Anthropology through a Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory

Anthropology through a Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory

Anthropology through a Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory

Anthropology through a Double Lens: Public and Personal Worlds in Human Theory


How can we hold both public and personal worlds in the eye of a unified theory of meaning? What ethnographic and theoretical possibilities do we create in the balance? Anthropology Through a Double Lens offers a theoretical framework encompassing both of these domains--a "double lens." Daniel Touro Linger argues that the literary turn in anthropology, which treats culture as text, has been a wrong turn. Cultural analysis of the interpretive or discursive variety, which focuses on public symbols, has difficulty seeing--much less dealing convincingly with--actual persons. While emphasizing the importance of social environments, Linger insists on equal sensitivity to the experiential immediacies of human lives. He develops a sustained critique of interpretive and discursive trends in contemporary anthropology, which have too strongly emphasized social determinism and public symbols while too readily dismissing psychological and biographical realities.

Anthropology Through a Double Lens demonstrates the power of an alternative dual perspective through a blend of critical essays and ethnographic studies drawn from the author's field research in São Lués, a northeastern Brazilian state capital, and Toyota City, a Japanese factory town. To span the gap between the public and the personal, Linger provides a set of analytical tools that include the ideas of an arena of meaning, systems of systems, bridging theory, singular lives, and reflective consciousness. The tools open theoretical and ethnographic horizons for exploring the process of meaning-making, the force of symbolism and rhetoric, the politics of representation, and the propagation and formation of identities. Linger uses these tools to focus on key issues in current theoretical and philosophical debates across a host of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, history, and the other human sciences..


On the way to the new millennium, anthropology, still a young field, became prematurely forgetful. Anthropos almost vanished, crowded out by culture, the discipline’s celebrated contribution to social science. That contribution has been valuable, but too imperious in its claim on human lives. This book, while reserving an important place for culture, seeks to recover a focus on human beings for an anthropology worthy of its name.

The essays collected herein run against the strong culturalist current that has carried anthropology for the past several decades. Culturalism is a type of social or historical determinism. It consigns human beings to the margins of the analysis, as incidental to culture or else, more tendentiously, as culture’s effects. Its job is the interpretation of public representations, or symbols—words, images, performances, and narratives—which, it is said or implied, hold human minds in their thrall. Culturalism has a long pedigree in anthropology, especially in the United States, but recently it has, in its discursivist guise and in tandem with parallel shifts in critical and textual theory, achieved a position of neardominance in the discipline. Indeed, many anthropologists now say that they practice “cultural studies,” an emerging, heavily discursivist field strongly influenced by literary criticism.

To be sure, culturalism opens up unique and fascinating problems. Culturalist perspectives illuminate human affairs from an intriguing angle, suggesting that human groups (tribes, nations, ethnicities, classes, castes, genders, and so on) cut up the world into arbitrary chunks, represented by arrays of symbols. in newer, more radical versions of culturalism, representations constitute, fragment, and reconfigure groups themselves. Culturalism encourages studies of the diverse frameworks of thought and feeling that purportedly ensnare us all. the thousands of . . .

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