Spring 2013 Philosophy of Culture Course Lecture Notes A

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These are the notes you will see displayed in class. They can be correlated to study questions for each class day.


January 07

First Class Topics

  • Course, Materials (books, pdfs, and clicker), and Goals
  • Course Methods and web sites - view course research questions
  • Course website -- for reading schedule, grading scheme, email, pdfs, audio from class, audio comments on assignments
  • Course wiki -- for basic course information, lecture notes, study questions.
  • Einstruction site - for registering your clicker, viewing clicker questions.
  • A typical prep cycle for the course: read, engage, review, prep SQs.
  • Time commitment: 6 hours per week as a baseline.
  • Grading Schemes: overview.
  • Ereserves - pdfs for course reading not in book form.

January 08

Wilson, Prologue, Chapters 1 and 2

  • Gaugin painting: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?
  • 7: Star Wars culture from Stone Age emotions
  • Do myths explain origins or do origins explain myths? -- Strong claim for latter position.
  • Our evolutionary equipment for survival predates our capacities for self-reflection on that equipment. Claims science can solve the riddle of Gaugin's painting.
  • Evolutionary Account:
  • pre-human evolutionary lines -- most went extinct
  • Dates for invertebrates: 220 million years ago for termites; 150 million for ants; bees 70-80 million years. Stabilized around 65 million years ago.
  • Dates for homo sapiens: several 100 thousand years ago; diaspora (out of Africa) 60,000 years ago; neanderthals, homo floresiensis (hobbits!); agriculture 10,000 years ago;
  • Eusocial: lives with multiple generations and altruistic; diffs: culture, language, intelligence, empathy, judging intentions, mental maps of social space.
  • How to explain differences? large size and low mobility --

Nanda & Worms, Chapter 3, part 1

  • Terms: Ethnography, fieldwork, participant observation,
  • Is ethnography science? (also raised in Malinowski)
  • early relationship of anthropology to evolutionary theory, for example in Boas. relativism in anthropology
  • Postmodernism as challenge to objectivity in anthropology
  • Charles Brooks field study in India

January 10

Eno, A Big Theory of Culture

  • Big Speculative Questions:
  • Why do we engage in culture, especially since it is expensive (in time and energy)?
  • Why do we fill our free time with culture?
  • Is it possible to find a single language to talk about culture?
  • Importance of metaphor.
  • Art does real work for us. Art is transactional.

Wilson, Chapter 3, The Approach

  • Some points to make about evolution (paralleling Wilson a bit): What does it mean to say evolution is "radically contingent" but also involves "design". Concept of "design space" and Wilson's concept of "preadaptation."
  • Preadaptation (22): a step in evolution which opens up (or closes off) other possibilities.
  • Major pre-adaptations leading to culture:
  • Large size and relative immobility
  • Large brain
  • Emphasis on sight over smell.
  • Bipedalism, freeing up the hands. (australopithicenes rock)
  • Sweat glands and long distance running (Racing the Antelope)
  • Control of fire (not available to insects and aquatic life)
  • Big step toward eusociality: camping! Seriously, campsites (what's valuable about a campsite?) cf. hives, nests

January 14

Wilson, Chapter 4

  • Dietary changes: Australopithecenes were vegetarians, Homo species (Habilis and later, Sapiens) scavenged meat before hunting.
  • Changes marking Homo Habilis: facial structure, similar neocortex wrinkling to moderns, Broca and Wernicke areas of brain grow.
  • Traditional explanations for growth of Hominins vs. recent speculation: 37-39
  • Meat and hunting.
  • Wilson's emphasis on the "nest" and, for Hominins, the campsite. Defensive architecture and lifestyle in modern culture.
  • Importance of nests: division of labor, defense, sharing food, group competition.

Nanda & Worms, Chapter 3 part 2

  • In spite of prominent female anthropologists like Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, feminist anthropology found bias in male ethnographies (androcentric bias), particularly in Malinowski's work.
  • Examples of global influences in ethnography.
  • Databases: Human Relations Area Files (HRAF): examples of research uses.

January 15

Diamond, Yali's Question

  • Thinking about long term cultural difference among human populations
  • Yali's question: Why do you people have so much cargo? General form:
  • Some benchmarks: 11,000bc everyone hunting and gathering
  • 1500ad: Australian aboriginals, Papua New Guinea, South Americans, Tasmanians
  • Do differences justify domination? explanation vs. justification
  • Is the question eurocentric?
  • Does the question assume that so-called advanced cultures are more advanced?
  • Old answers: social darwinist, racist answers. Example of Australia.
  • Old answers: cold climates stimulate innovation; lush river cultures thrive;
  • Diamond's approach:
  1. Guns, Germs, Steel - biogeography focuses on environmental features of culture that created real and persistent differences in development.
  2. Why Guns, Germs, Steel?

Diamond, Chatper 3, "Collision at Cajamarca"

  • 1492: Columbus
  • Cajamarca (modern Peru) 11/16/1532: Franciso Pizzaro vs. Inca Emperor Atahuallpa
  • Follow the story: complexity of Atahuallpa's society, tossing the bible, Spaniard's fear, slaughter, role of religion
  • Exaplanatory questions:
  • Why did Pizarro capture Atahuallpa?
  • Prequel for Atahuallpa: Small poz for the Aztecs
  • Why didn't Atahuallpa capture Pizarro in Spain?
  • Why did Atahuallpa walk into the trap?

January 17

Wilson, Chapters 5 & 6

  • More lists of "pre-adaptations":
  • Land (allowing for fire)
  • Large size (allowing for large brain)
  • Grasping hands with soft "spatulate" fingers & and free to use (not needed for walking)
  • Meat -- cooperation to get it --
  • Cooking
  • Nest/Camp
  • Division of Labor

Wilson, Chapter 6

  • More on encephalization: australopithicenes 500-600 cubic centimeters --> Homo Sapiens 1500-1700!
  • Kin Selection: Altruism benefits group members proportionally to genetic similarity.
  • Note: Wilson believes he and some colleagues have disproven kin selection, but not everyone agrees.
  • Multi-level selection: A broader range of scientists believe in multi-level selection (individual and group), whether they agree that kin selection is true.
  • Group Selection: Holds that group competition affects the fitness of individuals.
  • Traits such as group size, "tightness" and "cooperativeness" (quality of communication and division of labor) matter.
  • Group selection advocates think this is a meaningful question: How do the costs and benefits of membership in a group affect my fitness (ability to pass on genes)?
  • 54: If costs (of group membership) exceed benefits (of group membership), defection will increase.

