Monday, January 17, 2011

Mangrove tree: Harbin, as an ethos & milieu, seems to develop through time doing what it wants, regardless ways an ethnographer might describe it

Harbin ethnography:

... With virtual Harbin, there are more possibilities, for example, for anonymity as avatars, in terms of ethics, and perhaps therefore more opportunities for exploring in flourishing ways the hippy ethos and ethics of Harbin, ethically as a kind of hippy ethnographer of the virtual.

Actual Harbin, as an ethos and milieu, seems to develop through time doing what it wants, regardless of any possible ways an ethnographer, such as myself, might describe it, or even want for it to be different, thus potentially prescribing possible changes. What I understand as Harbin's remarkable singularity is its unique, open, hot springs' retreat center with clothing-optional, pool-centric, loosely-hippy culture (with many free agents, in some senses of hippies having agency), which seems rooted in a kind of 1960's resistance of people doing what they want, and exploring. People head up to Harbin and often have a party, which is now 40 years in the making. [? which is somewhat at odds with perhaps a more normative understanding of workaday life in northern California in 2010, even in the context of a kind of northern California's libertarian ethos. ?] As ethical practice, “Anthropologists generally subscribe to some form of cultural relativism, meaning that we believe that there is no one standpoint from which to judge all cultures and ways of being in the world. Because of this, we are conditioned to see various perspectives as "positioned" (Abu-Lughod 1991), and the things that we learn in the field as "partial truths" (Clifford 1986). Therefore, there is not one single truth in a research situation to be uncovered; there are many” (Hall 1999?). This doesn't mean that anthropologists don't try to change problems they see in the societies they study. For example, as a marginally, financially successful hot springs' retreat center (Heart Consciousness Church), Harbin's housing for residents could be better. When I proposed as a resident to develop a fundraising department in 2005 at Harbin, that is, for Heart Consciousness Church, and the Watsu Center as school, in a new role of managing director, it seemed to me that with more monies at Harbin, which even then (it was bought in 1972) seemed to have elements of an culture of scarcity, housing for residents could improve. While Harbin wasn't interested, this was a way that I could have prescribed ways of improving the standard of living at Harbin; I had Pendle Hill, a Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation, which provides good housing, or a stipend for this, in mind as an example of something of a similar place, and possible model. While I had finished a Master's Degree in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2003, and a Diploma of Research in Ethnology (with a focus on information technology at both places) at the University of Edinburgh in 2004, and had writing a (descriptive) ethnography of Harbin in mind when I applied to work there beginning in January 2005, I found that Harbin's culture didn't take on my (possibly prescriptive, and also innovative) proposal for starting a fundraising department at Harbin, despite Harbin being quite money-focused, in some ways. While I would have worked within the Harbin 'system' to change it for the better for the residents by contributing to Harbin something that they needed and wanted (money), this opportunity didn't present itself. While I didn't change Harbin, and while I also learned about Harbin's culture as a consequence – they focus on generating revenue through ways they know work – I found that Harbin's culture is different, unique and has a kind of cohesiveness. What fascinates me at Harbin is its ongoing freedom-orientation for visitors, and its continuity of business practices vis-a-vis its culture emerging from the 1960s (which I'll examine in a later chapter). As anthropologist, I've come to further respect Harbin's culture as unique, despite Harbin not entertaining my fundraising department proposal to complement and build on the beauty of Harbin as it was at the time. My concern for Harbin residents' housing, as anthropologist, didn't mean that I judged the housing as bad or wrong, but rather that I came to further understand how residents' housing emerging out of a kind of hippie culture with not enough money around, with roots in the 60s, and that Harbin would have a long road toward financial comfort, and possible, eventual improvement of Harbin's housing. Ethnographic study of virtual Harbin will involve both description of the process as it continues to emerge, as well as forms of prescription, in the sense above, in characterizing what will be built, and perhaps what in-world signage to put up around the virtual pool area, for example, but all emerging from the milieu of actual Harbin.

[?Emerging as a response to modernity, hippies in the 1960s (this book's argument), questioned in a far-reaching way, and were resistant, to both the prescriptions and descriptions of main-stream culture. Harbin, too, … ?

While Harbin's, and Heart Consciousness Church's, financial success has made it possible to build the Harbin Conference Center in the early 1980s, and the Harbin Domes in the late 1990s?, as well as the Temple in 2004 and 2005, for example, residents and visitors have engaged in many kinds of gift exchange and barter, for example, especially in the context of the Harbin-families' tribe-like thinking, as well as its hippy-informed counterculture. ...

( - January 17, 2011)

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