#Ecomodernism, EMT, neo-Marxism; Some Key Problems with the Current Informatic “World View”

Not long after NATO’s declaration of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals a group calling themselves “ecopragmatists and ecomodernists” uploaded their future world vision and manifesto to the Internet.

What is noticeable from the outset of the manifesto is the absence of any reference to a European and mainly Dutch school of thought commonly know as ecological modernisation theory (“EMT” abbreviated). Key EMT thinkers would include Joseph Huber, Arthur P. Mol, Martin Jänicke or Gert Spaargaren and many others (see Wikipedia here). The integration of science and technologies and ecological systems and the general futurological worldview presented by the ecomodernists (“Eco-Mods”) is somewhat similar in places to EMT school of thought but differs drastically in others.

The Guardian blogger George Monbiot’s recent criticism of the ecomodernists’ manifesto really hits the mark. The public debate raises some of the main arguments within environmental sociology that exists between EMT theorists and neo-Marxists.The main point Monbiot picks the eco-mods up on, and the point that needs criticizing, is that: ‘The ecomodernists talk of “unproductive, small-scale farming” and claim that “urbanisation and agricultural intensification go hand in hand.” In other words, they appear to believe that smallholders, working the land in large numbers, produce lower yields than large farms.’ He corrects this mistake by stating: ‘But since Amartya Sen’s groundbreaking work in 1962, hundreds of papers in the academic literature demonstrate the opposite: that there is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the crops they produce. The smaller they are, on average, the greater the yield per hectare’.

While I remain somewhat reserved in using global stats to counteract global stats, to back Monbiot’s argument it should be pointed out that 80% of the world’s food comes from small, family farms. Of which 72% are under the size of one hectare (UN/FAO, 2014). Of course, smaller-scale farms are also part of the fabric of rural societies and cultures that exist in England and around the world too.

The current predicament that the English farmers that I am researching face is that they are continuously being told to intensify food production by groups like the Eco-Mods because of a “growing world population”. Currently within global markets the supply of milk, wheat and barley is in a state of overproduction and commodity prices reflect this since they are hitting rock bottom – £98 a ton for wheat which reflects market prices of the 1980s, a farmer told me the other day. Why then are farmers in England being pressured to produce more and more, invest into more chemicals, communication technologies, solutions or machines, when supply is higher than demands and growing more will only further push prices down? One can only begin to speculate that the push to intensify is to boost GDP or net-income by getting farmers to invest into more technologies, more chemicals, more machinery and to boost the growth of what is being called the “Agri-Tech” sector whilst spurring on the agri-food industry. This push for rapid-intensification is mainly coming from the agri-equipment and agrichemical companies, pro-modernisation political parties and pressure groups.

The more authentic EMT school offers more alternative, well-considered and potentially practical solutions than the Eco-Mods, (see for example: Mol, 2003; Mol, 2008). I would suggest this is the case since there has been a ‘fierce’ academic debate raging between the EMT theorists and ecological, neo-Marxists (and de-industrialists, post-modernists or eco-feminists). EMT’s general ‘optimism’ towards modern, environmental reform has been thoroughly and rigorously questioned, probed and debated – continuing without conclusion.

To summarise the debate in brief, the neo-Marxist’s main criticism is that EMT theorists’ social and ecological optimism or utopian idealism is being used as an ideological veil to mask issues of inequality and exploitation that are not being addressed in already-developed nations. The concept of ecological modernisation simply develops a rather handy, academically legitimised, marketing tool for a multi-billion dollar, global industry and home of the multinational seed and agrochemical companies (of which there are only six), the agri-equipment multinationals and boost GDP in developed nations. Furthermore, this line of thinking simply backs up the political parties that support a mainly American, neo-liberal agenda that seeks to expand and develop a system that not only further exploit natural environments but human beings too (see for example: Dickens, 2004).

While the academic criticisms of EMT are harsh, there are that there are some progressive gems to be found with EMT theory, such as Joseph Huber’s social and economic theory of TEIs which targets accumulation and processing of the raw materials that are used product life cycles (products such as food) in global, industrial, modern, capitalist societies and cultures (2004). These thoroughly thought-out and more intricate EMT ideas have not made it into the Eco-Mods’ rather exclusive manifesto, which offers lots of unreferenced global statistics, without citation to this long trail of academic research by the EMT theorists. This certainly makes the eco-mod’s manifesto look like an incredibly dumbed-down reiteration of a more complicated and well-researched EMT position.

Narrow-minded, Informatic Worldviews

‘Beware of simple solutions to complex problems’, Monbiot states. Although the Internet, transport networks and information communication technology shrinks space and time in such a way as the world, or “Spaceship Earth”, has become a “global village”, my concern is that it is leading to an incredibly narrow-minded worldview. We can click and see Samoa, for example. Infographics do the neat trick of condensing lengthy global reports into a sharable JEPGs. but this also makes sumerisable the complex dynamics that deliver people their food. This oversimplified worldview that technologies such as Google Earth offers might develop incredibly over-simplified, monolithic understanding of “The World”. Thereby encouraging certain cultural insensitivities and ethnocentric value judgments; cultivating morals and ethics that promote and unwarranted use of the word “We” and the development of ideal-type “World Goals” in economic and political policy designs.

