Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Institutions: Organizing the Known Universe

What is an institution? How do institutions pass down social, political, and economic capital? Why do we need language to describe institutions?
“David Lewis’ definition is helpful: a convention arises when all parties have a common interest in there being a rule to insure coordination, one has a conflicting interest, and none will deviate lest the desired coordination is lost (Lewis, 1968). Thus, by definition, a convention is to that extent self-policing. […] For a convention to turn into a legitimate social institution it needs a parallel cognitive convention to sustain it(How Institutions Think, Mary Douglas, 46).
MIT is one such institutionDouglas is describing an institution. Here are a few other definitions of an institution:
  • institutions - the patterns of living and social organizations that carry out the values and goals of a society. (oregon state)
  • Any pattern of behaviour which by repetition, traditional sanction and legal reinforcement acquires a degree of coercion could be described as a social institution. [...]the structural components of a society through which the main concerns and activities are organized, and social needs (Anthropology for beginners)
  • Institutions are ideas about how something should be done, look or be constituted in order to be viewed as legitimate. Institutions can be defined as a “stable collection of social practices consisting of easily recognized roles coupled with underlying norms and a set of rules or conventions defining appropriate behavior for, and governing relations among, occupants of these roles”. Institutions provide structure, guidelines for behavior and shape human interaction. (Weebly Anthropology)
The common interests are the passing of capital to the same group of people, whether between themselves or along to their future kin. Strongly established or legitimized institutions further relate themselves to the supposed natural order of the universe: as we organize our minds and societies from birth, so the universe is naturalized organized. Institutions perpetuate themselves by preserving and sharing information to their justifying principle; this creates a mutual feedback between the institution and the model of the universe. The individuals that populate these institutions then self regulate their thoughts and perceptions according the justified social organization.
“Institutions systematically direct individual memory and channel our perception into forms compatible with the relations they authorize”(How Institutions Think, Mary Douglas, 92).
More clearly: As  institutions of socialization have organized our minds, so we have been taught that the universe is organized. Our institutions of learning, science, and classification reinforce and legitimized the established belief in the organization of the universe, reproducing it in the technology and ideologies we use to produce culture. Interaction of class based hierarchical structures perpetuate themselves to support underlying interests. Why is it that way in our society? Because people are that way. Why are people that way? Because people have to be that way. Because all people are that way. Because people have never been different.   
"The institutions lock into the structure of an analogy from the body. The more primitive the division of labor, the more the same analogy can be deployed from one social context to another. In modern industrial society the analogical relation of head to hand was frequently used to justify the class structure"(How Institutions Think, Mary Douglas, 49).
beautyhurtsHow do you know all people have always been that way? Because of their body. As their body is, so is our society.  The secret held back is that our body is malleable. Our upbringing in society shapes our relationship with our body and the bodies of others. Douglas describes varies ways that institutions have been credited with storing and reproducing information. Of course, empowering institutions to control information also empowers them with the ability to choose or erase particular topics of discourse. Our minds can be organized; certain ideas we simply never encounter because the institutions we trust to store information and educate us have excluded that information.  
Types of institutions:
A very useful way of grouping social institutions is as follows:
(a) kinship institutions deal with marriage, the family and primary socialisation;
(b) political institutions regulate access to and the use of power;
(c) cultural institutions deal with religious, artistic and scientific activities;
(d) stratification institutions deal with the distribution of social positions and resources; and
(e) economic institutions produce and distribute goods and services.
The development of hierarchy and efficient division of labor allow institutions to more efficiently act on their power. This capacity reinforces and naturalizes the hierarchies implicit in the organization of the bureaucracy. Other minority ideas and subversive discourses cannot compete with the efficient labor nor the stored capital that institution.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Stretching myself to theory

IMG_1332Watching the video from the last post, I was going over my blog. Basically I did a lot of house keeping and redesign work. While fiddling with things, I realized that I hadn't posted any really heavy analysis in a little while.

