Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays

In the non-fictional resource The Culture Cult, the author and anthropologist, Roger Sandall examines the perception of culture, its rise to designer tribalism and its impact on an ever-changing society, particularly in Australia; these ideas can be applied to other parts of Western civilization.

In Part I, Sandall tackles romantic primitivism as an anthropological connection. He discusses the aborigines of Australia as the New Stone Age. In this discussion he puts forth the concept of the Big Ditch—on one side is the civilized world while on the other side is the ancient world with their days-gone-by traditions and customs that is not advancing the people who still live on this side of the Big Ditch. He defines and explains the existence of designer tribalism as one created by “the men and women who try to draw up new communal institutions from scratch. If you don’t have a tribe of your own, invent one—this seems to be the thinking behind their endeavors.” He further discusses the role of the Nobel Savage by bringing in Jean Jacques Rousseau’s thoughts on being or acting Bohemian, the emergence of two anthropological traditions and the idea of romantic primitivism. Sandall concludes Part I with a discourse on how Bohemia enters the Academic world and is institutionalized; a period that sees the rise of the likes of Margaret Mead.

In Part II, Sandall debates Academic Primitivism and its Political Implications. He exposes the work of Karl Polanyi as “He [Polanyi] would play off the primitive against Western civilization, not in order to propose a genuine alternative, but to demean civilization itself.” Sandall critiques The Book of Isaiah in detail and summarizes this chapter as follows: “It is a towering irony that this widely admired and not unattractive man [Isaiah Berlin] should have struggled all his life against the belief that assimilation, adopting the superior civilization of one’s host, might not only be best but could be honorable, too.” In the final chapter in Part II, Sandall explores the work of Karl Popper as it relates to the Maori people in New Zealand.

Sandall, in Part III, concludes with his exploration of why cultures succeed or fail. In this chapter Sandall brings us back to his concept of the Big Ditch and explores how some have crossed the Big Ditch by becoming civilized while others have not yet succeeded in crossing over this Big Ditch. In his concluding chapter he unravels his thoughts on civilization and its malcontents. The Appendix is worthy of note as Sandall describes his Four Stages of Noble Savagery—The Captain Cook Stage, War and Pacification Stage, Transfiguration Stage and Disneyfication Stage.

Sandall brings forth his ideas and concepts in a straightforward language with no hidden meanings; he presents his arguments in a critical and convincing manner with considerable analysis and examples.

For other essays by Roger Sandall visit his website at

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