Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity

Anthropology: An Analysis of Two Articles

The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity” by Aihwa Ong and “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Community” by Arjun Appadurai both offer perspectives on the impact of the changing global economy. These two articles will now be analysed in turn. This involves describing the main argument of each article, considering how each article is persuasive, considering how each article is confusing, and finally, considering how each author either agrees or disagrees with the ideas of other scholars.

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In “The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity” Aihwa Ong discusses the situation in the modern industrial work environment, also focusing on the role of women in this environment. Ong argues that there is a gap between what the literature says is happening and what the real experiences of workers are. In the essay, Ong attempts to show what the real situation is by looking at the labor worlds of Asia and Mexico. Ong then argues two main points. Firstly, that “industrial modes of domination go beyond production relations strictly construed” (Ong 62). Secondly, Ong argues that worker’s struggles against control are based on what Ong calls “cultural struggle” rather than class struggle.

Ong is especially persuasive in arguing that the struggle of individuals is not about a class struggle, but a cultural struggle. As Ong (86) says, “I propose that we conceive of workers’ experiences as cultural struggles – that is, workers struggle against new and varied forms of domination, and seek new ways of grappling with social realities.” This is a well reasoned and a logical argument. Ong compares this approach with the common class approach taken and in doing this, shows that the class approach does not adequately explain the situation.

The confusing part of the article is the link between labor politics and gender politics. Ong argues about labor politics and the work situation in general, but uses the main example of women in work situations. This appears to be two arguments combined into one. Labor politics is one issue and gender politics is another. The author does not effectively separate these arguments, making the argument difficult to follow at times. A separate focus that divides these two issues into two separate topics would be more effective.

The article agrees with the points made by Sahlins in “Cosmologies of Capitalism.” This argument by Sahlins was based on recognizing that other cultures cannot be understood by simply applying Western values to them, instead they have to be looked at from the point-of-view of that culture. Ong takes this same approach, rejecting the common views that anthropologists have placed on these Mexican and Asian cultures and instead showing the changes from the viewpoint of these cultures.

The article disagrees with common views held that class consciousness is the source of struggle. The author rejects the approaches taken by scholars including Mintz, Nash and Vincent and also rejects the Marxist view (Ong 77).

In “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Community” Arjun Appadurai discusses the impact of technology on communication and transportation and how this impacts on what is referred to as the “global village.” It is described how these changes mean individuals and cultures are able to interact like never before. Appadurai does not try to argue any particular point, but instead presents an overview of the situation. This overview is meant as background material that may lead to a theory that adequately explains the interaction and shaping of cultures in the global village.

Appadurai is particularly persuasive because of his use of modern examples that show how different cultures interact in the new global village. One example is where Appadurai describes the popularity of American songs in the Philippines and how the Philippine culture is more likely to be nostalgic about the American past, than the American culture is. As Appadurai (30) says, “these Filipino’s look back to a world they have never lost.” This example is a concrete example that the reader is able to understand. This makes the point clear and, combined with the more intellectual discussion, creates a persuasive argument.

The most confusing part of the article is that Appadurai asks more questions than he answers. Appadurai does not attempt to provide a lot of answers, but instead poses many questions that are worth thinking about. While this is effective in a way, the amount of questions asked makes the article difficult to understand. The article would be more effective if Appadurai raised some questions, but provided enough definite information to allow the reader to think effectively about the question. Instead the reader is left with no clear thoughts and too many uncertainties to begin to understand the situation.

Appadurai agrees with the many scholars that have noted that capitalism has led to a world where cultures interact. While Appadurai agrees with these scholars, he also notes that these theories need to go further. This is not based on these scholars being wrong, but based on the fact that the world is becoming increasingly interactive and these theories no longer apply to the current situation. To keep up with this changing world, Appadurai argues that new theories are required to adequately explain the new global village.

Both of the articles have now been analysed, with their individual characteristics noted. This has shown that each author takes a different view on basically the same subject area. Ong focuses on the individual in the industrial nations of Mexico and Asia and uses this to show that what anthropologists have theorized about the situation does not equal the reality of the situation. Appadurai makes this same point, though rather than offer a theory to explain the situation, provides the background information that may allow an appropriate theory to be developed.

Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Community.” Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Ong, Aihwa. “The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity.” The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital. Ed. Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

Sahlins, Marshall. “Cosmologies of Capitalism: The Trans-Pacific Sector of The World System.” Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory. Ed. Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. 412-455.

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