January 21

Erickson, Chatper Two, Part 1, pp. 73-91

  • Boas: importance, empirical yet anti-evolution, "historical particularism"
  • responding to discredited 19th American schools which were racist, also "cephalic index" theory (phrenology?) was pseudo-scientific
  • Big distinction: geistwissenschaft vs. naturwissenschaft
  • Kroeber: thought of culture as sui generis; the "super-organic" (which is more theoretical than Boas' particularism would have allowed)
  • still overcoming 19th century ideas, such as "great man theory"
  • Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict
  • brought psychological theory into fieldwork
  • How does "enculturation" form personality?
  • Example in Mead's work, Coming of Age in Samoa; note cultural impact of this work in the US
  • Revision: p. 81, some naivete in Mead's valorization of Samoan culture.
  • Benedict: also into culture/personality nexus
  • thought of cultures as having a "gestalt" (note departure from particularism); yet retains relativism from Boas
  • Revision: p. 83: Gorer: Benedict simplistic in applying to Freud to Japanese and Russian culture.
  • Freud, early work on hysteria, also contributed to anthropology. We'll read Civilation and It's Discontents; note general connection between ind. and social psychology.
  • Basic ideas from individual psychology: psyche (id, ego, superego); normal development is about negotiating "classic" challenges that derive from our deep history, especially about mom and dad.
  • Basic ideas from social psychology:
  • Pleasure Principle
  • "Cultural work" - opposing the pleasure principle, encouraging sublimation, enforcing "reality principle"
  • Primitivism in Freud -- primitive cultures less repressed (think Rousseau). But, yikes! That makes primitive adults like civilized children!
  • Implications for view of culture -- culture opposes nature
  • "Just so" story -- primeaval family -- patricide, Oedipus and Electra complex, taboos, etc.
  • Kind of a redux of 19th century ideas.
  • Kardiner -- example of a freudian anthropologist who abandons Freud's specific theory (too much a product of his own culture), but retains the interest in personality as product of culturally specific development.
  • tools of this approach, also in Du Bois: Thematic Apperception Test, Rorshack tests
  • Revision, p. 90: Crazy ideas followed nonetheless, ex. about toilet training and breast feeding.

Wilson, Chapters 7 and 8


  • Tribalism -- examples from Sports
  • Research on in-group and out-group judgements (59)
  • Is this nurture or nature? "pre-pared learning" (like language, incest, other ev. psycho traits)
  • Ethnocentrism -- in experience and in the lab. implicit racism


  • War languge ubiquitous
  • Examples of holocausts, genocides, study of violence as near universal; note connection to religion
  • Exceptions might involve small group with high interrelatedness
  • Human violence is not just post Neolithic (roughly after agriculture). (Might be product of group selection. Chimp murder and raids.)
  • Hypostheses from population dynamics -- maybe violence is product of ecology of population and environment.

January 22

Diamond, Chapter 3, The Third Chimpanzee

  • Some issues: long maturation in humans vs. other mammals. Parental investment needed
  • Important Point: sexual behaviors and sexual anatomy track evolved strategies for reproduction (and child rearing). p. 71: "social organization shapes the bodies of men and women"
  • Variables: How many partners are involved in fertilization? Does it matter if paternity is known? Does it matter if others know who's having sex with whom? Are offspring competent from birth or not?
  • Body size: big harems, big males
  • gibbons equal sized and monogamous; humans slightly polygynous, males slightly bigger
  • Testes size: frequency of copulation (affected by harem size and frequency of ovulation), larger testes
  • Penis size: Who knows? theories related to sexual position don't seem to work. Could have more to do with other men than men and women. phallocarps; probably not about modesty
  • Concealed ovulation (concealed from men and women): comparison to other primates and mammals.
  • Likely related to other differences: continuous receptivity in humans (odd); low probability of conception relative to other mammals
  • Digression (78) on Catholic views of function of sex in light of contemporary ev. theory.
  • Why do humans waste so much time on sex?
  • Why have sex in private?
Major Theories:
  • 1. Promoting cooperation
  • 2. Binds men to women. (counter example in gibbons, who are monogamous without this)
  • 3. Gives women power. Allows women flexibility with mating opportunities.(Donald Symons)
  • 4. Balance of power. Exploits males paranoia about paternity, but also keeps him around. (Richard Alexander and Katherine Noonan)
  • 5. Confuses paternity, avoids infanticide, which is costly to women. (Sarah Hrdy)
  • 6. Allow women to trick themselves into not avoiding pain and risk of childbirth. (Nancy Burley)

Review of some course research questions

January 24

Three areas of reflection on course research questions

1. Strengths and Limits of bio-culture explanations.

2. Getting inside a culture.

3. Criticizing a culture.

Erickson, Chapter 2, History of Anthropology

  • Emile Durkheim
  • Different forms of solidarity: mechanical, organic
  • contrast with Marx, solidarity of society not illusory
  • organic solidarity involves "collective representations" and "collective consciousness" or group mind: religion an example.
  • Suicide: altruistic (in mechanical, homogeneous society), egoistic (a form of self-expression), "anomie" (self-alienation from flux in solidarity).
  • French Structural Anthropology (Levi-Straus)
  • Note on Mauss, The Gift -- transition to seeing individual at center of social facts. Potlatch.
  • Levi-Strauss also thinking about "exchange" as basic means for promoting social solidarity.
  • Binary oppositions (think about giver/receiver to start) fundamental
  • def, p. 95: "Contrasting pairs of mental constructs that create social meaning."
  • ex. exchange of women.
  • ex. hunting as mediation of agriculture and warfare.
  • ex. coyote as mediate of herbivore and carnivore (trickster)
  • Durkheim and Levi-Straus on the nature and task of culture

Wilson, Chapters 9 and 10

  • Some dates
  • 700,000 years ago to present -- brain size double from 750 cc (Homo erectus) to 1500 cc (Homo sapiens)
  • 200,000 years ago -- evidence of some burial practices
  • 100,000 year ago -- Neandertaals in Europe
  • 100,000 to 70,000 year ago -- first evidence of ornaments and burial artifacts (red ochre & travel acc.)
  • 50-60,000 years ago -- out of Africa (also higher rates of mutation)
  • 30,000 year ago -- no more Neadertaals!
  • 10,000 year ago -- agriculture invented (peak in mutation rates) "Neolithic" (new stone age/ post stone age)
  • Genetic diversity in contemporary sub-saharan africans.
  • Significant environmental pressure in the time frame 135,000 to 90,000 years ago.
  • Explaining emergence of "human" traits (social and cognitive)
  • Population genetics and the "serial founder" effect. (note on chinese/native american dna)
  • Genetic drift -- an effect, distinct from natural selection, that changes the frequency of variations of a genes (alleles) as a result of the random sampling of these variations over successive populations of organisms. [1] (Read first paragraph and marble example.) Genetic drift would have a larger effect on the genome of an organism following periods of high mutation rate. At low rates mutations disappear, above 30% (Wilson claims, p. 88) changes (at least those not detrimental to fitness) are more likely to be passed along. (Example of sickle cell in malarial areas of human habitation.)
  • Coding vs. Non-coding genes.  ? Is it plausible to think that noncoding genes helped makes us "human"?
  • Recent claims in Turkheimer's laws of behavioral genetics.
  • Some achievement of the early neolithic period (in addition to early agriculture)
  • Better stone axes and adzes.
  • Hollow structures -- food vessels and containers
  • Weaving
  • Better dwellings
  • Cultivation of plant varieties (artificial selection)

January 28

Dennett, "Evolution of Culture"

  • "Intentional Stance" -- connect to geist/natur-wissenschaft; culture as sui generus; narrative
  • Limits of the "Cui bono?" perspective
  • Dawkins theory of cultural memes
  • Symbionts: parasites, commensals, and mutualists
  • Metaphors for "sui generus" character of culture, p. 11: Wilson's "leash"; Dennett's "design space"
  • Methodical vs. Unconscious selection
  • A "just so" story about music as a cultural meme.

