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Anthropology Literary Anthropology
by
Nigel Rapport

Introduction

The field of “literary anthropology” actually covers two fields of study. The first is an exploration of the role that literature plays in social life and individual experience, in particular social, cultural, and historical settings. Included in this study is the question of what “literature” is. Literary anthropology can be understood here as an exploration of different kinds of genre of expression, and how these genres can be said to have a historical specificity, a cultural evaluation, and a social institutionalism attached to them. The anthropologist might examine literature as the oral recounting and exchange of myth among 20th-century Amazonian hunter-gatherers, or the focus might be on the establishment of printed daily newspapers in Hungary and its links to the 19th-century rise of Hungarian nationalism. Secondly, literary anthropology is a study of the nature of anthropology itself as a discipline. What role does writing play in the processes of accruing anthropological knowledge? What is the history of the relationship between anthropology and particular kinds of writing? Should exponents be happy to proceed with this historical tradition or is it appropriate that anthropology now reimagine itself in terms of different kinds of expression—visual, audible, sensory—or different kinds of literary genre: fictional or poetic or dialogic? It can be seen that these two fields of study—the first, more traditional approach and the latter “literary turn” to the very nature of knowing and representation—are not discrete. In asking what kinds of expression it should adopt for getting to know its research subject and for disseminating the results of its research, anthropology is also considering the role of literary and other forms of expression to do work—to make sense—at particular historical, social-structural, political, and personal moments. Literary anthropology has thus been a focus of growing anthropological concern for the way in which it throws light on the entire complex of the human social condition, including the role of narrative in consciousness, the nature of creativity in social life, and the way in which anthropology might do justice to evidencing the subjectivity of experience.

The Literary Turn

In a key text, Geertz 1988, Clifford Geertz suggested that writings by some of anthropology’s past grand masters bore a distinct authorial signature, a writerly identity. Albeit that anthropological texts purported, or at least aimed, at simply presenting a true and detached view of the world, they did not come from nowhere, and they did not give onto an unbiased reality: inevitably they represented historico-socio-cultural documents. Indeed, the very claim to truth represented a particular rhetoric, a narrative and stylistic technique, which served to obscure the links between those representations, the “knowledge” they constructed, the relations of power they embodied, and the interests they furthered. Geertz’s work was evidence of a difficulty that was seen to be emerging concerning the whys and wherefores of the act of representing “others.” What had once been an unproblematic process and relationship became “the subject”—for some “the crisis”—of anthropology as such. “The literary turn,” most broadly, can be understood as anthropology turning its attention to its own processes of inscription. Was not anthropology part of its own local and national literary traditions? (See Boon 1972.) Far from analytic and scientific, were not anthropological concepts such as “culture” and “society” part of their own “folk tradition” (Wagner 1975)? Opinion was divided, however, on the question of what recognition of the literariness intrinsic to anthropology should amount to. For some there was now a lack of persuasiveness in anthropology’s traditional claim to explain others by going “there” and sorting strange facts into familiar categories for perusal “here” (Strathern 1987). For others, talk of a moral and epistemological gap—of words being inadequate to experience and of Western words being a continuation of asymmetrical power relations laid down during contexts of colonialism—was an irresponsible affectation, leading to a dereliction of scientific duty to know and improve the human condition (Gellner 1992). For still others, the literary turn represented an opportunity for reassessing the possibilities of fine anthropological writing (Campbell 1989), for substantiating the universality of the literary endeavor (Hymes 1973), or for examining universal creative processes and the ubiquity of “writing social reality” (Rapport 1994).

  • Boon, James. 1972. From symbolism to structuralism: Lévi-Strauss in a literary tradition. New York: Harper & Row.

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    An examination of how French structural anthropology (Lévi-Strauss’s work in particular) belongs to a French literary tradition that includes the symbolist writings of Mallarme, Rimbaud, and Huysmans. Is not an experiencing of another culture equivalent to experiencing a literary text? Both are bodies of systematized data conveying information.

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  • Campbell, Alan Tormaid. 1989. To square with Genesis: Causal statements and shamanic ideas in Wayapi. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

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    Posits the claim that “barbarous writing is bad work,” and that literary borrowings, thus far sporadic and ad hoc in anthropology, must be extended to the point that the degeneracies of the current disciplinary diction are overcome (and “borrowings” are no longer recognized as such at all).

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  • Geertz, Clifford. 1988. Works and lives: The anthropologist as author. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    An analysis of the writings of four prominent anthropologists—Malinowski, Benedict, Evans-Pritchard, and Lévi-Strauss—to argue that authorship is necessarily an imparting of an identity and a personal signature to texts. Anthropological writings are fictions—things fashioned and made—though not thereby unfactual.

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  • Gellner, Ernest. 1992. Postmodernism, reason and religion. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203410431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Three positions on truth compete for our intellectual affiliation: religious faith, relativism, and enlightenment rationalism. Only rationalism takes truth seriously. Current “postmodern” anthropology is relativist, mistakenly indulging in subjectivism as a form of expiation for the supposed sins of colonialism—here is truth used as a kind of cultural decoration.

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  • Hymes, Dell. 1973. An ethnographic perspective. In Special issue: What is literature? New Literary History 5.1: 431–457.

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    In the context of a study of North American Indian literary traditions, it is argued that “literature” is universal. Ethnography and literary criticism must surely be seen as indispensable to each other, mutually contributing to what is at base the same enterprise of cultural interpretation.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 1994. The prose and the passion: Anthropology, literature, and the writing of E. M. Forster. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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    An overview of the historical relationship between anthropology and literature, and an argument for its reassessment. Sharing an ethos and an epistemology, anthropological field data and literary characterization can be read “through” one another, throwing new light on creativity, authorship, reflexivity and irony, and the nature of disciplines and genres.

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  • Strathern, Marilyn. 1987. Out of context: The persuasive fictions of anthropology. Current Anthropology 28.3: 251–281.

    DOI: 10.1086/203527Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The history of anthropology is a history of the routinization of particular relations between writers and readers of ethnographies. Now anthropology finds itself in a new “aesthetic”: the single sociocultural observer is no longer an image of authenticity, nor is the one culture or society a valid object of study.

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  • Wagner, Roy. 1975. The invention of culture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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    Argues for a recognition of how anthropologists invent “a culture” for their informants: the imagination of a plausible explanation of what they understand their research subjects generally to have been doing. The “invention of culture” is an example of the universal “symbolization processes” by which human beings construct original meaning.

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The Writing Culture Debate

Named in connection with two key volumes that appeared in 1986, the “writing culture” debate brought issues concerning the literariness of anthropology as an enterprise to a head, sharply dividing the professional community at the time. According to Marcus and Fischer 1986, anthropology faces two fundamental issues when it comes to its desire to inscribe social and cultural truths. First, how is an emergent, postmodern world to be represented as an object for social thought? Second, how might anthropology become sensitive to the continuing personal, political, historical, generic, and philosophical conditions of its representations? The precise writerly craft of anthropology—of meeting “others” (Leach 1984), as a result of immersion in “the field” (Pratt 1992), and of writing about them in the field and thereafter (Sanjek 1990)—must open itself to reflection. Moreover, the idea of the “author” (Foucault 1991) and of the transparent “text” (Marcus 1980, Marcus and Cushman 1982) must be deconstructed. As Clifford and Marcus 1986 asks, is it any longer acceptable to inscribe “the culture” of discrete otherness in a world where liberal humanism has convincingly posited notions of general humanity, where Marxism has demonstrated the infrastructure of economic conflict common to all societies, where migration and communication have overcome any former spatial and temporal cultural separatism, where global languages have penetrated local knowledges, and where world systems increasingly homogenize and polarize world populations?

  • Clifford, James, and George Marcus, eds. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An influential collection of seminal articles. Ethnography can be said to be in the midst of a political and epistemological crisis: Western writers no longer portray non-Western peoples with unchallenged authority, and the process of cultural representation is inescapably contingent, historical, and contestable. What writing is, then, appropriate for a postmodern world?

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  • Foucault, Michel. 1991. What is an author? In The Foucault reader. By Michel Foucault. Edited by Paul Rabinow, 101–120. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

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    An eminence grise behind “writing culture,” the French philosopher here questions the historical specificity and sociopolitical implications not only of acts of inscription but also of notions of authorship. The “author-function” is a specific way of controlling the writer and the reader: both are roles laden with responsibility and propriety.

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  • Leach, Edmund Ronald. 1984. Glimpses of the unmentionable in the history of British social anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 13:1–24.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.13.100184.000245Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An attempt to debunk a number of anthropological myths concerning disciplinary practice, its objectivity, and its impartiality. What anthropologists observe in the field are harmonic projections of their own personalities. What anthropologists write about others are, similarly, refractions of their own selfhood. This affords anthropological writing its relevance.

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  • Leach, Edmund Ronald. 1989. Writing anthropology: A review of C. Geertz’s Works and lives. American Ethnologist 16.1: 137–141.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1989.16.1.02a00090Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Queries the newness of (and necessity of the bluster surrounding) the “writing culture debate” but concurs that anthropologists who imagine that by the exercise of reason they can reduce the observations of ethnographers to a nomothetic science of things, generalizations, and facts are wasting their time.

