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Anthropology Culture
by
Hai Ren
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0039

Introduction

Culture is a term that describes and characterizes various ways in which human differences and similarities are recognized and marked. It is inseparable from many important ideas such as cultural tradition, cultural relativism, cultural imperialism, popular culture, mass culture, etc. Moreover, culture is often used as a recognizable genre that marks a division of labor among anthropologists (and other scholars). Cultural anthropology itself is built on the conceptualization of culture’s meanings, its changes, and its problems, all of which are interdisciplinary. The questions of culture, its conceptualization, and its embedded meanings of civilization, the nation-state, aesthetics, economy, and everyday life are tied to the entire history of anthropology as an academic discipline, not just in Western countries such as the United States, Britain, France, and Germany but also in many other countries. As a foundational concept of anthropology, culture has been continuously shaped to adapt to changes both inside and outside the discipline.

Reference Works

Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other introductory references are useful tools for students of culture. The concept of culture has many meanings. Kluckhohn and Kroeber 1952 and Williams 1983 offer useful and critical reviews. While Birx 2006 describes culture broadly, Barfield 1997 and Levinson and Ember 1996 examine it within social and cultural anthropology. In addition to guides to the culture concept, Levinson 1991–1996 documents cultural groups around the world; Layton 1997 offers a useful introduction to anthropological theory. Finally, Filmed Interviews with Leading Thinkers offers an opportunity to see anthropologists who describe their careers.

Bibliographies

Three kinds of bibliographical databases are relevant to the study of culture. The first kind focuses on research within anthropology (Anthropology Databases). The second kind is broadly based, covering social sciences and humanities (General Academic Databases). They are useful for anthropologists who are interested in understanding the same or similar issues studied by researchers in other disciplines. Because anthropologists often develop their interests in particular regions, they also find many area-based databases useful (Regional Studies Databases).

Anthropology Databases

Annual Review of Anthropology covers significant developments in all fields of anthropology. It is a good starting point for any anthropological research. Anthropology Plus and AnthroSource are anthropology-focused databases. They cover all anthropological writings published in English.

  • Annual Review of Anthropology.

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    Covers significant developments in the subfields of anthropology, including archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics and communicative practices, regional studies and international anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology. Offers full text-searchable access.

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    • Anthropology Plus.

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      Provides extensive worldwide indexing of journal articles, reports, commentaries, edited works, and obituaries in the fields of social, cultural, physical, biological, and linguistic anthropology; ethnology; archaeology; folklore; material culture; and interdisciplinary studies. Includes both the highly respected Anthropological Literature from Harvard University and Anthropological Index by the Royal Anthropological Institute in London.

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      • AnthroSource.

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        An online service of the American Anthropological Association, this database offers full-text access to more than a century of anthropological knowledge, across the breadth and depth of the discipline.

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        General Academic Databases

        Anthropologists, who often draw insights from other disciplines, use multidisciplinary databases. Academic Search Complete and Project MUSE are comprehensive; they include periodicals in social sciences, humanities, and arts. Social Sciences Citation Index, Humanities International Complete, and Arts and Humanities Citation Index tend to include journals generally relevant either to social sciences or humanities and arts. JSTOR and Sociological Abstracts usually include materials from anthropology and other disciplines closer to anthropology.

        Regional Studies Databases

        Anthropologists who focus on a particular region may use area-based databases. Commonly available ones include Bibliography of Native North Americans, Bibliography of Asian Studies, HAPI, and Index Islamicus.

        Historical Background

        The institutionalization of anthropology as an academic discipline paved the way for the development of culture as one of the most important theoretical frameworks. Methods and theories used in understanding and analyzing culture have changed significantly in the discipline (Barnard 2000). The historical distinctions among ethnology in Continental Europe (especially Germany and France), cultural anthropology in the United States, and social anthropology in Britain have gradually disappeared since the second half of the 20th century. A major trend is that anthropologists still use culture as an important concept, but they are more critical toward cultural description and analysis. As newer theoretical frameworks such as poststructuralism, postmodernism, subaltern studies, and postcolonial studies become more prominent and influential than older frameworks such as evolutionism, functionalism, and structuralism, anthropologists in the 21st century are more open-minded, experimental, and interdisciplinary in conception and theorization. Methods and theories become sophisticated, critical, and open to new ways of describing, understanding, and analyzing culture, often on an interdisciplinary basis (Eriksen and Nielsen 2001). Historians of anthropology agree that the discipline’s development, conceptualizations of culture, and social and political realities in which anthropologists work have been inseparable. While Hogden 1964 and Stocking 1987 offer overviews of early practices, Ortner 1984, Ardener 1989, and Wax 2008 describe recent changes and practices in anthropology.

        • Ardener, Edwin. 1989. Social anthropology and the decline of modernism. In The voice of prophecy and other essays. By Edwin Ardener, 191–210. Oxford: Blackwell.

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          Presents an important idea that social anthropology was explicitly linked to modernism through functionalism, structural-functionalism, and structuralism. Originally published in 1985.

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        • Barnard, Alan. 2000. History and theory in anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          A useful overview of the earliest forms of ethnography and the theoretical assumptions that grounded them.

