Purity and Danger


Douglas claims that the book is “a late blow struck in the battle which anthropology in the 1940s and 1950s was fighting against racism.” What characterized this “battle,” and was it within or without the field itself? Why this time period?

Are all anthropologists social constructionists, or have we just been reading a lot of those that are?

Juxtaposition between psychological understandings of cultural practice and sociological/cultural ones; can we flesh this out? Is this understanding a ritual from an individual’s perspective, analyzing it as their own personal beliefs and linking these beliefs to their overall cosmologies versus placing the ritual in a cultural context, in which it is instead a method of mass cultural control?

How can we apply Douglas’s insights to medical ritual? How can I apply them to conceptions of pollution around Eureka Springs?
Could use this to analyze the separate spring for ES’s African American citizens.
The water, in the 1890s, began to be marketed as “pure” — could I take this framework and flip it to look at the opposite of pollution? Disease was understood (by some) as a blockage, an anomaly, in the healthy system, and the pure springwater was supposed to cleanse it by breaking down the dirt and flushing it out.
Pathological modernity as a transgression against the body’s natural proclivity to balance and maintain itself. Nature as punisher for transgressions of urbanization/industrialization (clogging up body) and ultimate savior (its waters as cleansing tonics).

Continue reading “Purity and Danger”

Foucault: Madness and Civilization

This book read a lot like Orientalism to me. It is a history of The Other and how it has been defined in relation to what is normal, what is reasonable. In Said’s work, the opposing ideas were Western and Oriental. In Foucault’s, they are reason and folly. I think the two overlap a lot, however; the Oriental was often associated with emotion, spiritual ways of understanding the world, and unreason. Equally parallel in both works is how one of the opposing binaries — the Oriental and the Mad — is made to embody all that is undesirable and the operative results of being understood that way. I understand why this book would probably be important for anyone in colonial and post-colonial studies to read.

It’s a very deep history that definitely falls firmly in the camp of constructionism. Like The Birth of the Clinic, Madness & Civilization is looking at how the discourse (knowledge-base) around something informs how it is viewed and dealt with in society.

Posits that madness was handled via confinement starting the 17th century, “the moment when madness was perceived on the social horizon of poverty, of incapacity for work, of inability to integrate with the group; the moment when madness began to rank among the problems of the city.”  (64)

“The new meanings assigned to poverty, the importance given to the obligation to work, and all the ethical values that are linked to labor, ultimately determined the experience of madness and inflected its course.” (64)

Interesting for my research is the change in conceptions of madness Foucault outlines in “The Great Fear,” summarized well in the following excerpt:

“In the second half of the eighteenth century, madness was no longer recognized in what brings man closer to an immemorial fall or an indefinitely present animality; it was, on the contrary, situated in those distances man takes in regard to himself, to his world, to all that is offered by the immediacy of nature; madness became possible in the milieu where man’s relations with his feelings, with time, with others, are altered; madness was possible because of everything which, in man’s life and development, is a break with the immediate.” (220)

This reminds me of neurasthenia and makes sense given contemporaneous therapeutic recommendations — a return to nature, to the natural state of man. Modernity, it was believed, was overexciting and led to mental problems.


Foundation of post-colonial studies; methodology is post-structuralist.

Discussion Questions:

Let’s start where we left off last week — would you say that what Said has written is a cultural history?

What sorts of sources does he use to get at the culture of Orientalism, and how does he link the culture to the psychological, ideological, and tangible effects he’s arguing it resulted in?

Science (geographical surveys, linguistic treatises), politics (Napoleon’s correspondence), popular culture (literature [travel, novels], art [paintings],

There’s one aspect of this book that I find particularly important for historians of science to pay attention to, and it’s something Aparna asked us to look out for this week. Said raises a very pertinent question about how we should be writing history; in this case, he’s talking in particular about histories of “the Other.”

Have you seen the kind of discourse Said describes in the primary or secondary sources you consult when your actors or authors are writing about “the Other?”

How can one study other cultures and people from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective? (24)

“Academic mindfulness”


How would you answer this question in the context of the history of science, or even more importantly, within the context of your own research?

It seems incredibly important who is assigned the role of “actor” and who is viewed in terms of their “reactions.” Who is changing and who is changed.

Another issue, and one that we’ve discussed at length in other courses but something I think Said deals with well, is the pitfalls of specialized disciplinarity. As historians, in our training, we are expected to read all the “great works” our forebears have composed in order to understand the acceptable methodologies and limits of our field. In a way, this distances us from the reality of the history we’re trying to comment upon, like it did for many intellectuals within the Orientalist community. Instead of looking at the Orient as it was, letting it speak for itself, these actors read what other men in their discipline had written about the Orient and took this as truth. (67)

As historians, should we be trained with such an emphasis on secondary source material? We’re joining a conversation, but we also are responsible for representing people of the past. How can we do so with so very little of their voices being heard? Where is the line between being a part of an intellectual community and making sure the subject of study for which the community has been founded is the centerpiece of the conversation?

What is science’s role in the construction of cultural domination of the West over the East? In the formation of the “Orient”?

What is the relationship between knowledge and power in Said’s narrative?

Does knowledge have to be based in reality for it to be powerful?

Is essentialist knowledge, taking something specific and applying it in a general manner, especially prone to produce problems of difference and inequality?


Why not focus on more European-dominated colonial examples, like the British in India or the Russians in Asia?


This is anti-western

Made “Orientalism” into a bad word, condemning all those who would have proudly identified as such before the book was written.

“Said had constructed a binary-opposite representation, a fictional European stereotype that would counter-weigh the Oriental stereotype. Being European is the only common trait among such a temporally and stylistically disparate group of literary Orientalists.” Ibn Warraq, O.P. Kejariwal

Notes from Class:

Reproducing Empire, Laura Briggs

Early 20th century history of eugenics in Puerto Rico

Decolonizing Methodologies

The scholarship that we read is so heavily inundated with empire we don’t even see it.

You need to read Marx to understand this stuff (especially the violence aspects).

Oklahoma as a postcolonial space

Learning how to inhabit the space of the people we study

Any action in a colonized space is viewed as a reaction to the colonizers (by the colonized and the colonizers).

It’s not taking away colonial agency, it’s taking away their individuality.

Colonized cannot go back.

Culture must change to accommodate colonizers. It must change again to unify against colonizers. And it changes again after the colonizers are gone.