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  • Marcus, George E. 1980. Rhetoric and ethnographic genre in anthropological research. Current Anthropology 21.4: 507–510.

    DOI: 10.1086/202501Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief examination of the problem of accommodating reflexivity in ethnographic texts while hoping to retain the authority of the traditional exposition. How does one describe and analyze otherness while also being honest about the nature of the emergence of one’s own authorial understanding?

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  • Marcus, George E., and Dick Cushman. 1982. Ethnographies as texts. Annual Review of Anthropology 11:25–69.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.11.100182.000325Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive literature review of the textual nature of ethnographic reportage. An examination of an “ethnography” as a genre of writing: a kind of literary institution, a social contract and a cultural artifact with specified proprieties of usage.

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  • Marcus, George E., and Michael M. J. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A concise and polemical exposition of the issues surrounding anthropological representation and the centrality of this question for the contemporary discipline. How do, how might, and how should anthropologists write about the lives of others? Is “culture” the appropriate container of contemporary human difference?

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  • Pratt, Mary Louise. 1992. Imperial eyes: Travel writing and transculturation. London: Routledge.

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    Argues that by defining itself in exclusive opposition to other forms of writing (such as the travelogue), ethnography limits its ability to know itself and to appreciate its inheritance of discursive practice.

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  • Sanjek, Roger, ed. 1990. Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    An important collection of articles that explore the variety of ways in which the anthropologist inscribes data. Between the experience of fieldwork and the publications about it are fieldnotes that themselves comprise headnotes, scratch notes, records, transcripts, journals, diaries, and letters.

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Writing Experiments

Marcus and Fischer (see The Writing Culture Debate) described the writing culture debate as an experimental moment, pregnant with possibilities. Many agreed, and a set of texts have ensued that have experimented with genre, with voice, with typography, with point of view and collaboration, and with supplementing or overcoming the logic and form of writing. Why not produce anthropological inscriptions as mutual and dialogic? Or as negotiated and cooperatively evolved fragments of expression, whose aim is evocation rather than representation? Or as therapy rather than instruction? Ways of writing need not be seen as somehow natural or native to a discipline: anthropologists may use and invent new ones. Inventions have included writing on the border between biography and autobiography (Rabinow 1977, Jackson 2007), and between realism and magical realism (Crapanzano 1980, Wilmsen 1999), imagining conversations across time (Campbell 1995) and considering the ethnographic process as a multisensorial one (Stoller 1989), engaging the deepest personal experience (Rosaldo 1984).

  • Campbell, Alan Tormaid. 1995. Getting to know Waiwai: An Amazonian ethnography. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203432808Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An account that imagines looking back from a future century on the Brazilian Wayapi and their charismatic leader Waiwai so as to tell the story of a way of life that is threatened with destruction. Presents a future history of how the Wayapi once dwelled in an environment that succumbed to the dangers of degradation.

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  • Crapanzano, Vincent. 1980. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A sensitive and bold attempt to present the life and world of Tuhami, an illiterate Moroccan tile maker who believes himself married to a camel-footed she-demon and suffers nightly visitations from demons and saints who haunt his dank, windowless hovel near the brickkiln.

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  • Jackson, Michael. 2007. Excursions. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Considering a variety of personal journeys (to an old Scottish saltworks, to a village in Sierra Leone, to Walter Benjamin’s trail of flight, to the West African diaspora in London), “excursions” are understood not only as breaks with settled certainties but as a kind of thought always “on the way.”

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  • Rabinow, Paul. 1977. Reflections on fieldwork in Morocco. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    An engagingly written account of the anthropologist as neophyte. Key questions of disciplinary practice are asked in the context of the personal narrative. If anthropological authority is based on field research, then why has the idiom of personal experience been conventionally suppressed in the published materials that follow?

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  • Rosaldo, Renato. 1984. Grief and the headhunter’s rage: On the cultural force of emotions. Paper presented at a feature symposium at the 1983 Annual Meeting of the American Ethnological Society. In Text, play, and story: The construction and reconstruction of self and society. Edited by Edward Bruner, 178–194. Washington, DC: American Ethnological Society.

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    An examination of the shifting nature of identity and insight as a consequence of personal experience. An account of Ilongot anger in grief and how the death of the author’s own wife brought understanding to the ethnographer. Culture cannot be a stable form, since it contains many individual voices and meanings.

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  • Stoller, Paul. 1989. The taste of ethnographic things: The senses in anthropology. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    An argument for coming closer to and being truer to the Songhay of Niger through increased sensual awareness. Recapture the smells, sounds, and tastes of the places and so compose ethnographies that are connected to the world. Replace tasteless theories with the savory sauces of ethnographic life.

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  • Wilmsen, Edwin N. 1999. Journeys with flies. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Between people of the Kalahari experiencing apartheid and an anthropologist’s memories of segregation in the American South lie vast differences of backgrounds. But are these differences not balanced by shared thirst under the desert sun, grief over the death of a child, and the constant irritation of flies?

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Critique of “Writing Culture” and Commentary

A reflexive concern with anthropology’s techniques of knowledge production, in particular its ways of inscribing social reality and individual experience (its claims to “write culture”), has roused strong and divisive emotions from the outset. Does one not risk threatening the authority and legitimacy of anthropology as a university discipline, as a site of public expertise, as a destination for funds, and as a normative activity beyond the institutions of academe (including field sites)? Does not time spent in such “navel gazing” detract from time spent possibly knowing the other, advocating the cause of the other, working and living with the other (Sangren 1988)? Besides, isn’t there much more to anthropology than writing? Why this “logocentric fetishization”? Besides writing, there is all the reality of going and being and doing with others (Spencer 1989). And yet, the writing culture debate has left a lasting mark. Edited volumes and monographs continue to interrogate the insights that a literary turn—a concern with the complex interaction between anthropological processes of knowing-acquisition and representation, and the details of what comes to be known—offers to anthropology (Archetti 1994; Behar and Gordon 1996; James, et al. 1997; Harris 2007; Zenker and Kumoll 2010; Waterston and Vesperi 2009).

  • Archetti, Eduardo, ed. 1994. Exploring the written: Anthropology and the multiplicity of the written. Papers from the Conference on the Multiplicity of Writing in Anthropological Analysis, October 1991, University of Oslo. Oslo Studies in Social Anthropology. Oslo, Norway: Scandinavian Univ. Press.

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    A collection of papers that explore the ramifications for anthropology of placing different and heterogeneous written texts at the forefront of analysis. What is the place and meaning of texts as data?

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  • Behar, Ruth, and Deborah A. Gordon, eds. 1996. Women writing culture. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A collection of articles exploring ways in which feminism might redefine the poetics and politics of ethnography, and, more broadly, how gender, race, class, and nationality have been scripted into the anthropological canon. Do sexual politics help determine what gets written and valued? Are prevailing anthropological models male biased?

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  • Harris, Mark, ed. 2007. Ways of knowing: Anthropological approaches to crafting experience and knowledge. Methodology and History in Anthropology 18. New York: Berghahn.

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    A set of discussions concerning how anthropologists come to know what they know about others. The process is likened to an artisanal craft that also shapes who we are: a way of knowing is more than a perspective on the world, it is an all-embracing engagement with it.

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  • James, Allison, Jenny Hockey, and Andrew Dawson, eds. 1997. After writing culture: Epistemology and praxis in contemporary anthropology. London: Routledge.

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    A collection that applies the insights of the writing culture debate to a range of ethnographic instances, including the concept of caste in Indian society, how dreams are culturally conceptualized, culture as conservation, gardens and theme parks in Japan, and people’s place in the landscape of northern Australia.

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  • Sangren, P. Steven. 1988. Rhetoric and the authority of ethnography: “Postmodernism” and the social reproduction of texts. Current Anthropology 29.3: 405–435.

    DOI: 10.1086/203652Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers an incisive critique of the postmodern “obsession” with writing in anthropology and how it amounts to a kind of “self-congratulatory, narcissistic decadence.”

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  • Spencer, Jonathan. 1989. Anthropology as a kind of writing. Man, n.s. 24.1: 145–164.

    DOI: 10.2307/2802551Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A discussion of anthropology as representation, claiming that the gains from a “wholehearted subjection [to] recipes and formulas from the light industry that is American literary criticism” are meager. Anthropology is far more than just interpreting and writing; there is counting, weighing, and surveying, not to mention reading.

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  • Waterston, Alisse, and Maria Vesperi, eds. 2009. Anthropology off the shelf: Anthropologists on writing. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444308822Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of articles in which anthropologists reveal their attitudes to their writing—a passion as well as a craft—and the techniques they employ: their narrative strategies and imagined audiences, their ethical issues and imagined critics.

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  • Zenker, Olaf, and Karsten Kumoll, eds. 2010. Beyond writing culture: Current intersections of epistemologies and representational practices. New York: Berghahn.

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    For all its pioneering deliberations, the writing culture debate left unanswered the fundamental question of how to conceptualize the intricate relationship between epistemology and representational practices. Rather than maintaining the original narrow focus on textual analysis, this collection considers the situatedness of representation in general.