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        • Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, and Finn Sivert Nielsen. 2001. A history of anthropology. London: Pluto.

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          An excellent introductory book that covers the entire history of social and cultural anthropology from the 19th century to the present.

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        • Hogden, Margaret. 1964. Early anthropology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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          This book proffers a very helpful description of proto-ethnographers and the earliest moments before ethnography’s more formal academic institutionalization.

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          • Ortner, Sherry B. 1984. Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History 26:126–166.

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            An influential article about how practice theory could unify actor orientation and structure orientation, as well as sociological and cultural-meaningful perspectives.

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            • Stocking, George W. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

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              Chronicles some of the ways in which anthropological writing during the Victorian era influenced social policy and English society more generally.

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            • Wax, Dustin M., ed. 2008. Anthropology at the dawn of the Cold War: The influence of foundations, McCarthyism, and the CIA. London: Pluto.

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              A groundbreaking volume examining anthropology in the Cold War era. The contributors show how anthropologists became both tools and victims of the Cold War state during the rise of the United States in the postwar period.

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            Civilization

            The conceptualization of culture as civilization is often implicitly linked to the framing of culture as a universal form of human life (Tylor 1920). To criticize what is taken for granted in their own societies and to grant humanity to every human being, anthropologists historically characterize ethnic peoples, those different from their own, as cultures. And yet, many of them explicitly or implicitly accept a horizontal comparative contextualization of different cultures through such theoretical frames as “primitive,” “evolutionary,” and “developing,” as variously pointed out by Kuper 1988, Escobar 1995, and Harrell 1995. Cultural centralism, colonialism, and imperialism have not disappeared but have only changed their expressive forms. Thus, Asad 1973 starts a debate about anthropology’s close relation to European imperialism; and other anthropologists such as in Comaroff and Comaroff 2001 redirect the field’s attention to lives under capitalism, whether using world system theory (Wallerstein 1974–2011), Marxist political economy theory (Wolf 1982), or Weberian social organization theory.

            • Asad, Talal. 1973. Anthropology and the colonial encounter. New York: Humanities.

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              A classic critique of anthropological complicity with European imperialism. One of the most debated books in British anthropology in the early 1970s.

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              • Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff, eds. 2001. Millennial capitalism and the culture of neoliberalism. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                Argues against the assumed distinction between modern reason and premodern irrationalities, linking that analysis to a critique of late capitalism as a kind of cultural logic that demands the interplay between so-called rationality and irrationality.

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              • Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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                Shows how development policies became mechanisms of control that were just as pervasive and effective as their colonial counterparts. The development apparatus generated categories powerful enough to shape the thinking even of its occasional critics while poverty and hunger became widespread.

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              • Harrell, Steven, ed. 1995. Cultural encounters on China’s ethnic frontiers. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

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                This widely cited volume examines civilizing projects outside the European and American contexts.

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              • Kuper, Adam. 1988. The invention of primitive society: Transformations of an illusion. New York: Routledge.

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                A careful analysis of how anthropology constructs its primitive other.

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              • Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1920. Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. 2 vols. London: J. Murray.

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                The author’s definition of culture is his most significant contribution to modern anthropology. He equates culture with civilization. Originally published in 1871.

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                • Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974–2011. The modern world system. 4 vols. New York: Academic Press.

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                  A classic work on the development of a tripartite world of centers, semiperipheries, and peripheries.

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                • Wolf, Eric R. 1982. Europe and the people without history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                  A key text in American Marxist anthropology that deals with the complex economic, cultural, and political effects of colonialism on the peoples studied by anthropologists.

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                The State

                The theorization of culture in the institutionalization of anthropology often takes place in the context of nation-state building. Theories of culture, as Anderson 1991, Anagnost 1997, and Herzfeld 2005 have argued, address sets of issues inseparable from the nation-state, its imagination, its institutions, and its politics. Specific issues involve civil society as it relates to institutions such as work, education, arts, leisure, and entertainment (Bourdieu 1984, Bennett 1995); civil campaigns and practice; the politics of life through sovereignty and governmentality (Ong 2006, Ren 2010); and globalization (Appadurai 1996, Ong and Collier 2005). Anthropologists have widely incorporated social and cultural theories into the discipline.

                • Anagnost, Ann. 1997. National past-times: Narrative, representation, and power in modern China. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                  An influential book critiquing the politics of state representation in and through popular culture.

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                • Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Rev. ed. London: Verso.

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                  A classic work on nation building as an active and ongoing process.

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                • Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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                  Influential book on cultural dimensions of globalization.

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                • Bennett, Tony. 1995. The birth of the museum: History, theory, politics. London: Routledge.

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                  An important case study of the museum as an institution of civil society that deploys culture as a means of internalizing control.

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                • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                  Standards of tastes, population control, and institutions are closely tied.

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                • Herzfeld, Michael. 2005. Cultural intimacy: Social poetics in the nation-state. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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                  The author theorizes the idea of “cultural intimacy” and shows how it enables scholars to understand the paradoxical relationship between national politics and the experiences of ordinary citizens.

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                • Ong, Aihwa. 2006. Neoliberalism as exception: Mutations in citizenship and sovereignty. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                  One of the most influential authors on neoliberalism outside the European and American contexts, especially her concepts such as “flexible citizenship” and “graduated sovereignty.”

