Sherry ortner updating practice theory


05-Oct-2019 18:34

However, as she later became the leading figure in feminist anthropology, she adopted and adapted the practice theory and the generative model.Accordingly, she moved away from the universalist discourse of the symbolic anthropology to the comparative study of the socio-historically constructed, non-totalistic, porous, and incoherent culture.In her article, “Gender Hegemonies” (1990), she says; “One must look at both the cultural ideology of ‘prestige’ and the on-the-ground practices of ‘power’…look at the relationships between these ‘levels’ …the purposes of examining the historical dynamics of given cases over time” (172).On the ground, she comes to terms with the complex matrix of power relations, of which the category of gender is only one part among the others.Secondly, she argues that “power” and “prestige” do not always map onto each other in every society.Against Lealock’s famous claim of gender equality in pre-modern egalitarian societies, Ortner postulates that such societies, in which male dominance is not overtly observed, may still endow more prestige to the male status, tasks and social roles.Ortner, echoing Simone de Beauvoir, highlights three aspects of the perceived disposition: female body and its function, female social roles based on these functions, and the female psychic structure.

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Ortner’s classic essay “Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture” (1972) was premised on the perceived universality (1) of sexual asymmetry and (2) of the Levi-Strausian ahistorical structural binary of nature/culture.She draws attention to the potential “slippages in reproduction, the erosions of long standing patterns, the moments of disorder and of outright ‘resistance’” (17).She also targets poststructuralists and postmodernists for not serving well to the feminist discourse with their exaggerated anti-subjectivism.The first essay “Making Gender” (1996) in the book is a manifesto on her new position in feminist anthropology and on her postulated practice theory.

Similar to Bourdieu, Barth, and Hefner, her main emphasis is also on the generative model in which “human action is made by ‘structure,’ and at the same time always makes and potentially unmakes it” (2).She calls this model a “loop” in which ‘structures’ construct subjects and practices, but subjects and practices reproduce ‘structures.’ From the feminist perspective, she critiques both “constructivists” and “subjectivist” positions, and promotes practice theory as a dialectic between “too much construction (textual, discursive etc)” and “too much making (decontextualized ‘resistance’).” As a feminist anthropologist, she critiques some practice theorists like Bourdieu, Giddens, and Sahlins for (1) not incorporating the issues of power enough into their structural analysis and (2) not giving enough space for the individual that has capacity to change and manipulate the structure.