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Traditional Approaches to Literature

Somewhat inadvertently, the literary turn to anthropological attention also threw new light on the wealth of studies already undertaken, and the variety of issues covered, by “traditional” work in anthropology on literary concerns. These included the relations between Orality and Literacy, the nature of communicational codes (see Code and Translation), the history and structure of traditional genres such as myth (see The Social History of Genre and Mythic Forms), the functions of oratorical performance (see Rhetoric and Performance), and the nature of creativity (see Poeisis and Creativity). As well as these specific foci, however, a traditional anthropological engagement with literature led to incidences such as Malinowski’s recording in his field diary the literary texts and authors to which he had recourse during his being “imprisoned” as a fieldworker on the Trobriand Islands (Malinowski 1989), La Farge’s turning his Navaho ethnography into a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel (La Farge 1929), Briggs’s writing up her field research as a diarian account of personal engagements (Briggs 1970), Lévi-Strauss’s penning a compendious literary text on his fieldwork as travelogue (Lévi-Strauss 1970), Leach’s urging anthropologists to aspire to novelists’ deep understanding (Leach 1982), Edith Turner’s revealing the literary roots to Victor Turner’s anthropological interests (Turner 1990), and Victor Turner’s arguing for literature and ritual to be seen as mutually elucidating (Turner 1976). The Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing has been offered since 1980 by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

  • Briggs, Jean L. 1970. Never in anger: Portrait of an Eskimo family. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Briggs provides vignettes of daily life during seventeen months spent living as the “adopted daughter” of an Eskimo family, unfolding the behavioral patterns of the Utku, their way of training children, and their handling of deviations from desired behavior.

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  • La Farge, Oliver. 1929. Laughing boy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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    A novelistic attempt to capture the changing cultures of the American Southwest in 1915. At a ceremonial dance, the young, earnest silversmith Laughing Boy falls in love with Slim Girl, a beautiful but elusive “American-educated” Navajo, but a conflicted way of life brings tragic consequences.

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  • Leach, Edmund Ronald. 1982. Social anthropology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Anthropologists should not see themselves as seekers after objective truth; their purpose is to gain insight into other people’s behavior, as well as their own. “Insight” is the quality of deep understanding that we attribute to those whom we regard as great artists, dramatists, novelists, and composers.

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  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1970. Tristes tropiques. New York: Atheneum.

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    A memoir, first published in France in 1955, documenting the author’s travels, focusing principally on Brazil while also referring to the Caribbean and India. Ostensibly a travelogue, the work is infused with philosophical reflections and ideas linking anthropology to sociology, geology, music, history, and literature.

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1989. A diary in the strict sense of the term. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    A thoroughly honest account of “the wretchedness of life” in the field: distant from loved ones, from the 1914–1918 war in Europe, and from intellectual exchange. A personal counterweight to New Guinea is found in the writings of Wells, Shaw, Stevenson, Swinburne, Bronte, Hardy, Thackeray, Kipling, Conrad, and Conan Doyle.

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  • Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

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    A section of the American Anthropological Association devoted to a humanistic anthropology, celebrating the effects that “we creative primates” can have on social and natural environments. It sponsors the journal Anthropology and Humanism and runs competitions in ethnographic writing, ethnographic poetry, and ethnographic fiction.

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  • Turner, Edith. 1990. The literary roots of Victor Turner’s anthropology. In Victor Turner and the construction of cultural criticism: Between literature and anthropology. Edited by Kathleen Ashley, 163–169. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    As an anthropologist, on the margins of society, Victor Turner expected to identify with the fellow liminality of the writer and his practice. In the symbolism of Dante’s Purgatorio, for instance, he found the same multivocality, polarization, and unification of disparate significata as in primitive ritual, and symbol in general.

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  • Turner, Victor. 1976. African ritual and Western literature: Is a comparative symbology possible? In The literature of fact. Edited by Angus Fletcher, 45–81. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Argues for literature and ritual to be seen as mutually elucidating. Both represent meta-languages that bring into their respective frames forms and values, voices, relationships, and performances that are ordinarily scattered in social life and routinely regarded as separate, discrepant, or even opposed.

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Orality and Literacy

Escaping a naturalized or taken-for-granted acceptance of writing as a means of knowledge and expression, anthropologists have asked what writing as a technology and technique delivers: What are the consequences of literacy for social life and individual perception? Anthropological studies have emphasized the historico-cultural specificity of writing and the specific effects (cognitive, organizational, progressive) that its arrival precipitates. Anthropology has postulated, inter alia, that the technique of writing represents an objectification of speech and a proliferation of words and meanings that causes more layering and less indexicality in sociocultural milieux, so that individual members become palimpsests who participate less fully and more skeptically, less securely and more selectively, in their traditions (see Goody and Watt 1968, Goody 1986). Writing is a means of keeping present moments at bay while at the same time preserving them, and recontextualizing them, as ongoing, univocal, unifocal, and reconsultable moments (Clifford 1990). Or again, here is a technology that lends itself to the social institutions of its time and place so as to serve a number of possible functions (hierarchical, educational), and thus to structure a particular ideological reality for those who employ (or rather, are employed by) it (Street 1984). Writing affords that sociocultural alienation and distance out of which a sense of greater unities may come, as well as an evolution in consciousness, science, and technology in terms of encyclopedic composition, and sequentiality (Ong 1977). Here is a technique for the fixing of discourse, preserving it as a possible archive of later analysis and translation, and the creating of a quasi-separate world of texts that comes to eclipse the circumstantial world of orality (Ricoeur 1981). In short, in anthropology, writing comes to be conceived of not as a neutral medium of knowledge, facts, and experience, as a window onto an independent reality, but as a way of knowing in itself.

  • Clifford, James. 1990. Notes on (field)notes. In Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology. Edited by Roger Sanjek, 47–70. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    An examination of writing fieldnotes as a conventional disciplinary institution, comprising “inscription,” “transcription,” and “description.” There is a prefigured and pre-encoded way in which anthropologists discover things in the field.

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  • Goody, Jack. 1986. The logic of writing and the organization of society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An assessment of the impact of writing on human societies, from the ancient Middle East to 20th-century Africa, and an attempt to identify general features of social systems that have been influenced by this major change in the mode of communication and through the development of a written tradition.

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  • Goody, Jack, and Ian Watt. 1968. The consequences of literacy. In Literacy in traditional societies. Edited by Jack Goody, 27–69. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Offers a critique of any simple differentiation between so-called oral and literary societies, while examining in detail the revolution in communication and thought that a written alphabet represented in early Greek city-states.

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  • Ong, Walter J. 1977. Interfaces of the word: Studies in the evolution of consciousness and culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Argues that major developments in culture and consciousness are related, often in unexpected intimacy, to the evolution of the word from primary orality through writing and print to the present state of our electronic culture.

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  • Ricoeur, Paul. 1981. Hermeneutics and the human sciences: Essays on language, action and interpretation. Edited and translated by John B. Thompson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A collection of essays setting out the author’s position on a philosophy of textual interpretation and the widespread consequences of “the text” for the social sciences, as well as for psychoanalysis and history.

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  • Street, Brian V. 1984. Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An examination of theories about literacy in different academic disciplines and a comparison of contemporary literacy practices in the Third World and Britain; also looks at the literacy campaigns conducted by UNESCO. In opposition to an “autonomous” model of literacy, an “ideological” one pays better attention to local social structures.

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Code and Translation

Human beings are never not in a situational frame or structure of expression and interpretation through which meaning, symbol, and setting are socially defined or coded. The genres of literary expression can be considered part of a larger linguistic phenomenon by which symbolic expression is differentiated according to particular codes, or different kinds of communication (Fillmore 1976). Codes might signal types of social situation, types of individual mood, or types of status, and much anthropological work has gone into identifying types of codes and charting their use and effect. Codes can be directly related to the existence of “speech-communities” (Hymes 1972), “speech-situations,” and “speech-events” (Gumperz 1972). Codes will distinguish different classes of people in a society (Bernstein 1971–1975), and they will distinguish different individual competencies in a language (Fillmore 1979). More broadly, different codes of expression can lead to different ways of thinking and believing about the world (Whitehouse 1995). But then if people speak and act in specific coded situations, what of movement and translation between these situations? Codes themselves might be differentiated according to the extent to which they allow for communication beyond or across them, as “metacommunication” (Bateson and Ruesch 1951), or communication about (coded) communication. Anthropologists have approached the nature and possibilities of translation as evidence of the quality of cultural belonging; thus, to “feel the aptness” of another’s metaphors might be taken as an “index of cultural integration” (Fernandez 1971).

  • Bateson, Gregory, and Jurgen Ruesch. 1951. Communication: The social matrix of psychiatry. New York: Norton.

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    A comprehensive account of coded exchange, with a particular focus on “metacommunication”: how messages not only communicate information but also communicate about the communication. Metacommunication is of two main kinds: that concerning the system of codification, and that concerning the interpersonal relations of those who share the system of codification.

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  • Bernstein, Basil. 1971–1975. Class, codes and control. 3 vols. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203014035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An argument is made for two different idea types of codification in everyday use. “Restricted code” is a highly coded form of language, impersonal and ritualistic, authoritarian and reactionary. “Elaborated code” is more open and fluid, suited to the ongoing realization of personal identities.