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                • Ong, Aihwa, and Stephen J. Collier, eds. 2005. Global assemblages: Technology, politics and ethics as anthropological problems. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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                  This volume examines many contentious issues around globalization—bioscientific research, neoliberalism, governance—from the perspective of the “anthropological” problems they pose; in other words, in terms of their implications for how individual and collective life is subject to technological, political, and ethical reflection and intervention.

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                • Ren, Hai. 2010. Neoliberalism and culture in China and Hong Kong: The countdown of time. New York: Routledge.

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                  This study of public culture and neoliberal practices explores important concepts such as neoliberal sovereignty, multiplicity-based temporality, and communication as a means of production. It critically examines a mode of neoliberal globalization different from modes shaped by the United States and European Union.

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                Aesthetics

                Aesthetics is both a topic of study and a scholarly practice for cultural anthropologists. Goody 1968 was one of the earliest anthropological studies of literacy. Bateson 1972 and Ricoeur 1971 made important contributions by regarding culture as intelligence, creativity, and text. This was part of the symbolic turn in anthropology. Bauman 1986 explores storytelling as a performance event. While Benson 1993 offers a good overview of the theoretical links between anthropology and literature and Strecker and Tyler 2009 reflects on the relationship between culture and rhetoric, Daniel and Peck 1996 examines traditional humanities issues such as writing, reading, narration, creativity, and media arts. Anthropologists are also interested in understanding the ways in which aesthetics is linked to questions of power, social relations, and inequalities. For example, Price 2001 critiques representations of “primitive arts” in Western museums.

                • Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind. San Francisco: Chandler.

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                  This volume covers many topics representing the author’s contribution to the anthropology of communications: cybernetics, ecological flexibility, animal communication, schizophrenia, and the constitution of the self.

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                • Bauman, Richard. 1986. Story, performance, and event: Contextual studies of oral narrative. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                  A classic ethnographic study of oral storytelling as an oral performance.

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                • Benson, Paul, ed. 1993. Anthropology and literature. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                  Provides a nice overview of the theoretical links between ethnography and literature.

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                • Daniel, E. Valentine, and Jeffrey M. Peck, eds. 1996. Culture/contexture: Explorations in anthropology and literary studies. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                  An anthology of scholars reflecting on various topics at the intersection of anthropology and literary studies, including reading, writing, narration, and representation.

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                • Goody, Jack, ed. 1968. Literacy in traditional societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                  One of the earliest anthropological studies of literacy.

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                • Price, Sally. 2001. Primitive art in civilized places. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                  A critique of how arts from non-Western societies are represented in museums in the West as a way of building civil societies.

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                • Ricoeur, Paul. 1971. The model of the text: Meaningful action considered as text. Social Research 38:529–562.

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                  Ricoeur’s idea of society or culture as text influenced many symbolic anthropologists like Clifford Geertz.

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                  • Strecker, Ivo, and Stephen Tyler, eds. 2009. Culture and rhetoric. New York: Berghahn.

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                    This volume offers a range of theoretical reflections, historical discussions, and empirical investigations of the links between rhetoric and culture. Collectively, the authors regard representations of cultures as “rhetorical constructs.”

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                  Economy

                  Anthropological studies of culture as economy generally engage in issues and questions inside and outside the capitalist economy. Gift exchange and value transformation are classic issues for anthropologists, especially those who are concerned with communities different from capitalist societies. Analyzing capitalist cultural economy may use many approaches. Some of the most influential ones include Marxian political economy, critical theory, and cultural studies. Since the late 20th century, the rising importance of culture in the global economy has led to the rapid development of media and popular culture studies.

                  Gift and Value

                  Marcel Mauss, Marshall Sahlins, Mary Douglas, and Baron Isherwood are classic writers in economic anthropology (Mauss 1954, Sahlins 1972, Douglas and Isherwood 1996). Many research questions are explicitly and implicitly linked to the global expansion of capitalism and new modes of economies (Polanyi 1944). Appadurai 1986 is one of best anthropological works on the relationship between consumption and value transformations.

                  • Appadurai, Arjun, ed. 1986. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                    An influential work on consumption and value transformations in global economic systems.

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                  • Douglas, Mary, and Baron Isherwood. 1996. The world of goods: Towards an anthropology of consumption. Rev. ed. London: Routledge.

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                    A classic study of the exchange of goods as a form of communication.

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                  • Mauss, Marcel. 1954. The gift: Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. Translated by Ian Cunnison. London: Cohen & West.

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                    This classic work presents the influential idea of gift exchange as a means of establishing social relations. Originally published in French in 1924.

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                    • Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The great transformation. New York: Rinehart.

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                      This influential work argues that that what we call “the economy” does not exist in precapitalist societies, and that classic political economic theory can therefore legitimately be applied only to capitalist economies.

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                      • Sahlins, Marshall D. 1972. Stone age economics. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.

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                        Distinguishes between three main types of economy: reciprocity (small-scale, nonhierarchical, kinship-based), redistribution (hierarchical societies), and market economy (capitalist societies).

