Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
Home | Darkness in El Dorado | Contact

Internet Source: Dear Habermas, 2001
Source URL: http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/yanomami01.htm


On the Yanomami Crisis in Anthropology Darkness in El Dorado nominated for National Book Award
Tim Ingold's Comments
jeanne's field report on the AAA Discussion in San Francisco at the Annual Meetings 2000.


Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Participating Students

Part of Peacemaking Identity Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, September 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

What do we mean by "crisis?" Conceptual Links to Theory and Distributive Justice

We're describing "crisis" as a loud enough cry from voices not generally heard that we of the majority or dominant group are actually being forced into an awareness about the unstated assumptions on which we operate. That is not what everyone means by "crisis."

Some will think of "crisis" as meaning that "at last we've caught "them" at "it" and exposed the nefarious activities by which "they" harm Others." Some will think of "crisis" as meaning that once again those who are not disciplined and hard working are attacking those who have worked hard to make this world what it is today (unstated assumption: that what the world is today is what we want it to be). We are confident that after reading Fellman's Rambo and the Dalai Lama you will recognize that such thoughts are drawn from the extremes and from obsessive mutuality or obsessive adversarialism. Recall that Fellman would not embrace either position, for he constantly tries to remind us that we need not choose either adversarialism OR mutuality, but that we need to find a healthy balance somewhere in between.

Does our definition of "crisis" come closer to a balance between mutuality and adversarialism? We hope it does. We are not suggesting that we go back in time to when such studies were undertaken with little collective thought as to the harm they inflicted on others. For the social context was different then. But we are suggesting that one cannot continue to conduct business as though such harm to others is negligible. It is easy with hindsight to say what we "would have done." It is easy with hindsight to say what others "should have done." But we think Fellman, Freire, and others would tell us to look to our unstated assumptions, for they are no longer "unstated." We can no longer deny them in good faith.

Henry and Milovanovic will probably be pleased at the media play this issue receives. For they believe that the media must play an important role in transforming discourse, in finding alternative ways to think about the world and how we treat people in that world. So an article in the New Yorker calls attention to the issue, calls attention to our need to take another look at when and how we cause harm to others. But the media also thrive on exposes. To what extent are we really examining our own unstated assumptions reflexively, and to what extent are we just enjoying a good scandal at the expense of some well known scholars?

I'm not sure we can answer that question. I'm not even sure there is or should be an answer. But I am reasonably sure that it is good for us to be called to think reflexively about what we do in the name of science, about who we harm in the interest of what?

We ask that you use the following links from the archive of the Progressive Sociologists Network (Proceedings) with Fellman's position on balance in mind. Anthropology faces this crisis now. Soon enough sociology will face similar issues, as economics is facing them now in France. The social and behavioral sciences still have one foot solidly in the door of social context. That means we must take the social context, all of it, into account.

Notice in the readings that the research was sociobiology: part hard science, part sociology and anthropology. The interdependence with social context is unavoidable. As you read, please consider the meaning of this crisis for our concerns for aboriginal populations. And please try to stay open to hearing in good faith what each group has to say, and to recognizing the time and space conflicts into which we are drawn when we go back into our histories over hundreds of years.

Time and Space Conflicts: Defined

Just in case "time and space conflicts" confuses some of you, the dictionary won't help. The time conflicts to which I refer are the changing patterns of relationships over time. What might seem socially acceptable in the nineteenth century may not be at all acceptable in the twenty-first century. We need to be careful not to apply our standards of judgment by applying twenty-first century standards to nineteenth-century practitioners.

The space conflicts to which I refer are changing cultural patterns from one geographic location to another. When U.S. women went into Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, they found problems with driving, for Saudi women did not drive in similar circumstances. This conflict was hard for the young U.S. women to absorb, for their cultural experiences were so different.

Today when space and economic conditions have forced the world into a much more global stance than we have ever taken before, we are finding an intermingling of cultures within our metropolitan areas. This close proximity, together with the clash of cultures from different parts of the world with different histories, makes hearing each other in good faith difficult at best.

The Yanomami crisis is just one aspect of this phenomenon.