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  • Fernandez, James. 1971. Persuasions and performances: Of the beast in every body ... and the metaphors of everyman. In Myth, symbol and culture. Edited by Clifford Geertz, 39–60. New York: Norton.

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    Metaphorical communication is described as a movement between different semantic domains within a culture’s “shared quality space”: a cross-referencing that provides a sensation of experiential fixity and of cultural integration. Also published in Daedalus 101.1 (1972): 39–60.

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  • Fillmore, Charles. 1976. The need for a frame semantics within linguistics. In Statistical methods in linguistics. Edited by Hans Karlgren, 5–29. Stockholm: Skriptor.

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    An attempt to know language through its common usage; how, for instance, an enormously large part of “natural language” is formulaic, automatic, and rehearsed, rather than propositional, creative, or freely generated.

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  • Fillmore, Charles. 1979. On fluency. In Individual differences in language ability and language behaviour. Edited by Charles Fillmore, Daniel Kempler, and William Wang, 85–101. New York: Academic Press.

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    An exploration of how individual differences in practices of codification point both to different competencies—different internalizations of grammar—and different performative practices—different strategies of use individuals prefer to employ.

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  • Gumperz, John. 1972. Introduction. In Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication. Edited by John J. Gumperz and Dell Hymes, 1–25. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    A seminal attempt to classify the groupings of social life according to linguistic and codificatory practices. Here are “speech-communities” of shared conventions governing the encoding and decoding of social meanings, as well as typical “speech styles” and “speech-acts.”

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  • Hymes, Dell. 1972. Models of interaction of language and social life. In Directions in sociolinguistics. Edited by John Gumperz and Dell Hymes, 35–71. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    An elaboration of the argument that any focus on the regularity and diversity of ways in which human beings codify the world and communicate their codifications should center on a community sharing rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech.

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  • Whitehouse, Harvey. 1995. Inside the cult: Religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An analysis of the consequences of codification as this pertains to religious expression. The structure, scale, and ethos of community membership will depend on whether the religious codification is “intense,” “emotional,” and “imagistic,” or “reiterative,” “habitual,” and “doctrinal.”

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Mythic Forms

Two issues come together in an anthropological focus on myth. First, what is the relation of mythic thought, or “mythopoetics,” to rationality and the progress of reason? Does the practice of myth telling and mythic thinking display a more concrete as opposed to abstract engagement with the world, one that is dramatic and performative as opposed to critical and pragmatic? Is this a world where sympathy and contiguous association are seen as causal factors? This issue has been treated in the “rationality debate” (Wilson 1970, Lévy-Bruhl 1985, Tambiah 1990). Second, does the formulaic structure of myth reveal archetypal or universal forms of deployment of human classification, narration, sense making, and persuasion? Beneath the surface content of different tales and different performances in different sociocultural milieux, then, lie basic and replicated structures that reveal fundamental aspects of the way human minds work, human identities are classified, and human value judgments are made (Propp 1968, Lévi-Strauss 1974, Goody 1972). Finally, an appreciation of the formal qualities of mythic transmission and the formulaic nature of mythic language leads to an exploration of the ways and extents to which formulaicism—such as the deployment of cliché and catchword—characterize other moments of social exchange (Zijderveld 1979), and the ways that stereotypical constructions of the world maintain themselves in symbolic classifications despite evidence to the contrary (McDonald 1993).

  • Goody, Jack. 1972. Myth of the Bagre. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    A transcription of the recounting of a West African myth and an argument that mythtelling is contextual and that its form and purpose are attuned and adapted to the particular situation of its telling.

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  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1974. Structural anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

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    A foundational set of essays that suggests a “structural” analysis of a range of cultural forms—from South American myths to kinship, magic, and art—so as to argue for ways in which different cultures’ basic dependence on different underlying symbolic oppositions elucidate the nature of the human mind.

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  • Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien. 1985. How natives think. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Puts forward the postulation that there have existed two basic ways of human thinking: “primitive” and “modern” (Western). The primitive mind does not differentiate the supernatural from reality but uses “mystical participation” to manipulate the world. The Western mind uses speculation and logic.

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  • McDonald, Maryon. 1993. The construction of difference: An anthropological approach to stereotypes. In Inside European identities: Ethnography in western Europe. Edited by Sharon Macdonald, 219–236. Oxford: Berg.

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    An examination of how stereotypes function as part of a group’s “identity rhetoric” so as to facilitate the social construction of solidarity and commonality. A mismatch of category systems between different group cultures makes attributions of stereotypical otherness into a kind of autonomous discourse, independent of any “truth-value.”

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  • Propp, Vladimir. 1968. Morphology of the folk tale. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    A seminal analysis of the conventional forms of the Russian folktale, which opened up a focus on structural characteristics that characterize different individual examples. Morphology, history, society, and culture are brought together in a single analytical frame.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. 1990. Magic, science and religion and the scope of rationality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A reconsideration of three major interpretative approaches to magic in anthropology: the intellectualist and evolutionary theories of Tylor and Frazer, Malinowski’s functionalism, and Lévy-Bruhl’s “mentalities.” Questions any easy distinction among magic, religion, and science, and between rationality and relativism.

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  • Wilson, Bryan, ed. 1970. Rationality. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    A collection of key articles, from philosophers and sociologists as well as anthropologists, concerning whether the meanings and the reasoning of one culture can be translated into the language of another. How are we to understand the beliefs and symbolic activities of others?

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  • Zijderveld, Anton C. 1979. On clichés: The supersedure of meaning by function in modernity. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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    An examination of modernity as a condition in which language and thought are shaped in predetermined ways by the stereotypical forms in which expression occurs. The cliché is approached as a “micro-institution” that coerces speakers into set and routine ways of conducting social life and exchange.

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Rhetoric and Performance

Anthropology has a sophisticated tradition of exploring the ways in which people persuade and are persuaded by language, and through symbolic exchange more generally. The way human beings—the symboling animal—use languages of various kinds to convey information about themselves and the world they perceive around them merges seamlessly into their use of stylistic techniques for making their expression convincing. For expression is a contest against “noise”—against not being heard amid a hubbub of other sights and sounds, messages, and senders—and a contest against not being taken seriously, being misunderstood, or being ignored. In particular, anthropology has focused on the “politics” of expression: the way in which expression concerns power and is undertaken purposively—with the instrumental purpose of affecting others’ behavior (as against simply expressing what one feels). Bloch 1975 is an edited collection of studies of oratory in “traditional” social settings, while Paine 1981b is a broader collection that spans different types of societies. Paine 1981a, meanwhile, addresses the persuasive strategies on show in one specific Canadian political election, and Cohen 1975 examines how competing candidates in another Canadian election campaign sought to manage the meanings of their public performances. The way in which a rhetoric of performance is present in other genres of expression—such as being polite, asking questions, and taking one’s leave—is the subject of Goody 1978, while Hendry and Watson 2001 covers that range of expressive phenomena in which being diplomatic or indirect is the aim. Lastly, the way in which expression might be seen to contain a micropolitics that pertains to every quotidian interaction between individuals has led to a close anthropological attention to gossip (e.g., Paine 1967) and the performance of neighborliness (Jackson 2001).

  • Bloch, Maurice, ed. 1975. Political language and oratory in traditional society. London: Academic Press.

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    A comparative analysis of the ways in which power resides in the use of formal language (including vocabulary, syntax and style, intonation, loudness, sequencing, and illustration) and carries the authority of those with the status to use such language. The right to orate entails social control and hierarchy.

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  • Cohen, Anthony P. 1975. The management of myths: The politics of legitimation in a Newfoundland community. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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    An exploration of how the resource of “legitimation” is sought by competing politicians during an election, and the ways in which this depends on the management of image. Voters’ approval both of personalities and policies derives from how they judge the rhetoric of “traditionalism” versus “innovation.”

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  • Goody, Esther N., ed. 1978. Questions and politeness: Strategies in social interaction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A comparative analysis of the ways in which interrogative and politeness forms are used in day-to-day social interaction. Here are rhetorical forms that have universal features that make them efficient for certain strategies of interaction.

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  • Hendry, Joy, and C. W. Watson, eds. 2001. An anthropology of indirect communication. London: Routledge.

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    A collection of studies exploring the rhetoric of silence and other indirect means of conveying intention and meaning. From unintentioned miscommunication at one end of a spectrum, one passes through ambiguity to deliberate deception.

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  • Jackson, John L., Jr. 2001. Harlem world: Doing race and class in contemporary black America. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An examination of popular beliefs and folk theories of race, place, and class as they are lived in an urban neighborhood. Rather than being segregated by race or separated by class, Harlemites are seen to share broad social contacts across classificatory divides. Identities are complicated and contradictory performances.

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  • Paine, Robert. 1967. What is gossip about? An alternative hypothesis. Man, n.s. 2.2: 272–285.

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    An exploration of gossip as instrumental behavior that uses a genre of informal communication for the partial effecting of competition between individuals. Gossip allows the moral order to be bent to individual purpose through the selective imparting and withholding, the manipulating, of information.

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  • Paine, Robert. 1981a. Ayatollahs and turkey trots: Political rhetoric in the new Newfoundland. St. John’s, NL: Breakwater.

