University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Anthropology

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Anthropology Faculty

Anthropology > Faculty

Charles Fredric Blake,
Faculty
Office Location: Saunders 315
Phone Number: 956-8415
Fax Number: 956-4893
Personal Webpage: http://agriganisland.blogspot.com
Email: fblake@hawaii.edu

Background:

MY GENERAL SENSE OF ANTHROPOLOGY I have long been interested in how historical structures of domination (especially the modern system) are reproduced in, and thus distort, the everyday lives of ordinary people. My academic work focuses on the interpersonal microcosms where people make, unmake, and remake their worlds under historical conditions that they do not themselves choose. I became acutely aware of this problematic as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Agrigan Island in the Northern Marianas (1966-68) where I lived with people who showed a certain resilience in the face of overwhelming global challenges to their way of life.

Later, as a graduate student at the University of Illinois my area focus turned to China's modern revolution, which at the time pinned its success on ideology and organization in opposition to the emphasis of "modernization theory" on international capital and technology. I have long been interested in how the shifts in historical formations, from a highly developed feudal formation to a state capitalist formation was accomplished by the “disappearing mediation” of a communist party and how ordinary people participate(d) in this process.

One of the mainstays of anthropological thinking is cultural relativism. I divide this concept into three ways of thinking. First is old fashioned methodological relativism in which the ethnologist suspends his or her sense of reality and truth for the length of time it takes to gain an understanding and appreciation of another people’s sense of reality and truth. This methodology lies at the heart of the ethnological enterprise. Second is epistemic relativism which holds that there is no essential truth; every truth, every meaning; every reality is simply a way of knowing things based on the way we talk or write about them. This level of relativism is discursive or literary and is attributable to postmodern or post-structural thought which became fashionable among American academics in the 1980s and ‘90s and left an indelible mark on anthropology. Third is moral relativism which holds that since there is no universal or essential truth, there is no way and no point in judging the moral worth of different ways of living. This level of relativism suspends its holders in a moral limbo, and it has become a political football in the so-called “culture wars” of current American society.

My perspective in these matters holds to methodological relativism as a professional necessity. I find important insights in epistemological relativism but on the whole, I reject it on the grounds that there are “essential” truths, even if we cannot fathom exactly what they are. Some truths are given by an act of faith freely undertaken. Some are disclosed by the radical empiricism of phenomenological intuition; other truths are disclosed by dialectical thinking – these are various ways of getting at essential truths – each has its value and its layers in a cosmic evanescent. The dominant methodology today is of course positive science which discovers “universal truths” precisely because its methods are rigorously public and its questions are severely self-limiting – the spirit of a positive science is not to ask if something is true in any absolute sense, but to ask with what probability we can say it is likely to be so. My main problem with epistemic relativism is the extent to which its sense of the human comedy has been taken over by the grim, but trendy notion that truth is nothing but the power of a particular signifier to dominate a field of competing signifiers. I argue further that this “essentializing” of a logos named power is the banal ho-hum of late modern political economy. Finally, I reject moral relativism altogether because if we found people actually practicing it, we would have to change everything we know about being human and it would invalidate the profession of anthropology. As for truths that go beyond the limits of science, I agree with the late Roy Rappaport that we need to revive a sense of the sacred sphere in communities of faith and free-thinking.

Course Syllabi:

Research:

My research interests are shaped by theories of value that explain and derive from social economies in which the mode of production (Marx) is actually the mode of sociation (Simmel and Mauss). This leads to my interest in the historical encounter between social economy and capitalist economy. This expands into studies of ritual and ideological modalities of social reproduction and the material processes and consequences of ‘alienation’ in the lifeworld of ordinary people. For me anthropology shares its parentage with sociology and grand-parentage with philosophy and history [on a broader horizon, our relatives include psychology and biology]. But keeping my horizon limited to an ethnological nexus of philosophy and history, I feel we are a family of discoverers ‘forever drifting on the Sea of Hermes,’ ever seeking a way forward. Anthropology with its insistence that ordinary, real, tangible people be the principal concern of our discoveries; philosophy with its insistence that our discoveries attain higher, more general levels of insight and relevance and perhaps even wisdom; and history (like ethnography) with its insistence on the details that make each happening different. The goal is a philosophically based historically informed unity-in-diversity social anthropology. More specifically, I try to bring all this to bear on the grains of sand (common customs) by which civilizations stand or fall, here, for example, the common customs of Chinese such as the thousand year-old practice of female footbinding and the equally ancient custom of burning paper replicas of socially valued things.

