To counter is not only (or even necessarily) to criticize, although a well- informed critique of another’s work may certainly form part of it. The true purpose of countering, however, is to enhance your readers’ understanding of a topic by identifying and addressing weaknesses in how it has been previously understood.
Let’s return to Curtis Chan’s paper on b-boying to see how he counters views expressed by some gender theorists:
Senelick puts forth Marianne Wex’s contention that gender is not natural or biological but rather historical. He writes, “Centuries of social pressure... have frozen men and women into these physical classifiers of gender” (1992:22). But even this statement seems to indicate that notions of gender and by extension of manhood and masculinity are “frozen,” static, and uniform across the world, whereas in fact they are none of these things. In speaking of “masculinity,” one must not assume that it is a singular thing, but rather that there are multiple masculinities and even multiple performative manifestations of these masculinities.
A characteristically anthropological version of countering takes the form of denaturalizing commonplace assumptions. Kimberly Theidon employs this common and effective strategy of anthropological writing in the following excerpt from a published article:
I argue that although survival may be less dramatic than armed struggle, an analysis of the domestic economy of war reveals the extent to which survival in itself becomes a daily struggle... As the members of the mother’s club in Purus related, “We were so sad because we could not feed our children well. Our children cried for food, and it is the mother who must do something.” What the interviews with these women underscore is the implicit acknowledgment of women’s central role not only in production but also in social reproduction — both threatened during the war, putting mere survival in doubt.
By denaturalizing and countering commonsense notions of struggle, Thei- don advances her argument that Peruvian peasants caught up in civil-military conflicts understood “war” not just as armed combat but as a comprehensive struggle for survival. Incidentally, this countering move itself rests upon another, implicit move of establishing authority: the reader will accept Theidon’s conclusions only if she finds Theidon’s original interview data and interpretations credible.