Not-So-Modern Society

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Robin Fox, professor of social theory at Rutgers University, anthropologist, poet, essayist, and the author of The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind, analyzes how human social history, including tribalism, continues to affect societies.


Robin Fox

Comments [14]

Patrick from Michigan

I take issue with Professor Fox's dismissive and blatently Western-centric "explanation" for the ongoing, unprecedented events in Libya and across the Middle East. I thought anthropology was at least trying to shed its vestiges of colonial thinking. Instead, he is content to off-handedly generalize about how people "over there" (referring, I gather, not only to Libya but to any society that doesn't respect statist infrastructure in the way he would prefer) think. And he does not draw just any analogy between the violent, overt tribalism "over there" and tribal tendencies in "our" society; he goes out of his way to equate the tribal "instinct" to criminality - i.e. the mafia. As opposed to other, more "benign" kinds of tribalism such as sports affiliation. I seriously hope that Professor Fox's treatment of terms such as tribal and savage are more nuanced in his writing than in his comments on the radio yesterday.

Mar. 11 2011 02:26 PM
Ian from Manhattan

I think you are understating the importance of tribes by asking which tribe your listeners belong to. A tribe cannot be chosen, or loosely affiliated with. You can change the team you root for, but never your tribe. I would say I'm part of the American tribe. With all the faults that tribe comes with.

Mar. 10 2011 11:49 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The problem w/falling back on your tribe when you don't get what you need from the state is that if your tribe is treated unequally, it may not have the resources to help you & its other members who aren't getting what they need either.

Mar. 10 2011 11:49 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

Tony Judt argues that the more homogeneity in a civilization - that is, the bigger the "tribe" can be understood to be - the more comfortable people feel with giving money to "strangers to give to other strangers." He cites the examples of Swedish taxation and social democratic programs as an example; Sweden is highly ethnically and culturally homogeneous, and few Swedes complain about their high taxation and indicate their comfort with providing for others.

Mar. 10 2011 11:44 AM

I considder myself part of both the tribe of the "young, educated, and unemployed" living in economic exile, as well as the tribe of cyclists and bike culture.

Mar. 10 2011 11:43 AM
RLewis from the bowery

downtown Indie Theater tribe
Save the Bowery! tribe
East Village local residents

Mar. 10 2011 11:41 AM
Brad from UWS

My tribes are scholars of Eastern Europe, Public school parents, Upper West Siders and, of course....NPR LISTENERS, especially WNYC!

Mar. 10 2011 11:41 AM
Alden from Soho

Tribe: Nerd
Sub-tribes: Browncoat, Jedi, Griffindor, etc.

Mar. 10 2011 11:40 AM
Howard from Midtown West

I belong to a religious minority, and we often face discrimination at work and unfair treatment in the press. Unfortunately we haven't reached the point where the cultural climate will favor us if we assert our rights. I deeply sympathize with those who have to fall back on kinship groups when the state fails to guarantee equal treatment. It's a source of enormous support, and I don't envy those who live in cultural mainstream but lack the social network we enjoy.

Mar. 10 2011 11:40 AM
Elizabeth from Upper East Side

New York City has different tribes, they are called neighborhoods. I'm an Upper East Sider and would never be an Upper West Sider. There are Downtowners, East Villagers, Brooklynites, etc. We tend to stay in our neighborhoods, defend them, and argue why my "tribe" is the only one to be in! Or maybe that's a New York thing. :)

Mar. 10 2011 11:38 AM

My tribes:

Public Radio listeners
Scientists - (sub tribe = Chemists)
Caltech Alumni
Yankees Fans

Mar. 10 2011 11:36 AM
Fishmael from NYC

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

(Groucho Marx)

Mar. 10 2011 11:36 AM

Tribalism was the norm until the modern state with its social welfare-ism replaced the need to depend on family or tribe. Throughout the Jewish exile, Jews had to depend on their own for social welfare services, until such services were taken over by the state. For much of western history, the Church was often the last hope of the disabled and impoverished. WE call came from clans and tribes if you go back far enough. IN these still poor countries where the state is weak, the tribe is still the primary caregiver for the down and out. The rise of the welfare state loosens family and tribal affiliations, and emphasizes individual rights and responsibilities instead.

Mar. 10 2011 11:36 AM

what about sport tibes

Mar. 10 2011 11:31 AM

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