Place and Movement in cultural narratives


Am reading Ira Berlin’s, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (Viking, 2010). I’ve only finished chapter one but am taken with his way of juxtaposing place (rootedness) and movement (migration) as key narratives in the life of African American history. It is a “contrapuntal narrative,” says Berlin. Had to look that word up since I wasn’t familiar with it. It is point and counter point. Or, better, two independent, seemingly opposing melodies played together to form one new melody. In the book he covers migration from Africa to America and three other major migrations in US history. But he also notes how “place” and rootedness follow the migrants. The Barber shop, the church and other familiar places can help root the migrant in a brand new locale.

It got me thinking again about how certain cultural narratives shape our view of self, other; of God and country. Some of these narratives seem in opposition to each other. While I was reading this chapter, I was spending some time in Lancaster County, or the Amish country. All around I could see evidence of cultural narratives of these descendants of German Anabaptists:  hard work; family first; shunning beauty or technology or anything that might make one put trust in self rather than God. I would imagine that place and farming rhythms shape many of the Amish sense of identity.

What themes do you notice in your life? How much does place (geography, community, contexts) play into your sense of self? How much does movement (independence, migration, freedom, transitions) shape you? I would think that these narratives really do have a significant effect on your philosophical and theological views. I suspect that if you have lived in the same place where generations of ancestors have lived, you may be more inclined to emphasize tradition and sameness. However, if you have had a pattern of change (whether forced upon you or not) and experienced a transitory life, you might find yourself more comfortable with a flexible theology.

What do you think?

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Good Books, Race

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