Tradition and Agency: Tracing Cultural Continuity and Invention

Tradition and Agency: Tracing Cultural Continuity and Invention

Tradition and Agency: Tracing Cultural Continuity and Invention

Tradition and Agency: Tracing Cultural Continuity and Invention

Excerpt

Tradition has been a key concept in anthropology, sociology and history since the inception of these disciplines. Its primary meaning is to capture continuity in human affairs, as it refers both to the activity of handing down the cultural heritage from one generation to the next, and to what is actually handed down: customs, beliefs, rituals, rules. About twenty years ago an anthology with the provocative title The Invention of Tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) highlighted that traditions often were an element of change as well. The authors showed that new institutions of governance both in Europe and its colonial dependencies frequently were imbued with status and legitimacy through the creation of ‘traditional’ ceremonies and identities. The book stimulated an enormous research activity on invented and imagined traditions in Europe and many other parts of the world. An independent discovery of this field of research occurred in the Pacific region, marked by the publication of a special issue of the journal Mankind (Keesing and Tonkinson 1982). The ensuing research into traditions, both in the Pacific and other ethnographic ‘areas’, has produced rich data on similar processes all over the world but has also tended to become regionally oriented and inward looking, focussing on the cultural dynamics of local inventions and reactions to global developments.

In this book we want to highlight the geographical extension of the invention and revival of traditions. We have collected case studies that range from Western and Eastern Europe, via Africa and Indonesia to Australia and the Pacific. Each chapter presents a striking case study that tells its own captivating story but, at the same time, illustrates one or more general aspects of these related phenomena. In the Introduction we have endeavoured to capture how these phenomena are related from the perspective of their relevance for understanding human cultural activity in general. We do this by reviewing the discussions on the invention of tradition and assessing their contribution to questions of cultural continuity and discontinuity, agency, and the use of cultural resources. In the Postscript, one . . .

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