As part of my request for a change of program from Transformative
Studies to Social and Cultural Anthropology, I am revisiting this
purpose statement. My concerns are largely the same.
When I first wrote this in 2008, I cited Allan Combs for seeing as a
starting place that “the world needs saving.” He cited
“unsustainable growth, ecological depletion, rampant consumerism
and market instability, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
diseases, water shortages, . . . [and] global
I wrote that sociologists point to endemic social inequality and the
terrible prices paid in so many ways by the poor,2
and that political scientists question the value of the state, seeing
it as an obstruction to world peace.3
And I wrote that there were grave uncertainties affecting the world
economy, some of which stem from environmental concerns such as
global warming and the depletion of oil reserves, but many of which
stem from a sheer greed in the financial sector that have now cost
many people their jobs and driven countless homeowners into
All of these problems can be connected in some way to hierarchy. We
face existential threats due to our relationships with each other,
too often expressed in war conducted against a backdrop of nuclear
proliferation; our relationships with animals, resulting in
and our relationship with the earth, resulting in pollution and
climate change leading to freshwater and food shortages. So in
entering the Transformative Studies program, I was looking for
something like what Riane Eisler argued, when she argued that too
much was at stake and quoted Erwin
Laszlo writing that we
“cannot leave the selection of the next step in the evolution of
human society and culture to chance.”5
And when in the Self, Society, and Transformation class, I read
Philip Slater arguing for an Integral society and against a
I was convinced I was in the right place. But what I have learned of
complexity theory is that when Slater’s caterpillar—his analogy for
the present order—undergoes metamorphosis, we can have no certainty
as to what will emerge from the chrysalis, that a new system will
have unpredictable emergent properties.7
And I see any attempt to direct “the next step in the evolution of
human society and culture” as certain to produce a backlash.
Slater sees that backlash as the caterpillar’s immune system,
eventually overcome by imaginal cells that eventually liquefy the old
body and construct a butterfly.8
I am not so sure.
That uncertainty leads me in the
current direction of my scholarship, a direction better suited to
anthropology, in which I explore hierarchy and its embeddedness in
human life. For instance, climate change, arguably the consequence
of humans asserting dominance over the earth, is generally considered
a bad thing. But for Greenland, glacial melt may expose resources
that pave the way for independence from Denmark, ending another
manifestation of hierarchy.9
Among the many horrors in Angana Chatterji’s Violent Gods,
for example, she explains how a law to protect cows in India, a law
that ostensibly recognizes the sentience of non-human life, is used
selectively to persecute subaltern groups.10
In these cases—and I suspect many others—even the mitigation of
one hierarchical relationship imposes it even more harshly on other
people. To say I know where this leads seems like folly. But I hope
that the Social and Cultural Anthropology program will better support
this avenue of inquiry.
Allan, “Integral Conversations for a Better World,”
September 11, 2008).
Scott, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy,
Ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006); Shapiro, Thomas M., Ed.,
Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United
Ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005).
David P. and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies
(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), 204-205.
Riane, The Real Wealth of Nations
(San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler, 2007), 134-136; Food and
Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow:
Environmental Issues and Options,
http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM (accessed December
Riane, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future
(New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 187.
Philip, The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture
(Brighton: Sussex, 2009).
Bruce, The Uncertain Sciences,
Transaction Ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2007).
The Chrysalis Effect.
News, "Self-rule introduced in Greenland," June 21, 2009,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8111292.stm (accessed October 19, 2010);
Ertel, Manfred, “Untapped Riches,” Spiegel,
November 12, 2008,
(accessed October 19, 2010).
Angana P., Violent Gods: Hindu nationalism in India’s Present:
Narratives from Orissa
(Gurgaon, India: Three Essays Collective, 2009).