As history has taught us, generalised goalposts tend to drastically overlook vast complexities of humans populations, human cultures, at national, regional or local levels – I agree with Monbiot. Marx and Engels’ theories of society and nature contributed to the starvation of 40-60 million people in China under Mao’s uncritical deployment of Marx’s theory of social and agricultural advancement (Dikötter, 2011). Any anthropologists, ethnographer, social scientist critically engaged in local-level research will tell you from local interactions that general, broad theories are quickly blown apart by the levels of complexity experienced first hand within local human populations. These needn’t be ethnographic observations of indigenous communities or “developing” nations. It could also be observations of peripheral, rural communities or impoverished urban communities held within these so called “developed” nations. These more local observations might well include issues of patriarchy, capital-labour relations, social power relations, police brutality, as well as more general and ineffable feelings of discontentment, ambiguity, frustration or confusion that seem to stem from modern globalisation, global market volatilities, mass production and mass consumption processes, and a growing metabolic rift between society and nature.

Whilst entering into global debates you get dragged into global debates, so I will conclude with a local insight. The other day I went to a farmers market in England on a village green. Trailers from the 1950s and tools from the 1930s were being bought and sold there with £10 or £20 paper notes. Not as ornaments or collectors items but to be put back into agricultural production systems that continue exist in “Modern England”. While people throw around ideas of “modernisation”, the problem is that people have to pay for these new technologies and if they money is not around while commodity prices are down. Smaller-scale farmers  are not only unable to purchase these technologies but the larger farmers on global markets who can afford them are benefiting more from intensification, thereby pushing small-scale further into smaller-scale production, and further into the depths of rural poverty. These smaller farmers, farm workers, farming sons and daughters or downshifting ecologists or “eco-freaks”, thrive on the countryside land and rural culture. It is entirely unfair that they should be forced to ecologically modernise or perish for the sake of unwarranted and futurological visions of progress, modernisation and development.


Dickens P. (2004) Society & Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dikötter F. (2011) Mao’s Great Famine, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Pls.
Huber J. ( 2004) New Technologies and Environmental Innovation, Cheltnhman: Edware Elgar Publishing Limited.
Mol APJ. (2003) Globalization and Enviromental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy, London: The MIT Press.
Mol APj. (2008) Environmental Reform in the Information Age: The Contours of Informational Governance, New York: Cambridge University Press.
UN/FAO. (2014) Family Farmers: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth. http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

My Dilemma with Grounded Theory: Incorporate External Theories or Keep Grounded Ideas Naive and Pure?

by James Addicott  2014 ©

I have chosen my topic, hypothesis, written a literature review and plan for the next two years of PhD research and in my early days of generating a “grounded theory” I have struck a theoretical crisis that I can’t seem to get past. To put it simply, the issue here is: do I keep my grounded theory “pure” or should I incorporate other social and cultural theories that I discover along the path my research takes, and perhaps risk “polluting” the grounded theory generated?
XXXXX To give you the background story: I’m interested in “high-tech” agriculture and they way it affects farmers in England. Going back to the classical sociological theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber, George Simmel, Michele Foucault, or contemporaries such as Manuel Castells, Michael Mann (and many, many more) then there are lots of ideas about technological advancement and agriculture that could – theoretically – speak for themselves. I want to put these “abstract” ideas to the test and see how they work out in the “real world.” I have therefore turned to grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Charmaz, 2006) which comes with the promise of being able to generate theory that ‘fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and layman alike’ (1967: 1) – sounds great!
XXXXX There is a kind of rebellious and defiant edge to grounded theory. It kind of turns its back on theories generated by “armchair-sociologists” and takes the researched people in control of generating a coherent social and/or cultural theory as to why or how they are doing whatever it is they are doing. I like rule breaking and defiance, so again this sounds great. Furthermore, “field work,” “field notes” or “grounding” sound so appropriate for conducting research into farms, farmers, and farming.
XXXXX But, there is a “but.” While conducting my research I am not only hoping to generate grounded theory. I am also looking at statistical data whilst also reading other scholarly articles, which includes research conducted into similar areas, as well as continuing to read the grand macro-theories about societies and culture. By doing so, other ideas, theories, or concepts appear that are relevant to my central research question – and, as much as we might like to turn our noses up to these “grandiose” theorists, they haven’t been paid to do nothing: many of their “grand ideas” still hold some theoretical weight.

XXXXX I will explain how this dillema is coming about in a bit more methodological detail: In their book Grounded Theory: a Practical Guide, Birks and Mills (2011) seem to sum up the establishment of grounded theory very coherently whist also offering a very practical, step-by-step guide on how to go about generating and abstracting a grounded theory from a local site. Like the other books that I have read on the subject, this begins by grasping codes or local concepts – initial coding is defined as: ‘the process of fracturing the data in order to compare incident with incident… and being the process of comparison between the codes applied’ (174). The steps following this initial capture of local concepts looks something like this:

  • Initial coding and categorization of data
  • Concurrent data generation or collection and analysis
  • Writing memos
  • Theoretical sampling
  • Constant comparative analysis using inductive and abductive logic
  • Theoretical sensitivity
  • Intermediate coding
  • Selecting a core category
  • Theoretical saturation
  • Theoretical integration

