Monday, July 12, 2010

Northern Aurora: To analyze actual and virtual Harbin in terms of consumption, labor & class are fascinating Questions, Counterculture

Harbin ethnography:

... n writing this book, I'm interested in engaging ethnographic interpretation and analysis using language, to examine questions of culture vis-a-vis a specific place in northern California, and the virtual.

To analyze actual and virtual Harbin Hot Springs in terms of capitalism, consumption, labor and class, and vis-a-vis the U.S.A, northern California, virtual worlds and counterculture, would raise many fascinating questions. In this ethnography, I focus on the significance of Harbin as a singular expression of sociocultural processes that emerged in the 1960s, touching on commodification (Kopytoff) only a little, thus exploring ethnographically the significance of Harbin's unique culture. While anthropology has significant traditions of Marxian analysis, the pool-centric focus of this ethnography - both at actual and virtual Harbins - leads me to focus on the enjoyment and freedom visitors and residents find at Harbin in the context of what some might consider the alienation which modernity gives rise to. I would argue that the 1960s were a remarkable expression of reaction to such alienation. Harbin has long been a place where hippies and Bohemians – both visitors and residents - can go and just hang out, find work if you need it, and just be. And Harbin's natural simplicity and funkiness, while not ameliorating the negative aspects of questions of ownership – Harbin is owned and operated by Heart Consciousness Church (HCC) – have given rise to ways of life, which are not usefully analyzed with a Marxian lens. And while residents do the work at Harbin, and I've heard some occasionally criticize management, they know the terms on which they work at Harbin, and choose to stay. While there was a renters' strike around 1977 (Klages), I have never heard of any attempts to unionize Harbin. And actual Harbin as an organization itself doesn't critique capitalism that I have heard, nor do I know of many Marxist or socialist critics who have visited or lived there since I have been going there. And while it's a hot springs' retreat center business and church – a legal charity and nonprofit - and an almost-but-not-quite hippie commune, it's not presently legally a collective or a cooperative. Hippies, however, fully engaged Marxian and socialist thought, and in all likelihood many radical communists have come through the gate to visit. And while many a revolutionary from the People's Republic of Berkeley and the commune of San Francisco have probably travelled to Harbin to change the world, many have found themselves changed by the waters there, as well. I hope I'll get to know more of them. With a focus on freedom, and Harbin's countercultural processes, I'll leave questions of capital, consumption, and means of production, however, vis-a-vis both actual and virtual Harbin, to other social scientists and researchers.

Harbin itself is a place of play, or retreat, of dropping out, of escapism in many senses of this word, and of creating a different society, - of embracing freedom in explicit, clothing-optional ways. ...

( - July 12, 2010)

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