Interest(s):

One of my personal interests is an on-going attempt to develop some kind of internet resource page (a ‘blog’ of sorts) to feature the hundreds of photographs of everyday life that I made when I lived on Agrigan Island, Northern Mariana, as a PCV from 1966 to 1968. I also include the school children’s drawings depicting everyday scenes on their island. I hope to include a narrative about life on Agrigan Island. I call this The Agrigan Community Project & Photo Archive, and such as it is, it is currently housed at the following address.

Publications:

Title: Sen Lin Ren (2008)
Co Authors: Ran Fan
ISBN: 97871050911
Publication Information: Beijing: The People's Press

Title: There Ought to be a Monument for Alla Lee (2000)
Publication Information: Chinese American Forum. 15(3): 23-25

Title: Death and Abuse in Marriage Laments: The Curse of Chinese Brides (1978)
Publication Information: Journal of Asian Folklore Studies, 37(1): 13-33

Title: The Feelings of Chinese Daughters Toward Their Mothers as Revealed in Marriage Laments (1979)
Publication Information: Folklore, 89(2): 91-97

Title: Ethnic Groups and Social Change in a Chinese Market Town (1981)
Publication Information: Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii

Title: Graffiti and Racial Insults: The Archaeology of Ethnic Relations (1981)
Publication Information: Modern Material Culture: The Archaeology of Us., eds. Richard Gould and M. Schiffer, 87-100. New York: Academic Press

Title: Leaders, Factions and Ethnicity in Sai Kung," In Leadership on the China Coast (1984)
Publication Information: ed. Goran Aijmer, 53-90. Scandinavian Institute for Asian Studies. London: Curzon Press

Title: The Chinese of Valhalla: Identity and Adaptation in a Midwestern American Cemetery (1993)
Publication Information: Markers: Journal for the Association of Gravestone Studies, 10: 52-89

Title: Footbinding in Neo-Confucian China and the Appropriation of Female Labor (1994)
Publication Information: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 19(2): 676-712. Reprinted 1997 in History and Theory: Feminist Research, Debates, Contestations, eds. Barbara Laslett, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, Mary Jo Maynes, Evelyn Brooks Higginsbotham, & Jeanne Barker-Nunn, 187-223. University of Chicago Press. Reprinted 2000 in Feminism and the Body: Oxford Readings in Feminism. ed. Londa Schiebinger, 429-464. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Translated & Reprinted 1999 in Hanxue Yanjiu, Vol. 3, Beijing: Zhongguo Heping Chubanshe, 263-300.

Title: Xianling Gongsi yu Zhongguo Baxian [The Schering Corporation and China's Eight Immortals] (2005)
Publication Information: Zhuangshi Zazhi, No. 150: 68-69 [Beijing]

Title: Zhiqian de Fuhaoxue Yanjiu [Semiotic Study of Paper Money] (2005)
Publication Information: Guangsi Minzhu Xueyuan Xuebao, Vol 5: 43-49. Reprinted 2006 in Wenhua Yanjiu [Culture Studies] Zhongguo Renmin Daxue Shubao Ziliao Zhongxin, Vol. 4:9-16

Title: Love Songs and the Great Leap: The Role of a Youth Culture in the Revolutionary Phase of China's Economic Development (1979)
Publication Information: American Ethnologist, 6(1): 41-54

Title: Foot-binding (2008)
ISBN: 9780195148909
Publication Information: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Bonnie G. Smith, editor in chief. Oxford University Press

Title: Lucy Parsons (2008)
ISBN: 9780195148909
Publication Information: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Bonnie G. Smith, editor in chief. Oxford University Press

Title: Meiguo Wenhua Renleixue de Dangdai Qushi Lueshu [Brief Review of Contemporary Theory in American Anthropology] (2008)
Publication Information: Guowai Shehui Kexue [Social Sciences Abroad] Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing.

 

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