XXXXX After conducting an initial focus group and getting a list of codes and categories, and after conducting lots of participant observations and compiling a memo, I am currently drafting up a list of questions to ask my interviewees. Following the method of grounded theory (which to be fair isn’t rigid or fixed in any way), these questions should aim to constantly comparative analysis or ‘the constant comparison of incident to incident, incident to codes, codes to codes, codes to categories, and categories to categories’ (11). In other words, the questions I should write now should go back and re-interrogate the initial set of concepts I got from my field further.  Theoretical saturation, as I understand it, is when this iterative process has been carried out so many times that the theory has virtually solidified.
XXXXX Planned for the future are a lot more focus groups and face-to-face interviews. However, like I’ve already mentioned, reading literature from Marxist or neo-Marxist theory, other agricultural research projects that draw from symbolic interactionism or Bourdieusian cultural theory, then ideas pop up about why things might be taking place that are external to this little sphere of grounded theory that has been on the boil. And, I am very precious and protective about my participants, and the cultural field they represent, since I’ve been offered good access to them and don’t want to spoil the ideas that might emerge. In a way then I really want to keep them enclosed, sectioned off and away from the light, nevertheless, some of these ideas contradict the ideas of my participants; in fact, some of them directly challenge the ideas that my participants have about their own motivations or actions. Should their ideas (and my ideas) be challenged?
XXXXX What should I do in such a situation? Should I let this unchallenged and pure or naïeve theory develop of its own accord? Wait to see if my participants raise such contradictions as my research continues on? Bring these external socio-cultural concepts (or, external theoretical codes and categories) into my questions and let my participants thrash them out like intelligent beings? Should I keep things pure and simple, or make them murky and muddy? “Answers on a postcard,” please?

Birks M and Mills J. (2011) Grounded Theory: a Practical Guide, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Charmaz K. (2006) Constructing grounded Theory: A practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Glaser B and Strauss A. (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: stratergies for qualitative research, New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Experiencing Dyslexia at the University of Cambridge

by James Addicott
St Edmunds College
Email: jea56@cam.ac.uk

Dyslexia is not only a struggle with written language but with bureaucracy in general. Some people don’t believe in dyslexia and in the past I have herd it referred to as “an excuse for lazy people.” I was diagnosed as being severely dyslexic at age of thirty having just started my undergraduate degree. I don’t necessarily believe in “dyslexia” either. How I have come to understand it, and how I explain it to other non-dyslexic people, is that not everyone can draw. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much shared or common power in drawing pictures. It would be quite nice if there were because I am actually quite good at drawing. Writing, however, has proved throughout history to be incredibly powerful. For better or for worse, just think how many lives The Word of God or The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has affected.

photoAs a mature student at Cambridge, and someone who actually enjoys the creative process of theorising and writing, then studying for a PhD represents the ultimate challenge in a struggle with written words. There is help available; the disability centre at this university is as friendly and welcoming as the other universities that I have studied at in the past. However, once again I am confronted with the same problem that I have encountered my whole life: bureaucracy. When applying for any of the funding or services that are available for people in my situation the first thing you are given is huge wads of paperwork to fill in, complete and return. The situation is almost as bizarre as handing a blind person a pamphlet to read to discover how they can get help reading. If dyslexia is recognised as a disorder that affects people in reading, then why hand them huge amounts of documentation?

What would actually make my life easier is if someone would just take the time to talk to me: discover what help I need and make recommendations. The whole process could be done verbally and that would also save on paper and the environment. The problem, I can only assume, is that this would make applying for disability allowances far too easy: what is required as a regimented form of bureaucratic gate-keeping: all the relevant boxes need ticking and paperwork processed before help, support and subsidies become available. This just leads to the most idiosyncratic situation, where people who struggle with reading and writing are forced to do even more paperwork at the time of their lives where they are surrounded with books to read and dissertations to write.

There have been theories of the Internet and computer networks alleviating the pressure on dyslexic students. Without a doubt the non-linear layout of interconnected web pages and automatic spell checkers on computers have contributed towards the successes in my academic career. However, bureaucratic institutions have in no way been fragmented by computing technologies, like some theorists predicted they would. While dyslexic websites are made to look bright and bubbly, easy to read and fun, it is almost inevitable that while searching for support for your disability what you will finally be given on your quest is one or several documents that will need to be download, read and understood, filled in, printed off and then handed in. There are lots of changes that I would like to make in the world: one of them is that people would lessen the amount of reading a “word blind,” dyslexic student needs to do, while assisting her or him to advance in their academic career. Please, help dyslexic students to battle paperwork bureaucracy instead of making them victims of it.

by James Addicott, St Edmunds College: Email: jea56@cam.ac.uk

Review: Silicon Valley Comes to the UK: the “Big Data Summit” at Cambridge University

Venue: Lady Mitchell Hall, the University of Cambridge. 8th November: 2013.

“Silicon Valley Comes to the UK brings leading Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders to the UK to explore ideas and to ignite local entrepreneurship.” (http://www.svc2uk.com/about/)


Social and cultural theory is inherently pessimistic and shrouded in pessimism and this becomes ever so apparent when attending talks and conferences that showcase new techno-scientific innovations. Silicon Valley Comes to the UK was a display of sheer technological-optimism that innovators, developers, entrepreneurs (or “capitalists”) radiate when discussing current realities and future possibilities. The question that rattles through the brain is: “is this just blind-faith in technology?” The even more worrying question for anyone critically in-tuned is: “What is being hidden?” or: “What aren’t we being told here?” As a starting point, the very fact that six speakers can speak of a unified vision of entire world change without challenge is extremely disconcerting.

