Link to What's New This Week Opening the Canon: Unrestricted Curriculum

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Shared Reading, Opening the Canon

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
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Created: July 14, 2004
Latest Update: July 14, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site An Unrestricted Curriculum

  1. Introduction Why I chose to share this reading.
  2. Focus: Main point of this reading.
  3. Reading Full identification of source for reading AND excerpt.
  4. Concepts: Concepts and Key Words.
  5. Discussion Discussion questions.
  6. Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses What this has to do with our class.

* * *


  • This reading relates to the problems that disciplines are spilling over into each other: cultural studies, American Studies, literature, social sciences, the arts. One of the goals of the Dear Habermas teaching site is to provide a cross-over that permits you to read across these restricting and generally arbitrary disciplinary boundaries.


  • The muddle that results when we try to break issues out into single disciplines. As Ruether says, everything is interrelated.

Concepts and Key Words:

  • interdisciplinary -


  • Palmer, Catherine. 1998. "Le Tour Du Monde: Towards an Anthropology of the Global Mega-Event." The Australian Journal of Anthropology 9:265+. Retrieved July 14, 2004 Questia link. Questia is an online library service. Not free, but worth the cost, if you haven't time to get to the library.
    Le Tour du Monde: towards an anthropology of the global mega-event.

    by Catherine Palmer Introduction

    Anthropology has a long history of poaching from other disciplines. Geertz's (1980) oft-quoted 'blurring of the genres' has seen anthropology routinely borrow from history, geography, politics and philosophy when assembling its descriptions of cultural life. On the whole, this kind of intellectual self-service has been treated as relatively unproblematic: indeed, anthropology has never been any other way. As Geertz pithily puts it, 'certain troths (sic) about social sciences today seem self-evident. One is that in recent years, there has been an enormous amount of genre mixing in social science, and such blurring of kinds is continuing apace' (1980:165). Yet, while disciplinary boundaries are frequently crossed, they are but rarely questioned.

    But the more recent arrival of cultural studies on the intellectual scene has seen questions of boundary maintenance surface with unprecedented vigour. The perceived need from within the discipline of anthropology to mark out our territory as our own is becoming increasingly strident, as anthropologists on the one hand close in on postmodern society, the terrain which cultural studies has attempted to claim for itself, whilst on the other hand, cultural studies struggles over some of the methodologies, notably ethnography, to which anthropologists have a long standing, and at times profound, attachment.

    It is this sense of an intellectual or methodological lineage that leads me to puzzle over the reaction of anthropologists to cultural studies. Anthropology has long been attentive to the challenges of 'writing culture' that are posed from within the discipline itself (e.g. Clifford and Marcus 1986, Marcus and Cushman 1982, Marcus and Fisher 1987, Fox 1991), and it is this tradition of disciplinary self-scrutiny that serves to underscore the unique properties of anthropological engagements with dimensions of postmodern, popular culture. In other words, I am not convinced that debates over the authority of each discipline to encroach upon the other's turf actually represent a crisis in anthropology.

    The position adopted in this paper is that the fear that anthropology has lost its monopoly over the description of cultural life can be seriously overstated. Undoubtedly, the moorings of anthropology have shifted as social life moves towards a fully postmodern and globalised cultural environment; but I do not share the apocalyptic view that this represents some kind of denouernent for the discipline. If anything, the landscape of postmodernity has opened up a range of new interpretive possibilities for anthropological inquiry. Postmodern society now offers a myriad of new people in a myriad of new cultural contexts as subjects for critical scrutiny. Although the boundaries within which anthropologists traditionally operate have indeed widened to accommodate the changing nature of social life, the most fundamental of our intellectual and methodological traditions remain intact.

    It is this loyalty to certain assumptions and practices, I argue, that distinguishes anthropological approaches to postmodernity from those taken by cultural studies. Most notably, the adherence of anthropologists to the practice of ethnography, and its attendant notion of cultural immersion, separates the two disciplines. While we might be working in the same territory, the premises upon which we base our analyses, the approaches that we take and the conclusions that we draw, are palpably different. As I make clear in the following pages, ventures into postmodernity do not compromise the integrity of anthropology, rather they enhance it.

    In part, this is because anthropologists have, to date, demonstrated exceptional judgment about those aspects of contemporary social life that they care to examine. Postmodernity, it seems, offers an inexhaustible reserve of symbolically significant destinations to which proponents of cultural studies gravitate, and not all can stand the weight of critical scrutiny. Whereas cultural studies has appropriated the concept of postmodernity lock, stock and barrel, anthropology should target certain areas of social experience, rather than stake its claim to the totality. In other words, not all dimensions of postmodernity are ripe for anthropological picking, and we need to focus our attention upon those areas of human creativity in which local populations constitute their identity out of the ever-increasing range of resources offered by the global ecumene (Hannerz 1996).