Method in Philosophy and Philosophy of Culture

  • Review of Philosophical Methods
  • Applying critical awareness of past anthropological explanations to contemporary problems of explanation.
  • Reasoning by analogy: memes

January 29

Diamond, "Why Do Cultures Make Such Disastrous Mistakes?"

  • Examples of Cultures that have made "big mistakes"
  • Easter Islanders: imagining the sitation. How could it really happen
  • Four main reasons:
1. Fail to anticipate the problem
2. Problem arrives, but isn't perceived
3. Problem perceived, but no effort to solve it
4. Effort to solve the problem is ineffective
1. Fail to anticipate the problem
  • ex. of Forest fires in the west
  • forgetfulness: Mayan droughts, 1973 oil crisis
  • false analogies: Viking agriculture in Iceland
2. Fail to perceive problem
  • hard to see state of soil nutrition
  • slow trends: climate change
  • distant managers
3. Failure to try to solve the problem
  • rational bad behavior: toxic waste dumping in environment without sufficient penalties.
  • tragedy of the commons: overfishing
  • international logging
  • denial: research on resident's near damns; holocaust denial by WWII European Jews.
4. Ineffective efforts
  • invasive species abatement
  • rabbits in Tasmania, Australia

January 31

Diamond, Ch. 10, "Agriculture's Mixed Blessings"

  • Old "progressivist" view
  • Ants practice agriculture and something like animal husbandry
  • Details about the spread of agriculture
  • Advantages of hunter gatherer lifestyle
  • short work week, more leisure
  • better nutrition (in some comparisons)
  • no impact from crop failures
  • paleopathology: what you tell from old bones and cookware
  • health evidence from early adoption of agriculture
  • height, nutrition, cavities, anemia, tb, syphillis, mortality
  • low carb, varied nutrients
  • class structures emerge after agriculture: diff outcomes dep. on class
  • sexual inequality
  • other differences that sustained agriculture
  • increased population density made hunt/gather politically vulnerable
  • hunt/gather requires lots of room
  • agriculture created society that could produce sophisticated art (churches).
  • grants that agriculture led to lots of great things, but also to large populations, which affects the equation about quality of life.

Critical Discussion

  • How should we assess the value of transition to agriculture to human society today?

February 04

Freud, Civ & Dis, part 1/4

  • Freud's comment on his friend's objection to Future of an Illusion: that he had missed the experience of religion. An "oceanic" feeling.
  • Overview of Freud's view of religion. (really given in bottom half of p. 5)
  • Notion of feeling mediated by structures of consciousness: id, ego.
  • Boundary of ego and world
  • Pleasure principle / Reality principle
  • Model of Consciousness
  • Analogy to growth of ancient city, such as Rome. Memory-traces, nothing abolished.
  • Mind's past survives in our growth and development (5)
  • Interesting point of connection with contemporary thought in evolutionary psychology.
  • Problem of religion -- seeks to answer the question of purpose of life, which is happiness.
  • Problem of happiness, then:
  • "intention that man should be happy is not included in the scheme of Creation." 8 Not part of nature.
  • strategies: pleasure seeking, pain avoidance, intoxication, renunciation, art (sublimation), work, phantasy (art again), becoming convinced of an alternate reality (religion again), love
  • all of these strategies are part of "libido-economy"
  • "happiness is a problem of the economics of the libido"

February 05

Erickson, History of Anthropology, Chapter 3, part 1

  • Later 20th century can be seen as addressing tensions between particularity of Boasian tradition and the generality and abstraction of the Durkheim (rationalist) tradition.


  • synthesizes idealist and materialist currents. human agent is active, but responding to material conditions.
  • Basic approach: p. 109. roles, classes, inequality, alienation, response
  • Crucial role for religion. Religion helps us respond to problems raised by civilization and culture, (esp. inequality) (cf. Freud)
  • "Inner-worldly asceticism" -- psychological distance from this world while remaining in it. (vs. monastery)
  • Calvinist Protestantism (The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism (1920)) a big example of this. Calvin is a "prophet" who advises recreation of heaven on earth through hard work. Changes status of bourgeoisie. Prosperity a sign of grace. Meshes with capitalism.
  • Weber's approach contrasts with the more static Durkheimian model. Cultures are dynamic responses to problems, not static wholes.
  • Anthony F.C. Wallace: Weberian. Focus on charismatic prophets in diverse cultures experiencing 1st contact. "cargo cults"

Cognitive Anthropology & Sapir/Whorf

  • Cognitive Anthropology: Mental structures and cultural structures (esp. language) correlated. (good topic for Italian language)
  • etic, emic, phonetic, phonemic
  • Sapir - Whorf: work this out for linguistic culture. Do specific languages lead us to think in distinctive ways?
  • Hopi v. SAE, detail on 114.
  • Ethno-linguistics.

Cultural Materialism

  • Marvin Harris (1927 - 2001) attempt to make anthropology more scientific.
  • etic, emic, behavioral, mental.
  • Incorporates some of Marx's thought on difference between base and superstructure. (infrastructure, structure, superstructure)
  • "False consciousness" -- the emic behavoral and mental are tricky because "insiders" can misrepresent the meaning of their behaviors.

Biologized Anthropology

  • Biology of behavior emerges in 60s as a challenge to relatively open-ended practice of cultural anthropology. (nature vs. Sui generus - a part of our story in the course!)
  • Early works, like "The Naked Ape" were sensational (see wiki page!) and others revived race theory (The Origin of Races). Jensen and IQ racism. Since disproven.
  • Sociobiology -- E. O. Wilson -- how to explain emergence of altruism in eusocial insects and human culture. Initially opposing group selection, Wilson proposed "inclusive fitness" (altruism is "selfishness" practiced toward relatives -- could be passed along through relatives). Emphasizing "groupish" behavior opened Wilson and others to charge of supporting xenophobia. Maybe just "social darwinism" warmed over. Also, discussion of "asymmetry" between sexes seemed sexist.
  • Note how later work by Wilson (The Social Conquest of Nature) favors group selection over kin selection. (More to come on this, epigenetics, and sexism.)