The big word I was alerted to in tonight’s discussions about Big Data is not ‘data’, ‘algorithms’, ‘communications’, ‘storage’, ‘volume’, ‘velocity’, ‘adaptability’, ‘talent’, ‘access’ or ‘aid’ but the unchallenged, inconsiderate and unjustified use of the word “We”. Ethnocentrism – i.e. imposing a culture’s values and beliefs onto other groups – has been a debate raging at the heart of culture studies, anthropology and sociology and a problem that remains widely discussed but entirely unresolved. Nevertheless, technological-optimists of the military and corporate world seem to override these issues as they crack on with converting everyone and everything into data, algorithms, pixels, nodes, blips, stats, charts and PowerPoint presentations, for “Our” own good “We” are told.

Firstly, let me just outline the fact that I have at no stage offered consent to being included under the umbrella that the word “We” represents. Therefore, anyone wishing to use to word “We” in reference to every human being around the world would need my consent before doing so. Furthermore, I would just like to add, that if I do decide to opt out of “The Singularity”, then I would also like to hold the right to sue anyone claiming The Singularity to be entirely singular, since without my participation, it wouldn’t be true.
Therefore, I find it incredibly difficult then when John Katzman from Noodle Education states, without any hesitation, that: “It turns out that We all agree on what the K12 system is supposed to do!” – referring to the data analysis software which will monitor the performance of students after they leave school to offer a more flexible or adaptive learning environment: algorithmic software that “learns your learning style”. His justification we that ‘We want students that are going to survive and thrive in the world economy… who are going to have jobs and not be unemployed and make enough money to be happy with those jobs. We want people who are giving back to the community, they vote and they treat each other well, and, give to charity, and finally we want happy people who have low obesity, low alcoholism, low suicide rates, and, err, high metrics for contentment’.

Personally, I don’t quite remember “Us” being asked about whether or not “We” wanted any or all of those things? In regard to Katzman’s comments on the moderated consumption of alcohol, I personally know a few hardened drinkers who would fail to agree on his comments: lessening the extent to which his “We” statements hold to be universally true. Furthermore, How I interpret the use of software that monitors students income levels, alcohol consumption or classroom performance is: “if you are a non-performative student without talents to suit our system then your after-school, career-life (working in McDonalds, perhaps) can be better predetermined by our talent-seeking software.” Again, if “We” are implementing such a system to improve our performativity, I don’t quite remember opting, voting or offering consent for inclusion. It is just going to happen since “We all” want it. At this point in the talk I began to loose faith in democracy of the digital sort – this just sounds like American top-down dictation of the sort Henry Ford used to promote.

It is not just “Us” that are being affected by this big push towards the “We-society” but it seems that “We” are also busy extending “Our” global embrace into areas of “Our” globe that we have left untouched. Megan Smith from Google (x) pointed out that ‘Europe is incredibly connected and 900 million people in Africa are not in the conversation’. Smith then refers to these people as “our colleagues” while explaining how in the future the global embrace will be extended towards these disconnected regions. ‘Also NGOs’, she claims, ‘will no longer kind of boss people around with an aim of what you should do, but instead transition that to the talent networks and find out what those guys want to do’ – I am presuming here that Smith hasn’t asked the 900 million disconnected people in Africa whether or not they wish to connect to our Western “innovation network” or not. It would seem that without any kind of democratic procedure or qualitative assessment, like Katzman, their consent is already presumed or taken as a granted.

In a recent conversation with a fellow student who had spent three months cycling down through Africa she told me a story about how while in Ethiopia the children there came running up to her and were laughing out loud as she tried to cycle up a hill. She described them as having fresh skin, healthy bodies and bright white teeth with massive smiles. – My reaction to this was wrong, therefore, I apologise in advance but this mistake itself is significant. – I was taken back by her story, shocked, since what has been imbedded in my mind when hearing the word “Ethiopia” is images transmitted through the mainstream media in England during the 1980s – around the same time that Band Aid had released their number-one pop song Feed The World. During that time, images to famine and starving children were pumped into the living rooms of families thorough the UK. To hear her reports of healthy children in Ethiopia, then, contradicted this collective-memory stored in my mind. That was significant. Without the media, without being connected, it was only her words, her personal account or her personal experience, that challenged this preconception in my mind.

Although I am not immediately connected to these people in Ethiopia, I wish for it to remain this way. Although I am not immediately connected to those children, I am happy they are smiling, running, jumping and happy. In light of this, I can not help but wonder, where is the qualitative evidence can prove that there is a fundament need for these children to be connected to Western media networks to improve their lives and increase their happiness? Where is the comparative qualitative evidence to suggest that Western children are far happier than these Ethiopian children? It seems that we are hell bent on refining and understanding Big Data but have yet to consider further the philosophical or qualitative question regarding human-happiness. In terms of human welfare, I would rather approach that question first before encoding everyone of “Us” into a data-riddled format with the aim of securing and standardising a lifelong happiness for All – regardless of individual or collective consent. Agree with them or not, Western, democratic-ethnocentrism is going global and “We” are all onboard.