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                      Analyzing Capitalism

                      Anthropologists are interested in engaging in dialogues with scholars typically associated with Marxian political economy (Gramsci 1971, Godelier 1977, Mintz 1985, Harvey 1989); critical theory, represented by scholars of the Frankfurt school in Germany (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, Benjamin 1968); and cultural studies, institutionalized first by the scholars of the Birmingham school in Britain (Hall 1977, Hebdige 1979).

                      • Benjamin, Walter. 1968. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In Illuminations. By Walter Benjamin, 217–251. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

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                        A classic piece that offers a critical assessment of the interrelation of art, technology, and mass society.

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                        • Godelier, Maurice. 1977. Perspectives in Marxist anthropology. Translated by Robert Brain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                          An influential French Marxist anthropological work that followed structuralism.

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                        • Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers.

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                          Rather than the role of the economic in determining social relations, the author describes the process of hegemony in dominance and subordination of particular classes.

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                        • Hall, Stuart. 1977. Culture, the media and the “ideological effect.” In Mass communication and society. Edited by James Curran, Michael Gurevitch, and Janet Woollacott, 315–348. London: Edward Arnold.

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                          The author’s representative work on media.

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                        • Harvey, David. 1989. The condition of postmodernity: An enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell.

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                          A class Marxian political economy approach to the study of postmodern cultural formation.

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                        • Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The meaning of style. London: Methuen.

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                          Subculture and subaltern groups wield their politics of resistance in the registers of style and culture.

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                        • Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. 1972. The culture industry: Enlightenment and mass deception. In Dialectic of enlightenment. By Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, 120–167. New York: Seabury.

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                          As key figures of the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of the commodification of culture influenced anthropologists especially after the 1980s.

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                        • Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Viking.

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                          A classic example of political economy in anthropology.

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                        Media and Popular Culture

                        The anthropology of media and popular culture addresses diverse topics and issues. Jenkins 1992 theorizes the concept of fandom in studying popular culture (see also 1996). As Mazzarella 2004 and Spitulnik 1993 point out, mediation as an important aspect of social life becomes an important topic in the anthropology of globalization. While Mankekar 1999 presents a useful model of ethnographic research on television, Miller and Slater 2000 uses ethnographic methods in studying the Internet. Lukas 2007 examines the links between storytelling and spatial practices. Ren 2009 critically examines the relationship between spectacle and biopolitics in a new mode of economy that is based on affective labor.

                        Everyday Life

                        In a long history of engaging in scholarships from other disciplines, anthropologists tend to define, understand, and critique culture as a way of life. In various ways since the late 19th century, culture has been defined as a structured set or pattern of behaviors, beliefs, traditions, symbols, and practices, beginning with such figures as Tylor, Boas, Benedict, Mead, Kroeber, and Geertz. Over the years, culture as everyday life has become more refined in methodologies and theories. Anthropologists actively engage in constructive conversations and critical debates over the concept of culture between peers both within and outside the discipline.

                        Definition as “Way of Life”

                        From the 19th to the mid-20th century, American Evolutionism and British Structural-Functionalism were two dominant ways in which culture as everyday life was defined. American evolutionism was first inspired by the works of Lewis Henry Morgan and Edward B. Tylor, and led by Franz Boas and his students and successors such as Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Alfred Kroeber, and Leslie White. In the meanwhile, structural-functionalism dominated British anthropology. Alfred Radcliffe Brown, W. H. R. Rivers, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, and Edmund Leach were the leaders.

                        American Evolutionism

                        The definition of culture as a “complex whole” in Tylor 1920 and the three stages of cultural evolution in Morgan 1976 laid the foundation of American evolutionism. Boas 1948 further refines it through the author’s notion of cultural relativism. Many of his influential students paid close attentions to a range of cross-group issues. Benedict connected culture to psychology (Benedict 1934, Benedict 1946); Kroeber 1948 developed the author’s notion of acculturation; and Mead 1928 socialization. Interests in material and technological aspects of culture were also influenced by Boas. Scholars like White, for example, argued that material and technological aspects were more fundamental than social and ideological aspects of culture (White 1949).

                        • Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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                          A classic example of anthropological work on the relationship between cultural conditions (socialization, gender roles, and values) and psychological factors (personality, emotions, character).

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                          • Benedict, Ruth. 1946. The chrysanthemum and the sword: Patterns of Japanese culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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                            An analysis of Japan’s national culture based on a psychological typology.

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                            • Boas, Franz. 1948. Race, language and culture. New York: Macmillan.

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                              This book lays out the Boasian notion of cultural relativism.

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                              • Kroeber, A. L. 1948. Anthropology: Race, language, culture, psychology, pre-history. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

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                                This book lays out Kroeber’s theory of acculturation as a mechanism for determining the relative similarities and differences between social groups.

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                                • Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of primitive youth for Western society. New York: William Morrow.

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                                  One of Mead’s most popular books comparing the “free” style of socialization in Samoa with the strict, authoritarian style of the American middle class.

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                                  • Morgan, Lewis Henry. 1976. Ancient society; or, Researches in the lines of human progress from savagery through barbarism to civilization. New York: Gordon.

