Thursday, May 31, 2012

I follow some blogs that deal with issues like peak oil, and three of them (The Archdruid report, Club Orlov and Nature Bats Last) have simultaneously been mulling over the role of spirituality if and when this economy and society truly take a nosedive.

It stimulated me to dust off an article that I had published back in 2008 on the question of spirituality as a tool for re-making yourself and your relationship to your society.  It's included here in its entirety:

Witchcrafting Selves: 
Remaking Person and Community in a Neo-Pagan Utopian Scene.

In 2008 Exploring the Utopian Impulse, Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan, eds.

Dorinne Kondo’s 1990 ethnography of a Japanese workplace, Crafting Selves, was influential in cultural anthropology because it articulated an important change of emphasis for this field of study.  This change in emphasis was to treat the individual not just as a product and carrier of culture – but as an active agent who was manipulating cultural materials for various ends – including the creation of a socially embedded self.  This perspective does not replace earlier insights that individuals are intimately constructed within social and cultural environments.  In Kondo’s ethnography, a stress upon individual agency does not mean that these workers then transcend culture, or gain some particular, self-conscious vantage point from which they can view their own efforts at strategic self-construction.  Kondo is describing people who are acting with and within culturally-ordered expectations – they are being Japanese; being women; being young women; and being Japanese employees.  The point is that their renderings of the cultural scripts are by no means static, passive or predictable.

This paper, however, looks at people who are actively trying to transcend their culture.  In so doing they are seeking to re-create not only a new kind of socially-embedded self, but a new kind of culture as well.  In some sense this brings us back to old dilemmas of structure and agency.  As we try to conceptualize and explain the actions of human beings, where do we strike the balance between treating people as self-willed, creative actors, and treating them as things that simply derive from particular environments and histories?  In the case described below this dilemma itself is a place of self-conscious, dynamic tension.