James E. Addicott: jea56@cam.ac.uk
PhD Student @ University of Cambridge #cybernetics #culture#sociology #semiotics #actor-network #criticalrealism #posthuman

Phallogocentrism; the Politics of Binaries and Strategic Writing in Female/Male Ethnography

Phallogocentrism; the Politics of Binaries and Strategic Writing in Female/Male Ethnography
By James Addicott (2012): jamesaddi@hotmail.comtwofaces

“Phallogocentrism” is defined by Jacques Derrida as: ‘the system of metaphysical oppositions’ (1978: 20) predominant in Western philosophy that has until recently been written by men. Donna Haraway argues that this black/white and divisive logic has produced ‘dualisms’ that ‘have all been systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals’. The examples she offers of these ‘troubling dualisms’ are ‘self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resources, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man’. These divides have been written into Western culture and it is difficult to conceive of society and culture, or produce knowledge about the phenomenon of the world, without the use of them. Haraway determines that ‘the phallogocentrism of the West’ as being inscribed by ‘White Capitalist Patriarchy’ (1991:117; 175; 197).Like Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles argues that it was not necessarily Derrida’s philosophy that exposed this logic of binary divisions but the new age of ‘Informatics’[1]; communications, technology and science were to highlight these divides and this ill-conceived Western logic in knowledge production. Hayles states that:

‘…the dialectic between absence and presence came clearly into focus with the advent of deconstruction because it was already being displaced as a cultural presupposition by randomness and pattern. Presence and absence were forced into visibility, so to speak, because there were already losing their constitutive power to form the ground for discourse. In this sense deconstruction is the child of an information age, formulating its theories from strata pushed upward by the emerging substrata beneath. (1999: 44)

This suggests that in the postmodern era the information-revolution will expose binary distinctions set in place by bourgeois, white, Western men. Living without binary division set in place by language should resolve social oppression such as sexism (man/woman), classism (bourgeois/proletarian) or racism (black/white). Hayles and Haraway argues that Informatics offer posthuman cyborgs an escape from the ‘maze of dualisms’ (Haraway, 1991: 181) and ‘fashion images of (themselves) that accurately reflect the complex interplays that ultimately make the entire world one system’ (Hayles, 1999: 290). However, deconstructionism was not everything it was cracked up to be. Haraway notes:

I, and others, started out wanting a strong tool for deconstructing the truth claims of hostile science by showing the radical historical specificity, and so contestability, of every layer of the onion of scientific and technological constructions, and we end up with a kind of epistemological electro-shock therapy, what far from ushering us into the high stakes tables of the game of contesting public truths, lays us out on the table with self-induced multiple personality disorder. (1991: 197)

To this problem of a “self-induced multiple personality disorder”, Haraway confesses that: ‘Binaries, rather suspect for the feminist I know, can turn out to be nice little tools from time to time’ (111). It seems that binaries remain an essential part of language and theory. But one problem exists; by feminists re-deploying male binaries, Dely argues that there is a ‘risk is that feminism might model itself after the phallogocentric exemplar in an inverse manner, taking up again its norms and representations’ (2007: 9). The question this leaves deconstructionism is with, is: between the men and woman whose texts are more binate in their logic, and, therefore phallogocentric?
In response to this, this essay will critically compare the writing strategies adopted by male and female ethnographers. It will cross compare a selection of ethnographic texts written by men and women on the topics of sexuality, prostitution and autoethnographic representations of the self.  In these areas this essay will look for the uses of binaries in the construction of the author’s arguments. It will present the thesis that written binaries, far from being “useful little devices” – as Haraway claims –, are in fact being deployed power-tools; appropriated (knowingly) in a post-modern, post-industrial, post-Informatic and post-deconstructs age in ethnographic reports written by men and women. In this respect, like language or writing, phallogocentrism persists in Western academia; it is a logic of domination that academics are bound up in and cannot become disengaged from. In the conclusion the finding presented will show that the ethnographies written by women (more than men) are inclined to deploy phallogocentric logic as counter-active form of argument construction as Dely (2007) suggests. Although women are more susceptible to phallogocentrism by inverting its logic they also mediate and prolong the continuation of phallogocentrism. It is of my opinion that men/women should not shy away from this masculine logic, since it seems impossible to extinguish, but persist in using it as a power-tool to advance or deconstruct both pro-masculine and pro-feminine arguments until some kind of middle-ground can be achieved.

Written Gender & Sexuality

The first male and female ethnographic texts to analyse are both written on the topic of sexuality in Greece. Hirschon’s (1993) essay Open Body/Closed Space: The Transformation of Female Sexuality was published as part of a series of papers in a book entitled Defining Females: The Nature of Women in Society. Shirley Ardener edited the book with the task of examining ‘certain basic assumptions relating to the definition of women’ (Ardener, 1993: vii). Hirschon had spent a year in Piraeus (Kokkinia) in the main port of Greece. The focus of her study was ‘the examination of certain perceptions of the sexual nature of women, showing how this is thought to differ from men’ (51).
Conversely, Loizos’ (1994) essay entitled A broken mirror Masculine sexuality in Greek ethnography, was published in a book entitled Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (eds. Cornwall and Lindisfarne). In the preface the editor’s describe the aim of the book as, ‘a sustained cross-cultural enquiry (into) local experiences of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (which are) deconstructed to reveal the complexities of gendering and gendered difference’ (1994: intro). Loizos argues that, ‘I am not happy with statements about ‘masculinity’ in Greek culture as substantive generalizations, even though it is easy to concede that some clustering of related concepts exists’, furthermore, ‘(t)he idea has been to suggest that not only is there no single sense of masculinity in that abstraction called ‘Greek culture’, but that from one local context, institution, domain or discourse to another we can easily find contrasting ways of being masculine’ (66; 78). Therefore, one hand there is a feminist text that aims to deploy binaries and one the other hand a masculine text that aims to deconstruct any clear-cut generalisations.

