Category Archives: 13 – Post-Modernism


Discussion on Pomo
1. If what you observe and the conclusions you draw from it depend on your positionality, is objective knowledge possible?
2. Do rituals always reveal cultural depth?
3. What are some of your rituals and do you consider them “culturally deep?”


A fellow blogger wrote a great description of the importance of this piece of art to a wider audience here:

Rene Magritte‘s piece, which translates to, “This is not a pipe.” No, in fact, it is a picture of a pipe. It’s not the actual thing. Magritte’s piece (which was actually done decades before Warhol) illustrates what I believe Warhol was trying to convey with nearly all of his art. Warhol was trying to tell us that we were not looking at whatever was the subject of his pieces, but rather, a representation of them. It’s almost as if Warhol was channeling Magritte through his art, though until I made that realization, I had never heard of a connection between the two artists before.

In Anthropology, this artwork normally indexes Michel Foucault’s work  in the following excerpt from Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (1994: 200-202).

6. Non-affirmative Painting.*

Separation between linguistic signs and plastic elements; equivalence of resemblance and affirmation. These two principles constituted the tension in classical painting, because the second reintroduced discourse (affirmation exists only where there is speech) into an art from which the linguistic element was rigorously excluded. Hence the fact that classical painting spoke – and spoke constantly – while constituting itself entirely outside language; hence the fact that it rested silently in a discursive space; hence the fact that it provided, beneath itself, a kind of common ground where it could restore the bonds of signs and the image. Magritte knits verbal signs and plastic elements together, but without referring them to a prior isotopism. He skirts the base of affirmative discourse on which resemblance calmly reposes, and he brings pure similitudes and nonaffirmative verbal statements into play within the instability of a disoriented volume and an unmapped space. A process whose formulation is in some sense given by Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

  1. To employ a calligram where are found, simultaneously present and visible, image, text, resemblance, affirmation and their common ground.
  2. Then suddenly to open up, so that the calligram immediately decomposes and disappears, leaving as a trace only its own absence.
  3. To allow discourse to collapse of its own weight and to acquire the visible shape of letters. Letters which, insofar as they are drawn, enter into an uncertain, indefinite relation, confused with the drawing itself – but minus any area to serve as a common ground.
  4. To allow similitudes, on the other to multiply of themselves, to be born from their own vapour and to rise endlessly into an ether where they refer to nothing more than themselves.
  5. To verify clearly, at the end of the operation, that the precipitate has changed colour, that it has gone from black to white, that the “This is a pipe” silently hidden in the mimetic representation has become the “This is not a pipe” of circulating similitudes.


The Postmodern movement in anthropology started in the 1960s. The main issue Postmodernist anthropologist have with ethnographies are that they are open to bias and subjectivity. They argue that ethnographies are not actually science and shouldn’t be. Postmodernists want to emphasize the opinions of those people being studied and believe that anthropologists should take part in cultural activities to gain a sense of how those cultures operate. Also Postmodernists want ethnographies to be available to everyone, specifically those being studied.

“anthropological writings are themselves interpretations, and second and third ones to boot” -Clifford Geertz

Some consider Postmodernism the end of Science

Others just want to have fun with Postmodernism 

Three anthropologists thoughts about it follow:

Vincent Crapanzano – Hermes Dilemma: The Masking of Subversion in Ethnographic Description

Vincent Crapanzano argues that there are problems with being an ethnographer and writing ethnographies. Problem number one is that the moment you start a study as an ethnographer you have already created boundaries you cannot pass in your ethnography simply because you ARE an outsider. Problem number two is that the ethnographer must make what is foreign to him/her known and yet still keep it foreign. Problem number three the ethnographer must be able to not lie and at times it not divulge the whole truth.

Renato Rosaldo – Grief and a Headhunter

Renato Rosaldo and his wife Michelle spent 30 months studying the Ilongots in Manila, Philippines, whose people numbered 3,500 and covered an area of 90 miles in the northeast uplands. While studying these people he came across a ritual known as headhunting (a ritual in which following the loss of a close family member, a man becomes enraged and cannot find relief from said rage until he has fulfilled the ritual of cutting off a head and discarding it, as to discard his rage), for which he could not really grasp the concept as to why one would partake in such a ritual. When he asked the Ilongots they replied in a brief statement,

“rage born in grief, impels him to kill his fellow human beings.”

