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Title: Archaeology of Trobriand knowledge: Foucault in the Trobriand Islands
Author: Slattery, David P.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3417 0460
Awarding Body: University of St Andrews
Current Institution: University of St Andrews
Date of Award: 1992
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This thesis holds that the application of the archaeological method, developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, to the field of anthropology reveals a hitherto hidden primitive episteme. Such a project represents a rejection of a search for a fundamental Truth, available through the traditional figures of rationality, either vertically in history or horizontally across cultures. The form of reason posited by this project does not have a constant and universal occurrence but is given in the discontinuous figures of the episteme. The quest for a single manifestation of the conditions of validity in reason is replaced by a study of the conditions of possibility of the truths, discourses and institutions of a primitive peoples. The conditions of possibility for the emergence of the elements of primitive knowledge and practices are available through the application of the explanatory unities of the archaeological method. These unities replace the traditional explanatory role of the subject, with all of its psychological baggage, which has a central role in modern theories of rationality. The subject-knowledge link that dominates traditional anthropological analyses is replaced by a powerknowledge link that postulates the two axes of discursive and non-discursive concerns. The discursive axis is concerned with the objects, concepts, statements and discursive formations of primitive knowledge while the non-discursive axis is concerned with the systems of power that propagate and sustain those discourses. These two axes constitute the nature of the archaeology employed in this study. This thesis is sustained by both negative and positive evidence. The negative evidence takes the form of an antisubjectivist thrust where the subject-dependent explanatory unities of the tradition are replaced by the positivistic elements of archaeology. The positive evidence primarily takes the form of a detailed analysis of the presence of the guiding codes of the episteme amongst the Trobriand Islanders that give rise to their primitive knowledge and practices. In this area, I make extensive use of Malinowski's ethnographic observations for their breath of detail and application without employing his subject-dependent psychobiological conclusions. Further, I am proposing a transformative position such that orality becomes a feature of the episteme rather than its condition of possibility. The guiding codes of the Trobriand episteme take the form of enclosed oppositional figures that are everywhere related to space. The Trobriand episteme provides the conditions for the emergence of primitive discourses and orders the experiences of the Trobrianders. The guiding figures of the episteme are based in a form of complementary opposition, causation as vitality and a dogma of topological space that give rise to primitive knowledge which is a form of divination. A significant part of this dissertation is taken up with an examination of the detail and limitation of these figures where ideas from Levy-Bruhl, Hallpike, and others are employed to produce the most appropriate configuration for my project. A particular form of language as the manipulation of real signs, rather than ideational signs, has its possibility in this configuration which has consequences for the type of knowledge produced. The form of knowledge appropriate to the presence of such a model of language is magic. Writing has no possibility for emerging in this episteme and, therefore, there are significant consequences for the type of knowledge that can be maintained and propagated in a context which must utilise static tradition to the detriment of reflection. An archaeological analysis of the Trobriand Islanders, focusing on discourses on sex and marriage, the nature of tabooed sexual acts, economic relations arising out of marriage and the role of the polygamous chief, the nature of love-magic and magic in general, reveals a shared possibility for all of these discursive realms in the figures of the episteme. These discourses are regulated by the presence of a fundamental opposition between a brother and his sister. This opposition forms the motif for primitive problematizations and constitutes a vulnerable boundary which is the appropriate focus of taboos relating to sex and food, amongst others. This primitive episteme characterises the unity of the experiences of the Trobrianders. This experience is discontinuous with our own and does not involve a role for the individual ego. This project represents a worthwhile contribution to an understanding of human experience and knowledge in general which does not seek to reduce the natural diversity of man to just the monotonous experience of modern man. In conclusion, I tentatively speculate about the appropriateness of the Trobriand figures for primitive experience in general.
Supervisor: Holy, Ladislav Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: GN452.2S6 ; Communication ; Symbolic anthropology ; Culture--Semiotic models