From the outset Hirschon’s text depends heavily on the use of binary distinctions to construct her argument. The text aims to, ‘examine beliefs regarding (women’s) physical and biological attributes and their position as these relate to the states of ‘open’ and ‘closed’’ (51). She argues that, ‘(t) The theme which unites these is that of control and restrain, which is exercised both externally – through social convention, and internally – as a moral force’ (52). Before entering into the main body of the text, Hirschon’s introduction has already established the dichotomies: men/women, open/closed, external/internal.

In his attempt deconstruct the binaries that Hirschon reveals, Loizos citing Demetrios J. Constantelos’ anthropologic work on Greece, states, ‘young men… since they do not know women, are pastriki, that is, clean and pure’, and consequently, ‘male virginity is the ideal’ (1994: 75). Thus, Hirschon’s rigidly constructed nature/culture dichotomy becomes slightly blurred by Loizos assertion that the sexuality of young Greek men are also constrained by cultural determination. However, it should be noted here that this is not a direct, empirical observation made by Loizos himself, but in referance to Demetrios. Nevertheless, a strategically placed shadow of doubt begins to appear over one of Hirschon’s clear-cut division: men/women.

In regard to issues of gender and space in Greece, Hirschon notes that an important part of Kokkinian culture is expressed in the idiom: ‘Get married and open your house’ (1993: 55). Hirschon continues to note that ‘to the sexual dichotomy is added a spatial dimension: the locus of the woman is domestic, within the home… while the place of the man is… in the outside world’ (ibid). Her argument places open/closed woman inside the inside/outside divides in socio-symbolic spaces. On the topic of domestication and social space, Loizos presents to the reader another ‘kind of man’, ‘who whom I term ‘domesticated men’’. Loizos explains that ‘(t)hey cannot stay at home, but their participation in coffee-shop and tavern is a much more measured affair. They do not emphasize their autonomy, but stress their constrained condition as responsible householders with obligations to support women and children’ (1994: 77). While such a statement supports Hirschon’s arguments that the male space is the public space, it also compromises Hirschon’s idea of the inner moral force that women alone are subjected to by the use of the words “some” and “kinds”; some men are also internally restrained by external moral cultural codes in male spaces.
What we can draw from the analysis of these first two texts is that they have both been written in a post-deconstructionist era. Whereas Hirschon actively deploys several binaries to construct a collective narrative for the group of women she wishes to empower (men/women, internal/external, inside/outside, open/closed), Loizos writing aims to fragment blur or complicate any fixed boundaries. The pro-feminist text deploys phallogocentric logic while the pro-masculine text is deconstructionist.

Writing Prostitution

Carla De Meis ethnographic research into Brazilian prostitution (2002) and Neil McKeganey research into Scottish prostitution reveal similar inside/outside, home/street divides to those discussed above.
De Meis fieldwork with prostitutes began in 1989 as part of a medical research group working in a prostitution zone called Mangue in Rio de Janeiro. Her ethnography borrows Brazilian anthropologist Roberto Da Matta’s (1991) idea of there being two ‘complex dichotomies’ in Brazil. According to Da Matta, these complex dichotomies ‘create the metaphors of “house” and “street” as two essential sociological categories for understanding Brazilian society’. De Meis explains that, ‘(t)he universe of the street… is a place of distrust, anonymity, incomprehension, and… “every man for himself,” the law of the jungle. Accordingly, the symbolic space of the house is orderly and peaceful, while the street is a dangerous place characterized by its lack of rules’. The idiom “every man for himself” does imply, as Hirschon has argued, that the outside world of the street is a masculine space. However unlike Hirschon, De Meis’ text does briefly take into account the troubles that men also encounter in this outside space. She proceeds to argue that this dichotomy ‘reflects the rationale frequently found in traditional societies’, in which ‘the ideas of “good” and “bad,” “pure” and “dirty,” and “high” and “low” are intrinsic’ (2002: 4; 7). This suggests that that social dilemma that a Brazilian prostitute repeatedly faces in her line of work is crossing the binary inside/outside: inside the feminine space of the home (good/pure/high) and outside in the masculine space of the street (bad/dirty/low). This would suggest that De Meis’ findings draw many parallels with Hirschon’s work in Greece; that social spaces are divided into inside/outside, male/female but De Meis goes one step further.
De Meis concludes that the Brazilian prostitutes she has researched are not outcast from society but rather trapped within a third “liminal space”. Victor Turner argued that ‘liminal situations or liminal personae’ are to be found in-between rigid social structures in a dimension he refers to as “communitas”. He explains that, ‘(c)ommunitas is almost always thought of or portrayed by actors as a timeless condition, an eternal now, as “a moment in and out of time,” or as a state to which the structural view of time is not applicable’ (1974: 265; 238); like an eternal-reoccurrence or continuing present continuous. De Meis explains that for Brazilian prostitutes ‘(l)ife is lived moment by moment’, she further states about Da Matta’s complex dichotomy that: ‘(w)e must be careful not to view this model as static. As with any other model, it is, in essence, arbitrary. Reality is dynamic and defies classification. People’s subjectivity is like a river that never stops flowing’ (14; 20). The issue of Brazilian prostitution is clearly not as clear-cut or black and white in a cultural, social, spatial, and linguistic sense as Da Matta’s division might suggest. Therefore, by a pre-existing binary in her text and then incorporating her research findings, backed by Turners theory of liminality, her text deconstructs Da Matta’s “complex dichotomies” by positioning Turners liminal space in-between his static division.
While De Meis is concerned with the spread of the HIV virus in Brazil, McKeganey’s text considers political idea of decriminalising prostitution zones in Scottish urban spaces. What is strikingly strange about his research is that it takes an approach that can only be described as ethnographic “curb-crawling”. He notes:

