[Air-L] Tribes

Alex Golub golub at hawaii.edu
Wed Jan 9 13:56:08 PST 2013


I'm an anthropologist interested in online gaming but my primary
specialization is on kinship in Papua New Guinea, so your question actually
falls pretty squarely in my line of speciality.

The wikipedia entry on 'tribe' is actually pretty good -- the term 'tribe'
comes originally from the latin _tribus_, a way that Romans organized
themselves (see the Wikipedia entry on 'tribal assembly'). It then kicked
around 19th century social science until it came to mean 'a group where
people feel they are related by descent from a single ancestor but cannot
trace that relationship in terms of a concrete genealogy'. In the 20th
century we realized that 'tribes' as such rarely exist -- indigenous people
did not historically organize themselves in this way. However, when
indigenous people came into contact with European colonial powers, the
result was the creation of 'tribes' as a unit of social organization
created to meet the expectations of the colonizer. As a result 'tribes' did
come into existence -- as the result of culture contact, not as something
that preexisted it.

Today the term 'tribe' is popular amongst first world people as a way of
imagining a sort of pure, unmediated solidarity based on authentic
face-to-face contact. This conception is based on a very culturally
particular anglo-protestant desire for authentic community -- the Book Of
Acts as acted out in the jungle, as it were. Use of the term is complicated
by the fact that people interested in living 'tribally' often draw on the
hundred or so years of out of literature (now out of date) which is
floating out there. There isn't a lot of actual consideration of how
indigenous people actually live or lived. While many indigenous groups
living in settler colonies (the US, Australia) find white appropriation of
the concept of 'tribe' offensive, many other indigneous people find it
useful to take their existing social forms and relabel them as 'tribes' as
a short hand way to explain who they as a collectivity are to potential aid
donors, tourists, journalists etc. It's a complicated situation.

This all got nailed down in anthropology decades ago. The main sources on
this are:
The Notion of Tribe, Morton Fried
Essays On The Problem of Tribe, ed. June Helm (the essay by Dell Hymes in
here is quite good)
The Illusion of Tribe, Aidan Southall

The main expert in Australia you might want to consult would be Francesca
Merlan at the ANU. Yasmine Musharbash at Sydney Uni would also be good to
talk to. Both are aboriginalists.


On Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 4:03 PM, Reid, David <dareid at csu.edu.au> wrote:

> Sent from my iPad
> Begin forwarded message:
> >
> >
> > air-l at listserv.aoir.org
> >
> > Hello
> > In 1871 Charles Darwin mentioned the notion of tribes in his book
> > 'Descent of Man'.
> > I am conducting some preliminary secondary research into the nature and
> > activities of online, primarily social media based 'tribes'. I am
> > looking for:
> > 1. sources of literature from a general Social Sciences / Humanities
> > perspective
> > 2. any research or case studies that exist (preferably qualitative)
> > Please note my interest and future focus is Australasian in nature,
> > however any sources would be helpful.
> > I am also particularly interested in any data on youth based (or managed
> > social media) tribal activity.
> > Any assistance / guidance at this very preliminary stage would be
> > greatly appreciated.
> > Regards
> > David W Reid
> > Lecturer, Advertising
> > SCCI, Faculty of Arts
> > Charles Sturt University
> > Australia
> > dareid at csu.edu.au
> > http://au.linkedin.com/in/dwreid
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Alex Golub
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 346
Honolulu HI 96822-2223
Phone: 808 956 6575
Fax: 808 956 4893

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