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    A close reading of a particularly bitter political election in the Canadian island province of Newfoundland, and the way in which rhetorical strategies and literary tropes figured in the contest and the performances of the successful candidate.

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  • Paine, Robert, ed. 1981b. Politically speaking: Cross-cultural studies of rhetoric. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.

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    A collection of studies concerning the ways in which “politics” can be described as possessing a verbal culture with a particular way of organizing meaning. Six chapters examine the rhetoric of a specific speech or event, while four theorize upon rhetoric in terms of context, strategy, performance, and persuasion.

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The Social History of Genre

Genres of expression, both oral and literate, have histories. The English novel, for instance, can be traced back to particular early exponents and to a development from earlier forms of history and story, and it can be placed in a context of other, contemporaneous literary forms and of other European experiments in expression. Anthropologists have been keen to explore the genres of expression and their histories that pertain to the social milieux under study. Not only is genre a significant aspect of cultural creativity in its own right, but genre can be seen to have significant relationships to other cultural aspects. It is said that the English novel relates to a history of liberal freedoms, for instance, and to a cultural realization of the nature of individual consciousness and the moral significance of a personal preserve of individual conscience. Handler and Segal 1990 looks at the values inherent in Jane Austen’s novels, while Street 1975 explores the effects of representations of “primitive peoples” among a 19th-century British reading public. Finnegan 1967 is a study of the literary forms used by the Limba of Sierra Leone, while Barber 1991 studies the oral praise poetry, or oriki, among the Yoruba. Poyatos 1988, Dennis and Aycock 1989, and Benson 1993 are significant collections of studies exploring the diversity of forms of genre across the world, including their social significance. Narayan 1999 ponders the significance of “fiction” as a genre vis-à-vis “ethnography.”

  • Barber, Karin. 1991. I could speak until tomorrow: Oriki, women and the past in a Yoruba town. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

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    A study of oriki poetry, as representing a major part of Yoruba traditional performance and daily life, and as reflecting social structure and social change. Performed mainly by women, oriki is seen to link living and dead, human and spiritual, present and past.

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

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    A collection of articles that compare anthropology and literature as genres and disciplines, examining how the “ethnographic self” relates to the “personal self,” and how anthropological writing combines experience and poetics. Also provides a comparison of different literary traditions: West Indian, Indonesian, ancient Greek tragedy, Native American, feminist, and postmodern.

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  • Dennis, Phillip, and Wendell Aycock, eds. 1989. Literature and anthropology. Lubbock: Texas Tech Univ. Press.

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    A collection of studies exploring the nature of literary works as cultural documents. There is a focus both on individual authors (Shakespeare, Stendhal, Vonnegut) and regional literatures (Caribbean, Mexican, Andean).

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  • Finnegan, Ruth. 1967. Limba stories and story-telling. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A study of the indigenous meaning of “story” in this West African setting, including its topics, genesis, and occasions of use. Actual delivery is of paramount importance in these orally transmitted tales, with changing forms arising from the originality of individual narrators.

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  • Handler, Richard, and Daniel Segal. 1990. Jane Austen and the fiction of culture: An essay on the narration of social realities. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    An exploration of Jane Austen’s novels as ethnographies. Austen’s narratives are articulations of diverse points of view, whose most heroic characters are those who most creatively comment upon, invert, and implement a meta-pragmatic understanding of the rules of etiquette.

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  • Narayan, Kirin. 1999. Ethnography and fiction: Where is the border? Anthropology and Humanism 24.2: 134–147.

    DOI: 10.1525/ahu.1999.24.2.134Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that writing ethnographic texts and writing fiction involve different perspectives concerning the disclosure of process, generalization, representations of subjectivity, and accountability. But then to recognize the border is also to allow for potentially enriching border crossings.

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  • Poyatos, Fernando, ed. 1988. Literary anthropology: A new interdisciplinary approach to people, signs, and literature. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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    A collection of attempts to apply anthropological concepts and techniques to a comparative study of national literatures. These “non-interactive forms of delayed indirect communication” constitute the richest source of signs (verbal and nonverbal), it is argued, for synchronic and diachronic analysis both of a culture’s sensible and intelligible systems.

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  • Street, Brian. 1975. The savage in literature: Representations of “primitive” society in English fiction, 1858–1920. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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    The anthropological appreciation of the popular literature of a period is of significance for demonstrating current social attitudes and revealing contemporaneous links between cultural practices such as literature and science.

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Poiesis and Creativity

A vital part of anthropological study is change, and key to understanding how social life, cultural tradition, and individual experience might change is an appreciation of the place of creativity in human practice. There are two aspects to this: first, the nature of creativity as a universal human capacity, as part of our individual embodiment; second, the ways in which this creativity is recognized, allowed for, practiced, and followed in different settings. Since human beings are the problem-solving animal par excellence, and also the animal that devotes the most time to aesthetic production rather than purely functional production—to taste and beauty as distinct from practicality and means-ends relations—the appearance of poiesis, or innovation, in particular times and places and the effects of creativity are fundamental to a developing knowledge of the human condition. Finnegan 1992 argues that the functioning of a society is not graspable without reference to its members’ poieticism, since there is no fixed script for social and cultural life, and people work it out as they go along (Hallam and Ingold 2007). Hughes-Freeland 1998 and Liep 2001 are fine collections of studies that explore the way in which individuals reshape traditional cultural forms and social institutions in the light of changing historical circumstances. Lavie, et al. 1993 and Lavie 1990 also include the anthropologist’s creativity (and charisma) in this anthology of case studies: there is a corresponding and contemporaneous writing of social reality, both among the individuals under study and their anthropological visitor. Myerhoff 1979 describes the creativity in one community of the elderly, while Rapport 2000 attempts a creative reading of the output of the English poet Philip Larkin, tracing the effect of poiesis on one body and one life.

  • Finnegan, Ruth. 1992. Oral poetry: Its nature, significance and social context. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    The picture one derives from studying literature is of people as active, imaginative, and thoughtful, making choices and molding worlds, and not merely as the arena for unconscious urges, the products of a social structure, or the result of deep mental grammars that are beyond individuals’ power to affect.

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  • Hallam, Elizabeth, and Tim Ingold, eds. 2007. Creativity and cultural improvisation. New York: Berg.

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    A collection of explorations into how the sources of creativity are embedded in social, political, and religious institutions, as well as an examination into the relation between creativity and the perception and passage of time. Also reviews the creativity and improvisational quality of anthropological scholarship itself.

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  • Hughes-Freeland, Felicia, ed. 1998. Ritual, performance, media. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203450796Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of studies that explore individual inventiveness and posit society to be a dynamic interaction between creativity and convention. Roles in context exist in creative tension with individuals’ active construction of the world in the direction of their satisfaction and advantage.

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  • Lavie, Smadar. 1990. The poetics of military occupation: Mzeina allegories of Bedouin identity under Israeli and Egyptian rule. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A case study of particular charismatic and creative individuals who adapt to military rule (Ottoman, Egyptian, Israeli) by allegorizing the paradoxes of local life through ritualistic storytelling performances and role playing.

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  • Lavie, Smadar, Kirin Narayan, and Renato Rosaldo, eds. 1993. Creativity/anthropology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    An exploration of the role of creativity in social life: how creativity and play erupt in the most solemn of settings, as individuals reshape traditional cultural forms in light of changing historical circumstances.

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  • Liep, John, ed. 2001. Locating cultural creativity. London: Pluto.

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    A collection that argues that while many conventions concerning “high culture” and artistic canons may now be disintegrating, “culture” and “creativity” themselves are still very much a reflection of social processes involving power and the control of resources.

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  • Myerhoff, Barbara. 1979. Number our days: A triumph of continuity and culture among Jewish old people in an urban ghetto. New York: Dutton.

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    An account of a culture of aging in contemporary America that is also the triumph of creativity, both personal and collective. Examines people acquiring the strength to deal with daily problems of poverty, neglect, loneliness, ill health, inadequate housing, and physical danger.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 2000. Writing on the body: The poetic life-story of Philip Larkin. Anthropology and Medicine 7.1: 39–62.

    DOI: 10.1080/136484700109340Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By way of the writing of a preeminent 20th-century English poet, Rapport argues that in the narratives that individuals write in and of their lives, one sees the means by which that consciousness pours itself out into the world, bringing a personal version of the world into effect.

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Biography and Autobiography

Even before the role of the anthropologist as writer came under close scrutiny, anthropologists had appreciated the way in which their field experiences might (or must) lend themselves to forms of expression more usually associated with literary endeavor. Anthropologists have long turned to autobiography and biography in order to do justice to the personal nature of human existence. What is interesting in these attempts, however, is the ambivalent relation shown between what is expressed and the writer’s “professional” anthropological identity. There is often a tension. Here are individual stories that must be told, but the pretense of following in a tradition of social-scientific reification must perforce be jettisoned in the process, it is claimed. Among such attempts with an African flavor, for instance, are Bowen 1954, a literary memoir of the author’s Nigerian fieldwork (published pseudonymously); Shostak 1981, an account of Nisa, a Bushman woman; Dwyer 1982, comprising conversational encounters with a Moroccan farmer; Werbner 1991, an account of the recent generations of a Zimbabwean family; and Caplan 1997, an account of the world of a Tanzanian peasant. By contrast, Grimshaw 1992, Orlove 1995, and Jackson 2009 provide reflexive accounts that place the authors’ lives and reactions in the contexts of those of their informants or their own families.

