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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does a Flaw Exist in Eleanor Burke Leacock’s Research?

I’ve searched and tossed about the pages of Leacock’s research to find a flaw or argument that I can sincerely disagree with. The problem seems to be that Leacock never received the recognition she deserved for her evolutionary research with the Labrador. Furthermore, due to her radical roots and political experiences, she managed to hide her Marxist ideals at a time when it was dangerous to admit her interest in capitalism and its affects on the female gender. I did, however, question her personal reflection, tracing it back to her “radical roots”, as she so eloquently noted, most likely to her parents.

I decided to look at her father’s work to find a source of her feminist motives and Marxist agenda. Burke argued, in Language as Symbolic Action that “this definition of man, means that “reality” has actually been built up for us through nothing but our symbol system" . He further explains that without our encyclopedias, atlases, and other assorted reference guides, we would know little about the world that lies beyond our immediate sense experience. I understand that historical texts are important, just like the archaeological record should be preserved in the pages of publications for further analysis, but first hand fieldwork is essential for understanding symbolism and the culture tied to it. Leacock wasn’t using symbols like her father, nor was she dependent on text. So where did her radical political views stem from really? Her father or anthropologists most like her?

Eleanor never approached her study with the Labrador based almost entirely on books, or unpublished data from Frank Speck’s ethnographic work. Her work and opinions were largely based on the research of Tylor, Engels, Morgan, Marx and many others. But her research is in opposition to their work in my opinion. In this sense I don’t believe she was as radical as she seems to believe she was. I think she’s found a way to oppose male anthropologists, which simply sets her up for recognition, as the feminist who opposes anthropological norms in order to establish a place in the historical narrative.

Leacock does discuss the amount of female autonomy in egalitarian societies, explaining that many anthropologists have conveniently “contended that female inferiority was cross-cultural”. She disagrees with this statement of course. I’m curious as to why. Could it be that the anthropologists she speaks of were males and only offered a male perspective of female inequality, based on their own class society?

In closing, the observations Leacock made while studying the Labrador were a combination of feminist fulfillment and consequences of capitalism and colonialism. I appreciate the fact that Leacock recognized that postcolonial contact was not the only factor that caused cultural change during aboriginal times. Her counterparts posited that European contact was the primary catapult for the new culture changes in foraging peoples. In truth, Leacock’s perspective provides us with an understanding of cultural context and assumptions about aboriginal patterns.


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