolution of their washing machines and a woman standing to each era of machines, a Dolce & Gabbana ad showing men hovering over a woman lying on the floor)

According to O’Barr, we are able to discern cultural views from each of these ads through deconstruction. The first three ads show inclusivity. These ads include those with both physical and developmental disorders and a gay couple with children. These additions to modern advertising show that views on these aspects of life are not as disregarded or discriminated against as they have been in the past. This shows a cultural shift to be inclusive of several ways of life.

The next two ads focus more on hygiene and beauty products. The Nivea ad shows an African American man with short hair grabbing the disembodied head of an African American with an afro. The text says to “re-civilize yourself”. This could be interpreted that wearing your hair natural as an African American is still looked down upon. There is either a dirtiness or an uncivilized notion associated with it. The Dove ad acts in a similar fashion. It’s an ad for body wash and shows an African American woman pulling her shirt off to show a white woman underneath. While some would say it’s an oversite, it could imply that darker skin is perceived as dirtier than that of lighter skins. These two ads may show that darker skin and natural African American hair is less desirable as a beauty standard.

The final three ads feature mainly women. The first one shows simply a mother and daughter cleaning. Seems simple and innocent enough but women have primarily dominated cleaning and cooking ads. The washing machine ad is like the previous one. However, the interesting fact of this ad is that while the fashion and technology change within it, the idea of a woman being associated with laundry doesn’t. The final ad is for clothing. This shows men predatorially standing and leaning over one single woman. It shows her in a sexual and vulnerable position. This could suggest submissive and sexual stereotypes of woman still remain under the public conscious.

While comparing modern ads to those of, let’s say, O’Barr’s “modern” advertisements, would require a study in its own right, it still provides us with a rich example of the applications of deconstruction. It shows that these ads are not just flat images and videos but rather brief glimpses into cultural ideals. Through deconstruction we can find the stereotypes we’ve held and the others we’ve abandoned. It would be insightful to see how O’Barr’s study could be translated into a newer era.


1- Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory a Social and Political History. London: Taylor & Francis, 2017. p. 324

2- Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: a Social and Political History. p. 316

3- Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: a Social and Political History. p. 323

4- Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: a Social and Political History. p. 324


Do We Adapt To Our Environments Today?

Julian Steward believed that humans shape their lives, as well as their culture, around what their environment provides them.  I believe, that in present day, that is absolutely true.  Since the industrial revolution began, we began living unsustainably.  We take far more from our Earth than the Earth can regenerate.  We are stripping our planet of it’s natural resources and polluting it with toxic fumes as well as toxic waste.  Our groundwater is polluted, leaving the runoff to enter our oceans, further destroying their ecosystem.  We have slowly destroyed everything we lay our hands on.  However, in this time of destruction and pollution, people are trying to implement new ideas to work with their environment; well, what’s left of their environment.  We are changing the ways we live, because our environment is taking a turn for the worst.

Arizona is a state that is extremely hot and doesn’t get a lot of rain.  Due to the increasing temperatures throughout the year due to climate change, Arizona See the source imageis facing even higher temperatures and an increase in the lack of rain.  This lack of rain calls for residential water restrictions.  Therefore, many residents have converted their yards in a way that compensates for both heat and the lack of rain.  This conversion is known as xeriscaping.  Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping where extra irrigation is not needed.  The plants are native to their ecosystem and are adapted to the hot, dry conditions.  This adaptation saves water and money.

Another adaption technique humankind has invented due to an increase in temperatures is as simple as a white road.  Asphalt get extremely hot in the summer.  Cities, such as Los Angeles, California,  have been experiencing increasing temperatures because of the amount of dark roadways and congested areas.  Therefore, they have begun to paint their road ways white to cut down on urban warming.  Just making the roads white alone provided drastic results.  Some places noticed differences as high as about thirty degrees.  This just goes to show that we are coming up with ways to adapt to our environment.

One last example I’m going to share, is something I personally use everyday.   With the growing plastic problem in our world today, it is important to cut down on your amount of plastic waste.  A compaSee the source imageny called Lush Cosmetics has created a shampoo, conditioner, lotion as well as other items that don’t require a plastic bottle.  I constantly found myself throwing bottle after bottle of shampoo and conSee the source imageditioner away.  Then I found that I could buy this item that didn’t require a bottle and it worked just as well.  They contain all natural, vegan ingredients that you can pronounce (ones that don’t cause cancer, like you find in a lot ofSee the source image products today).  They also don’t test on animals, which is nice because I do not enjoy animal suffering and tears in my products….Some of the options even allow you to cut off the size piece you want as if it’s a piece of food.  The price will then depend upon the weight.  They also provide an option that does have a bottle as well, however, you return the bottles to the store and they reuse them.  So there’s no need to discard the bottles.  Companies are even promoting products that are adapting to our changing environments.

Julian Steward made an interesting point that people’s environments shape the ways they form their ways of life and their culture.  I feel, that today this is absolutely true.  Our environment has taken a turn for the worst.  We are trying to find ways to lessen our footprint as well as adapt and mend our environment.



Foucault and “brainwashing by the state”.