  • Bowen, Elenore Smith. 1954. Return to laughter: An anthropological novel. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

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    Witch trials and a smallpox epidemic provide a dramatic context for a pseudonymous account of the ethical and moral ambiguities facing a neophytic anthropologist, as ideals and unconscious assumptions meet the reality of living within an alien setting. Bowen is the pen name of the anthropologist Laura Bohannon.

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  • Caplan, Pat. 1997. African voices, African lives: Personal narratives from a Swahili village. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203437155Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An exploration of the world of Mohammed, a peasant living on Mafia Island, Tanzania, through his own words and those of his relatives. The anthropologist acts as translator and editor as well as interpreter, introducing Mohammed’s personal world of the invisible spirits that play a significant role in his life.

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  • Dwyer, Kevin. 1982. Moroccan dialogues: Anthropology in question. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    An attempt to move away both from secure scientific detachment and from narrow subjectivity toward a dialogue-based account of meetings with Faqir Muhammad, a villager from humble beginnings who has spent most of his life farming his land. The strengths and vulnerabilities both of fieldworker and local are dialectically exposed.

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  • Grimshaw, Anna. 1992. Servants of the Buddha: Winter in a Himalayan convent. London: Open Letters.

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    A text that interweaves the lives of celibacy of a group of Buddhist nuns high in the Himalayan cold of a Ladakhi winter with an account of the temptations in the author’s own life as she ponders whether to submit to the local hardship, discrimination, violence, and uncertainty—or to withdraw.

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  • Jackson, Michael. 2009. The palm at the end of the mind: Relatedness, religiosity, and the real. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    An evocative personal reflection on those situations in human life where the limits of language, knowledge, and strength are met, as seen through the lens of a diversity of ethnographic experiences. Here is a reaching of sameness amid diversity, and insight amid ignorance.

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  • Orlove, Benjamin S. 1995. In my father’s study. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

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    A dual narrative of biography and autobiography: the story of the father who immigrated to the United States from Russia interwoven with the story of the American son who finds out about the father through posthumous material effects.

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  • Shostak, Marjorie. 1981. Nisa: The life and words of a !Kung woman. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    An attempt to enter the private life of a woman in the Kalahari desert, through the words of her own life history. A reflection on the nature of experience as at once personal, local, historical, cultural, and global.

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  • Werbner, Richard P. 1991. Tears of the dead: The social biography of an African family. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

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    An account of one family’s story, over one hundred years, from colonial Rhodesia to the present (Zimbabwe). Character and family, morality, public authority and colonialism, and displacement and war are all understood as local concepts.

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The Complex of the Human

“Anthropology” as a modern scientific discipline was first formulated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the late 1700s. It was to be an Enlightenment project in which a desire to know the human was combined with a mission to improve the lot of the human. “Anthropology” was to be at once scientific and moral in ethos. The anthropologist’s focus was to be on the human as a singularity. Irrespective of time and place, of station in life and experience and appearance, “humanity” represented a thing in and of itself, as was the individual as an embodiment of the human. Scientifically, one studied the distinct thing that was the individual body, thereby adducing knowledge of the distinct thing that was the human species. Ethically, one promoted individuality and humanity as ends in themselves that should not be treated as means to other ends. In its most general, and most important, form, a literary anthropology manifests this Kantian perspective on the nature and the value of the human and the individual. Above and beyond all superficial differences of time and place, of culture and history and community, there are individual human beings. Their lives deserve to be known, their lot improved or guaranteed, their experience acknowledged and represented. In focusing upon “writing” and “reading,” upon “narrative” and “consciousness” as universal human practices, literary anthropologists have sought to define anthropological “evidentiality” and “ethos” in line with the duties of a humane (Kantian) science. More nearly, the complex of “the human condition” itself has been seen to deserve attention and definition. What is it that being human entails (Roughley 2000)? How might one address the specificities of history, culture, and society without losing sight of the human (Jackson 2005)? How does one maintain an appreciation of individuality in settings and circumstances that proclaim classes and categories of persons (Rapport 1997, Amit and Dyck 2006)? One must recognize how social structures and mechanisms are always mediated by individual consciousness (Cohen 1994). One discovers and delineates the individual human life existing among the collective class of the “sick” (Irving 2009), the “urban poor” (Wardle 2000), and the “religious congregant” (Collins 2008).

  • Amit, Vered, and Noel Dyck. 2006. Claiming individuality: The cultural politics of distinction. London: Pluto.

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    An examination of the concept of individuality as a form both of personal and social action, linked both to questions of belonging and of autonomy. Contributions explore individuality in childhood, family relations, work, tourism, pilgrimage, and humor.

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  • Cohen, Anthony P. 1994. Self consciousness: An alternative anthropology of identity. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203418987Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An argument for anthropology to acknowledge the subtleties, inflections, and varieties of individual consciousness that are concealed by the categorical masks invented by social administrators and social scientists alike. Failing to do so is to continue to deny people the right to their own identities.

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  • Collins, Peter. 2008. Accommodating the individual and the social, the religious and the secular: Modelling the parameters of discourse in “religious” contexts. In Religion and the individual: Belief, practice and identity. Edited by Abby Day, 143–156. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    An examination of what religion means to the individual Quaker, and how individual Quakers live their beliefs, practices, and identities. Here is religion as a personally embodied understanding and experience.

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  • Irving, Andrew. 2009. The color of pain. Public Culture 21.2: 293–319.

    DOI: 10.1215/08992363-2008-030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An experimental attempt to give an account of the change in embodiment experienced by people suffering serious and often fatal illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. An examination of the artistic expression of sufferers as route to the individual perspective amid the sick “patient.”

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  • Jackson, Michael. 2005. Existential anthropology: Events, exigencies, and effects. New York: Berghahn.

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    A bringing together of ethnographic examples and insights with an existential metaphysics so as to explore the tension between universal human capacities to author personal and social worlds, and the finite possibilities offered by straitened circumstances.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 1997. Transcendent individual: Towards a literary and liberal anthropology. London: Routledge.

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    Suggests a reappraisal of the place of the individual in anthropological theorizing and ethnographic writing, and also in political judgments. An argument for the originality of individual becoming and the significance of individual consciousness for social life and cultural forms and for their understanding.

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  • Roughley, Neil, ed. 2000. Being humans: Anthropological universality and particularity in transdisciplinary perspectives. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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    A collection of investigations into the roles that conceptions of the human play in the human and social sciences. What is “the human” and how can conceptions of “humankind” be justified?

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  • Wardle, Huon. 2000. An ethnography of cosmopolitanism in Kingston, Jamaica. Lewiston, NY: Mellen.

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    A study of the relationship between conflicting forces in current social experience, namely community and cosmopolitanism, through an examination of the way in which people from the Caribbean—subject to slavery, the plantation economy, and labor migration—can have experiences that are at once local and global, and both culturally specific and universally human.

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Writing

Rather than treating writing as a particular technique or technology—as the inscription of words or forms on a page or material surface—writing could profitably be regarded as something far broader: the orderly inscription of meanings per se, whatever the precise technique and technology of that inscription. Writing can be defined as meaningful reflection on experience—an experiencing of experience, a meta-experience, a “ratiocination” (Stock 1983). The forms of such writing are highly diverse: words in phrases and sentences, but also musical notes in chords and phrases, daubs of paint in shapes and relations, religious icons in moldings and arrays, physical behaviors in habits and routines, prescribed roles in institutions and hierarchies. Inscription might take place on any number of surfaces: fields, houses, footballs, spaces, bodies, and memories, as well as pages. Writing comprises diaries and novels, monographs and theses, songs and plays, but also the shapes of farm field systems and the patterns of their plowing; ways of shaping, carrying, tattooing, and clothing bodies; forms of orating and politicking, or marketing and warring; designing and occupying houses (Gray 2005); going on pilgrimages (Coleman and Elsner 2002); or curating museums (Macdonald 2002). All these may serve as mnemonics by which messages about life’s order and meaning are inscribed and recalled. Understood in its fullest form, in short, writing is the practice of symbolically reflecting on, and making sense of, experience. Writing gives rise to “texts,” which are an orderly use of symbolic forms (forms that carry meaning for their user) for the making of orderly worlds (Stock 1990). Writing conceived of not as a technique of communication but as a mode of cognition also argues against a “deconstruction” of human creativity and authorship (Bradbury 1992). Indeed, the fact that writing is ubiquitous and universal, the special preserve neither of certain cultures and times (“literate” versus “nonliterate”) nor of certain social classes and occupations (“professionals” versus “laborers”), but practicable and practiced by all, is the foundational justification of a universal “interpretive” anthropology (Geertz 1973).

  • Bradbury, Malcolm. 1992. The bridgeable gap: Bringing together the creative writer and the critical theorist in an authorless world. Times Literary Supplement, 17 January, 7–9.

