Reply To: 26.5.2014 Ancient Futures

Author Replies # Posted on May 28, 2014 at 12:47

Reply to Ellen’s answer

Ellen, thank you for your take on the issue of methodology in Helena’s book, you have indeed answered my question in a very satisfying way. I agree with you on many points, especially regarding her rather naive and patronizing “primordialization” of the Ladakhi people, who have been living the same way “for thousands of years” (her words exactly). It is the typical trap of Orientalism that many researchers fall into and I wanted to bring this issue up, since as global environmental historians, we will be tempted often to do the same and I think it is important to reflect your theoretical and ideological stance and lay it bare to your readers. And as you said Helena did neither, thus her book lacks theoretical persuasion. Regarding the linguistic approach: I have a background in lingustics and philosophy and all I can say is that linguists also have to present their theoretical apparatus and must rely on rigorous argumentation and painfully detailed reconstructions (in case of historical linguistics). Helena is not trained in ethnographic methodology and I think the book in question could have benefitted if she had employed some insights from the ethnographic discipline. In this case, the book reminded me of pioneering colonial linguists who wrote impressions in their diaries. But on the other hand the sentimental undertones might be just the thing we need in academic discourse, since its rigidity and strict referencing discipline make it a jargon unable to convey some things. But in the end, if you do this, you must take a critical stance towards it, because if simply claiming “these people have lived the same way for thousands of years”, comes off as unprofessional and irresponsible and a good bit arrogant too.