February 16, 2011

Concepts = tools

Concepts are like tools, right? No...they ARE tools. I recently read a great chapter by the late Eric Wolf called "Contested Concepts," which provides an excellent discussion of some particularly critical tools in anthropology: culture, power, and ideology. A great read (but I have always been partial to Wolf)--and I think I need to reread it pretty soon, just for fun. Sometimes people talk about ditching one tool (culture) or another (ideology), but for me sometimes its more effective to trace the meanings of these concepts, understand how they have changed over time, and find ways of applying them in new, more refined ways. Rather than continually going to the hardware store (ie always creating neologisms for "new" concepts), sometimes it's not a bad idea if staple tools develop a well-worn patina from continual use and re-use. But then, I may be completely overdoing it with this analogy. This happens from time to time.

Speaking of tools, here's the documentary photographer's equivalent of a "critical tool":

Just when you thought I couldn't get Jim Marshall* and Eric Wolf into the same post, there it is. Take that, doubters! That's right, I just compared "culture" to a Leica. They each have their benefits and limits--and it's important to fully explore their possibilities before either jumping on the bandwagon or dismissing them outright. But that just my pure, unadulterated opinion right there.

Yes, I am supposed to be working right now...

*Image: That's Marshall's Leica M4, which certainly illustrates the fact that sometimes good tools can be used over and over again with consistent, yet innovative, results.


Dylan said...

i like culture/power/history all together as one tool.

good luck with your working

Ryan Anderson said...

ya, that's a good combo Dylan, I agree. Thanks for the comment.