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authenticity, agency, tradition, community

Just juxtaposing a few things tonight, a couple of quotes that struck me…

For example…

I’m still reading Erve Chambers’ book, Native Tours; The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism, and in the section on “Tourism and Culture” came across this passage (pp.96-97) about tradition and authenticity:

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (1983) argue, for example, that traditions are always invented and continually being reinvented. Their approach centers on the agency, or deliberateness, that informs the construction of traditions. Examples of invented traditions associated with tourism abound. The now “traditional’ silver-crafting industries of the Mexican town of Taxco were invented during the 1930s with the encouragement of a visitor from the United States. [further examples] (…) While some observers might find in these cases evidence of cultural fakery, others are just as likely to argue that the origins of particular traditions are much less significant than is the degree to which they become incorporated into distinct cultural identities.

Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin (1984) have contended that our tendency to judge authenticity in terms of the faithfulness by which traditions are passed intact from one generation to another fails to account for the ways in which traditions actually serve human communities. Traditions, they argue, are invariably defined in the present and reinterpreted to meet the ideological needs of the living. The invention, appropriation, and reconstruction of tradition is not a consequence of modernity, but perhaps more nearly a necessary condition for the construction of all human culture. Modernity and capitalism did not create these mechanisms, although they might have helped speed them up and, in so doing, perhaps made them more transparent. This transparency, which serves to render previously implicit cultural traditions more explicit, makes it increasingly difficult to perceive modern tourist images as being “real.” In this respect, Handler (see Handler and Saxon 1988) joins MacCannell in asserting the virtual impossibility of achieving a sense of authenticity in modern times. [emphases added] (p.97)

Also today, I came across an article by Andrew O’Connell in the Harvard Business Review blogs, Sensitive Men: It’s Your Glass Ceiling Too.

Something about O’Connell’s discussion of the agentic mindset – its importance in getting ahead – made me think of Chambers’s analysis. Here’s O’Connell:

A team led by Mark C. Frame of Middle Tennessee State University finds that the higher you go on the corporate ladder, the more you’re among people who put a lot of stock in assertiveness and independence — what psychologists call “agentic” qualities — rather than on such things as caring about others’ feelings.

Get near the top, and people are all about action. Tasks. Results. That, according to Frame and his colleagues, lends “support to the idea that success and upward mobility in corporate environments may require more task-focused behaviors” and fewer behaviors displaying what are known as “communal” qualities.

The findings, based on attitudes data from more than 14,000 people, apply to both men and women. Thus, “it could be that the glass ceiling has more to do with communal versus agentic behaviors than it does with gender,” the researchers say.

In other words, the glass ceiling may be about how you roll, not what sex you are. It may block anyone who places great importance on selflessness or concern for others. Kinda scary, when you think about it.

If you’re a sensitive guy, you’ve probably sensed the presence of this barrier all along. You might even have heard once or twice that you’re “too nice to get promoted.” Yet you know you’d be a better boss than those task-oriented managers, many of whom have zero people skills. (source)

Goal-orientation – even if it’s disguised as communal authenticity – wins out.

Is this surprising? Not at all, …except that we do spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that inner truth, authenticity, and communal values matter more than “getting things done.” Yet the agentic mindset – agency – carries our stories and narratives forward, and we act like that’s a dirty secret.


  1. I’m just having trouble with my Dean and thinking about resigning my Associate Dean job – he’s exactly like that. Zero people skills! Task-oriented. A bully.

    Comment by melanie — September 29, 2010 #

  2. […] passage from Erve Chambers’s Native Tours (which I mentioned in Monday’s post) struck me today. I agree with Chambers’s thinking, and want to relate it to the City of […]

    Pingback by » Authenticity, sweet confection Yule Heibel's Post Studio © 2003-2010 — September 29, 2010 #

  3. Sorry to hear that, Melanie… That’s a tough one to stick out, although I guess you could take heart from Chambers’s observation elsewhere in his book, that out of the difference between agentic behavior and community-oriented behavior a new culture can emerge. If, that is, it’s possible to stick it out long enough to see what it will produce… especially if the difference in question is onerous, not of value, or unproductive (i.e., just a great PITA)! If you resign your post, though, he wins… :-/

    Comment by Yule — September 30, 2010 #

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