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    A critical appraisal of the anti-idealist and antihumanist trend, following the writings of Foucault, Derrida, and Lacan, to displace (“dissolve,” “decenter”) the authors of written texts and “deconstruct” their imaginative subjectivity.

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  • Coleman, Simon, and Jon Elsner. 2002. Pilgrim voices: Narrative and authorship in Christian pilgrimage. New York: Berghahn.

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    An analysis of pilgrimage as writing, and specifically as a form of travel writing, exploring in detail tensions between oral and written accounts of pilgrimage, the relation of pilgrimage accounts to secular forms of writing, and pilgrimage itself as a form of narrative.

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

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    A seminal collection of articles arguing for a reorientation of anthropology as an interpretative project in search of meaning, not a mechanistic one in search of laws. The key image is Max Weber’s: Human beings are animals suspended in webs of significance they themselves spin and have spun.

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  • Gray, John. 2005. Domestic mandala: Architecture of life-worlds in Nepal. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    An ethnography of domestic activities and architecture among the high caste Chhetris of Kholagaun in Nepal; in particular, a focus on the spatial organization and ritual performances that generate and display houses as “mandalas,” sacred diagrams that are both maps of the cosmos and machines for revelation.

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  • Macdonald, Sharon. 2002. Behind the scenes at the science museum. Oxford: Berg.

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    An ethnography of the institutional workings of a major science exhibition. Interrogates museum practices and organization in an effort to understand the choices and constraints involved in the making of exhibits. The contested terrain extends from audience responses to curators’ inscriptive intentions.

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  • Stock, Brian. 1983. The implications of literacy: Written language and models of interpretation in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    An argument for writing to be understood as “a separating of experience from the ratiocination about it,” and for “the written word” to refer to an attempt to reflect on and give meaning to experience.

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  • Stock, Brian. 1990. Listening for the text: On the uses of the past. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    In the context of medieval history, an exploration of how “texts” (from the Latin root of the word) can be understood as implying literally a “weaving” of language into patterned compositions, whether spoken or scripted or both.

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Reading

To study reading anthropologically is to become aware of how simplistic such binary distinctions as “literacy versus orality” or “individual versus collective” are when applied in an evolutionary or an otherwise classificatory fashion to types of societies and the reading practices to be expected within them. There never is or was an oral pastoral, for instance, while there always is a complex, multidirectional and political interplay of different forms of human communication, of which reading is frequently one (Driessen 1993). In an anthropology of reading, what can be expected is a focus less on a particular technology of data processing than a range of social acts and a specific cultural tool—of domination as well as liberation, of sociality as well as isolation, of longevity as well as recentness. An anthropology of reading explores the ongoing relationships between individual and collective readings, between a tradition and its performance (Trosset 1993). It also examines the way in which the propriety of readings is a resource: “correct reading” is a symbolic property (Livingston 1995). On the one hand, then, an anthropology of reading explores the diversity of reading traditions in the world; treats these as historically, culturally, and socially situated practices; and examines the consequences of their use. Thus, “reading” is an intrinsically social exchange, historically informed, culturally specific, and often collectively practiced. On the other hand, reading comes to be approached, in Jonathan Boyarin’s words, as a “living textuality” (Boyarin 1993). Talking, writing, and reading are significantly implicated in one another, and reading can be appreciated as a “kinetic art” (Fish 1980). Iser 1988 notes the actualizing role of the reader as well as the textualizing work of the author. The anthropologist endeavors to understand the ways in which people move between communicating in terms of talking, writing, and reading, and between the positions of “reader” and “writer,” such that simple conceptual distinctions are replaced by an appreciation of the complexity of embodied practices.

  • Boyarin, Jonathan, ed. 1993. The ethnography of reading. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A collection of articles exploring the tension between the variety and the universality of reading practices, from the Hebrew Talmud to the Christian reading culture adopted by Jesus’s early followers, to reading as culturally constructed in Anglo-Saxon England, by premodern Japanese scribes, in urban Texas, and in a Native American reservation classroom.

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  • Driessen, Henk, ed. 1993. The politics of ethnographic reading and writing: Confrontations of Western and indigenous views. Saarbrücken, Germany: Breitenbach.

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    A collection exploring the diversity of traditions of reading and writing. These traditions are historico-culturally situated practices, the consequences of whose use are increasingly politicized. A particular focus is on the native ethnographer and his or her ambivalent status in regard both to the Western establishment and indigenous communities.

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  • Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is there a text in this class? The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A critique of treating texts as a self-sufficient system of formal signification. Read texts represent lived works, because reading is an event, brought about by the reader bringing an interpretive framework (a cognitive schema, a world view) to bear upon the text and “experiencing” it by constructing its meaning.

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  • Iser, Wolfgang. 1988. The reading process: A phenomenological approach. In Modern criticism and theory: A reader. Edited by David Lodge, 211–228. London: Longman.

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    An argument for the duality and indeterminateness of texts: the object created by an author and that realized by the audience are two separate poles. By anticipation and retrospection, readers transform the text into a personal experience, with the text acting as a kind of mirror of his or her dispositions.

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  • Livingston, Eric. 1995. An anthropology of reading. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    A comparison of the different “cultures of reading” to which professional literary critics and lay readers of English Literature belong, each laying claim to proper practice. Presents two versions of reading the same texts—“reading simpliciter” versus “reading cultura”—with the relationship between them being fundamentally one of mistranslation.

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  • Trosset, Carol. 1993. Welshness performed: Welsh concepts of person and society. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    Culturally prominent events such as eisteddfodau (competitive music and poetry festivals) are read as expressions of the interplay among language survival, performance arts, and ethnic politics. Welsh feelings of separateness from England are lodged in local readings of status and community, of equality and self-sacrifice.

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Narrative

Narrative is the form of human representation concerned with expressing coherence through time (Kerby 1991). A narrative account involves a sequence of two or more units of information (concerning happenings, mental states, people, or whatever), such that if the order of the sequence were changed, the meaning of the account would alter. An anthropological study of narrative explores the relationship between narratives and identity, both personal and collective, ranging from the consciousness of the individual to a sense of communal history (Bruner 1990). Also explored is the way in which narratives become a prime site of political contest (Jackson 2002). Narrative can be said to transform the potential discordance of humanly experienced time, making the experience simultaneously one of pointless change, contingency, randomness, and endlessness (Rapport 2008). Alongside this, narrative makes time an aspect of sociocultural reality, so that time becomes human by being articulated within a narrative sequence (Tonkin 1995). Individuals might be described as becoming human persons by means of participating in a narrative history of themselves (Bruner and Weisser 1991). We tell the story of our lives, from the point of view of a first-person narrator, and through this description and emplotment we each create our individuality. Through our telling, in a public language, our lives also emerge into public meaning and reality, and also into healthiness (Skultans 1998). We understand ourselves and know ourselves insofar as we construct narratives of and for ourselves that possess internal coherence and accessibility, but which also develop over time. Moreover, one narration of the world can be seen to repress, replace, or otherwise obscure preceding or alternative ones. It is the power of narrative to create temporal order coupled with the potential of narrative continually to offer new versions of that order that makes narrative so universally pervasive in human life, both as that life is lived and as it is analyzed (Reed-Danahay 1997).

  • Bruner, Jerome. 1990. Acts of meaning. Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    An argument for an appreciation of the ubiquity of the human “readiness or predisposition to organize experience into a narrative form.” Consciousness can itself be seen as an incipient story, and narrative as the form of its own experiencing. Past, present, and future are the inexorable modalities of human experience.

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  • Bruner, Jerome, and Susan Weisser. 1991. The invention of self: Autobiography and its forms. In Literacy and orality. Edited by David Olson and Nancy Torrance, 129–148. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An argument that one comes to know one’s life through “never-ending textualisation,” through the formulation and reformulation of a “written” and narrated account of what that life is about. The individual constitutes himself for himself (and as a self) in an ongoing story carried in memory.

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  • Jackson, Michael. 2002. The politics of storytelling: Violence, transgression, and intersubjectivity. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

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    An examination of storytelling as a bridge between private and public realms, as a site where individualized passions and shared views are contested and combined. Also focuses on the volatile conditions under which stories are both told and not told. Narrative workings of reality enable people symbolically to alter subject-object relations.

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  • Kerby, Anthony Paul. 1991. Narrative and the self. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive introduction to narratives, defined as the telling (in whatever medium, though especially language) of a series of temporal events so that a meaningful sequence is portrayed: the story or plot of the narrative.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 2008. Walking Auschwitz, walking without arriving. Journeys 9.2: 32–54.

    DOI: 10.3167/jys.2008.090203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comparison of three narratives: the narrative the novelist Imre Kertesz told himself to make sense of his time in Nazi death camps, the narrative the novelist W. G. Sebald told himself having left postwar Germany for a life in England, and the narrative the anthropologist tells himself as a tourist in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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  • Reed-Danahay, Deborah E., ed. 1997. Auto/ethnography: Rewriting the self and the social. Oxford: Berg.

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    “Self-inscription” covers both the ethnographer and those who are studied. Selves and social forms are culturally constituted through biographical genres. This calls into anthropological question the authenticity of voice, ethnographic authority, and the degree to which auto-ethnography constitutes resistance to hegemonic states of discourse.

