Universality of the Western Interpretation Article Review
Excerpt from Article Review :
Schwartz (2006), many arguments are presented, most of which generally criticize the Western treatment of First Nations people or address women's rights issues. As an example, "Aboriginal Australia: Current Criminological Themes" by Rick Sarre (2006) focuses on the affect of British colonialism in Australia on the Aborigines, connecting it to a vast overrepresentation of Aborigines in the Australian penal system. "The Left Realist Perspective on Race, Class, and Gender" by Walter S. DeKeseredy (2006) illustrates the fact that, in the United States, it cannot be said that there is 'justice for all;' "First Nations people and African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated than members of the dominant culture who commit the same crimes" (p. 49). Throughout most of the articles, different approaches to solving such attitudes are explored, such as the left realist theory and the postmodern perspective.
The Female Circumcision Controversy: an Anthropological Perspective by Ellen Gruenbaum (2001) tracks the progress of the movement to end female circumcision in Sudan. The 'controversy,' mentioned in the title of the book, can be seen illustrated -- even today -- in the attitudes of the Sudanese (Gruenbaum, 2001). Female circumcision is still occurring, partly because Islamic females in Sudan feel that it necessitates respect (Gruenbaum, 2001). Female circumcision has also provided a cultural marker -- something by which the Sudanese have defined themselves in nationalistic fervor in the past. The controversy lies also in the fact that attempts to stop or convince the Sudanese to halt the practice of female circumcision have been met with -- even by Sudanese women's rights groups -- sentiments that these efforts have merely been attempts at infringing upon their culture by the West (Gruenbaum, 2001). This reading -- this group of readings, even -- shows how one could view culture 'getting in the way' of human rights, while another could view 'human rights' as 'getting in the way of culture,' while yet another could view the Western conception of human rights as getting in the way of another (more universal?) view of human rights that defends one's right to 'follow' the practices of one's own culture.
In the Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, by Marilyn Strathern (1988), it is first argued that, among the assumptions to have "dogged anthropological approaches to the peoples and cultures of Melanesia," many scholars have, in the past, have expected to find others (read: subalterns) "solving the metaphysical problems of Western thought" (p. 3). For example, Melanesian initiation rites have been interpreted by many anthropologists as a "socialization' process that transforms the products of nature into culturally molded creations" (Strathern, 1988, p. 3). Similarly, many anthropologists have surmised that the political action of the Melanesia is born out of the desire for cohesion and results in social structures (Strathern, 1988).
Like many of the other authors reviewed in this paper, Strathern is concerned with breaking down previous attempts at anthropology in order to study other cultures from a non-Western, or non-cultural perspective (1988). She says, of previous anthropological attempts that related 'initiation' to 'socialization,' etc.: "Far from throwing out such frameworks for understanding, however, I argue instead that we should acknowledge the interests from which they come. They endorse a view of society that is bound up with the very impetus of anthropological study. But the impetus itself derives from Western ways of creating the world. We cannot expect to find justification for that in the worlds that everyone creates" (1988, p.4).
In essence, Strathern is saying what many of the other authors are saying: anthropology has consistently overlooked the fact that it is a Western approach to looking at the world. As such, anthropology has consistently only been able to exercise a limited, and perhaps inaccurate, perspective on the study of subaltern cultures. In other words, Strathern is in essence 'blaming' previous anthropologists for interpreting non-Western cultures in a Western way; for not thinking to question the lens through which they viewed their subjects.
This is the way in which Strathern starts her book; denying the accuracy of previous attempts at studying Melanesia, and writing that she will not make the same mistakes. She goes on to point out the ways in which studies have failed, and succeeded in Melanesia, and explains that she intends to point out the framework by which much current anthropological thought operates under (1988). She writes that she intends to use feminism in this discussion. She discusses feminism at length, pointing out theoretical differences between
different schools of feminist thought, relating feminism to social science and showing how they overlap, and explaining its historical and hoped-for function (1988).
