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CLASS AND ETHNICITY  (10A)

Well there he goes already. He is now introductiing “sub-posts.” What the heck is going on now?  Allow me to explain.

How does one go about FACTUALLY determining the class and ethnicity of people who lived two hundred years ago?

The problem is magnified by the fact that only a smattering of artifacts are available to make this determination.

Perhaps a few ideas selected from various studies may help us.

“A common scenario can be defined as follows:  historical research is undertaken to identify the occupants of a property; these occupants are identified by class (i.e., occupation or income); this class is then ‘tested’ archaeologically based on the cost of ceramics or sometimes meat cuts, assuming a direct relationship between cost and status.”

Louann Wurst, critiques the above statement in her article: “Internalizing Class in Historical Archaeology”, Historical Archaeology, 1999, Wurst references; Miller 1980, 1991,; Schultz and Gust 1983; Shepard 1987

This concept of identifying class and ethnicity, as Wurst continues, has taken us to the point where “class as a dynamic concept has ossified”. In other words the study of the dynamics of class has been petrified by ideology. Preconceived notions of class, based on artifacts imbuing ideology, is not dynamic.

Allow me to explain. Anyone trying to identify a class or ethnicity of people must be careful not to use their own points of reference. This is easily (and often) done when looking at artifacts that may tie in with the observers own ideology. Or it may occur due to other preconceived notions.

I am not saying that the observer should abandon everything that he or she has learned. I am saying that we have to be careful about ideological creep.

Wurst offers a solution;

“Dialectical research * focuses on the whole of real lived experience – – – the simple recognition that all thinking about reality begins by breaking it down into manageable parts.”

* Dialectical research:

Researching the process of change in which its fulfillment is realized by its opposite.

A simpler way of stating this is to look at the problem from both sides, not just your point of view. And maybe there are several other points of view to take into consideration.

Example:    The study of a marriage, where husband and wife, as they change, with and for each other, over the years, results in their fulfillment of each other. The change of one, for better or worse, is often offset or enhanced by a change in the other.

But wait, how about the children’s point of view? Children certainly have an impact on a marriage. There are many other points of view that can be looked at to determine how a marriage survived or did not survive. The same is true for historical archaeology.

Therefore, there must be several ways of looking at a 200 year old family to determine their class and ethnicity.

Wurst’s point is earnestly taken and may well be the solution to a dilemma facing this study. That dilemma is; how does one go about identifying ‘class or ethnicity’ with a limited collection of artifacts? The artifacts available for this site are very limited.

They are severely limited in two ways:

Temporally (time period): they only cover 10% of the total period of the 100 year occupancy, approximately 1890 to 1900

Spatially (geographical distribution): they only came from 25% of the total homesites that existed.

STATISTIC TOTAL for the site/time period: 10% of the time period for 25% of the homesites equals a statistical 2.5% of the available data. That is only 2 ½% of all that may have been available. It does not give much credence to the study.

The insignificance of the artifacts becomes worse when you consider that only “surface artifacts” were selected. What are we to do?

            Wurst’s statement regarding “breaking it down into manageable parts” has an additional appeal.

Sir Isaac Newton used the same concept in calculus. Calculus is the breaking down of a problem into manageable parts. Calculus also includes a concept of ‘limits’, that is; a ‘lower limit’ defines where the problem begins and an ‘upper limit’ that identifies the endpoint.

In this study there is no formula (or artifacts) to identify gender, work, class and ethnicity.

This research depended on documentation for the study of spatial (geographical) and temporal (time period) ‘limits’.  Therefore the title of the original paper became:

“The Birdsalls – the calculus of two classes;  a comparative study of class, work, gender and continuity in two nineteenth-century family settings; Rural and Village”

As Wurst states “- – the content of commonly named relations such as family, kinship, the forces and relations of production, class, or ideology [must have] reference to concrete empirical phenomena – -.”  Wurst may have missed one major relationship in this collection of dialectical forces; and that relationship is Public Policy. Public Policy has two dialectical parts, those who make (or enforce) public policy and those who are impacted by (or resist) the results of that policy.

The success or failure of any public policy is dependent not only on its acceptance, but also on the level of its acceptance. Public policies that have been marginally accepted are, most likely, of no value to those who made that policy and a definite detriment to those who have to live by it.

Therefore attaining some level of acceptance ends up being a give-and-take scenario where the whole, or fulfillment, may be exactly what was intended; or in some sad cases, what was unintended. Most likely the answer lies somewhere between the two.

The collective public policy, as we know it today, has been dialectically pushed and pulled by a variety of  conservative and liberal “think tanks”, public action committees, research papers funded by corporations, research papers funded by the National Science Foundation and some research papers funded by the  state. All of these modify our individual modes of living to the point where most of us could hardly imagine.

Public policy in nineteenth century Chenango County was pushed and pulled by local agents of change. However, the effects on the average resident was not much different than today. This study has dealt with the comparison of two families deeply affected by public policy and the ways in which their family culture embraced or struggled with its effects.

The study of class and ethnicity however, is defined in the “breaking it down into its manageable parts.”  Therefore, I will not use the “events” to describe the classes but will use events as the ‘trigger mechanism’ that ignites reactions. These reactions may then be used to define class and ethnicity.

Calculus is an abstraction. The calculus of class is likewise an abstraction. The advantage of abstractions is that it assists us in removing preconceived notions and ideology. As human beings we are never free of preconceived notions or ideology; however, we should always recognize them for traps that they can become.

How would we use Wurst’s definition of three abstractions? First, let us review them:

A Summarization of Wurst:

“1. The abstraction of extension:  abstracting relations or processes that extend from events rather than events or results themselves.

Example:   What may the actions that people pursue based on a specific event?

2. The abstraction of levels of generality:    abstracting the level of a person’s uniqueness. What is generally true about this person?

  • abstracting people as a level in a particular context
  • abstracting people within the context of capitalism
  • abstracting levels of a class society
  • abstracting all that humans have in common
  • abstracting the base needs of humans
  • abstracting the material part of nature

3. The abstraction of vantage point: abstracting the point of view or the vantage point of each side of the same relation. Dialectical relationships represent the whole and both sides must be examined.” 

            I propose using matrix diagrams to break down these abstractions into manageable parts. These will define processes, levels and points of view.

Each person represented in the matrix has a chosen limitation. These limitations are:

  • Willingness (a self-imposed limitation)
  • Ability (a natural limitation)

Willingness is modified by how that person wishes to act or how that person has been taught to act.

Ability is modified by a persons mental or physical capabilities and may also be limited by the available opportunities.

This ends the first post. What have we discussed?

First, due to our natural leanings to see others as being part of our own world it is necessary to leave some of our pre-conceived notions at the doorstep.

Second, we must not look at the actual events of the time period but rather the possible reactions of the players to those events.

Third, we must find the best way to make the research unemotional. I believe using a matrix may allow us to look at these events and players unemotionally.

 (HEY CAPTAIN – – -This is Dr. Spock – –  Beam My Unemotional Self Up).

© Copyright – Waldo Tomosky