    The increasingly spectacular nature of public life provides the opportunity par excellence for anthropologists to do precisely this. Postmodern society includes a number of sites, spectacles, incidents and events, and these offer privileged points of entry for anthropological analyses into the engagement of local populations in the constituents of popular culture. These sites are the terrain of the 'mega-event '; the international happening that is publicly performed for, highly mediated through, and popularly consumed by global audiences. Major events such as the Olympic Games, soccer's World Cup, Formula One Grand Prix, the inauguration of political leaders and international rock concerts, typify the mega-event in that each is ephemeral, sensual and dominated by spectacle. As Little, who applies the concept to his analysis of the Rio Earth Summit notes, 'these events are new human phenomena that have emerged on the world stage during the past 50 years' (1995:265).

    Arguably one of the most important developments in the production and consumption of global culture, mega-events provide ideal, accessible sites in which anthropologists can explore the terrain of postmodernity. They occur in a specific location, they have a restricted timing, they demand a distinguishable personnel, they attract a sizeable media following, and most important, they offer an overload of excitement and entertainment for the mass audience. Even in semi-peripheral Australia, scarcely a week passes without a new concert performance, sports tournament or art exhibition being mounted and brokered for our consumption. In other words, mega-events are major sites and sources of cultural imagination in the late twentieth century. The ubiquity of the media and the sheer quantity of cultural and commercial resources which circulate at these events ensures they are supremely situated to allow anthropologists to penetrate the complexities of contemporary social life, and also, and by no means incidentally, to reevaluate the explanatory possibilities of the discipline.

    In this paper I open up for debate some of the terms on which this argument is premised. I propose to lay some groundwork for an anthropology of the global mega-event; an anthropology which can accommodate this simultaneous evaluation of both the terrain within which anthropologists operate, and the changing nature of the discipline itself. In mega-events, we see anthropology's long standing interest in paradigmatic human events encompass new levels of cultural complexity concomitant with the size and scale of the events themselves. Anthropology, in other words, has moved from the cockfight to the Tour de France (link added).

  • Life and learning in further education: constructing the circumstantial curriculum Philip Gibson. Journal of Further and Higher Education Volume 28, Number 3 / August 2004. Pages: 333 - 346. Abstract available at this link. Link added July 14, 2004.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How?

    Things to be considered in answer.

  2. Why?

    Things to be considered in answer.

  3. Do you think?

Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses:

  • Agencies:
    Sample linking: Ways in which underlying assumptions of assimilation affect services offered and clients' ability to access and use those services. How does this reading illustrate the need for social agencies, for more generalized agencies, for what Bolman and Deal would call "leadership" AND "management"? How does this reading suggest ways in which we could be more effective in rendering help, and what is the reading's relationship to a "safety net" for those who need help?

  • Criminal Justice:
    Sample linking: Ways in which some groups are underrepresented in the unstated assumptions of our theories. How does this reading serve to illustrate adversarialism, mutuality, retribution, revenge, illocutionary understanding, the definition and operation of the criminal justice system?

  • Law:
    Sample linking: Extent to which laws are made on the assumption that we are all essentially assimilated to the dominant culture. How does this reading help us see the need for contextual readings in law? How does it relate to our natural instincts to seek some kind of natural law? What facts and principles does the reading offer for discourse that could clarify for Others validity claims presented by an Obscure Other?

  • Moot Court:
    Sample linking: Ways in which to make validty claims of harm understood by those who have never experienced many of the world's different perspectives. How can this reading enlighten our praxis in terms of different kinds of discourse, like instrumental, illocutionary, governance?

  • Women in Poverty:
    Sample linking: The culture of poverty and assimilation. How does the reading deal with our underlying assumptions about poverty, especially poverty of the exploited, the NOT- male? What does the reading suggest of the interrelationship between our society and its children, generally cared for by women, often poor?

  • Race, Gender, Class:
    Sample linking: The extent to which silence has been imposed by these affiliations so that domination and discrimination have entered our unstated assumptions in interpersonal relations and the structural context arising from them. What does the reading tell us about exploitation and alternative ways to deal with one another? What does it tell us about institutionalized -isms and our denial of complicity? What does it tell us about our common humanity?

  • Religion:
    Sample linking: The spiritual component. Humans are spiritual creatures, creatures that recognize moments that go beyond ourselves to God, Allah, Isis, Gaia, the Universe, or a deep sense of responsibility to create our own meanng. How does the reading fit into our ability, our need to create such meaning in life?

  • Love !A:
    Sample linking: What's the aesthetic link in this reading? How does it bring us closer to one another as humans? What does it tell us about our need for love, unconditional love, not rewards for doing well or being well, but caring and acceptance for being who we are?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.