Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? (part 417.2)

Rob Pensalfini rjpensal at MIT.EDU
Fri Feb 7 20:49:50 UTC 1997

While I don't necessarily disagree with Neil's general position (I think I
made my own stand on the fieldwork issue clear in an earlier posting), I
think we want to be careful with generalising from 'good for the goose/good
for the gander statements' like:

> I don't really see the difference between a white New Zealander
>speaking Maori, on the one hand, and a Chinese resident of the Isle of
>Lewis speaking Scots Gaelic, on the other -- if one is acceptable, so is
>the other.

Let me make an analogy to religion. Does it follow from the above that a
native American's conversion to Christianity and a white person's
conversion to shamanism are equally acceptable (and no, I don't mean to
imply that all native Americans are shamans)? In the former case we are
dealing with the conversion of a member of a colonised people to the
dominant religion, a religion whose very aim is to acquire converts from
all cultures. In the latter case, at least when it involves New Age
variants such as sweat lodge or drum circle operators or channellers, I
think we would all agree we are dealing with appropriation of beliefs,
behaviours or knowledge that were not necessarily intended for widespread
public (or cross-cultural) 'consumption'. The lack of parallellism becomes
clearer in cases where sacred/secret knowledge is divulged in the interests
of 'enlightenment' (e.g.: Marlo Morgan's "Mutant Mess Downunder").

And before anyone suggests that this has nothing to do with endangered
languages, it would be wise to note that language endangerment is always
(?) accompanied by socio-economic donimation and, in turn, ethnic or
cultural endagerment.

It's just a cautionary note, as I haven't fully decided what I believe on
most of these issues yet.

Attorney for Satan

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