When I drove past a few minutes later she did not look into the car at all and I was not at all sure she was working although when I then pulled up she approached the car and asked if I was looking for business. When I explained to her what I was doing she said that I should have been in the area the previous night because it was ‘really busy’. When I asked her to estimate how many women had been working on the previous night she said, ‘At least three that I know of’. (154)

The divide that separates the interviewer from interviewee, self from other, is defined by the boundaries of the car’s windows and shell that draws a division between external and internal space.
McKeganey’s text is also spatially aware. He writes: ‘small numbers of women could be seen walking slowly along the harbour front or standing in doorways in the adjacent streets’ and has a quantitative focus on numbers and prices: ‘During a series of two-hour fieldwork visits to Aberdeen it was common to see around 30 to 40 women working on the streets within the tolerance zone area, with additional small numbers of women working outside the zone’ (154-156). The legal boundaries that define these zones are taken for granted; his observations are on multiple bodies in space, as a means of politically challenging those divisions. By including their own interview responses, and taking a more qualitative approach to issues of space, his text relies a lot less upon binaries in constructing the narratives of the prostitutes he observed. However, by researching prostitutes working inside/outside the legal/illegal zones in urban spaces his own ethnographic observations are naively phallogocentric and re-establish the divisions that are already set in place. While considering ways to redefine these boundaries he seems blissfully unaware of the enumerative, objective and ‘pimp-like’ domination of the spaces he observes as he calculates and quantifies human bodies in those spaces in capitalist terms.

Writing ‘The Self’ Strategically

Autoethnography, or writing ethnography about personal experiences is a practice that Ann Oakley (2007) explains, ‘is often seen negatively, as a form of inexcusable self-indulgence, especially in academia’ (23). Geertz (1988) refers to this form of ethnography as an “I-Witness account”, which he distastefully refers to as ‘author-saturated texts’ (141). It is on these grounds that Geertz picks apart Malinowski’s diary that was written in New Guinea in 1914-15 and 1917-18 and criticises him for contracting, what Barthes called, “diary disease”. Oakley takes a totally different view of autobiographical texts and argues that, ‘writing autobiographically is especially important for women: words, the text, construct subjectivity and therefore the authentic self in opposition to distorting cultural ideas’ (2007: 23). In terms of linguistic divisions, it is important and relevant to this essay how the self – the “I” – is represented within the text in opposition to the “Other(s).”
Malinowski’s diary continuously establishes a boundary between “I” and “They”. “The village” and “villagers” are referred to in derogatory racist terms: ‘neolithic savages’ (Geertz, 1988: 74): ‘I was terribly vexed by the fact that this nigger has dared to speak to me in such a manner’ (1967: 272), ‘”Exterminate the brutes’” (Geertz, 1988: ibid). “They” are fixed into a subordinate position while Malinowski’s “I” is placed into a dominant position. This racist, ethnocentric, Western, discourse is precisely the type of phallogocentric science that has prompted Derridaian deconstructionism.
Oakley’s text also constructs a binary between I/Them. She writes herself as Othered from the doctors she visited after breaking her hand in an ice skating accident. This is achieved by stating that the notes they wrote about her body where written in, ‘a foreign language, a language of insiders, like the freemason’s handshake’ (12). The deployment of freemasonry as a metaphor is significant since it suggests white, western, masculine, and ruling-class control – similar to the ‘bourgeois, male-dominant, and racist’ (133) superiority that Haraway rejects. This forms her written-based dichotomy between “I” and “Them”. However her diary notes are written to appeal to an external feminist audience. Aware of this, by separating “I” from “Them”, she also alienates “Us” from “Them” insiders. “They” are fixed into a dominant position while “We” readers are placed into her subordinate “underdog” position. The distance is formed through the medium of two texts, “her” writing versus “their” written notes.
Although Malinowski’s self/other, superior/interior divides are painfully obvious, the most striking thing about his diary is the way that the local villagers, customs and cultures are all subdued to the external world; nature. The environment, places or surrounding space are the main focus of his text and often subsume his own self. ‘Cold, damp day, sky and sea great; the mountains blue, hung with mist’, he writes, ‘(m)arvelous sheet of rain hanging over the sea like a curtain, coming closer’ (129; 157);

I sat on the beach for a while; start; I thought about objective reality: the stars, the sea, the enormous emptiness of the universe in which man is lots; the moments when you merge with objective reality, when the trauma of the universe senses to be a stage and becomes a performance – these are the moments of true nirvana.

