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Bateson's Reflection on Ethnographic Writing

緗帙
2018-01-29 03:30:25

As Bateson writes, “the writing of this book has been an experiment, or rather a series of experiments, in methods of thinking about anthropological material (p. 257). Rather than an assemblage of ethnographic data on the Naven ceremony, Bateson’s book is a reflection on the producing process of an ethnography. As the title of his book suggests, in the book, Bateson interprets the Itamul culture of New Guinea from three points of view, structural (and sociological) analysis, ethos and eidos. Different from his predecessors who believed in functionalism and the analysis of social structure, Bateson argues that “the emotional background is causally active within a culture, and no functional study can ever be reasonably complete unless it links up the structure and pragmatic working of the culture with its emotional tone or ethos” (p.2), which constitutes the major thesis of his book.

In the first half of his book, Bateson analyzes the social and cultural structures of Itamu

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As Bateson writes, “the writing of this book has been an experiment, or rather a series of experiments, in methods of thinking about anthropological material (p. 257). Rather than an assemblage of ethnographic data on the Naven ceremony, Bateson’s book is a reflection on the producing process of an ethnography. As the title of his book suggests, in the book, Bateson interprets the Itamul culture of New Guinea from three points of view, structural (and sociological) analysis, ethos and eidos. Different from his predecessors who believed in functionalism and the analysis of social structure, Bateson argues that “the emotional background is causally active within a culture, and no functional study can ever be reasonably complete unless it links up the structure and pragmatic working of the culture with its emotional tone or ethos” (p.2), which constitutes the major thesis of his book.

In the first half of his book, Bateson analyzes the social and cultural structures of Itamul society through structural and sociological perspectives. He he brings up the concepts of ethos, eidos and schismogenesis. Although he admits the structural theories provide a setting to situate the ceremony, there are still many problems that are not adequately explained by either the structural or the sociological factors. He questions the individual motivation in the ceremony-neither the sociological functions or the logical consistency of people’s behavior can hardly become adequate indications of the underlying motives (Bateson, P. 109-110). For Bateson, “it will therefore be useful at this point to examine the ethological method in rather more detail and to consider the relationship between ethology and concepts of philosophical history from which it is derived” (P.111).tails of the two sets of names to the child, Bateson finds out the cognitive logics of the different understanding systems of the father’s clan and the mother’s clan (Bateson, P. 42), which finally leads to his conclusion on the ethological contrast, competition and schismogenesis of men and woem in Iatmul Culture. Here, Bateson represents how an anthropologist usez cultural symbols to interpret social and cultural structures. I wonder if Bateson’s analysis of the details of cultural behavior could be a prelude of symbolic and interpretive anthropology emerged several decades later.

Bateson’s contribution to ethnographic writing mainly lies in the second half of his book, in which, inspired by Benedict’s theory in Patterns of Culture, he brings up the concepts of ethos, eidos and schismogenesis. Although he admits that structural theories provide a setting to situate the ceremony, there are still many problems that are not adequately explained by either the structural or the sociological factors. He questions the individual motivation in the ceremony-neither the sociological functions nor the logical consistency of people’s behavior can hardly become adequate indications of the underlying motives (Bateson, P. 109-110). For Bateson, “it will therefore be useful at this point to examine the ethological method in rather more detail and to consider the relationship between ethology and concepts of philosophical history from which it is derived” (P.111).

By representing the producing process of an ethnography, Bateson demonstrates how different perspectives and methodologies could lead to different explanations of the same ethnographic data, which compromises the sceintificity and objectivity of ethnography, and implies the subjectivity of ethnographers in ethnographic writing. But, similar to his predecessors, his definition for culture is still very scientific. He regards culture as standardsing the psychology of the individuals, emphasizing the generality and uniformity of a culture, rather than the feelings and experiences of individuals within a culture. From his perspective, it is the fundamental axioms of sciences that “the object studied is composed of unites whose properties are in some way standardized by their position in the whole organization” (Bateson, P.114).

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