Links to Information on Yanomami Crisis:

  • Scientist 'killed Amazon indians to test race --Guardian Unlimited The Guardian by Andrew Hund. First alert to PSN. September 23, 2000.
  • Editorial Reviews of Darkness in El Dorado. Posted by Alan Spector. Amazon.com reviews. September 23, 2000.
  • Fw: The Anthropology Scandal by George Snedeker. Responses by anthropologists who knew Neel or have seen book draft. September 24, 2000.
  • ethics of research by George Snedeker. " the real problem is this kind of research . . ." September 24, 2000.
  • Yanomami by Steve Rosenthal. "Chagnon apparently shed no tears over the rapid disappearance of peoples like the Yanomami. He wrote, "The primitive world is, after all, on the wane and unless research is done now, only questions will remain." In other words, Chagnon's only concern over the extinction of "primitive" peoples was that he complete his sociobiological field studies before they disappeared altogether." Posted on September 29, 2000.

    Like other progressive sociologists, I am not an anthropologist. This is not an issue to be resolved without serious study and without some knowledge of the field. But I agree with Steven Rosenthal and George Snedeker that the real problem is this kind of research which privileges "science" over the safety and well-being of humans.

Related Links:

Many of the following links were on the Texas A&M Anthropology Breaking News Page. Thanks to Texas A&M for gathering this information and for making it readily available to all of us. Social Science Hub: Social Science News


Exam Questions Please prepare for these questions by skimming through most of the available materials. Do not read them for test-taking, but to get a general picture of the crisis.

General Question

What did you discover in reading about the Yanomami crisis from so many different perspectives?

Notice how you begin to be able to read much more quickly, because you have a sense of what the gist is. Notice how you begin to recognize names. Ausubel and advance organizers - theory. Triangulation. If you didn't notice these effects, try again. It's important for you to discover that point at which using different sources really helps you to learn.

Theory Question

Fellman speaks of the fact that we must reappropriate the parts of our selves that permit us to see mutuality alternatives, so that we may choose mutuality when appropriate. Reread Dr. Susan Lindee's Review of Neel's Field Notes. What approach does she use to making mutuality an alternative?

Look to how she approaches the issue of balance. Does this seem to bear any resemblance to what we call conflict negotiation? What balance does she ask for from each of the involved parties?

Distributive Justice - Graduate

Aboriginal peoples are usually isolated before their colonization by those who have led a more cosmopolitan life in contact with other much broader cultures. Read again the STATEMENT BY DAVI KOPENAWA YANOMAMI "We only want to live in peace" and "The Yanomami do not want to live from dealing with money, with gold, we are not prepared for this. We need time to learn." They have no use for money, armor, the more cosmopolitan trappings of "civilization."

Is it then just if they not share in the resource of money? What if they desire to pursue their aboriginal way of life? What would be a just share of the world's resources? Is it just access to the resources that must be shared for justice? Or is it the resources that must be shared? How has capitalism dealt with that question? Does Davi Kopenawa say "We don't want the gold."? Or does he say, "We need time to learn."? Are those two sentences equivalent? Do you think this might be another time and space conflict?

Consider the Amish. Will put up some information.

Distributive Justice - Undergraduate

Berthena espressed somewhat more than mild disbelief that when Gunnar's wife was having a baby they invited everyone to the local park. "Just bring a towel and come!" See if you can explain both Berthena's disbelief and the community's joyous response.

Consider adversarialism as enforcing what is right. Consider that hygiene is an important "right" in child birth. Then consider that Fellman says we must learn to deconstruct the world to see mutuality alternatives. Consider the community's joyous response as a possibility of transforming discourse about how to have children. Ask jeanne about Milton Rokeach's Open and Closed Mind and Joe the bug in chapter 3, or was it 4.

Now consider Davi Kopenawa's statement about the Yanomami not wanting the gold. Can you imagine a way that Gunnar might be able to lead the Yanomami to a mutuality alternative? How do you think Gunnar would feel about that task? What does he say about such a task in the prolog and the epilog?

Statistics Question

Is the material on the Yanomami based on qualitative or quantitative data? What criteria will you look for? What are the variables involved? Can you figure out what some of the unstated assumptions were?

Look for numbers and for stories. Could this difference account for some of the bitter reactions in this crisis? How?

Read again Dr. Susan Lindee's Review of Neel's Field Notes. What kind of data does she depend on for her review of the notes, qualitative or quantitative?

Love and Peace

How do you think Fellman would handle the Yanomami crisis? If you were to mediate this quarrel, how would you go about it? What would Buscaglia suggest? Is it possible to handle such quarrels with love?