Individualism, Holism, and the Market Mentality: Notes on the Recollections of a Chinese Entrepreneur

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Essay Excerpt

In the account that follows, I describe and then attempt to account for the particular ambivalences and seeming contradictions in Mr. Zhou's account. As I hope to demonstrate in this case, to understand the "dialogue" of differing voices or views within a given "monologue" (see Voloshinov [Bakhtin]1983), as well as to understand why a given individual focuses on certain realms of human action in his or her expression of such conflicting or ambivalent outlooks, one must search for connections between these personally expressed ambivalences, these inner dialogues, and social, economic, or culturally generated tensions inherent in the setting in which an individual lives.

In short, I hope to demonstrate through the example of this specific case that as we move away from flattened, uniform, noncontradictory models of cultural understanding, we must focus not only on the fact of contending impulses and outlooks, but also on the relationship between such internal formulations and the contradictions of the surrounding context. What scenarios and relationships are most likely to bring such inner conflicts to the fore and why? Such an approach necessitates close attention not only to the symbolic, psychological, and cognitive constructs that are usually the primary focus when examining models of personhood, but also to history and political economy. In the case at hand, this includes close inspection of the relationship between the micro-politics of the family economy and the values and imperatives of the larger economic system in which it is embedded. (Oxfeld, 269-270)

About the Author

Dr. Ellen Oxfeld is a Professor of Anthropology at Middlebury.

Ellen Oxfeld's passion for the study of China began in her northern New Jersey high school, where she took a class on Chinese and Indian history. She followed this interest during her undergraduate education at Williams College, and graduated with the intention of becoming a Chinese historian. While on a subsequent Watson Fellowship in Taiwan, Oxfeld was exposed to various anthropologists who introduced her to a new discipline which soon became the focus of her career. After spending one year in East Asia, she returned to the United States to obtain her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University.

Professor Oxfeld was offered a position at Middlebury College in 1985, immediately following her graduation from Harvard. She considers herself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to continue her studies of China while sharing her knowledge with students as a professor. She has taught a wide variety of classes, the majority of which relate to her specific interests in anthropology. These include the introductory anthropology class; Race and Ethnicity: Anthropology of China; Global Consumptions: Food, Culture and Power;and Women, Culture and Power.

Throughout her teaching career, Professor Oxfeld has continued to pursue her research interests in China. In the past, she has researched communities of Chinese immigrants in countries such as India and Canada.Since the mid-1990s, she has returned several times to do fieldwork in a village in Meixian, Guangdong Province, China, where she has investigated moral discourse, changes and continuities in life-cycle rituals,changing gender roles, transformations in property and class relations,and most recently, changes in the local food system.

Ellen Oxfeld deems that anthropology is "absolutely essential in today's world," for it helps us to see the world as others see it, and to understand both how we are connected to the rest of the world and yet not to expect that all cultures operate from the same sets of assumptions.

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