In his text he is connected to the external world. Sometimes losing his sense of self to become an object of that universe. He is continuously reminded of this objective world as it affects his moods, feelings, health, and emotions. He describes this as a “mixed identity of circumstance.” His feelings, moods and emotions are all associated to the external environment and issues of physical health: ‘The dark (mass) of the island rising behind (creates) a strange mood’ (227), he writes in one passage. Normally, he writes himself as active, male, Western authority. But at the same time in a passive role, subject to the control of his ‘objective’ environment – of which women and savages are also described objectively, as objects (see women: 273, natives: 235).
Active/passive is a binary that Oakley also deploys. She manages to grammatically position herself into the role of the subject by changing the active sentence into the passive: ‘I broke my arm,’ is what I find myself saying, but, of course, I didn’t. My arm was broken by the sinister ice’ (14, italics added). Therefore, the external ice, and the rules of the ice-skating ring where she broke her wrist, is written as an active, external phenomenon that violently, forcefully, and suddenly intrudes into her internal world – ‘she’ becomes the victim, the subject of the sentence. The corporeal violation is external, and is written so that she is the internal victim, her recovery process is written in the active: ‘I’m am doing something for myself’ (19). Both authors write themselves as having agency but victims of an external world. However, in this active/passive division Oakley writes herself as a sudden victim of the external world, and split between the ridged divides of internal/external, active/passive, whereas Malinowski’s text represents him as constantly connected to an external objective world that affects him in waves or a tidal-like motion. This suggests that Oakley is more susceptible to the external, sharp, divisions that extrude into her “Self”.
‘Needless to say a terrible melancholy, gray like the sky all around, swirling around the edge of my inner horizon (54), writes Malinowski while filling up with despair about the realization of the outbreak of World War II; ‘Suddenly I tumble back into the real milieu with which I am also in contact’ (235), he writes about his daydreams while sitting on a beach. Malinowski’s inner world is a subjective dreamland and the relationship between his mind and body is never discussed other than in the sense that the mind can sometimes drift away. Ultimately, the mind, body, and environment are connected. Conversely, Oakley writes about the mind and the body as separate phenomenon. She states: ‘Although we live in our bodies, our social and personal identities are separate from them’ (15). She then begins to relate this division to academia by stating that, ‘academics repeat a prominent cultural motif in shunning corporeality as a subject of discourse: the cerebral is better’. (19, italics added) Her division between body/mind (identity), corporeal/cerebral, becomes engendered when she argues that ‘studying the body is a bit like studying women, who historically have been seen as more about bodies than mind and personal identities’ (20). Therefore, the mental, the mind, the ‘dominant’ academic appreciation of the cerebral, becomes engendered as ‘male’ while the body is engendered as ‘female’. Her appeal is for the latter (female) to overcome the former (male). “Women” in her argument are internal, embodied, subjective, passive, recipients of an external, active, academic, rational and culturally distortive, “Malinowskian-style” world. Academia is one political site where passivitvity, domination, external victimisation, rape can be overcome, rationally, actively, through the body, through the hand, and through writing. In the spirit of Haraway and Hayles, she argues that the aim is for feminists to overcome the divides her text identifies.
Malinowski book includes several binaries (e.g. self/other, mind/body, male/female, civilized/primitive, active/passive) but these still need to be “dug-up” from the text before they can be deconstructed. However, the construction of Oakley’s argument actively toys with similar sets of dualisms, which are all exposed and lay on the table for the reader to relate to. Written in a postmodern, poststructural, and post-Derridean era, we can only accept that this was a deliberate strategy on her behalf.


This essay has presented a selection of texts written by men and women, masculinists or femininists. While Phallogocentrism has underpinned the theoretical frameworks that this essay has deployed and understood as a dominant, patriarchal, masculine, construct, the logic of phallogocentrism has been more evident in feminist texts. It seems as if in the battle of genders, feminists are fighting fire with fire. On one side of the spectrum, Hirschon, Oakley, McKeganey and Malinowski’s texts can only be descried as binary-heavy. While De Meis’ anthropology also deploys several binaries, they are opened by her inclusion of Turner’s concept of liminality. On the opposite side of the spectrum Loizos has actively deconstructed feminist arguments by complicating any fixed notions of male/female sexuality. All the writings from men have shown little or no awareness of the binaries in social spaces that Hirschon and De Meis have written about. This is interesting as it suggests that space is still appropriated by men, as it was by Malinowski in the 1910s – particularly McKeganey’s legal/illegal approach to tolerant/illegal zones for prostitution. Whereas the binary constructions set in place by men, especially in social spaces, feminists in retaliation are using logic of the phallogocentric.
Most academic texts extend two hands to the readers: ‘on the one hand… on the other hand’. Situations in the ‘real’ social world are far less clear-cut than academic texts – which are all written strategically – would often like to admit. As De Meis argues: “reality is dynamic and defies classification.” However, since theory itself is based upon generalisations, then social movements such as feminism, masculism, multiculturalism, liberalism, socialism and capitalism, etc. will require the binary logic of metaphysics and language, as well as the protection from the oppositional forces that deconstructionism can provide; a build and destroy logic. Mastering the dynamic of solid-modern phallogocentric logic with liquid-modern deconstructionism is the challenge for situating knowledge in the postmodern future.


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[1] ‘Following Haraway’, Hayles defines “Informatics” as ‘the technologies of information as well as the biological, social, linguistic and cultural changes that initiate, accompany, and complicate their development’ (1999: 192)