February 07

Freud, Civ & Dis, part 2

  • General sources of unhappiness: nature, decay of body, inadequacy of relationship.
  • "our so-called civilization itself is to blame for a great part of our misery." (13)
  • first, Christianity already reflects this attitude with its "low estimation" of life on earth
  • second, when we (Freud) discovered neuroses (read 13)
  • Freud's "just so" story of civilization --- general & psycho-analytic considerations
  • tools, fire, houses, technology (extending the body)
  • apotheosis
  • the useful and the useless
  • importance of cleanliness in judgement of culture (cane merda! & bidets) - add note on olfactory.
  • dev. of "higher faculties"
  • management of power (17)
  • emergence of culture based character traits
  • example: transforming anal-erotic impulses into traits of orderliness, thriftiness, cleanliness
  • culture manages libidinal development
  • sublimation (look it up) (18) "civilization is built up on the renunciation of instinctual gratifications"
  • Freud on sex and aggression in culture
  • Sex (18-23)
  • spiritualization of sexuality
  • use of term "love" in culture: ("One the one hand, love opposes the interests of culture; on the other, culture menaces love with grievous restrictions." 20)
  • culture manages process of "coming of age" through puberty and adolescence; separation from family
  • "appropriate sexuality" regulated by culture -- suppression of homosexuality, for example
  • enforcement of monogamy (remember: divorce is only recently legal)
  • "The sexual life of civilized man is seriously disabled" (22)
  • Aggression Homo homini lupus! -- instinctual and natural (Ethics students: note Veneer Theory!)
  • Golden Rule
  • Empathy
  • Property
  • Aggression toward outgroups -- war and hatred. "Narcissism of minor differences"
  • Thanatos

February 11


  • Option for informal work: Contribute to the Timeglider Italian History Timeline
  • Practice Exam Questions this week. Prep first two weeks for tomorrow's practice question.

Freud, Civ & Dis, p. 30-40

  • How does civilization hold aggression in check?
  • guilt, conscience, dread of lose of love, social anxiety,
  • Note connection with Weber in the description of this process on p. 32.
  • Culture creates/feeds the superego.
  • Based on Oedipal complex: But did it really happen? love/hate of the father. task of separation
  • Collective consciousness: historical examples of collective guilt.

February 12

Practice Exam Question

What are "memes" and how might meme theory account for cultural ideas? Identify some potential criticisms of meme theory. (2 paragraphs)

Erikson, Chapter 3, "Symbolic & Interpretive Anthropology," p. 130-135

  • roots in natur- geist- wissenschaft distinction (note: both as postulated as forms of knowledge)
  • idea of interpreting a garden (131) --- (someone could do Boboli Gardens!)
  • Turner vs. Durkheim: Turner views social solidarity as a dynamic task to be continually achieved, whereas Durkheim took it to be a primitive and accomplished fact about society.
  • Geertz: at core of culture is a set of values that attempt to maintain a correspondence between the world "as it is" and "how it should be." That's the standing "task" or challenge that generates meaning making.
  • "Thick description" is the anthropologist's effort to tell the story of this social meaning process.
  • sides more with Boasian particularism than economic determinism (of the New Archaeology esp.)

Diamond, Chapter 11, "Why do we drink, smoke, and use dangerous drugs?"

  • cites multiple reasons why people use dangerous substances.
  • but there's a paradox that these reasons don't get at: Why does this use persist if it is so harmful?
  • background to Diamond's discovery of theory: bird of paradise and Marlboro man, alcohol ad.
  • Zahavi's costly signal theory: efficient solution to a problem. costly signals are hard to fake. example: stotting; peacock's tail
  • Other examples that Diamond want to use to connect to substance use: p. 198. Others?
  • Kung fu kerosene drinking and alcohol enemas (Accipichia! What next?) (eyeshots!) (Accidenti! Non farlo!)

February 14

Geertz, "Thick Description"

  • various definitions of culture
  • His: "Semiotic: following Weber: "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun"
  • not experimental science in search of law (note how that connects him with Boas)
  • not an operationalist, but likes idea of focusing on what anthropologists actually do: they do ethnography
  • from Gilbert Ryle: "thick description"
  • example of description of "twitching, blinking, winking, parody of winking, rehearing"
  • invokes social code, but not reducible to it.
  • Story of Cohen, the Marmusha, the mezrag, murder, sheep, the French (analogy to blinking: if you just recount events vs. significance)
  • doing ethnography is like trying to read a manuscript ...(made up of) "transient examples of shaped behavior"
  • critical of obscuring the task with abstract ideas like Durkheims "superorganic"
  • critical also of Cognitive Anthropology -- not just studying the psychology state of knowledge of a culturally competent individual.
  • aim of Anthropology: "enlargement of universe of human discourse"
  • should be actor-oriented: "cast in terms of the construction we imagine Berbers, Jews, or Frenchmen to place upon what they live through"
  • p. 9: thick descriptions aren't too systematic or "neat"- coherence is limited by the actual circumstances. shouldn't overstate the formal coherence of the exchange; uncertainty (under-determined), things in the Cohen story could have gone differently.
  • the ethnographer "inscribes" or "fixes" social discourse.
  • summary statement at 11: ethnographic description (thick description) interprets the flow of social discourse from it's perishable state.
  • the kula is gone but "The Argonauts of the Wester Pacific" (Malinowski's study of the kula gift exchange) remains.
  • ethnographic description is "microscopic"
  • ways that anthropologists go wrong: "jonesville-is-the-USA" fallacy -- either way its a fallacy.
  • anthropologist don't study villages, they study in villages
  • no general theory of culture

"the essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said" 16

Discussion Exercise

In small groups, try to develop a "thick description" of one of the following situations:

1. perceptions of Italian and American students trying to understand each other in a social setting (like a club or bar) 2. a political exchange between american study abroad students and european students (or age cohorts) 3. how two american students in a new setting (like florence) negotiate their relationship (determining what sort of a relationship it will be) 4. an interaction between an Italian government official and a student processing their immigration status

Whatever situation you try to give a thick description of, try to think about how etic and emic behaviors and meanings are invoked and understood by each party. Consider dress, assumptions about the other, behaviors, language, and, for each, the difference between the person's self-understanding and the other's perception. How are social codes and expectations invoked by each party?

February 18

The Palio di Siena


  • some basic dates and facts; medieval origins (14th century); competitions all over the city; not initially just a horse race in the main pizza, Piazza del Campo.
  • the contrade are tied to wards of the city. The race was limited to 10 of 17 wards due to accidents in 1729.
  • Race dates are connected with both Catholic feasts (Visitation); and local legend about miraculous healing ("the Madonna of Provenzano (a painting once owned by the Sienese leader Provenzano Salvani, which was supposed to have miraculous curative power)" (wiki).
  • the intensity of the contest might be measured in part by the celebration which follows for the winning contrade.
  • also, from the build up to the race, which involves lots of intra-city pride and rivalry.