It wasn’t until the author himself was faced with the loss of a close loved one that he able to begin understanding the feelings of bereavement that the Ilongots were faced with. Only then was he able to truly understand their ritual of headhunting.

The focus of ethnographies tend to be purely on ritual and completely miss context and texture because too often the observer is trying to be completely unbiased and in return they miss the significance of the cultural event.

“Even when knowledgeable, sensitive, fluent in the language, and able to move easily in an alien culture, good ethnographers still have their limits, and their analysis are incomplete.”

Rosaldo, only through his experience with bereave

ment, was able to adequately explain the headhunter’s ritual in an understandable manor.

“My use of personal experience serves as a vehicle for making the quality and intensity of the rage in Ilongot grief more readily accessible to readers than certain more detached models of composition.”

Roy D’Andrade – Moral Models in Anthropology

Moral Models speaks on the attacks on the anthropological standpoints through time. By discussing the differing views within the profession it seeks to find the appropriate way to approach the topic of ethnographies.  The agenda be

“that anthropology be transformed from a discipline based upon an objective model of the world to a discipline based upon a moral model of the world” where “model” means “a set of cognitive elements used to understand and reason about something” and “Moral” refers to “primary purpose of this model, which is to identify what is good and what is bad and to allocate reward and punishment.”

Post-Modernism… (queue X-Files theme song)

The basic sense I get from post-modernity, is that all things are to be deconstructed or at least critiqued.

Vulgar Post Modernism –

“Sitting on the porch with your forty-ouncer complaining about all the cars that go by instead of building your own.”

– Unknown

Postmodern Challenge

Anthro Theory Postmodern Challenge

Roland Barthes  was a French literary theorist, philosopher, cultural critic, semiotician and prominent post-structuralism who often deconstructed myths that enshroud  popular culture in his publications and lectures.  In his famous book S/Z Barthes creates a frame work using five codes to deconstruct texts and images.  He uses the five codes to untangle the structure of texts and the components that hold the structure by showing the underlying assumptions that make up a text, or image .Via Wikipedia Roland Barthes Deconstruction looks like this:

Text Deconstruction

Barthes defines five codes that define a structure that form a space of meaning which a text runs through. These codes and their mutual relations are not clear structures, because it would close the multi-variance of the text. Each of the units of the text marks a digression toward a catalogue of other units. Each code also appears as voices that weave the text, though each of them for a while may dominate the text.

Two of the codes are sequential and structure the text in an irreversible way: The hermeneutic code (HER) denotes an enigma that move the narrative forward; it sets up delays and obstacles that maintain suspense. The proairetic (ACT) code organizes (small) intertwined sequences of behaviors. Each such sequence has its own regularity that does not follow the logic of the narrative (though it is used in it). The rest of the codes are reversible. The next two structure the text: The semic code (SEM) designates a special kind of signifiers (e.g. person, a place, an object) to which adhere unstable meanings and that enable the development of a theme through the story. The symbolic code (SYM) are meanings that are constitutive (stemming from the fields of rhetoric, sexuality, or economy), but cannot be represented in the text, except in metonymies, which renders the text open to different interpretations.The last code refers to meanings that are external to the text: The cultural code (REF) is the references to science or wisdom.

Barthes does not provide an overall structure for how the codes are integrated because he wants to preserve the plurality (multi-valence) of the text. Since reading is plural, a different reading (reader) might invoke the codes differently and combine them differently ending up with a different understanding. Moreover, whereas the classical text tends to enforce a particular model of integrating the codes, the modern plural text does not.