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                                    A classic work that uses ethnographic research among Native American populations to discuss three main stages of cultural evolution: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Originally published in 1877.

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                                  • Tylor, Edward Burnett. 1920. Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. 2 vols. London: J. Murray.

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                                    The author’s definition of culture is his most significant contribution to modern anthropology. Originally published in 1871.

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                                    • White, Leslie A. 1949. The science of culture: A study of man and civilization. New York: Grove.

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                                      Based on distinguishing between technological, social, and ideological aspects of culture, the book argues that the technological dimension determines the social and ideological factors of culture.

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                                      British Structural-Functionalism

                                      Developed both as a reaction to the historicism of British evolutionism and as a critical response to American Evolutionism (Rivers 1922), British social anthropology focused on structure, social organization, social structure, and functional aspects of culture (Radcliffe-Brown 1952). Politics was an important legacy of structural-functionalism. In addition to addressing tensions and conflicts (Leach 1954), politics ultimately is about the art of the possible (Evans-Pritchard 1940), not the art of the legal. It is about stretching rules, not about stable allegiance to shared moral norms.

                                      • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1940. The Nuer: A description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a Nilotic people. Oxford: Clarendon.

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                                        A classic ethnographic study of politics as the art of the possible.

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                                        • Leach, Edmund R. 1954. Political systems of Highland Burma: A study of Kachin social structure. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

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                                          This book addresses tensions and conflicts in politics. A classic work in political anthropology.

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                                          • Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1952. Structure and function in primitive society: Essays and addresses. London: Cohen & West.

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                                            Provides an overview of the structural-functionalist approach to cultural analysis.

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                                            • Rivers, W. H. R. 1922. History and ethnology. New York: Macmillan.

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                                              This provides an example of the anthropological critique of cultural evolutionism.

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                                              Systemic Theorization

                                              In the 1960s and 1970s when evolutionism and structural-functionalism were on the wane, three major theoretical frames of culture were developed and gradually became dominant. Similar to evolutionism and structural-functionalism, they also considered culture as a system. First, Claude Lévi-Strauss treated culture as a universal grammar arranged in terms of binary oppositions that rendered intelligible the form of a society. His major work on kinship became a trademark of structuralism (Lévi-Strauss 1969). Then, both Julian Steward’s notion of cultural change (Steward 1955) and Marvin Harris’s cultural materialism (Harris 1974) emphasized cultural adaptation and cultural ecology. Last but not least, symbolic anthropology became mainstream. While Victor Turner led the development of one branch of symbolic anthropology that focused on ritual practices, ritualized communication, and performance (Turner 1957, Turner 1969), Clifford Geertz led another school to focus on interpretation known as “thick description” (Geertz 1973). Other important developments include Leach 1976, a study of culture and communication, and Drummond 1980, which emphasizes hybridities through the author’s idea of “cultural continuum.”

                                              • Drummond, Lee. 1980. The cultural continuum: A theory of intersystems. Man 15.2: 352–374.

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                                                As a critical response to structuralism, the author argues that “cultures are neither structures nor plural amalgams, but a continuum or set of intersystems.”

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                                                • Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

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                                                  This is the foundational text in interpretive anthropology, including oft-cited chapters on religion and the anthropological value of “thick description.”

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                                                • Harris, Marvin. 1974. Cows, pigs, wars, and witches: The riddles of culture. New York: Random House.

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                                                  Very clear overview of cultural materialism as a theoretical perspective that is useful in explaining, for example, why some groups refuse to eat pigs while others ban the consumption of cattle.

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                                                • Leach, Edmund. 1976. Culture and communication: The logic by which symbols are connected; An introduction to the use of structuralist analysis in social anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                  The author introduces the use of structuralist analysis in understanding how culture communicates through what he calls a “communication event,” which involves at least two individuals and transmits a message.

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                                                • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The elementary structures of kinship. Translated by James Harle Bell, John Richard von Sturmer, and Rodney Needham. Rev. ed. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.

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                                                  One of the most important works in structuralist anthropology, especially in the area of kinship studies. Originally published in French in 1949.

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                                                  • Steward, Julian. 1955. The theory of culture change: The methodology of multilinear evolution. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                                                    A classic work on cultural ecology that studies evolution as how societies adapt to the specificities of their local environments.

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                                                    • Turner, Victor W. 1957. Schism and continuity in an African society: A study of a Ndembu village. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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                                                      This book introduces the concept of social drama as a rite of passage in which underlying norms are given symbolic expression as a way to contribute to social integration.

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                                                      • Turner, Victor W. 1969. The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine.

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                                                        The author develops his influential theory of ritual communication through the concept of liminality.

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                                                        Situated Theorization

                                                        Beginning in the 1980s, larger systematic analyses gave way to a series of new focuses on small-scale and situated studies. Theorization of culture took on new themes, issues, and problems after a period of rethinking and reflecting on the notion of culture. Self-Reflexive Anthropology questions the very enterprise of cultural analysis. Meanwhile, Ethnicity, Race, and Postcolonial Studies criticizes the discipline’s historical ties to colonialism and imperialism and calls for alternatives. Within these contexts, feminist anthropology that addresses problems of gender and sexuality has become one of the most productive fields (Feminism, Gender, Sexuality, and the Body). Another major fruitful development focuses on issues that emerge in the practice of everyday life, such as action, agency, and affect (Practice, Action, Agency, and Affect).

