Reading Nussbaum in the Balkans

NussbaumJustin Smith over at his blog:

I still have fantasies about being an anthropologist, but I have to admit I would be terrible at it. I don't mind being an observer, but to be a participant-observer, that's a bit too much to ask of me. Forget about living for years among rainforest-dwelling, insectivorous hunter-gatherers: I have trouble passing a single week in a provincial Romanian town, surviving on nothing but traditional home cooking (even though it's cooked with love). I prefer my meals meatless, largely uncooked, heavily based on imported and exotic fruits, grains, and pulses. Now that I am back in Bucharest, whenever I see a restaurant that advertises food that is 'just like home', I think to myself: Well in that case nevermind.

But still, the questions that anthropologists ask, if not the field investigations they undertake, attract me more than ever. This much was driven home to me after a leisurely morning of reading recently, during which I alternated between the eminent moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum's recent work in defense of same-sex marriage, and the eminent anthropologist Jack Goody's The Theft of History, a learned tirade against the remnants of Eurocentrism in the writing of world history. The contrast was stark: in the latter case, there was a thinker at work, surveying the range of possible ways human beings do in fact organize societies and attempting to draw general conclusions from these data about the nature of human social existence as such. In the former case, there was a thinker at work, surveying the prevailing opinions of her small community (educated, liberal Westerners), and then attempting to come up with a priori arguments in defense of them.