Crocini, Chapter 1, Festivals, Affect and Identity

  • study of several community's rituals, including the Palio in Siena.
  • the meanings of festivals and rituals: identity through change.
  • land, body, and memory.
  • theme of "liminality" (5)
  • growth of local rituals and festivals in spite of globalization -- "glocalization"
  • Bergson's two tendencies: the "instinctive" (ethnocentric) and the Universal.
  • previous research
  • psychological interpretations, criticized for ignoring history
  • interp. of palio as means of constructing identity -- again, insuff. attention to historical specificity and civic dimensions of event. the polio is deeply political and tied to Siena's political history.
  • for Crocini: modern form of Palio connected to defeat of Sienese Republic
  • from wiki: "The Republic of Siena (Italian: Repubblica di Siena), was a state originating from the city of Siena in Tuscany, Central Italy. It existed for over four hundred years, from the late 11th century until the year 1555. At the Italian War, the republic was defeated by the rival Duchy of Florence in alliance with the Spanish crown. After 18 months of resistance, Republic of Siena surrendered to Spain on 17 April 1555, marking the end of the republic."

February 19

Review Day

February 21

Mid-term Exam (for those who have it in their grading scheme)

February 25

Some Points about Postmodern views of Meaning

  • Some slogans: There is nothing outside the text. Man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing an end. Language speaks us.
  • Semiosis: The general processes of meaning formation and change studied by semiotics. (note connection with Geertz)
  • Meaning a product of structure (recall Levi-Strauss), but structures aren't stable (postmoderns are "post-structuralists")
  • What does this mean about the meaning of festivals?

Erickson, Postmodernism in Anthrpology, p. 141-149

  • pmod "explodes" the idea of culture as a stable entity. subjectivity, interpretation, instability are endemic to culture. culture is process, but a process without stable foundations, only tentative reference points.


  • culture part of discourses of power
  • practice of knowledge doesn't take us out of power relationships: Knowledge/power
  • Self is a concept in culture. It has a history


  • focus on individuals' "practices"; individuals make meanings through practices
  • we create the idea of the "natural" and the "real"
  • leaves room for the creativity of the individual

Crocini, Chapter 2, "Learning, Identity, Duration, and the Virtual"

  • Note how she starts by linking her experience of the research to the theory of research. shows heightened subjectivity/self-awareness.
  • Bergson's "Intuition as Method"
  • attention to positing of problem
  • rediscovering differences in kind or articulations of the real
  • stating and solving problems in terms of time rather than space
  • Intuition -- experience
  • The "virtual" p. 28 - fr. Deleuze -- trying to get at a process approach to reality

February 26

Crocini, Chapter 3

  • scarcity of water in Summer, contrast to popular images of plentitude
  • historical importance of the channel linking Siena to Florence, 1700's Medici project
  • Population information: about 55K, some absentee population, low crime rate, bank of Monet Dei Paschi di Siena (recently in scandal!) oldest bank in the world.
  • charcteristics of economy. p. 39-40
  • Festival and tourism: interesting that Palio not perceived as predominantly a tourist event (though some of the other festivals are)
  • Links between Siena and the other towns in terms of common challenges of geology (clay and arid conditions) and historical rivalry and now dependence on Florence through the canal.

Bull, Chapter 2, part1

  • questions of identity and nationhood have never been resolved in Italian history, even after the end of the Cold War (early to mid 90s)
  • d'Azeglio: "Italy is made; now the Italians must be made" -- still true acc. to Bull.
  • Unification largely a dream of a small northern elite, including Cavour and Mazzini. They presided over a nominally unified country, but one with presistent and deep regional differences. (compare to US, with Texas Republic as interesting example/exception)
  • characteristics of Northern vs. Southern economic formations: sharecropping, capitalist intensive farming, northern textile then industrial formations Large family-business. Southern: latifundia system: large absentee owners, large estates, peasants working small plots and migrating to work on estates, "semi-feudal", violent, Brigandage
  • paese reale vs. paese legale: only 2% of population enfranchised at risorgomento. North imposed martial law against South. 1882: 7% 1912: near universal male suffrage.
  • Church and state: Pope Pius IX opposed formation of the state, forebade Catholics from participation. Liberals like Cavour advocated separation of Church and state.
  • Trasformismo: practice of coalition deal making considered resp. for corruption, nec. by lack of underlying unity. Returns after first industrial revolution.

Turn of century: 1887-1914

  • Conflicts between Church culture in agrarian Po Valley and Socialist/Liberal culture of the industrializing north. Industrialization and unionization in north.
  • Colonial adventures: Crispi's failed attempt to colonize Ethiopia. 1886.
  • 1889: Army opens fire on Milan demonstrators
  • 1900: Humbert I assassinated by Anarchist
  • 1886-1913: 1st industrial revolution. return of "trasformismo" to solve problems. (Note oscillation between violence and authoritarianism and dealmaking of the trasformismo. A pattern repeated later.)
  • deals with the church (p. 45). also a pattern.
  • Giolittoni Pact [3] p. 47
  • Tuscan nationalism in the lead up to WW1: effort to overcome division. anti-socialist. Giolitti, war with Turkey, success in Libya.

February 28

Bull, part 2

  • Post WWI challenges: growth of mass society, failure of southern land reform, increase in northern trade union membership
  • Growth of two post-liberal parties: Socialist Party and Catholic Party (Partito Popolare) didn't cooperate w/ each other
  • each these parties had their own problems/divisions as well. Socialists divided between italian socialist model and Soviet communist/revolutionary model. Catholic Party was regional, divided and not supported by Vatican.
  • Bull claims: these divisions made room for fascism
  • Mussolini founds fascist movement in 1919, partly drawing on resentment over Italy's treatment, post-war, from Paris Peace Conference. Check out fascist imagery and signage on wiki page. Note that March on Rome, establishing the Mussolini Dictatorship, was (mostly) a bloodless coup d'etat. Invited to govern by the King.
  • Lateran Agreement of 1929 -- check out wiki page
  • Fascism still didn't unify Italy (p. 52), though, ironically, after 1943, anti-fascism did to some extent.
  • Post WWII political cultures: Vatican endorses Christian Democrats. Date the 1st Republic from 1946, new Constitution 1947. universal suffrage (1925 for women in local elections; 1944 for women in all elections)
  • complex thesis, p. 55: "two states" one celebrating the partisan resistance, which was culturally socialist/communist; another deeply conservative and remaining fascist and authoritarian; examples of state violence and collusion with Mafia and Freemasonry.
  • 1950's economic boom -- good for unity in spite of underlying political subculture
  • 1970's saw growth of liberal secular state: civil liberties, women's rights, divorce legal. Still late 60's saw protests and revolts (as across Europe and the US).
  • Two views: growth of Forza Italia represents real party politics (as opposed to ideological and regional politics) OR growth of Northern League (which included secessionist groups) and continued success of Communist Party (renamed "Democratic Part of the Left -- PDL - Bersani's part in the current elections) shows real divisions remain.
  • 1990's "Forza Italia" (Berlusconi party)
  • "Clean Hands" "Mani Puliti" investigations of the 1990s. Political reforms in voting and representation considered the end of the 1st Republic, beginning of the 2nd.
  • Interesting closing reflections on globalization and the survival of the local. Note the connection to the Palio study we are reading.

