Anthropological Theory in North America

Anthropological Theory in North America

Anthropological Theory in North America

Anthropological Theory in North America

Synopsis

Cultural anthropology is at a crossroads. Under the impact of postmodernist critiques, serious doubts have been raised about the scientific validity--indeed, the very viability--of the ethnographic enterprise. These doubts have been voiced most loudly in North America, where the field nonetheless still enjoys the broadest academic base, and attracts the largest number of practitioners. Over the last decade, a set of critical issues has increasingly engaged cultural anthropologists in heated debate. This volume documents the critical issues now being debated within the discipline, and presents a range of original theoretical contributions indicating the directions the field may take in the 21st century.

Excerpt

"Anthropology is either truly international or not at all!" This philosophy, which is behind the creation and ongoing activities of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES), is particularly relevant to anthropologists concerned with matters of theory. Theory can only be refined through an ongoing process of comparative discussion and understanding. It is to facilitate this process that the IUAES Commission on Theoretical Anthropology (COTA) was founded in 1993, establishing a varied program of activities. Such activities include the development of a series of publications which document current theoretical developments in our discipline from a worldwide perspective. The first volume, titled Horizons of Understanding, was published in 1996, and it surveyed the European landscape in the field of anthropological theory. As current COTA chairperson, it is a great pleasure to now introduce this new volume, dedicated to an overview of recent theoretical developments in Canada and the United States.

Although American anthropologists sometimes identify a concern with theory as particularly European, some of the most influential theoretical debates in modern anthropology have originated in North America. The ideas introduced by Morgan or Boas, Harris or Geertz, have had a tremendous impact on the worldwide development of the discipline. However, the historical trajectory of American theoretical innovations is nonlinear; sometimes these innovations did not have any major impact outside the Anglo-Saxon world, sometimes their influence came from a process of much-delayed rediscovery (the cur-

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