After Writing Culture: Epistemology and Praxis in Contemporary Anthropology

After Writing Culture: Epistemology and Praxis in Contemporary Anthropology

After Writing Culture: Epistemology and Praxis in Contemporary Anthropology

After Writing Culture: Epistemology and Praxis in Contemporary Anthropology


This collection addresses the theme of representation in anthropology. Its fourteen articles explore some of the directions in which contemporary anthropology is moving, following the questions raised by the "writing culture" debates of the 1980s.It includes discussion of issues such as:* the concept of caste in Indian society* scottish ethnography* how dreams are culturally conceptualised* representations of the family* culture as conservation* gardens, theme parks and the anthropologist in Japan* representation in rural Japan* people's place in the landscape of Northern Australia* representing identity of the New Zealand Maori.


Allison James, Jenny Hockey and Andrew Dawson

The publication of Clifford and Marcus's edited collection, Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (1986), has come to be regarded as something of a watershed in anthropological thought. the outcome of a series of advanced seminars held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, its collective voice highlighted and responded positively to a crisis in anthropology that was inseparably epistemological and political. Eschewing the holistic persuasions of traditional anthropologists and recognising that their representations are fundamentally the products of asymmetrical power relations, it exhorted us to develop new forms of representation which could include the multiple voices of those being represented. Also rejecting its traditionally authoritative, realist and objectivist style it asked us to think of and explore anthropology itself as an institutionally, historically and politically situated writing genre. Together with its companion volume, Anthropology as Cultural Critique (Marcus and Fischer 1986), the collection instigated a wider debate about 'writing culture' which was celebrated as 'a new experimental moment in ethnographic writing' (ibid.).

Certainly, for some, these books heralded a new way forward and the implications for anthropological practice were embraced with enthusiasm (Rapport 1994:5). However, for others, they constituted the inception of a reactionary and postmodern malaise: the perpetuation of a 'bourgeois, Western, individualistic ideology' (Sangren 1988:423), the 'ultimate argument for armchair anthropology' and a recipe for 'navel gazing' (Jarvie 1988:428). More cynically, Clifford, Marcus, Fischer and their cohorts were portrayed as 'scheming careerists' (cf. Fischer et al. 1988:425) who, through the use of the millennial tones implicit in the phrase 'a new experimental moment' conferred on postmodern ethnography precisely the kind of authority they were seeking to destabilise (Sangren 1988:408-10).

Rather than the books themselves it has been, if anything, the severity of the backlash which has given them their millennial significance. Indeed, as Woolgar observes wryly, 'we know that relativism brings out the

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