Context and Continuity:
Grasshoppers, Turtles and
As I was revising this conclusion, a number of Thai prostitutes, part of the expansion of the international sex trade into Canada, were arrested in Toronto. Once again, I was called upon as an ‘expert’ to answer questions about Thailand and Thai women. The questions could be reduced to, ‘What is Thailand like that it could produce this industry?’ and ‘What draws Thai women to prostitution?’ They raised a memory of villagers in Supanburi Province, after hearing our explanation of what anthropology is, asking us at every opportunity, ‘how about Canada?’ They demanded a snapshot of what made our home and native land different from theirs. We were unable to come back with anything better than, ‘how about Thailand?’ Another villager asked who were the stupidest people in the world. When we were unable to provide a definitive answer to that question, they gave up on trying to figure out what anthropology was about. Both sets of questions raise the problem of cultural context and difference; or as recalled from undergraduate anthropology courses, other fields, other grasshoppers (Geertz 1973:53).
‘Other fields: other grasshoppers’ is an analogy for different contexts. Cultural context is at the heart of anthropology and yet is more clearly defined and operationalized in archaeology and linguistics than in social anthropology. Context as background renders form interpretable and is key to the work of ethnographic analysis. Its etymology draws attention to things that are woven together, connected, coherently