In the reading, Strathern goes on to reinterpret the male initiation ceremonies for the Papua New Guinea Highlands. A reinterpretation is necessary, Strathern writes, because the agreed upon interpretation of these initiation ceremonies are viewed through "the Western eye: the image of the boy child being removed from an overbearing female sphere, in order (as the analysis went) to socialize him into masculinity; and the image of females circulating among men like so many wealth items, their femininity or fertility (it was assumed) the instrument of callous male reciprocity. At best these interpretations captured half truths" (1988, p. 5).
Strathern functions mostly in this way throughout the rest of the reading, first debunking previous, often male-oriented, Western views of Melanesia and then interpreting them within her own perspective, which is feminist and attempting to be 'not-Western.' Like many of the other reading, this reading, as a whole, seems to yell for a shift in paradigm; for a new way to look at subalterns, and to include femininity in this new way, because previous attempts have imposed Western conceptions, and male-oriented conceptions on top of those, and thus could not have fully comprehended, in an accurate way, the culture under study.
This group of readings is connected, first, by the fact that they concern violence and the subjugation of women and homosexuals in Brazil. Second, all authors in this group hold that injustices are continually propagated by Brazilian social institutions to this day.
In Anthropology and Feminism on Violence, Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) attempts to illustrate the problems and possibilities for feminist and anthropological discourses to be explained and put forth by the subjects of such studies, feminists, and anthropologists themselves. Machado (YEAR) also discusses anthropological traditions, such as the concept of cultural diversity, the prevailing knowledge of feminism, feminist traditions, and perspectives of the contemporary Feminist Movement. By so doing, Machado (YEAR) holds that she wishes to "establish a fruitful dialog between men and women anthropologists and sociologists, whether there are or aren't feminists" (p. 1).
In "Forms, Types and Gender of Violence in Brazil," Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) argues that the growth in new forms of violence illustrates the future difficulties of constructing a society managed by human rights and peace. She distinguishes between traditional violence -- violence between individuals, between nations, and between individuals and institutions as a form of solving conflicts, and violence of gender that acts to subjugate the position of what is symbolically thought of as "feminine" -- and ultramodern violence -- violence associated with drug trafficking, the use of illegitimate violence among state security agencies 'masked' as the legitimate use of force, violence derived from the expansion of private security networks, and terrorism, hate crimes, and, in general, violence that exists for producing a spectacle of itself (YEAR). Machado chooses to focus on the forms of interpersonal violence at the Brazilian national level, and largely focus on the prevalence of gender-related violence (YEAR).
In "A (Anti)homosexual Familism and Regulation of Citizenship in Brazil" by Luiz Mello (2006), thoughts, interpretations, and reflections are offered on the theoretical and political debate between homosexuals that have occurred within the ten years after the formulation of first piece of proposed legislation instituting civil partnerships between same-sex people in Brazil. Mello (2006) shows how legal rights for gay and lesbian partners and parents have been denied and have thus explicitly denied these people's citizenship. Mello (2006) also shows how romantic and sexual relationships in Brazil are, in legal terms, merely a heterocentric possibility, which is an illustration of the "erotic injustice and sexual oppression that affects gays and lesbians in Brazil and most of the world" (p. 1).
From Indifference to Inequality: Race in Contemporary Brazil, edited by Rebecca Reichmann (1999), is a volume that, for the purposes of this paper, discusses 'The Soda Cracker Dilemma,' the identity of black women in Brazil, and the women workers of Rio. In speaking of the Soda Cracker Dilemma, an analysis of black women's reproductive rights in Brazil and the United States is offered, and shows how social institutions, in both countries, "maintain the perception of race (and gender) and in doing so reinforce racist (and sexist) practices" (Roland, 1999, p. 195). On the identity of black women in Brazil, it is explained how black women have…
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Quest for Consensus. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
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