This is an explanation for passage 1 of LSAT Preptest 75, the June 2015 LSAT. This passage is about a debate among anthropologists on whether video technology will Westernize indigenous culture or help them preserve their cultures.
This section has paragraph summaries and an analysis of the passage, links to the explanations for the questions are below.
- Indigenous people have begun using video to document their own cultures. Anthropological reaction is divided.
- Some, like James Weiner, think that video will inevitably warp indigenous culture to make it more western.
- Others, such as Faye Ginsburg argue that indigenous cultures can use Western technology without becoming western. Video may even let indigenous cultures protect themselves from Western influence.
- Terence Turner’s fieldwork in Brazil supports Ginsburg’s argument. The Kayapo people have been able to use videos to document their ceremonies and make legal records. The Kayapo videos mirror their ceremonies and culture – they are not Western in style.
This passage is a discussion of different theories about the impact of native cultures filming themselves.
The background to this is historic concern about “colonial gaze”. That refers to the traditional western-centric view that Western experts would study indigenous societies. Indigenous societies would be watched, and neutral Western experts would be the watchers.
Eventually, people came to be uncomfortable with this idea, and debated it. But this debate was still within Western society.
But now, inexpensive video technology allows indigenous societies to watch themselves. This has led Westerners to debate whether this is a good thing.
There has been a traditional concern in Western circles about Westernizing indigenous societies. It’s considered a bad thing if indigenous societies abandon their traditions and adopt those of the West.
This explains Weiner’s view. Video technology is Western. And using a technology imposes some constraints in how we use it. Weiner believes that videos will force indigenous people to adopt the values of “realism, immediacy and self-expression.”
(Note: Weiner is not saying those values are necessarily bad things. He’s saying that those are the predominant values of Western society. If indigenous people adopt those three values, then they will displace other values which might have been more useful for them. A society can only have so many values.)
Weiner’s opponents, such as Ginsburg, mention the idea of the Noble Savage. This was a concept from European Romantic literature, portraying humans before civilization as idealized, virtuous, happy people.
The concept of the Noble Savage has been ridiculed. Indeed, it does not seem to be based on reality. Indigenous people are human. Every form of society has some good qualities and some bad qualities. It’s highly unlikely that society was ideal and perfect before civilization arrived. So Ginsburg thinks that Weiner is Romanticizing indigenous peoples.
While Ginsburg admits that technology is not neutral, they argue that it’s likely that indigenous people can use video technology without adopting Western conventions. Indeed, video technology can document and strengthen native traditions.
Ginsburg uses the term “technological determinism”. This refers to the idea that if a technology exists, it will inevitably shape society in a certain way. For instance, the idea that if cars exist, we will inevitably build suburbs and we have no choice in the matter.
The final paragraph supports Ginsburg’s argument that indigenous people can use video without harm. This paragraph also shows that the author agrees with Ginsburg.
In the final paragraph we hear of how the Kayapo use video. They have two uses:
- They document their ceremonies.
- They record legal transactions with the Brazilian government.
In the first use, the Kayapo are able to make their videos in a style that mimics their ceremonies. So video technology does not inevitably Westernize indigenous cultures.
The point of the second use may be less obvious. You need some outside knowledge. All around the world, colonizing governments have a history of and a reputation for dishonoring agreements made with indigenous peoples.
Often, now, the law of the countries involved may protect the indigenous people against cheating by the government. However, indigenous people often lack proof of the agreement, and are not experienced at dealing with the legal system.
This new video technology allows indigenous people to prove that agreements happened. This will discourage the Brazilian government from cheating, and increase indigenous people’s odds of winning a legal case if the government does cheat.
Note: You don’t need to be familiar with terms like “noble savage”, “technological determinism” and “colonial gaze” to do well on reading comprehension. But it helps. If you have several months to study, it is a good idea to read the Economist magazine every week. Doing so will give you a broad background knowledge that will help inform your reading of RC passages.
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