                                                        Self-Reflexive Anthropology

                                                        A major development in theorizing culture in the 1980s was the “reflexive turn” in anthropology. George E. Marcus, James Clifford, and Michael M. J. Fisher were the leaders. Marcus and Fisher 1999, Clifford and Marcus 1986, and Clifford 1988 are among the most celebrated books. Not only do they challenge their peers to rethink the concept of culture in anthropology and to engage in cultural critique at home but they also call for literary, experimental, and dialogical approaches to ethnographies. This “writing culture” movement has posed many challenges to anthropologists, as reflected by Sangren 1988. In an effort to move beyond the writing culture movement, Rabinow 1989 presents the powerful Foucauldian argument of anthropology as a regime of knowledge. Gupta and Ferguson 1997 examines “fieldwork,” a central anthropological notion.

                                                        Ethnicity, Race, and Postcolonial Studies

                                                        After the 1950s and the 1960s, when many new nation-states were formed around the world, studies of ethnicity and nationalism emerged. Barth 1969 represents a classic anthropological study in this area. Meanwhile, scholars of color and those from colonized regions began to challenge anthropological knowledge typically associated with a cosmopolitan, white, male, European, or American background and values (Baker 2010). Fanon 1967, Deloria 1970, and Said 1978 are the classic books for anthropologists in postcolonial studies. Fabian 1983 criticizes the standard ethnographic practice of placing research subjects in a different time from the contemporary present of the Western anthropologist. Spivak 1988 asks anthropologists to reflect on the politics of representing the subalterns or the marginalized. Harrison 1991 calls for addressing problems of racist oppression, gender inequality, class disparities, and capitalist exploitations as a means to decolonizing anthropology.

                                                        • Baker, Lee D. 2010. Anthropology and the racial politics of culture. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                                                          Explores the implications of anthropology’s different approaches to African Americans and Native Americans, and the field’s different but overlapping theories of race and culture.

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                                                        • Barth, Fredrik. 1969. Introduction. In Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of cultural difference. Edited by Fredrik Barth, 9–38. Bergen, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.

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                                                          A classic piece of ethnicity studies in anthropology.

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                                                          • Deloria, Vine, Jr. 1970. Custer died for your sins: An Indian manifesto. New York: Avon.

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                                                            Offers an impassioned attack on the Boasian anthropologists whose relativism positioned Native Americans as the eternal exotic and prevented them from attaining equality with whites.

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                                                            • Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the other: How anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                              Argues that ethnographers place their subjects in a different time than the contemporary present of Western anthropologists.

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                                                            • Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black skin, white masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove.

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                                                              A foundational text in postcolonial studies that addresses the relationship between black and white people in the colonies. Originally published in French in 1956.

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                                                              • Harrison, Faye V., ed. 1991. Decolonizing anthropology: Moving further toward an anthropology for liberation. Washington, DC: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

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                                                                A volume that seeks to take an activist approach to address problems of racist oppression, gender inequality, class disparities, and capitalist exploitations by drawing on four major streams in anthropology: Marxian political economy, interpretative and reflexive ethnographic experimentation, feminism, and radical black and “third world” scholarship.

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                                                              • Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon.

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                                                                Influential work critiquing representations of “Orientals” in Western academia that were permeated by the tendencies of focusing on the “irrational,” “sensuous,” and “mystical” East.

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                                                              • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. Can the subaltern speak? In Marxism and the interpretation of culture. Edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 271–314. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                                                                This classic article questions whether a subaltern can have a voice in public culture.

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                                                              Feminism, Gender, Sexuality, and the Body

                                                              Feminist anthropology has become one of the most productive fields since the 1970s after the publication of Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974. Feminist anthropologists challenged many foundational conceptions such as nature versus culture, gender roles, and gendered division of labor. Strathern 1988, for example, incorporates a gender perspective in the debate about gift exchange, a classic issue in anthropology. Di Leonardo 1991 represented some of the important feminist writings on gender and the body in the 1980s. Inspired and influenced by self-reflexive anthropology, Abu-Lughod 1999 is a classic feminist study of gender and politics. Trinh 1989 engages in a fruitful dialogue between postcolonial studies and feminism through the author’s exploration of the processes of displacement. While Stoler 2002 addresses the intersections between race, sexuality, and colonialism through a Foucauldian framework, Povinelli 2006 reflects on normative discourses of intimacy in liberal settler societies. In queer studies, Weston 1991 is a classic study of gay and lesbian family and kinship issues.

                                                              • Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1999. Veiled sentiments: Honor and poetry in a Bedouin society. Rev. ed. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                Inspired by the Foucauldian critique of anthropology as a regime of knowledge, this author presents a classic ethnographic study of gender and politics in the Middle East.

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                                                              • Di Leonardo, Micaela, ed. 1991. Gender at the crossroads of knowledge: Feminist anthropology in postmodern era. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                This volume highlights the theoretical themes that characterized feminist anthropologists in the 1980s.

