Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice
Edited By Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan
Witchcrafting Selves: Remaking Person and Community in a Neo-Pagan Utopian Scene
← 342 | 343 → ANDREW J. BROWN
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, however, 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 cultural scripts are by no means static, passive, or predictable.
In this essay, however, I look 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...
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