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Wade Davis : Development Analysis

In 2009, anthropologist Wade Davis delivered a CBC Massey Lecture about the disappearance of languages from the globe, and the significance of that trend. He was interviewed by TVO’s Allan Gregg on the topic.

Note: You can find the interview by using the search function on tvo.org to find the video titled Author Wade Davis on his book “The Wayfinders”.

Wade Davis on “The Wayfinders”

What fraction of the world’s languages will disappear within a generation at the current rate of loss?

Teacher’s answer


How many languages do linguists believe are spoken on earth today?

Teacher’s answer


Allan Gregg makes a comment at 1:32 that “Utopians say the world would be a wonderful place if we all spoke the same language”. What is a “Utopian”?

Teacher’s answer

You needed to do some research for this. A “Utopian” is someone who believes in “Utopia”, or an ideal, perfect society. The concept is based upon Thomas More’s sixteenth century classic “Utopia”, which you should definitely read if you are interested in this sort of thing (it’s a pretty easy and entertaining read with very interesting ideas about war, poverty, work ethic and sex).

Sometime after 4:00, Davis says “There is no such thing as…” what?

Teacher’s answer

Primitive (how you spend that genius is a matter of choice).

During 5:00–6:00, Davis talks about Australian aboriginal culture. How does he say that it is different from our modern western culture?

Teacher’s answer

Rather than thinking about how they can change the world, Davis argues that the aboriginals’ culture demanded that they work to leave the world as it is.

During 7:00–9:00, Davis talks about the Polynesian culture. What achievement of that culture does he describe in detail?

Teacher’s answer

Precise navigation on the Pacific Ocean over extraordinary distances, without any of the navigational tools that are used in the modern west (sextant, clocks, compass, GPS, etc.).

From about 17:00, Gregg and Davis talk about modernity. Davis claims that “these other peoples aren’t failed attempts at being modern, but…”

Teacher’s answer

they’re alternatives to different ways of being alive.

Why does Davis say that we have to be humble when celebrating modernity?

Teacher’s answer

Davis points out the paradox in a (North American) culture that says that it prizes elders, but only has 6% of grandparents living with the rest of the family; that says it prizes children, but also prizes the “24/7” workplace; that has values that consistently degrade the entire planet.

Davis claims that literacy doesn’t always hold its promise. What example does he give?

Teacher’s answer

In Kenya, students who are sent to school as nomads are taught to have contempt for their old way of life — they become literate, but cannot go back to the old culture.

After 21:00, Davis talks about the “Arctic art of survival”. What did the “Polar Eskimos” of Greenland ban, and why?

Teacher’s answer

They banned the Ski-Doo, because they realized that the act of training dogs — the process of being a dog trainer — liberated them from the supply chain necessary for snowmobiles and maintained the elements of their culture that they wanted to retain.

Assignment – Wade Davis: Development Analysis

Discuss the concept of “developed” in the context of change, from the perspective of one of the social science change models outlined in this module. You may also research a separate model and use it as the lens through which you examine this question. Include a paragraph outlining your own opinion or perspective on “development” as an indicator of progress, change, or success.

Note: You may find that you need to further research the concept of “developed” outside the course.


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