I though it would be instructive to delve a little deeper into the reasons why I have stepped away from the really challenging work that I was doing on this blog around feminism and developing my own analysis.

Theory Production

Lots of reading, research, and revision goes into the heavy theory posts that I write. Usually my theory posts are a reaction to a new idea that I encountered, some type of writing or experience that really challenged my thinking process.

Constantly challenging the assumptions you have about the world and how the world works - this is difficult and draining work. Especially since much of the theory that I focus on is about how oppression acts, how political power is perpetuated. I think academic environments, we fail to address the emotional labor and drain that goes into good theory production. Often, part of our traditional (patriarchal) academic training is to ignore our instincts and emotions around abuse or the mishandling of power.

IMG_1416 (1)

Do you really think that the 3.022 lab professors would care that I came up with a great blog post about radical readings of Angela Davis?

If you ever read Mary Daly's work, you immediately become caught up in how much anger and passion she has infused into the writing. I was completely stunned and captivated to read an academic theory work, so very rich and heavy, that was also clever and burning. While I'm not nearly at that level of emotional development yet, I am constantly challenging myself to enact that labor, to engage passionately and fully with the world that I live in and the way people describe it.

Anthropological theory production, really good theory production, involves knowing and empathizing with people even when their circumstances may be remote. Requiring us, author and reader, to empathize with unknown joys and fears while mapping out the political realities : that's the type of theory that pushes me to write at my very best. Feminist theory production for womanists involved knowing yourself and empathizing with the experiences of women who had never been given the space or recognition for their pain or triumph. Following these fore mother and fore sister's lead is a necessity for me; I'd be lost without the light of their hearts.

I just haven't been able to sit down and really engage in these forms of labor, especially knowing that I wouldn't receive validation from most of the world.

Myself: Known

I have instead been sitting down with myself. I've taken some time to really look at the goals and experiences that have brought me to this moment. Silently mulling over my past isn't what I'm describing.

I'm attempting to describe an active conversation with myself. When you stretch a canvas, you have to really know every inch of that canvas before you begin to transform it. Feeling out structural integrity and preparing support in myself is the foundation of producing theory for me. After learning about reflexivity, I realized that my own position and experiences can be the beginning of theory. Particularly as I learned about consciousness raising in second wave feminism, I realized that my life is a wealth of knowledge that has been lost to me.

Now, at 21, I'm feeling out all of the cracks in the painting, relearning the fundamentals of the original canvas from the deformations and shifts that time has given my experience. These cracks trace back to my political identity, how I have been recognized by others and how these reactions have shifted my own image.

Again, this is an active process. Even how I have learned to begin this process has changed my sense of self.

Survival as praxis

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde, A burst of light

Photo on 12-10-14 at 12.55 PMWith this background of learning myself all over again and recovering a passion and anger that so many women have had stymied, suddenly my tiredness makes sense.

Another reason I've taken a break from heavy theory is to simply take care of myself. Participating in emotional labor also means engaging in recovery, in self love, in love of others. I've been trying to really embrace a feeling of life, with my tiny kitty or my growing plants.

I've been enjoying the company of other women. I've been enjoying my own company. I've been enjoying how much I've already done and survived.

Taking this time means learning how to survive, looking back with a critical but proud eye to plan for the future.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Progress, Work, and Feedback


So I just want to really draw out a few of these points since it is such a long video. There's something in the video that really resonated, seemed kind of important.

  • Put in man hours

    • Sketch

    • Fundamentals

    • Broad & Deep

    • Beginning = Imitation

  • Make bad art

  • Progress is slow

  • Progress requires taking risk

    • Risk leads to failure x 1,000

    • Risk leads to success x1

    • Persevere

  • Consider audience

    • Connect with people

      • Beginning = fanart, pinup, etc. ready made audience

      • Must move to own new material

        • create audience

  • Share your unique voice

    • Document progress

    • Communication : Voice

  • Finale = Connection and Communication with Audience

    • Brand

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Kitties

For just a little while I had two kitties.