Five Codes

  1. Hermeneutic Code: the voice of the truth

The hermeneutic code is associated with enigmas of the text. It is entities or elements that articulate a question and its answer, as well as events that prepare the question or delay its answer. When Barthes identifies an enigma in the text he marks it HER. The process of revealing truth by solving enigmas is further broken down in the following sequence:

  • Theme: What in the narrative is an enigma?
  • Positioning. Additional confirmations of the enigma.
  • Formulation of the enigma.
  • Promise of an answer of the enigma.
  • Fraud. Circumvention of the true answer.
  • Equivocation. Mixture of fraud and truth.
  • Blocking. The enigma cannot be solved.
  • Suspended answer. Stopping the answering after having begun.
  • Partial answer. Some facets of the truth are revealed.

Because the hermeneutic code involves a move from a question to an answer it is one of the two codes (the other being the proairetic or action code) which Barthes calls “irreversible” : Once a secret is revealed, it cannot be unrevealed—the moment of cognition is permanent for the reader. Compared to the detailed sequential actions of the proairetic code, the hermeneutic code encompasses the entire narrative, or at least larger parts of it.

  1. Proairetic Code: empirical voice

A Proairetic Code is a plot action that does not directly raise particular questions. It is simply an action that is caused by a previous event and which leads to other events. It is not inherently mysterious. The proairetic code encompasses the actions or small sequences of the narrative. That is, it is not the overall narrative structure, which is associated with the HER. The basis of the proairetic is the dependency of the lexias (series of brief, contiguous fragments) upon both sequence and content to impart meaning. Barthes says that “setting up a sequence of actions is to name it.” This notion is connected with Barthes’ notion of the “readably” text. The actions of the novel are created by the reader, who assimilates distinct pieces of information in a prescribed order. The reader grouping these pieces of data turns them into events. Even acts of introspection are classified by the reader in terms of the occurrence of movements or activities. Thus, the proairetic code pictures the text as a location with spatial and temporal dimensions through which the reader moves.

  1. Semic Code: the voice of the person

The semic code is the connotations of the character (a person, a place or an object). The character has not only characteristics, but also unstable connotations because the person has an existence (a name proper) which is external to the characteristics, the fixed meanings. Barthes says that “the seme is the unit of the signifier.” This code focuses upon the pieces of data the text provides in order to suggest abstract concepts. For example, the mention of “party,” “Faubourg,” and “mansion” are all semes for the abstract concept “Wealth.” The semic code allows the text to “show” instead of “tell” by describing material things in order to suggest immaterial ones.

  1. Symbolic Code: the voice of symbols

The symbolic code is due to the fact that the human body as narrator enables the text to transgress ‘taboos’, not least as metonymies. The entrances into the symbolic are (1) rhetorical (transgression of the rhetorical figure: antitheses), (2) sexual (transgression of the sex: castration), and (3) economic (transgression of the origin of wealth). Thus, threatening to remove crucial differences, such transgressions create an “unrestrained metonymy” within the text. An unrestrained metonymy is, however, close to the dissolution of meaning because it “abolishes the power of legal [according to the linguistic, etc. codes] substitution on which meaning is based”, and therefore, close to annihilation of representation. Consequently, the symbolic code is the point where different blocked meanings merge into the same lexia, thus accentuating the plurality of the meaning of the text.

  1. Referential Code or Cultural code: the voice of science

The referential code is constituted by the points at which the text refers to common bodies of knowledge.


The five codes together constitute a way of interpreting the text which suggests that text is interpretive; that the codes are not superimposed upon the text, but, rather, approximate something that is intrinsic to the text. The analogy Barthes uses to clarify the relationship of codes to text is to the relationship between a performance and the commentary that can be heard off-stage. In the “stereographic space” created by the codes, each code becomes associated with a voice. To the proairetic code Barthes assigns the Voice of Empirics; to the semic the Voice of the Person; to the cultural the Voice of Science; to the hermeneutic the Voice of Truth; and to the symbolic the Voice of Symbol.

The Challenge:

Using Roland Barthes five codes critic deconstruct one of this magazine covers at the following links:

Publish your results as a comment to this post.
Be sure to state which picture you are deconstructing.
And keep it brief (one or two pages).