Monday, October 04, 2004

The Local and the Localized (Augé I)

Recently I have had my head in a lot of theory--lots of new stuff about geography, landscape, and the anthropology of place. The works I have read--de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, Edward Casey, Spirn, and the stuff about critical regionalism--are inspiring. However, they are not as interesting as the historical stuff I usually post. Nevertheless, this blog is partially about my dissertation, so any one up for some theory?

French anthropologist Marc Augé analyzes the relationship between local groups, the spaces that they inhabit, and the administrations that would order them. The state administrators in the modern era (his targets are the nineteenth-century French ethnologists) dispersed throughout the territory of the nations to understand what was going on in the local. They studies villages and communes, looking for the processes that took place and examining the hierarchies and power relations. They used their findings to relate the local social context to developments in national life. In essence, the local became representative of the national, and this approach still survives as "micro-history."

Augé asserts that social scientists were not interested in learning what made the communities that they studied unique. Consequently, they denatured the specificity of the community:
... ethnographic study in France ... developed in opposition for the folklorist tradition by localizing research and envisaging its object as a totality.... we can say that in proximal ethnology, the localized approach triumphed at the very moment that “locales” began to disappear.

Localized rather than local: this is how social scientists, especially those serving the state, approach the community. Their goal is not to understand the specificity of the community, but to make it fit with national political life. As a result, the interaction between the community and the nation is confined to this reductive analysis. The local is not recognized in political discourse, only those facts that are relevant to the localized perspective.

Augé asserts that the local, having been localized, must transform itself. Indeed this tends to be the case: every time a new territory is articulated, minorities are produced that do no fit therein.

Augé's model is intersting, and I agree with it, but where does this leave the region as a place? The social sciences tended to bypass them, and ignored them as a result. Anything that was meaningfully sub-national could be analyzed at the localized level. But as I have said before, a place is not the equivalent of its pieces--it is more than the sum of its parts. The region is an invisible elements.


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