One of my friends needed someone to cat sit for her while she went home to visit her family at the start of the summer. I volunteered and, after a cat-date, I was approved to be a temporary cat momma.


The kitty is called Mitten. She's a funny little cat because she doesn't know how to meow. I like the think that she's the cat version of Marilyn Monroe - she kind of moan-sighs out all of her vocalizations. Mitten is just so teeny tiny!

Mitten got her name from her one pale paw. My friend says that she likes to play patty cake, but Mitten and I didn't get that far in our relationship.

Mitten and Prilla avoided each other during their first cat date. Once Mitten was dropped off at my apartment for the longer term, she explored the highest locations she could reach - the top of the fridge, my loft bed, and the sink counter. She settled in to her perch to scope out the land.


Mitten loved to take her morning nap burrowed into my blankets. I'd like to take this time to thank her for depositing so much cat hair in my bed. thank you, mitten.


Prilla pretended that she didn't know that anything had changed. New cat? What cat? She choose to simply lay about and lick herself as though no other cat was around. However, she made sure to keep a sly eye on Mitten - somehow Prilla managed to meander her lay downs to follow Mitten's explorations.

There were a few frantic chases around the apartment. No kitty was scratched, but hissing competitions started by Mitten devolved into Mitten retreating to the top of the refrigerator. Prilla's tail fluffed up so much when she's upset!

[caption id="attachment_778" align="alignnone" width="300"]Why does that cat have a snack? I should have the snack - I rub my face on waaaaay more stuff Why does that cat have a snack? I should have the snack - I rub my face on waaaaay more stuff[/caption]


Another strange kitty thing was their battle over the litter box. One kitty would use the litter box and a few hours later, the other would need to 'update' their control of the litter container. Now I did have two litter boxes for them - my friend brought over Mitten's litter box. But the kitties weren't going to give up their poop fight; they chose to compete over just one.

Daily Make Up

Hanging out with another kitty is kind of refreshing. I realized what quirks are unique to Prilla. I also enjoyed the company of a more cuddle-friendly cat. Mitten loves to get her nose boop'd. I still love Prilla's long soft fur and tsundere ways. But I can see the appeal of a different type of kitty.

Although, I don't want to take a bath with either of them! Mitten, get down from there!


Monday, July 6, 2015

Spring Plant Growth

Look at all of the plants that I'm growing! I need to get a few more supports for my sunflower growings. I'm wondering how high these sunflowers will get.

The lavender plant has quite a lot of leaves coming off of it. I'm tempted to see if I can have some more clippings growing separately. Worrisome is that the woodiness is quite thick on most of the plant. I'm amazed by how sturdy the plant has become in the past year.

[caption id="attachment_745" align="alignnone" width="225"]IMG_2291 Sunflower, rosemary, sage with spider plant babies[/caption]

I have an infinite number of spider plants. Infinite. 


My basil plant got really large, so I did some clippings of it. The leaves were so thick in some areas of the plant that they were going yellow. For these clippings, I might give those basil plants to friends or other people in my apartment. Basil plant clippings are really easy to grow. You can see the roots that came out in a few days.

[caption id="attachment_746" align="alignnone" width="225"]IMG_2144 Basil clippings[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_748" align="alignnone" width="300"]IMG_2147 Basil clippings with some roots growing[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_747" align="alignnone" width="225"]IMG_2138 Basil[/caption]

I think that it's beautiful how thick and lovely these basil plants are now. The leaves are just delicious. I just take little chews of the plants to freshen my mouth. There's something spring like to the plants.

I also have sage plants. I really enjoy the smell and velvety feel of them. I've used them in savory dishes, like stews and roasts. They also smell great when being burned. I know some people find them to be quite medicinal, but I think they smell earthy.


So much of the earth is coming alive. I love walking around, grabbing honey suckle flowers or smelling gardens. Also, I'm trying to learn more about the plants local or common to the area. Many homes have these large orange flowers. I think that they're beautiful, very large and vibrant.

