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Working Paper No. 12/2013

UCL Anthropology Working Papers Series


UCL Anthropology
University College London
14 Taviton Street, London
WC1H 0BW, U.K.

ISSN 1759-6688
Editorial Board: Andrea Migliano, Charles Stewart

Working Paper No. 12/2013
Published online 14 May 2013
© Copyright rests with the authors

‘WHY DOES THE METHOD SEEM SO CONFUSING?’

AN ETHNOGRAPHIC EXPLORATION OF SUCCESS, SELFHOOD, AND CAPITALISM IN WOODBRIDGE, NEW JERSEY, AND AT THE LEE STRASBERG THEATRE AND FILM INSTITUTE, NEW YORK

DANIEL SHERER

Dissertation submitted in 2011 for the MRes Anthropology

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ABSTRACT

This paper suggests that Capitalism can be understood as a process of essentialisation/individuation enacted by individuals through their habituated behaviour, and that this formulation has a peculiar fractal quality that is both ‘structured and structuring’ – in the process of its enactment it transforms/abstends the objects into processes of essentialisation/individuation – and refuses abstraction when scaled. Conversely this makes a methodology that is dependent upon scaling inappropriate because it rests upon a metaphysic of holism that cannot be applied to fractal processes. The paper therefore attempts a fractal methodological approach, positioning, side-by-side, two ethnographic vignettes, one concerning small-town life in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and the other concerning The Strasberg Institute and the approach to acting known as The Method. The paper argues that as Capitalism-as-process is enacted, its inherent contradiction – of attempting to achieve value without materiality/labour – is also reproduced, which, when manifested in the ethnographic objects, makes them confusing and contradictory also: the objects becoming/being abstensions of Capitalism. The paper also argues ‘success’ is ultimately a function of visibly performing one’s own selfdetermination, with a conceptualisation of self that is (itself), essentialised to, and counterinvented as, desire given subjectivity.


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