The Problem of Context

The Problem of Context

The Problem of Context

The Problem of Context


The apparently simple notion that it is contextualization and invocation of context that give form to our interpretations raises important questions about context definition. Moreover, different disciplines involved in the elucidation and interpretation of meanings construe context indifferent ways. How do these ways differ? And what analytical strategies are adopted in order to suggest that the relevant context is "self-evident"? The notion of context has received less attention than is due such a central, key concept in social anthropology, as well as in other related disciplines.

This collection of contributions from a group of leading social anthropologists and anthropological linguists addresses the question of how the idea of context is constructed, invoked, and deployed in the interpretations put forward by social anthropologists. The ethnographic focus embraces peoples from regions such as Bali, Europe, Malawi, and Zaire. Primarily theoretical in its aims, the work also draws on expertise from anthropological linguistics and philosophy in order to set the issue as much in a comparative disciplinary perspective as in a comparative cross-cultural one.


This book arises from the sixth conference or workshop in Social Anthropology organised at the University of St Andrews. the previous meetings in this series, all of which were conceived by members of the St Andrews Department, have each generated important contributions to social anthropological theory and practice with respect to such topics as comparison, power and knowledge, violence, traditions of ethnographic writing, and the free market. the sixth workshop on the theme of interpretation and context took place in January 1994, involving a group of around 20 scholars from a number of different academic disciplines and from institutions within and outwith Britain. the disciplines represented were Social Anthropology, Linguistics and Philosophy, each of which addresses the question of context in one form or another. Social Anthropology and Linguistics share a series of common concerns about context, and indeed each has drawn on the other in the development of the concept. Contextualism in Philosophy is frequently discussed as an issue connected with relativism, another issue of relevance to Social Anthropology.

This resulting thematic volume collects together those papers of immediate anthropological interest, with the aim of presenting a focused set of chapters that touches on issues common to both anthropology and linguistics. the selection was made with a view to enabling the volume to achieve a greater coherence and integrity, reflecting the developments of, and influences on, the idea of context within a broad domain of anthropological interest. Interpretative anthropology is one of the main exponents of contextualism in social anthropology, and it is this approach that forms one of the main points of departure for this book.

Stress on context in interpretation is a distinguishing feature of social anthropology. Phenomena are illuminated by appeal to their . . .

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