Hemerocallis fulva - Orange Day Lily (via go botany)

At the Go botany site you can read more about the plant, including the fact that you can eat the tepals!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Values and Alignments

So now that the semester has been done for quite a while, I've realized how much I got caught up in a kind of busy work and procrastination. And I'm trying to cut these activities out of my summer.

Daily work into Alignment

IMG_1530 The reality of college life is that a lot of the work you do is still busy work. For example, in 3.022 we write lab reports in under a week on experiments that we complete in about 4 hours. Those experiments are obviously not ground breaking or unique. Rather, this work is a diminutive of the real work done in research. Purposefully, professors have designed a situation where we are under a feeling of pressure even though the material that we produce has no value or meaning. To be clear, once you realize the purpose of the experiments and write ups then the whole experience is useful.

  • You can get a real sense of whether you enjoy or have a talent for lab work.

  • You are exposed to many technical terms and equipments.

Some students have realized which fields are more exciting to them. But also to be clear, feeling inordinate pressure can lead students to hyper focus on details that don't actually matter on a project that won't matter past the experience. For example, my group members once spent about 20 minutes arguing about which font to use on a presentation. This presentation will never be viewed outside of the 50 people taking and grading the class. That is a detail, a type of busy work, that did not advance any of our goals, immediate or otherwise. Is the font choice on one powerpoint going to help you get a job at Lincoln labs? The point that I'm getting at is that I am at MIT with a particular value and goal:

I want to work as an art conservator at a museum, doing either conservation or research.

IMG_1504A lot of what we do for course work is not directly advancing that goal. Some of it I might not be able to see the value of yet, but I trust my advisors and professors to guide me. Some of it is tangential, brushing up against my goal. Some of it makes me a better person. Some of it is the chores and reality of adulthood. Some of it is just busy work. Spending 4 years at college, I have gotten caught up in the feeling of doing doing doing something all the time. Even if the work is busy work, I feel compelled to be doing something. Many other students at MIT have experienced this. They remark

Oh, i feel so bored and restless on spring break. Nothing to do!

Agh, I feel like I should be doing something right now.

Haha, I always have something running in the background. I can't stand sitting doing nothing.

But how many of these activities that fill the restlessness  are actually useful? How many of the advance the student's goals? How many of them make my friends happily content rather than tired?

Values and Exercise

Let's use an analogy.

There are the people who work out in a gym. They run on a treadmill in an air conditioned room. They lift weights, carefully, on machines that guide their movements. Certainly, they get the endorphins and benefits of a work out. Their lean bodies can manage a mile without worry. But every day, they must go out of their way to go to the gym, to set aside time to run in place.

There are other people who work out by biking to work. They swerve amongst traffic, quickening their reflexes and strengthening their legs. Maybe they pick up their groceries, hauling them from the store to their home to work out their arms. These people also get the benefits of a work out, but they also have accomplished a task that needed to be done. Their work out has been consolidated into their routine.

The first is a type of busy work, inefficient and not related to the overall goals that person has for their life. The second is the best kind of work, streamlined and integrated into their goals and routine. I've realized that I spend a lot of my time jogging in place or taking part in the same procrastinating activities as I did during term. Instead, I want to spend my running time actually moving forward towards the goals I have. 

Beginning to align

I've already started on this in the past semester. I tried to incorporate my values into my work. I tried to tailor activities and assignments to advance my skills for conservation, whether incorporating knowledge of art or creating art myself. IMG_1456My home is now a safe comfortable place with nooks for me to work and paint. I also have my goals clearly displayed, constantly in sight, be it hanging my art or bulletin boards at my desk. That way I have always been reminded of what I'm aiming for.

Still i find myself on facebook, tumblr, watching hours of silly TV. I sometimes complete tasks mindlessly, just to finish them. But I really want to improve on this, to tailor all of my activities towards who I truly want to be. I hope to share with you how I manage to do this, how I rededicate myself to a life long quest.