Foucault’s work builds upon the ideas of Louis Althusser (a French structural Marxist), who observed that states govern using force and an “ideological state apparatus,” or the institutions (education, law, and politics) by which the state promoted its version of the “truth”. Foucault also thought that power did not simply involve physical or economic coercion, but is exercised through discourse and knowledge, so that power relations pervaded in all the institutions of society. Institutions, bureaucracies, and individuals can all use claims of knowledge and the truth to dominate. In modern society, it takes the form of a command of the language of science, which is employed by powerful corporations, institutions, and the state to control those who don’t understand this language. When the state undertakes a policy that is could threaten the well-being of some segment of its population, it uses the language of science to justify that policy and to overcome the resistance of the citizen(s). Additionally, asylums, hospitals, prisons, and other total institutions control and coerce their residents through their “expert” ability to diagnose, “treat,” and “rehabilitate” those under their control, as well as to punish those who resist that bureaucratic control. [1] Who determines what the truth is? According to Moberg, it is white males who have typically controlled this power in Western Civilization by using the language of science to disempower minorities and women. Basically, it is power, wealth, and a privileged status, rather than “evidence,” that determines what is “true.” [2]

I can “hear” you asking though, “Ok, so what does that mean exactly?” So let me give you an example by using something that permeates United States politics right now and has done so since roughly 1973. That’s right, Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s ruling making abortion legal in the U.S. Are you aware that when the first Europeans came over to the “new country” abortion was legal here? It was also legal when the Constitution was written and ratified in the 1770’s (it took awhile). It was also legal during the Civil war. Abortion became illegal in the United states around 1880. Now ask yourself why? The short and simple answer is NOT because it is murder and goes against God’s “laws” like most pro-lifers today will answer, but because of white males, more to the point; powerful white males in charge.

The long answer is, by 1880 most states had already banned it except for incases where the mother’s life was in danger. It was a back-lash to the growing suffrage movement and the use of birth control. in an effort to keep women in a traditional child rearing role. It was also a way to control midwives who performed these abortions by the white male medical profession who felt threatened by them. Lastly, it was seen as a preventative to being “outnumbered” by the immigrants coming in from Eastern and Southern Europe during this time. The declining birth rate among women of Western and Northern European descent was seen as “race suicide” and was not taken kindly by the U.S. government or the eugenics movement of the time. so they wanted white U.S. born women to continue to reproduce. Kind of flies in the face of today’s argument that it is un-Christian and/or murder right? However, during the 90 some odd years between the time abortion became illegal and it becoming legal, this is what the government convinced people to think.[3]

Would you be surprised to know that in the 1960’s the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, run by concerned pastors and rabbis, tried to help women in need find a safe place to receive an abortion? Does that sound like it goes against God’s word?[4]

Thanks to the women’s movement during the 1960’s 14 states reformed their abortion laws and 4 states repealed their restrictive laws between 1967 and 1973.[5]

The pro-life movement doesn’t tell you that though, my guess is most of them might not even know about any of that. I know I didn’t, but even with knowing this, I have to say, I’m still not sure I’m for abortion but that’s ok, I don’t have to be. Every woman has the right to make an informed decision about what she feels is right and the Constitution of the U.S. does not allow for laws to be passed that affect only a portion of the population, allegedly. But I suppose my “brainwashing” is going to kick in and say what about the dad’s rights? Oh, well, progress takes time, right?

Abortion/Pro-Choice | Biodork             abortion | Emerald               Ireland Sees Largest-Ever Pro-Life Rally, 60,000 Protest ...

[1][2] (Moberg, 2013 316-317)

[3][4][5] (History of Abortion in the U.S. 2016, website)

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.

Obos Abortion Contributors. “History of Abortion in the U.S.” ourbodiesourselves.org https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/u-s-abortion-history/ (accessed May 6, 2018).



It Came to Me in a Dream : Levi-Strauss & Tumblr


“It came to me in a dream,” may not be an acceptable citation in a research paper, but it can definitely be a source of some rather interesting conversation starters.  Conversations with my friends have led to some pretty out there discussions that leave us wondering how in the world we got there.  The best conversations usually start with “Hey guys, do you ever wonder…”

So here I ask you: “Hey guys, do you ever wonder what it would be like to read an ethnography by Levi-Strauss on the ‘People of Tumblr’?”  Seriously, think about it.

Claude Levi-Strauss was the founder of French Structuralism.  Like other idealists, Levi-Strauss believed that culture was a mental rather than physical construct.[1]  Levi-Strauss was heavily influenced by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and believed that language was an important part of culture.  He proposed that “the language that is spoken by one population is a reflection of the total culture of the population.”[2]   I have to agree with that sentiment when it refers to the speaking/writing patterns of my fellow fans.  We can hold entire conversations in public where we might as well be speaking a foreign language because the people around us have no idea what we’re saying.

“Members of the different Tumblr ‘fandoms’ often come together at formal meetings known as ‘Comic-Cons’ for the opportunity to meet celebrities along with people from other fandoms as well as their own from around the world.  The largest of these gatherings is held in San Diego…

…Each individual Tumblr ‘fandom’ has their own slang terms.  Their shared dialect of English can, at times, completely baffle outsiders.  Though many of the words are familiar, the context in which they are used changes their meaning drastically…

…Another example would be the word ‘ship.’ In fandom terms, the word does not refer to sea vessels.  A ‘ship’ refers a romantic relationship. When someone says that they ‘ship it’ the person in question believes that a relationship between the mentioned persons is a good idea. While in most cases these ‘ships’ are about fictional characters, they can also be about real people as well.  Many of the more popular ‘ships’ have specific names, such as Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), Destiel (Dean Winchester and Castiel), or BlackHawk (Black Widow and Hawkeye).  When a person has several ‘ships’ they are occasionally referred to as ‘an armada’…”


Well, go on then.  Tell me this ethnography wouldn’t be the most hilarious thing ever.  It would give Sass Master Horace Miner and his “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” a run for its money. (Seriously, someone has to write this. Please.)





[1] (Moberg 2013, 266)

[2] (Levi-Strauss 1957, 327)


Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1957. Linguistics and Anthropology.

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.