Thursday August 27th
Reading group notes (Auto-Ethnographic Stories)
It’s still Wednesday
- It’s still Wednesday here, but I took part in the reading group tonight.
- Our notes were pulled from the book Ethno-Techno, and from an image of the Pachuco, particularly an image of a man being inspected by a police officer, as though he were a rare subhuman.
Our prompt was
- Are we able to recuperate the possibility of change in a society like ours, in which all changes implode or are instantly commodified?
My hour of solitude (I’ll try not to post it in one large chunk)
- I’ve been reading about the history of LA’s inmate system (highest in the country) and simultaneously reading about ethnography in practice, which involves finding meaning or clues in the details.
- One of the historical facts of the practice of ethnography was that it was used as an Academic practice to justify colonization and to treat the colonized as savages or uncivil. I think about ethnography today not just as an Academic practice, but as one of the earliest means of data collection. As someone who works with data daily, this is very disconcerting. Data is not truth. It is a proxy for something.
- Today, ethnography is embedded into the field of commodification, and private ethnographic practice is used to observe and analyze humans to be part of the commodification process. What does this say about those who were, by its historical practice, treated as uncivil?
- Questions such as “what is appealing about this brand?” or “do you find this product lines up with your personal values?” tap into our identity as individuals to groupify us, and to therefore sell us as commodities.
- So, ethnography drives commercialization, inextricably entangled, today.
- I argue that the possibility to seek change and its implosion depends more on the way we view ourselves in this web of ethnography, history and commodification. Where were we historically in this cycle? If we see life as deterministic, and we view this as a deterministic cycle, we abdicate the idea of free will and the means to change the eventual commodification of change, as change is just part of an inevitable causal input to the end result or output which is commodification.
- However, if we see ourselves as the arbiters of change, we can perhaps see a world where we can be the bringers of change that can be spared from commodification, understanding that knowledge about our past and the horrific exploitation of people and their native cultures (particularly if those voices were muted) will be used by the dominating culture as an effigy for commodification.
- Commodification can be seen as a celebration of conquest by a dominant group by the trivialization and subjugation of a less dominant group’s culture, thereby regarding it as less than sacred; a mocking or degradation of its original intent.
- A rejection of that commodification is therefore a rejection of that mocking or degradation of the dominating culture. It is a celebration of that culture, regaining power. It is deliberate surversion.
- In conclusion, the phrase “possibility of change” to me is a euphemism for “truth”; the kind of truth that ethnographers first seeked when they embarked upon in their practice, but that was corrupted by their incentives for power over the subjects they were studying, or for rented power by the very institutions that would bestow on them this power.
- Possibility of change or truth has been corrupted by many things, devolved and commodified. I don’t know if there is a possibility of getting it back, unless it is a deliberate rejection by the very culture that is subjugated. Their taking their voice back.
Written on August 27, 2020