Student Presentation

  • Brea Flynn, Danza in Fiera

March 04

Crocini, Chapter 4, "Siena and Palio -- War and State Machine -- Identity and Becoming"

  • phenomenological account -- features
  • same melody, different words
  • eating together; multi-generational gathering
  • random selection of horses and jockeys, but legitimated cheating and corruption (fantino, assassino)
  • culture of explanation of outcome -- stories, superstitions
  • p. 49: the quasi-governmental structure of the contrade
  • role of contrade administration in limiting crime and social deviance
  • candle -- 51; symbolism of the Virgin and of Madonna di Provenzano (56)
  • "narcissis of minor differences" -- use of differences to build cohesion
  • State machine vs. War machine -- in Deleuze. Palio and contrade are part of the war machine, but exist in sublimated form.
  • Becoming animal -- Crocini finds the tribal and animal affiliations of the contrade significant. the war machine is closer to nature (rhizomic).

March 05

Wilson, Chapter 20, "What is Human Nature?"

  • approaches to human nature: denial of stable nature, transcendent view (pope). Problem of explaining the HRAF social behaviors associated with human culture.
  • Wilson: not determined by genes alone.
  • Def: "Inherited regularities of mental development common to the species." Epigenetic rules that evolve between genes and culture.
  • examples (193): how we perceive color, acquire fears and phobias, bond with infants, conjugally, lactose tolerance.
  • epigenetic: not hardwired, like startle reflex, more like "prepared learning"
  • promethean gene hypothesis:
  • lactose tolerance: fairly recent
  • incest avoidance: ancient. achieved through exogamy.
  • Westermark effect: reduced probability of intermarriage from natal group. minor marriages in China, key threshold at 30 months, prior to that low birth rate and high adultery rate. Kibbutz peer groups don't intermarry. Suggests a universal mental adaptation: Don't have sex with people you were raised with.
  • Comparison to "susceptibility" factors like for cancer, alcoholism, chronic depression. Don't determine the outcome, but in combination with particular environments, they produce effects.
  • Definition of epigenetic: "changes in the regulation of gene activity and expression that are not dependent on gene sequence," including "both heritable changes in gene activity and expression and also stable, long-term alterations in the transcriptional potential of a cell that are not necessarily heritable" (204)
  • color vocabulary: Berlin and Kay tests in the 1960s with Munsell array; and the progression of color classifications. We know color isn't in nature. If color classification were cultural, there wouldn't be so much agreement in placement of color terms or progression.
  • Since color perception is strutured by "prelearning" and expressed in language it also supports a weak version of the Spair-Whorf hypothesis. Language structures what we perceive.

March 07

Wilson, Chapter 21: How Culture Evolved

  • example of chimp culture
  • Yanomano fishing with poison, catching fish by hand, downrigging (deep sea fishing).
  • Culture: trait, behavior invented, learned, transmitted
  • Experiments in transmission of new techniques for obtaining food in chimps. sponge fishing in dolphins.
  • Importance of long term memory: what dies with us and what survives? (discussion ex.)
  • Studies of memory in different animals: retention of items, images
  • "cognitive archaeology" - abstract thought/syntax >= 70,000 years ago. stone adze, spears, sophistication of manufacture, suggested significantly more complex understanding of materials and techniques.
  • inferences from competition of Homo Sapiens with Neanderthals: both language, N's larger brains, so far no evidence or ornamentation or technology progress over 200,000 period. Conjecture from cog/arch on advantage for homo sapiens
  • end of chapter merely asserts group selection. Kind of undeveloped claim.

Group Discussion Exercise

What part of your experience will die with you?

Culture involves the invention and communication of knowledge and behaviors and so it is influenced by technologies of communication and sciences that allow us to extract information from physical remains and records. In a small group discussion, list the sorts of things that one generation can learn from the previous one during the following three historical periods:

1. The time prior to recorded history.

2. The time between recorded history and the emergence of global information technology (esp. the internet).

3. The time going forward from the internet.

Will memory matter to human culture as much in the future as it has in the past?

March 18

Ward, "Intellectuals, culture and power in modern Italy"

  • distinctive status/treatment of intellectuals in Italian life: examples:
  • Dante
  • Carlo Levi (exiled in Puglia by Musollini, but not killed); also Leone Ginzburg
  • Antonio Gramsci (jailed but not killed)
  • Exceptions: Examples of violence against intellectuals: murder of Carlo/Roselli in France on fascist orders
  • Croce renounces fascism but it left alone.
  • The "problem" of the intellectual in Italian culture
  • lack of dominant central intellectual culture; language diversity; city-state history; foreign domination
  • difficulty of finding "agents of change" in this mileu.
  • traditional reluctance to identify with political parties
  • allegiance to "high culture" (at least until 90s)
  • Gramsci (1891-1937) - makes an analysis of the problem of the intellectual in Italian life.
  • failure of risorgimento to connect daily concerns of average person.
  • too abstract, focused on ideals
  • Example: La Voce, a post-unification journal, bemoans the emphasis on bourgeosie class, fails elite's dream for new Italy
  • Italietta / Italia vile
  • ultimately, La Voce emphasized free intellectual activity over practical politics. (note connection with today)
  • Gramsci's analysis (p. 89)
  • need for "organic intellectual" - drawn from working class and speaking for that class and peasantry.
  • importance and status of PCI at end of the war ('43-45): partisans popular. identified with anti-fascism and resistance to Germany.
  • new journal il politecnico -- similar problem as La Voce -- emph. on intellectual freedom over practical political program. (Note: neo-realism in film will be an effort, in part, to express a more concrete connection with life for average Italian in post-war Italy.)
  • by 1948 election, PCI loses out to anti-communist Christian Dems. also Am. propaganda war against them.
  • PCI too intellectual, connected to Moscow, where Togliatti was in exile during war.
  • also, PCI sceptical about "mass culture" after fascists.
  • Intellectuals in 60s (sessantottini)
  • Counter-culture in this period rejects both Catholic and Communist culture.
  • small, call in radio culture (deregulation of radio/tv in 70s), abortion and divorce legalized.
  • Intellectuals in 90s (sig. marker: the Berlin wall falls)
  • PCI renamed/divides into PDS and DS (Bersani's party in recent eletion)
  • Giuliano Ferrara, goes from PCI to Socialists (Craxi) to Liberals (Berlusconi's "Forza Italia"); sig. for use of popular media. 1990s a time of attack on leftist past, attempt to undermine historical image of partisans, Musollini "did good things" (as Berlusconi mentioned on the Day of Remembrance this year).
  • Ward claims stigmatization of PCI unfair. Didn't rule that long.