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                                                              • Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2006. The empire of love: Toward a theory of intimacy, genealogy, and carnality. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                                                                The author reflects on a set of ethical and normative claims about the governance of love, sociality, and the body that circulate in liberal settler colonies such as the United States and Australia.

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                                                              • Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist, and Louise Lamphere, eds. 1974. Woman, culture, and society. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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                                                                A classic collection of feminist writings in anthropology.

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                                                              • Stoler, Ann Laura. 2002. Carnal knowledge and imperial power: Race and the intimate in colonial rule. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                An important Foucauldian work that stands at the intersections of race, sexuality, and postcolonial studies.

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                                                              • Strathern, Marilyn. 1988. The gender of the gift: Problems with women and problems with society in Melanesia. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                This book’s exploration of personhood and exchange critiques classic anthropological studies of gift exchange.

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                                                              • Trinh T. Minh-ha. 1989. Woman, native, other: Writing postcoloniality and feminism. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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                                                                Explores postcolonial processes of displacement such as cultural hybridization and decentered realities, fragmented selves, and multiple identities, as well as marginal voices and language of rupture.

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                                                              • Weston, Kath. 1991. Families we choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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                                                                A classic book on families and kinship of lesbians and gays.

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                                                              Practice, Action, Agency, and Affect

                                                              Anthropological attention to the individual as an actor in social life tends to address issues of agency, action, and affect in the practice of everyday life. Lefebvre 1991–2005 presents a series of most-influential studies of everyday life under capitalism in the 20th century. In contrast with Lefebvre’s Marxian approach, Linton 1936 and Goffman 1956 take a Weberian approach to address status, role, and self-presentation in everyday life. Another approach, represented by Foucault 1977, addresses the relationship between the body and power. A fourth model emphasizes the active agency of an ordinary person. Both Lévi-Strauss 1966 and Certeau 1984 make important arguments about the ways in which the ordinary person makes do in the everyday context. Other influential works include Bourdieu 1977, presenting the conception of habitus; Lave and Wenger 1991, on the idea of “situated learning”; and Stewart 2007, a reflection on the relationship between affect and the quotidian.

                                                              • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                One of his most influential works conceptualizes the idea of habitus, a relatively long-term internalization of the social order in the human body. Originally published in French in 1972.

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                                                              • Certeau, Michel de. 1984. The practice of everyday life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                A classic work on the active agency of the ordinary person in everyday life. Originally published in French in 1980.

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                                                              • Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon.

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                                                                One of the most influential books in anthropology that addresses questions of power and the body.

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                                                              • Goffman, Erving. 1956. The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre.

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                                                                Influential work on the approach to “symbolic interactionism” in the everyday context. The book presents the argument that the existence of any version of self is representation.

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                                                                • Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                  The authors develop the influential idea of learning as a situated practice through participation that is at first legitimately peripheral but that increases gradually in engagement and complexity.

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                                                                • Lefebvre, Henri. 1991–2005. Critique of everyday life. Translated by John Moore and Gregory Elliott. 3 vols. London: Verso.

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                                                                  Rich and prescient work that offers critical assessments of everyday life under capitalism. Individual volumes originally published in French in 1947, 1962, and 1981.

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                                                                • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The savage mind. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                                                  Represents the author’s important work on mythology. The book’s first chapter theorizes the concept of the “bricoleur,” which is often cited in everyday life studies. Originally published in French in 1962.

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                                                                • Linton, Ralph. 1936. The study of man: An introduction. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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                                                                  One of the first scholars who made a distinction between status (as moral norms, systems of relations) and role (as an enactment of status in an actual behavior).

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                                                                  • Stewart, Kathleen. 2007. Ordinary affects. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                                                                    This book argues for attention to the affective dimensions of everyday life and the potential that animates the ordinary.

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                                                                  New Challenges and Future Directions

                                                                  Anthropologists are always interested in conversations on the new possibilities for research and analysis by engaging with theorists whose ideas animate anthropological work or open up theoretical itineraries for the future. They always look for spaces for theoretical discussions not necessarily tied to areal or ethnographic specificity. Three kinds of studies are particularly noticeable: Medical Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, and the Anthropology of the Political. Anthropologists explore the work of theorists within and without the discipline, past or present. These figures might be emerging theorists or long-established ones whose work may have been neglected or which might be mined in new ways to generate differing trajectories for anthropology.

                                                                  Medical Anthropology

                                                                  Since the suggestion in Scheper-Hughs and Lock 1987 of new directions in medical anthropology, many exciting works have been produced. Kleinman, et al. 1997 presents important work on social suffering resulting from war, famine, depression, disease, and torture. While Rhodes 2004 examines how the prison system works in ethnographic detail, Nichter 2008 turns to anthropological work on global health.

                                                                  • Kleinman, Arthur, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, eds. 1997. Social suffering. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                    A pioneering study of “social suffering” that addresses the consequences of what political, economic, and institutional power does to people.

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                                                                  • Nichter, Mark. 2008. Global health: Why cultural perceptions, social representations, and biopolitics matter. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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                                                                    Elucidates what anthropology can contribute to global health and the study of biopolitics in the future by focusing on our cultural understanding of infectious and vector-borne diseases.

