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Modalities of Culture Change: A Query

flower-3744246_1920

A hybrid flower photographed by makamuki0 and circulated under a CC0 license. Hybridization as a mode of cultural change was discussed prominently in Theorizing the Hybrid, a 1999 special issue of the Journal of American Folklore edited by Deborah A. Kapchan and Pauline Turner Strong. Like mestatisize, hybridization in the context of cultural analysis draws on biological imagery.

Across the twentieth century, much of the heavy lifting in cultural anthropology, ethnology, and folklore studies was done with key concepts/words that related to identifiable modalities of cultural change. Diffusion was the core concept as these fields entered the twentieth century and a range of additional ones were identified, theorized, applied, refined, debated, etc. as the decades passed. Acculturation occupied a lot of attention, reorienting American cultural anthropology/ethnology in the process. The list grew longer and longer–innovation, socialization, enculturation, modernization, revitalization, missionization, colonization, decolonization, creolization, hybridization, globalization… No one mode of analysis or discourse predominated. Instead scholars in these fields accumulated a storage box of alternatives out of which they could draw at need. Some of these modes of thought and analysis have aged better than others. Some were criticized, some just came to be used less often. Some seem more relevant in the present than others. Most probably have their use now and will have in the future.

But what additional terms or concepts warrant our attention now? Suggestions are very welcome. Here is an example. Deskill. Deskilling. (Deskillification?) I now hear this term many times a week in a range of contexts. It seems like a candidate for possible inscription on the scholarly list of cultural/social change concepts. What about the more poetic transfers into cultural analysis. Borrowed from medicine, metastasize is being used more and more in discussions of cancer-like social processes. In more workaday work, folklorization is now well established as is traditionalization. On this model, it is not surprising that heritagization is also now in widespread use. Are there any comparable core concepts that we have not yet transformed in processual variants? Some terms come towards us from, for instance, the business world. Do folklorists, ethnologists, and cultural anthropologists need to put our own spin on disrupt?

I hope to revisit the lexicon of cultural change concepts in future work. Your suggestions are welcome. (I am certain there is already work by scholars in these fields on many newer modes of culture change, including the examples (deskill, disrupt) I use to illustrate the query. I am interested in that work also.)

Neuroblastoma_rosettes

Neuroblastoma Rosettes by Dr. Maria Tsokos, National Cancer Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Although this cancer image is probably visually arresting when taken out of context, use of metastasize in cultural analysis is usually intended to provoke horror and to evoke ill social health. A great example encountered yesterday is in the first paragraph of Emma Louise Backe’s essay “Hau’s Hauntings

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Patricia Sawin #

    Stuart Hall talks about “transformation,” but characterizes that as “the active destruction of particular ways of life, and their transformation into something new” and describes cultural change as “the process by which some cultural forms and practices are driven out of the centre of popular life, actively marginalised. Rather than simply ‘falling into disuse’ through the Long March to modernization, things are actively pushed aside, so that something else can take their place.” (Hall, Notes on Deconstructing the Popular 1981, 227-228) Might argue for adding “destruction” and “marginalization” to your list. A thought-provoking post. Thanks, Jason.

    November 6, 2018
    • Thanks Patricia for these helpful leads and suggestions. Very useful! –Jason

      November 7, 2018

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