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  • Skultans, Vieda. 1998. The testimony of lives: Narrative and memory in post-Soviet Latvia. London: Routledge.

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    A personal account of a homecoming after dispossession and exile, and also an anthropology of people trying to come to terms with the past and possible futures. Skultans analyzes the process of memory, such that the personal is interwoven with traditional narratives of national history and culture.

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  • Tonkin, Elizabeth. 1995. Narrating our pasts: The social construction of oral history. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    With a particular focus on oral histories from the Jlao Kru of Liberia, this study argues that—as with written history and literature—oral narratives have their shaping genres and aesthetic conventions. Views narratives of past events as guides to the future and claims to present authority.

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Consciousness

The novelist E. M. Forster once described literary fiction as “truer” than the human sciences, because the latter appeared content to treat only the surfaces of social life and what could be deduced of its nature and meaning from external signs. Only the novelist revealed both inner and outer lives, the individual consciousness of collective symbolic forms. In anthropology this view is now changing, with an appreciation of how attempts might be made, however difficult and tentative, to bridge the gap between voiced and unvoiced discourse, and to appreciate how the two are intimately and inextricably linked in everyday human experience (Cohen and Rapport 1995). More broadly, consciousness is approached as an embodied property of every individual who interacts in social spaces, who dwells in an environmental sensorium, who operates social institutions, and who partakes in cultural traditions. This does not privilege the individual over society but rather recognizes that social relations and reality cannot be described as other than a matter of ongoing interpretation by conscious individuals (Cohen 1992). Consciousness is the study and the inscription of that which must always animate symbolic forms. An anthropological study of consciousness throws new light on the vital role interiority plays in any comprehension of social exchange (Rapport 2008, Irving 2011). One also addresses the varieties of human consciousness: the altered states often associated with religious practice and belief (Luhrmann 1994); the different moods and modes of being self-conscious (Fernandez and Huber 2001); the murky domain between consciousness and the apparently subconscious, between the functioning psyche and psychopathology (Devereux 1978); and the processes of socialization and conscious maturation (James 1993).

  • Cohen, Anthony. 1992. Self-conscious anthropology. In Anthropology and autobiography. Edited by Judith Okely and Helen Callaway, 219–238. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203450536Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that individuals are members of societies through their perception of symbols. Since symbols are perceived through individual consciousnesses, individuals are members of societies as self-conscious individuals. If anthropology does not do descriptive justice to individuals, then it cannot do it for societies.

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  • Cohen, Anthony, and Nigel Rapport, eds. 1995. Questions of consciousness. London: Routledge.

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    A collection of articles exploring the ways in which anthropology could and should take account of the conscious understandings of research subjects. Since Durkheim declared a social science to be distinct from a psychological one, “social facts” have been treated as things in themselves, but should anthropology continue to accept this inheritance?

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  • Devereux, George. 1978. Ethnopsychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis and anthropology as complementary frames of reference. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A collection of seminal essays arguing for the need to approach the phenomenon of human consciousness by way of a number of different explanatory frames (or methodological ideologies) simultaneously. Individual consciousness is thus known at once as a human universal and a historical specificity.

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  • Fernandez, James W., and Mary Taylor Huber, eds. 2001. Irony in action: Anthropology, practice, and the moral imagination. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A collection of articles based on the idea that irony extends beyond its classification as a figure of speech and might be recognized as a major mode of human experience. Irony is a means to liberate the mind from convention and tradition, and to extend the imagination beyond narrow norms.

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  • Irving, Andrew. 2011. Strange distance: Towards an anthropology of interior dialogue. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 25.1: 22–44.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1387.2010.01133.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the capacity for a complex inner life—encompassing inner speech, imaginative reverie, and unarticulated moods—is a human universal, and a principal means through which people interpret, understand, and manage their condition. Anthropology must study how interiority underlies people’s public actions and expressions.

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  • James, Allison. 1993. Childhood identities: Self and social relationships in the experience of the child. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

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    An ethnography of young children, arguing for their role as agents in their own socialization to be recognized. Bodies and friendships, difference and disability, personhood, gender, and sociality all figure in the child’s perspective, and anthropology must endeavor to record children’s own voices and their conscious reasoning.

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  • Luhrmann, T, M. 1994. Persuasions of the witch’s craft: Ritual magic in contemporary England. London: Macmillan.

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    In order to understand why “reasonable” people may be drawn to the seemingly bizarre practices of neopaganism and witchcraft, the study immerses itself in the arcane world of Londoners who call themselves magicians. One appreciates the way in which consciousness enables individuals to make their imaginations actual and consequential.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 2008. Gratuitousness: Notes towards an anthropology of interiority. Australian Journal of Anthropology 19.3: 331–349.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1835-9310.2008.tb00357.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article that argues for an appreciation of that interior life that runs in everybody, alongside exterior social encounters. There is “unvoiced” as well as “voiced” discourse, and the unvoiced is likely to be the more continuous and complex, possessing a radically individual, or “gratuitous,” character.

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Evidence and Ethos

What is the character of anthropology as a discipline? It has been dubbed the most humanistic and qualitative of the social sciences, and yet also as the most scientific and comparative of the humanities. It has been called an interdisciplinary discipline, an antidiscipline, and an “intellectual poaching license” (by Clyde Kluckhohn). Should it not make a dilettantish or amateurish use of all manner of information, so as to respect the vast intricacies and subtle complexities of the human experience of social life, as well as the means by which these become evidential to the ethnographer? Anthropology privileges experience (Turner and Bruner 1986), impressionism (Skinner 2004), and the evidence of social and cultural realities that appear in individual life stories (Langness and Frank 1981, Watson and Watson-Franke 1985) and life projects (Rapport 2003). Tannen 2007 concludes that the anthropological project is at once scientific and humanistic and aesthetic; it is fraught with tensions among knowledge, value, and ethics that are ultimately irresolvable. Hence, the anthropologist ideally adopts both a methodological eclecticism—playing functionalism off against symbolic interactionism, structuralism, materialism, and interpretivism—and a representational eclecticism, blurring genres in order to do justice to a rich sense of ethnographic reality. Just as there is no single or coherent or common-denominatory social structure or culture underlying any one sociocultural milieu (simply and neatly explaining, grounding, contextualizing, or determining its goings-on), so the anthropologist endeavors to describe the multiplicity and incompleteness of social life as it is diversely lived (Moore 1987). In Richard Rorty’s classification, anthropology is a “reactive” and “edifying” rather than a “constructive” and “systematic” pursuit, aiming not at monologic explanation, argument, and agreement, but at the creative writing of the human, of transfiguration and becoming (Rorty 1979).

  • Langness, L. L., and Gelya Frank. 1981. Lives: An anthropological approach to biography. Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp.

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    An interrogation of the ways in which the long and intimate association an anthropologist has with the people he or she studies may increase the reliability and validity of the information collected. Recognizes the unconscious as well as the conscious dimensions of the life-historical interview.

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  • Moore, Sally Falk. 1987. Explaining the present: Theoretical dilemmas in processual ethnography. American Ethnologist 14.4: 727–736.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1987.14.4.02a00080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    For the Chagga of Mount Kilimanjaro, the events of local life are not coherent instantiations of shared, preexisting structures; they are revelations of multiplicity and indeterminacy, contestation, and change. Equally, then, the “event” of the anthropologist’s text should not be informed by any single mode of knowing or interpreting.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 2003. I am dynamite: An alternative anthropology of power. London: Routledge.

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    Argues for an appreciation of the “existential power” of individual embodiment alongside the “structural power” of institutions and hierarchies. Urges anthropology to see in individual case studies (here, Stanley Spencer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ben Glaser, and Rachel Silberstein) a means to do justice to the “in order to” motivations behind individual behavior.

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  • Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Since sentences connect most obviously with other sentences rather than with “the world,” the systematic search for objective knowledge should be recognized as being one among a repertoire of ways of representing ourselves to ourselves. Systemicism provides no more privileged a description than the “edifying” accounts of novelists and ethnographers.

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  • Skinner, Jonathan. 2004. Before the volcano: Reverberations of identity on Montserrat. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak.

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    Argues for anthropology to be seen as an impressionistic exercise, and for “impressionism” as a key form of human understanding that allows incommensurable sources and conclusions to be accommodated in the practice of life and writing.

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  • Tannen, Deborah. 2007. Talking voices: Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511618987Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for an understanding of how ordinary conversation works to create meaning and establish relationships. Also demonstrates how everyday conversation is made up of features from literary discourses, and that intersexuality is a natural feature of genres and disciplines.

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  • Turner, Victor, and Edward Bruner, eds. 1986. The anthropology of experience. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    A collection of case studies arguing for the centrality of experience in anthropological fieldwork and analysis. How do individuals experience culture? What is the relationship between experience and the forms in which it finds expression, such as ritual, reminiscence, theater, life story, and work?

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  • Watson, Lawrence, and Marie-Barbara Watson-Franke. 1985. Interpreting life histories: An anthropological inquiry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Given the many tedious, alienating, and dehumanizing accounts of other lives that anthropologists have produced without a true feeling for the complexity of individual subjectivity, how might we benefit from using artistry and imagination as cross-cultural tools of exploration and comparison?

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LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0067

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