In the previous week’s readings, we visited Derrida’s notion of the center, which with regard to knowledge, is constantly shifting. In creating new understandings of how systems function, there is a preoccupation with the center, it’s function, and how it comes to define the whole. For centuries across cultures of medicine, for example, the heart was viewed as the center of the body–the pump that gives life to the limbs and organs that enable life. Only in the modern world did the study of psychology seek to revise the center of the body as the brain.
This week we had a casual graze with the fields of anthropology and sociology. As a study of human cultures, anthropologists have historically been concerned with the center of culture–the point from which society extends. But seeking the center to define relationships of the whole often results in rudimentary thinking about how cultures operate. Throughout his career, Clifford Geertz, the American anthropologist known for his ethnographic studies of Islam, favored a view that I find more useful–what he calls a view from the edge.
Growing up in White Plains, New York, I would come into the city every weekend to visit family and friends, and as I grew up, it became the place to be. I eventually moved here after college, but realized that I no longer had the view from the edge, but rather, a view from the center. It was a perspective shift that resulted in a lot of mixed feelings about the state of the largest city in the U.S., but visits to the suburbs to see my family would shift my view to the edge once more, allowing me to reflect on how I was traveling through the gridlocked streets of the city. “It has everything, but it’s not everywhere,” I’d say of New York to my friends in other cities, or new friends who just arrived from afar. I’m always surprised when someone tells me they quoted that line. (They often do.)
As a frame of mind, I see the edge as the best place to approach research, or structured study of something, somewhere. I see it as the most objective vantage point–a stance from which you’re more likely to see your biases, as you’ve already acknowledged you are on nearly the outside.