Wilson, Chapter 22, "The Origin of Language"

  • expresses problem of origins of language in terms of explaining increase in brain size
  • campsites, meat, and fire not enough.
  • Endorses "cultural intellgence" hypothesis of Michael Tomasello (check out his you tube lecture)
  • importance of social-pragamatics in language development
  • reading intentions, theory of mind ("recognition that their own and others mental states would be shared by others")
  • research compares child / primate intelligence. Looking for specific differences in social cognition.
  • Language is derived, not basic.
  • Ability to create and understand "detached representations" Gives rise to subtleties (p. 230)
  • Contrast with Chomsky.

March 19

Gramsci, "Concept of National-Popular," 364

  • Gramsci's critique of intellectuals in Italy
  • Context: Critica Fascista article complaining about "foreign" popular literature in Italian papers. Complains that the newspapers have a "poor idea of their readers"
  • Gramsci takes issue with the article. Newspapers are printing what sells. Deeper problem is to understand why there isn't a national popular literature.
  • All the reasons from the Ward article come up in Gramsci's critique
  • Italian writers haven't connected with people as in other cultures.
  • Contemporary consumers are stuck in literary fashions of past and foreign cultures. (It's the hegemony.)
  • Newspapers print what sells, they don't misunderstand their readers.
  • "National" doesn't equate with "popular" in Italy. Connected with "bookish" (read "high culture")
  • "What is the meaning of the fact that the Italian people prefer to read foreign writers? It means that they undergo the moral and intellectual hegemony of foreign intellectuals.." (367)
  • Lay authors have failed to elaborate a modern "humanism"
  • Catholic authors have also failed. Implies that other countries have a native religious literature.

Wilson, Chapter 23, "The Evolution of Cultural Variation"

  • How do we explain "plasticity" (and lack of plasticity -- what Gramsci calls "hegemony" or the "historical block" (see GramsciTerms.pdf) in cultures? Example of individuality of fingerprints. Effect of diversity in genetic expression.
  • Example of high variation, highly local, low epigenetic bias. underdetermined by genes: Fashion. We have genetic disposition to express emotion, but this gives us a wide range of choices of fashion. Fashion matters to the success of an individual - correct signalling of rank and status.
  • Example of low variation, universal, high epigenetic bias (supposed). Westermark effect (against incest).
  • Plasticity in ants. Even genetically identical ants vary in role by amount of food given, size.

Additional notes on Dual Inheritance Theory and related phenomena

  • Wilson and Lumsden's work has been criticized as overly formal (I couldn't make much sense of the diagram at the end of the chapter.) Some more recent work in Dual Inheritance Theory might help give examples here and even connect with Gramsci.
  • Dual Inheritance Theory -- suggests that parallel to genetic (and epigenetic) evolution, there is "cultural evolution" which depends upon our capacity for social learning. The underlying capacity for social learning is genetic/epigenetic, but the key point is that it enables stable cultural transmission of norms and values that have fitness effects. In other words, once a cultural norm is established (such as drinking milk into adulthood), it can have selection effects. Whether these effects are on individuals, genes, or groups, depends...
  • Examples
    1. 1: What does it mean to be an intellectual? (Hypothesis: "Fitness" as an intellectual is a culturally plastic trait that has a cultural selection effect.)
  • Contrasting US/European intellectuals. ("Mr. Aristotle" anecdote.)
  • European intellectuals: value learning a tradition, mastering language and source content.
  • US intellectuals: lacking deep historical traditions, value theory as pragmatic tool; pragmatism is a native US intellectual tradition, deeply an-historical and science-friendly.
  • Gramsci's point about Italian intellectuals: they are responding to (and let's there is selection for) a particular model of "being an intellectual."
    1. 2: Social learning in micro-communities
  • "Micro communities (church groups, conferences, work groups, etc.) vs. Mass communities (urban environments characterized by anonymity). These differences are environmentally stable and give us differential strategies. Failure to navigate these differences effectively could effect your ability to "survive and thrive".
    1. 3: (Other) Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESS) for norms
  • Work by Boyd and Richerson: game theoretic accounts of how norms get established and stabilized in a population of humans. Includes "evolutionary stable strategies" [4].
  • Further example: Hawk Dove Game [5]
    1. 4: Low Variation Mega-Patterns:
  • Demographic Transition [6]
  • Bystander Effect: [7]

March 21

Wilson, Ch. 24, "Origins of Morality and Honor"

  • Our natural history gives us a mixture of values that leaves an unavoidable tension at the heart of moral life.
  • Individual selection vs. Group selection. Diff. values / strategies
  • Self individuals win over altruistic individuals (suckers), but altruistic groups (which includes altruistic punishers) beat selfish individuals.
  • If the tension weren't there, we'd have become asocial or like ant colonies
  • A key part of the natural history of this tension is our development from small group life (30-150 individuals, to mass societies and complex social networks, including technology assisted networks like Facebook.
  • Discussion: What are some of the problems/possibilities inherent in new social network technologies?
  • Claim: The tension Wilson claims for moral behavior (individualism vs. altruism) is found at the neurological level in moral decision making.
  • Pfaff, Neuroscience of Fair Play
  • Fear and fear suppression in moral decision making. role of information loss.
  • Factors that maintain cooperative values as "stable strategies" (ESS from previous class)
  • status seeking
  • leveling of high status individuals
  • punishment (including altruistic punishment) and retribution
  • Emotions underlying cooperation:
  • other-condemning: contempt, anger, disgust
  • other-praising: gratitude, elevation, moral awe
  • other-suffering: sympathy, compassion, empathy
  • self-consciousness: guilt, shame and embarrassment

March 25

Wilson, Ch. 25, "The Origins of Religion"

  • Demographics of belief: Declines among scientists; US culture as outliers
  • Is religion "going away"?
  • New Atheists: yes
  • Wilson: no; but sees origin of religion in natural history rather than special creation.
  • Alternate version of Wilson's approach. Faith as belief, without evidence, of special creation parallel to creation of religion through natural history. Potential downside: Fideist model.
  • Religion as form of tribalism: origins in dream interp, priestly caste, drug experiences
  • Illogic of religions is their strength: experience of deities and creation myths woven into cultural experience.
  • Religion does real work for groups in both the interpretation of their experience and in coping with misfortune (Sosis challenges this.)

