After ‘Firstness’–the challenge of generative anthropology

Eric Gans represents a school of ‘generative anthropology’ that is concerned with the originary scene of culture in sacrifice and the invention of language. This field is informed particularly by the theories of scapegoating developed by Rene Girard. Gans coopts this approach to argue against ‘victimary’ thinking in Western liberalism. He defends the idea that the unique flame of civilisation was ignited by the Jewish religion, and subsequently carried by the West in the development of technology and market capitalism.

In a recent article about Bruno Latour, Haven’t we always been modern?, he argues for the privilege of ‘firstness’ shared by the ‘developed’ world.

The ‘developing’ world, whatever the varieties of its cultures, offers no alternative visions of nature, let alone modes of relating subject and object, to challenge the structures of modernity and its global marketplace. Its resentments of the ‘hegemonic’ West, justified or not, are wholly ethical.

While aligned with certain fundamentalist values, Gans sophisticated argument may be useful to further develop southern thinking. Is ‘firstness’ a unilateral status? Can the West be seen to represent a superior technological facility, but an inferior form of social cohesion? Can criticisms of the West be dismissed as merely ethical? Is not ethics a limiting condition on all systems?

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