Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Ethics
Social science is predicated on the ability to generalize. The same could be said for the objects of social science. People and institutions mobilize diverse modes of generalization to forge relations between particulars and generals, tokens and types: aggregation, standardization, classification, anonymization, public address, profiling, and so forth. Each of those modes of generalization, academic and otherwise, creates or imagines different particulars. Different figurations of the particular, in turn, produce different types of systems. British structural-functionalism, for example, treats its objects very differently than structuralism, and democratic governments treat citizens differently than capitalist corporations treat laborers. The tendency of academic generalizations to reify dominant sociocultural ones has long been a limitation of social science, leading to critiques of paradigms ranging from Durkheim’s theory of society to Levi-Straussian structuralism or, more recently, Luhmann’s systems theory. Recent work on the sociocultural processes of abstraction (Pedersen 2013), circulation (JLA 2005 Vol 15(1); Warner 2002), and commensuration (Hankins and Yeh 2016; Larkin 2013) provides anthropologists a means to analyze links between particulars and generals as they occur in interested social interactions. Focusing on the formation and influence of the general in the particular disentangles academic generalizations from folk ones, allowing for research into ways that the particular and general are produced, linked, and challenged in practice. However, current conceptual tools find their limit when discussing patterns in the relations between particulars and generals. This panel builds on earlier scholarship to analyze modes of generalization in a way that does not reify systems. We present papers that explore the social habits of forming and relating the particular and the general, the ways that generals are organized and mobilized, and the ways that people make use of the dissonance between particulars and generals. This, in turn, allows us to use ethnographic data to reframe the classic social-scientific question of the nature of systems without resorting to either rank empiricism or rationalism.