Questions of Consciousness

Questions of Consciousness

Questions of Consciousness

Questions of Consciousness


This book explores the importance of the conscious self and the 'conscious collectively' in the construction and interpretation of social relations and process. It raises questions neglected in anthropology, like 'how are people aware of their behaviour?'.


This is the ground of anthropology: there is no…valid way to eliminate consciousness from our activity or those of others…. We can pretend that we are neutral scientists collecting ambiguous data and that the people we are studying are living amid various unconscious systems of determining forces of which they have no clue and to which only we have the key. But it is only pretence.

(Paul Rabinow 1977)


Western social thought is built upon the Cartesian notion of self consciousness (as expressed in the cogito) as the distinguishing characteristic of humanity; it is impossible to imagine what our intellectual traditions might have been like if they had not proceeded from this premise. This makes all the more remarkable the fact that social anthropology, the most questioning of social science disciplines, has taken consciousness largely for granted, neglecting-even, perhaps, denying-its significance and relevance. Anthropologists have apparently been content to assume that it is there, somewhere, and to regard its explanation as somehow beyond our reach. If we have tied ourselves up in knots of philosophical angst about the difficulties of understanding other cultures, we have largely dismissed as 'not our business' the more fundamental problem of understanding other minds. the great modernistic paradigms provided anthropologists with justifications for this disinterest, and supplied their own broad brush explanations which located consciousness in the structures of historical materialism, or of the mind and human cognition, or of culture, or of society. British social anthropology, of course, developed predominantly under the influence of the last of these positions, and so its practitioners became used to identifying the consciousness of any individual with the structural logic of that individual's social circumstances. If I am a Nuer, then I must think like a Nuer. Anthropologists

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.