Tribal Synthesis or Ethnogenesis? Campbell's Interpretation of Haley and Wilcoxon

By Haley, Brian D. | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Tribal Synthesis or Ethnogenesis? Campbell's Interpretation of Haley and Wilcoxon


Haley, Brian D., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


I applaud Howard Campbell's recent message that anthropologists 'have the responsibility of interpreting "the constructionist" critiques of native culture to bureaucracies such as the BAR [Bureau of Acknowledgement Research] and showing how these critiques, rather than undermining Indian claims to tribal status, can be used in effective arguments for the legitimacy of tribes' (2006: 306). Sadly, I also must correct Campbell's considerable misrepresentation of what Larry Wilcoxon and I have published. I am sorry to say that these corrections are so substantial that they will challenge his claim to have presented an alternative to our perspective.

Campbell uses three of our writings (Haley & Wilcoxon 1997; 2000; 2005; see also 1999; Erlandson et al. 1998; Haley 2002; 2005) to illustrate 'a constructionist perspective on "indigenous" culture', which, he argues, needs reassessment (2006: 295). This narrow specification of indigenous culture immediately misleads readers, since we have not singled it out, and what indigeneity is present in the case we address is far less concrete than Campbell's summary suggests. Our first articles actually addressed practical problems stemming from anthropologists' roles in creating new culture and new indigeneity (Haley & Wilcoxon 1997; 1999), and our most recent are about four centuries of identity changes in which only the latest involves an assertion of indigenous identity (Haley 2005; Haley & Wilcoxon 2005).

Campbell's second error is to place us within a 'critique of authenticity genre' in which culture, tradition, and identity are either spurious or authentic (2006: 295). He associates this with Hobsbawm and Ranger's (1983) invention of tradition framework, yet fails to note that we contest the distinction drawn between spurious and authentic culture, thus adopting Handler and Linnekin's (1984) position rather than Hobsbawm and Ranger's. We did not engage in 'mythbusting' just to contribute to theory, as Campbell implies (2006: 296). We have explored issues profoundly relevant to ethical, methodological, policy, and social justice issues (see, e.g., Haley & Wilcoxon 1997: 765-66, 771-2; 2005: 440-2). Statements in each of our articles ought to have signalled to Campbell that he has defined the constructionist perspective and our position within it too narrowly. For example, (1) we defend the 'validity' of Chumash Traditionalism (Haley & Wilcoxon 1997: 776); (2) we insist that past traditions not be used to judge current traditions (Haley & Wilcoxon 1999: 215, 231); and (3) we explicitly challenge the 'real/fake' identity distinction (Haley 2005; Haley & Wilcoxon 2005). Campbell characterizes debates over the authenticity of an identity as 'internal' to the indigenous ethnic group (2006: 298, 305). Yet we demonstrated in the neo-Chumash case that well-meaning but poorly informed anthropologists glossed encroachment by non-native outsiders on native communities as internal 'factionalism', thereby adding to pressures on native communities to accept outsiders whose advances they have already rebuffed (Erlandson et al. 1998: 504; Haley & Wilcoxon 2005; see also Johnson 2003).

In another crucial misrepresentation, Campbell states that 'Haley and Wilcoxon (2005) ... view "neo-Chumash" culture as an example of "ethnogenesis", a neo-primitivist "invention of tradition" with no legitimate roots in aboriginal Chumash ancestry' (2006: 296). Actually, we defined ethnogenesis as 'the emergence of new groups and identities--to describe community fission and coalescence', making no mention of primitivism or tradition, nor restricting the definition to indigenous, native, or tribal groups (Haley & Wilcoxon 2005: 432). Our definition of ethnogenesis, in fact, encompasses Campbell's tribal synthesis, which he promotes as an alternative position. He defines tribal synthesis as 'the combining of two or more [Native American] entities into a single or unified, or putatively unified, one' (2006: 298).

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