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Tradition vs. Modernity points in Sherry Ortner's Life & death on Mt. Everest & Mandana Limbert's In the Time of Oil

Updated on March 7, 2012

Tradition vs. Modernity, an anthropological theme portrayed by two inspirational and original female anthropologists

Sherry Ortner and Mandana Limbert are both respected female ethnographers in the field of anthropology. In the Time of Oil, by Mandana E. Limbert, and Life and Death on Mt. Everest, by Sherry Ortner both portray “Tradition” vs. “Modernity”, among other themes in anthropology. Their studies teach us about tradition and the “primitive man” and how wealth which helps modernize ones life, can be such a complex occurrence in the lives of the “primitive man” because their traditions still revolve around their new changes in modernity, although their traditions may change along with their new modernity, the main point is that natives of both these works, still hold their cultures and traditional views of the world while experiencing modernity in their society. This can be both problematic for the natives and can help progression in their society as well, because traditional views allowed for complex ways of making something of their new “modernization” of their society.

An ethnography of the people of Oman, an excellent read if you are interested in modern anthropology and ethnography.
An ethnography of the people of Oman, an excellent read if you are interested in modern anthropology and ethnography. | Source
An ethnography of the mountaineers of Mt. Everest, including the "sahibs" and "sherpas", this is not your typical ethnography and involves a lot of action.  Very interesting read.
An ethnography of the mountaineers of Mt. Everest, including the "sahibs" and "sherpas", this is not your typical ethnography and involves a lot of action. Very interesting read. | Source

Women entering the field of anthropology after the 1970s brought different perspectives to anthropology and therefore many great changes occurred

The history of anthropology is known to have many biases and therefore has been criticized and attacked by other fields as well as by our own anthropologists, but after the 70’s women and people of different backgrounds entered the field which allowed for different perspectives in the field, and this strongly contributed for great things to come in the field of anthropology. Women entering the field, in today’s modern times, such as Mandana Limbert and Sherry Ortner allowed for an eye-opener on modern views throughout the world, an example of why females brought such a different world view, is Sally Slocum’s point, who is a well respected anthropologist, in her work Women the Gatherer, Male Bias in Anthropology , she brought up that before the 70’s even women anthropologists asked questions that men were mainly interested in. The questions anthropologists ask is a reflection of their own biases, and different views in anthropology allowed for different questions to be asked that were never asked before. Modern times call for modern thinking, or questioning the unquestioned, which is what these modern female anthropologists did. Sherry Ortner and Mandana Limbert, although contemporary anthropologists, gave a lot of insight to the field that was widely, historically written through the eyes of the male perspective. Both anthropologists works are very original, where Sherry Ortner did her study on mountaineering in the Himalayas, in which she focused on the Sherpas and the Sahibs, she purposely sought out to gain perspectives and insights from the “other” or the “orient”, as well as the Western mountaineers, and Mandana E. Limbert focused her study in the Persian Gulf region, specifically in Bahla, which is an oasis town in the interior of Oman, which had recently gained oil wealth and was a peculiar choice of region to study because it was wealthy, and anthropologists generally do not study wealthy societies.

Both anthropologists sought to gain insight from the less powerful and the powerful in their ethnography's, which in anthropology’s past, was not done. Anthropology, historically, focused on the Western powerful view, and expressed its biases by pretty much downgrading non-Westerners, but Ortner and Limbert did not do this. They acknowledged their differences, and researched people as they were without downgrading or focusing on the powerfulness of the Westerners. Their focus was on the unfocused, the unstudied, the non-Western. Although they did focus on the Westerners and how that may have affected the natives, they really got insight and heard out the non-Westerners in their books, and their works represent a very well written representation of the “Orient” or “Other” and how modernity affected them. It was difficult for Limbert to receive permission to do her research because as anthropology is a discipline that has its prejudices, looking at primarily uneducated, not powerful, not wealthy working poor, Limbert wanted to focus on the Persian gulf region, which was wealthy and it was questioned as to why in the world she would want to research the wealthy people of Oman. She got her permission eventually, and focused on these people and gave us a good depiction of how complex non-Westerners lives are when dealing with tradition and modernity.

Sherry Orter and Mandana Limbert's books gave us great insight on both sides of the spectrum-the powerful and the powerless.

Both Ortner and Limbert’s works show tradition vs. modernity through depicting modernizations due to a gain in wealth for the natives, yet a strong sense of tradition remained even with the gaining of wealth, and was intertwined within the natives mental state of how to react with their new wealth. In the Time of Oil, portrays life among the people of Oman and how their actions, behaviors and beliefs were guided by tradition even with this new oil wealth, if anything changed it was that their traditional ways were more involved in dealing with their new oil wealth. They maintained the view that their wealth will not last long, and it was just a dream that they will wake up and be back to their old ways of poverty. Oman was progressing and modernizing itself with their new change, while maintaining their idea of proper social conduct, piety and gendered religiosity which was entailed in their everyday life through their memories and local histories. Sherry Ortner’s Life and Death on Mt. Everest shows how the Sherpas are gaining wealth by climbing with the Sahibs, yet their minds are still infused with traditional superstitious ways of thinking, even though they are certainly modernized due to their wealth and what it has brought about for the Sherpas. Himalayan mountaineering brought a lot to the table in regards to helping modernize Khumbu, the higher valley village of Khumjung, which contains one of the largest source of Sherpas. Both the Sherpas and the Omani’s wealth helped form social institutions that did not exist before, such as new schools, and new roads, a new fixed up society for both areas were established. Ortner and Limbert studied modern times in both their works, and how that is related to past knowledge and experiences of the individuals and how the individuals use their past knowledge, experiences and traditional ways of thinking which almost always involve religion among other beliefs, focusing on how these past traditional phenomena affect their ways of being in their new modernized society.Anthropology is humanity and what is means to be a person, it focuses on how the complexities of life are put together, and both Limbert, and Ortner focus on how their natives’ complexities of life, whereas their traditional views happened to become intertwined with their new modernized life, and how even though everything was changing because of their modernization they still held on to their traditional views, even though some of their traditions took twists and turns in accordance with their new changes involved in their society.Sherpas, in Ortner’s book, Life and Death on Mt. Everest, mainly went climbing for the money, it paid well and allowed themselves and their family members to live more comfortable lives, because the money they made in mountaineering, they could not really make anywhere else. The 1970’s brought more women into mountaineering both memsahibs and sherpas, which showed that modernization was taking over, and the superstitious beliefs the sherpas had about females climbing, among other superstitious beliefs, were less and less focused on by the sherpas, since modern times were allowing females to participate in mountaineering and in society more and more. Mountaineering in of itself, being a way to gain wealth was fairly modern and as modern times kept approaching the sherpas gave us some of their traditional ways.

Works used in this paper

Limbert, Mandana E. In the Time of Oil. California: Stanford University Press, 2010.

Ortner, Sherry. Life and Death on Mt. Everest.New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Slocum, Sally. 1975. “Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women 36-50.


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      IntegrityYes 5 years ago

      I voted up for sure.