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                                                                  • Rhodes, Lorna A. 2004. Total confinement: Madness and reason in the maximum security prison. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                    A rare firsthand exploration of the maximum security prison that includes vivid testimony from prisoners and prison workers, describes routines and practices inside prison walls, and takes a hard look at the prison industry in the United States.

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                                                                  • Scheper-Hughs, Nancy, and Margaret M. Lock. 1987. The mindful body: A prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1:6–41.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1525/maq.1987.1.1.02a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    An often-cited piece that charts out an agenda for future applied and theoretical research in medical anthropology.

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                                                                    Science and Technology Studies

                                                                    The anthropological interests in science and technology led Latour to develop his “actor network theory” (Latour 1993) and Steigler his assessment of technics (Stiegler 1998–2011). The idea of science as a constructive enterprise (Stengers 2010–2011) is clearly illustrated by the exploration of the relationship between discursive practices and new media technologies in Kittler 1999.

                                                                    • Kittler, Friedrich. 1999. Gramophone, film, typewriter. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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                                                                      Contributes a vital historical dimension to the current debates over the relationship between electronic literacy and poststructuralism and the extent to which we are constituted by our technologies.

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                                                                    • Latour, Bruno. 1993. We have never been modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                                                                      Presenting the author’s important notion of “actor network theory,” which links persons, objects, and ideas in a network, in which constant “translations” (person to object, object to idea, etc.) take place.

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                                                                    • Stengers, Isabelle. 2010–2011. Cosmopolitics. Translated by Robert Bononno. 2 vols. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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                                                                      Explores the role and authority of science in modern societies and challenges its pretensions to objectivity, rationality, and truth.

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                                                                    • Stiegler, Bernard. 1998–2011. Technics and Time. Translated by Richard Beardsworth and George Collins. 3 vols. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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                                                                      A philosophical anthropologist’s major work assessing technics, technology, and their historical changes and problems. Originally published in French from 1994 to 2001.

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                                                                    Anthropology of the Political

                                                                    In the broadly defined anthropology of the political, an emerging area of study citizenship, social belonging and violence. Das 2007 weaves anthropological and philosophical reflections on the ordinary into the author’s analysis of violence. While Mbembe 2003 examines the dialectical relationship between life and death, Brown 2006 offers a critical analysis of tolerance and its relation to violence. If citizenship and social belonging are closely tied, transnational practices affect their relationship (Balibar 2004). Moreover, as Berlant 2007 argues, they involve affective investments in practices of sociability and world building that move beyond experiences of law and the conventions of ordinary identity. Last but not least, anthropologists also explore how they might take on new philosophical frameworks presented by Badiou’s reconceptualization of truth, subject, event, and appearance (Badiou 2005, Badiou 2009) and the critical articulation of aesthetics and politics in Rancière 2010.

                                                                    • Badiou, Alain. 2005. Being and event. Translated by Oliver Feltham. New York: Continuum.

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                                                                      Badiou is one of the most original philosophers in the world today. This major work presents a new way of thinking about such important concepts as truth, subject, and event. Originally published in French in 1988.

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                                                                    • Badiou, Alain. 2009. Logics of worlds: Being and event II. Translated by Alberto Toscano. New York: Continuum.

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                                                                      Tackling the questions that had been left open by Being and Event (Badiou 2005), and answering many of his critics in the process, the author presents important insights about theories of appearance, which are useful in reflecting on spectacles, media technologies, and communication. Originally published in French in 2006.

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                                                                    • Balibar, Étienne. 2004. We, the people of Europe? Reflections on transnational citizenship. Translated by James Swenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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                                                                      Offers a trenchant and eloquent analysis of “transnational citizenship” from the perspective of contemporary Europe. Originally published in French in 2001.

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                                                                    • Berlant, Lauren. 2007. Slow death (sovereignty, obesity, lateral agency). Critical Inquiry 33 (Summer): 754–780.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1086/521568Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Argues that citizenship and social belonging involve affective investments in practices of sociability and world building that move beyond experiences of law and the conventions of ordinary identity.

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                                                                      • Brown, Wendy. 2006. Regulating aversion: Tolerance in the age of identity and empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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                                                                        A critical analysis of tolerance and its part in justifying violence through its conditional affirmation of dislike, disapproval, and regulation.

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                                                                      • Das, Veena. 2007. Life and words: Violence and the descent into the ordinary. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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                                                                        A good example of combining fieldwork and critical analysis in thinking about violence and how it affects everyday life.

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                                                                      • Mbembe, Achille. 2003. Necropolitics. Public Culture 15.1: 11–40.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1215/08992363-15-1-11Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Focusing on Africa, the author refers to “necropolitics” as the subjugation of life to the power of death. The authority to kill is no longer solely controlled by the state but rather distributed throughout society.

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                                                                        • Rancière, Jacques. 2010. Dissensus: On politics and aesthetics. Translated by Steven Corcoran. New York: Continuum.

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                                                                          Presents two concepts, the aesthetics of politics and the politics of aesthetics, which are useful in analyzing contemporary trends in both art and politics, including the events surrounding 9/11, war in the contemporary consensual age, and the ethical turn of aesthetics and politics.

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