Sosis, "The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual"

  • Problem of religion in natural history: if optimal foraging theory holds for humans, why do we waste energy worshiping ancestors? (Recall Diamond essay on harmful behavior, similar question).
  • Malinowski: coping theory: problem: not clear how religious behaviors help with coping.
  • Irons: promotion of cooperation: religious ritual is a form of communication. Zahavi, "stotting," costly signal theory.
  • Sosis and Ruffle research on kibbutzniks, synagogue attendance, and the shekel game.
  • Cog Anthropologists: Scot Atran and Pascal Boyer: minimally counterintuitive concepts of god.
  • Important that religious beliefs are "unfalsifiable"

March 26

Wilson, Ch. 26, "Origin of Creative Arts"

  • peculiarities of human/primate sensory profile
  • optimal visual arousal in patterns, redundancy
  • environmental design preferences:
  • heights looking down
  • open spaces with some trees and hedges
  • water
  • consilience between science and humanities
  • common role of narrative (pretty speculative)
  • plagiarism in humanities is like fraud in sciences
  • reputation matters in both. authoritativeness
  • differences: the artist "lies her way to the truth" arts involves illusions that lead to truths.
  • in both there is an empirical moment in which the work proves itself.
  • historical evidence of human creative imagination
  • one period from development of tools 1.7 million years ago to first burial practices 95,000 years ago.
  • another from 35,000 to 20,000 years -- body adornment and cave painting (cave images)
  • musical instruments from 30,000 years
  • speculation fueled by music of australean aboriginals, isolate from 45,000 years ago.
  • musical training affects brain development
  • (omits) role of musical rhythms in promoting group experience.

March 28

Bondanella, "Italian Cinema"

  • Characteristics of Italian Cinema before NeoRealism
  • Italians (and French) were early innovators in cinema technology, beg. of 20th century.
  • Fascist era was a big development period for cinema
  • Fascists era movies were not overtly propagandistic, but entertaining distractions ("white telephone" movies)
  • Neorealist directors trained during fascist period (Rossellini, DeSica, Zavattini)
  • Neorealism (roughly 1945-52)
  • emphasis on social themes (war, poverty, Resistance, unemployment)
  • coincides with cultural popularity of PCI, partisans, but major films (DeSica's Ladri di Biciclette, Bicycle Thieves, 1948) also released as PCI fails to win election (1948).
  • Fellini beginning his career during Neorealist period
  • Major films: Roma, Citta' aperta, Rome, Open City; Paisa (Paisan); Ladri di Biciclette; Shoeshine
  • Digression from Bondanella article on Bicycle Thieves: [8]
  • Pay attention to the social commentary: poor surviving by stealing from each other
  • Notice the long "search" through Rome for the bicycle. Statement of isolation, rep of life at the time.
  • Notice the father / son relationship, given importance of family. Possible paper topics: comparison with La Vita e Bella, which also portrays a father son relationship.
  • Neo-realist film techniques: use of non-professional actors; long shots and pans, emphasis on strong emotion in response to hard conditions of reality, solitude, loneliness, alienation.
  • Not a popular or long-lived genre, only 10% of films during the period were NR, Italians preferred Hollywood and entertaining movies. Parallel to film noir in US.
  • Transition from NR to Fellini: subjectivism, fantasy, existential themes.
  • Post-neo-realism -- 60's
  • "spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone, "The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly," Divorce Italian Style.
  • Italian comedies still engaged in social criticism.

April 02

Class cancelled for movie screening.

April 04

Bicycle Thieves

  • Some themes:
  • condition of the poor (large pawn operation with lots of people pawning their sheets!), connection of job to survival, interaction among the poor (poor stealing from, accusing, each other).
  • Notice representation of life in Rome for the poor after the war.
  • the seer (the wise woman), "faith" (the brand of the bike), mentions of luck
  • the relationship between rich and poor: restaurant scene, church scene
  • "sports" in the background -- winners and losers.
  • Major Structure: Notice the progressive unraveling of Antonio over the course of the Sunday search for the bike. He becomes increasingly threatening to others and irrational. Visit to the wise woman, buying a meal in a good restaurant. Risking unsupported accusation of the thief. His ultimate humiliation in front of Bruno. The "reality" in "neo-realism" is the reality of the difficulty of life in a country that cannot organize itself after the war. There is a political message here, but notice that the film doesn't draw or infer overt political conclusions. The focus is on the hardness of life itself, not so much a political analysis of it.
  • Note from Bazin: what makes the movie neo-realist; brilliance of lack of action "disappearance of the story" 58; poor stealing from each other; not a propaganda film; use of Bruno as "silent chorus"; importance of absence of plot and formula, "disappearance of the story";

April 08

We have presentations scheduled for most of today's class, so check the study questions to see what you should be taking away from our readings. I'll put a few notes here as well, but we may not get much time to talk about the reading in today's class.

Wilson, Ch. 27, "A New Enlightenment"

  • What is the consequence of coming to know our cultural beliefs as a consequence of our natural history?
  • Atheistic alternative: We disavow religious belief completely (or as quickly as practical) and replace it with "a rationalist for morality" (Wilson) - consider objections.
  • Quasi-religious alternative: We accept (with Wilson) that religion isn't going away, but try to minimize the tendencies of religions to limit altruism to "out groups". (Sometimes called syncretism or universalism). We maintain our faith, but with an awareness that many of our beliefs and practices are historically contingent and should be open to revision if they turn out to be unhealthy, violate human rights, or create divisiveness in human communities. This includes beliefs in infallible knowledge, though this complicates faith.
  • Traditional religious alternative: We conclude that Wilson's argument and science in general only apply to observable phenomena (Science doesn't disprove faith). The transcendental truths of one's religion may still constitute true claims about ultimate reality (whether there is a God, a final judgement, etc.). The sooner the rest of the world comes to realize the one true faith (of my religion), the better.

April 09

Eco, "Inventing the Enemy"

  • Taxi cab incident
  • Long list of enemies:
  • Italians at war with each other
  • Mussolini creating enemies (Berlusconi's invoked Germany as enemy)
  • bin Laden
  • Cicero invokes Catiline's friends as enemies of Rome
  • St. Augustine makes the pagan and enemy
  • Roman bas-reliefs make the barbarian (a poor language user)the enemy
  • Tacitus and the Jews
  • Pliny the Younger makes Christians the enemy
  • Today we make the foreign immigrant the enemy
  • Americans made the Negro, the African, an enemy
  • the French made the German the enemy before WW1: they stank
  • Felix Fabri, 15th century monk, made the Saracen an enemy: he stank
  • Guiseppe Giusti made the Austrians an enemy: they stank
  • Everyone makes the gypsy an enemy: they stink
  • Lots of people in history have vilified Jews as smelly.
  • The heretic
  • The prostitute
  • Woman - Boccaccio, Odo of Cluny, "a sack of excrement"
  • Witches as enemies -- lots of men, including Innocent 8
  • Lepers
  • Those thought to be spreading the plague
  • How we do it
  • Inquisition trials against heretics (including practitioners of withcraft): inventing evidence and making the victim accept it.
  • Stalin did this.
  • Continuous production of the enemy
  • Political discourse maintains narratives of opponents as enemies
  • Continuous war helps create the enemy continuously (war on terror)
  • Orwell, 1984 example
  • Romani again
  • Sartre, No Exit, we create the enemy without an official torturer, we do it to each other. We each acts as torturer of the other, creating hell on earth

April 11