The Antisocial Skin: Structure, Resistance, and “Modern Primitive” Adornment in the United States

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

My aims in this article are twofold: first, to illuminate the activities of U.S. modern primitives by placing them in their cultural and historical context and, second, to use this example to make a general argument about resistance move- ments and their relation to existing social and cultural structures. In analyzing modern primitives I show how they mobilize both basic Western understandings of the world as embodied in cosmogonic mythology and classical economic theory (Sahlins 1996) and more immediate and historically particular American ideas about selves, society, and experience (Cannon 1989; Fox and Lears 1983; Lears 1983; McCracken 1988). In the process, I deploy a conception of cultural systems that understands them less as determinants of social activity and more as providing a framework for such activity—that is, as constituting the possibility of meaning. It is these "conditions of meaningfulncss" that I seek to explore for the practices represented in Modern Primitives. (288-9)

About the Author

Daniel Rosenblatt is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Carleton University. As a cultural anthropologist Rosenblatt is interested in social thought, contemporary critical and anthropological theory, and the history and ethnography of both the Pacific and the contemporary U.S. His Pacific research (with New Zealand Maori) is concerned with the performance and experience of local cultural traditions and identities in the context created by such transnational forces as capitalism, colonialism, modernity, and globalization. Rosenblatt also explores performances, identities, and experience in his U.S. work, which is currently centered on the ways people negotiate their relationship to the idea of “success.” In both cases Rosenblatt is interested in the interplay between ritual/symbolic constructions of the world and the possibilities for imagining political projects and attempting to achieve political agency. In NZ, this leads to a concern with the indigenization of such things as city life, development, and modernity as part of an effort to find a place for tradition in modern life and, in the U.S., he is interested in the logics and expressions of the pursuit (or refusal) of upward mobility.

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