Anthropology beyond Culture

By Richard G. Fox; Barbara J. King | Go to book overview

three
Culture and Anthropology in
Ethnographic Modernity

Yoshinobu Ota

Everyone played the appropriation game.

—Ralph Ellison, “The Little Man at Chehaw Station”

As a Japanese learning anthropology in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, I read, with a sense of liberation fitting for the end of the conservative decade, the following remark by Edward Said (1989: 213): “The most striking thing about ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’ is, as with all general terms, how profoundly conditioned they are by their historical and worldly context. To speak about ‘the other’ in today’s United States is, for the contemporary anthropologist here, quite a different thing than say for an Indian and Venezuelan anthropologist.”

My sense of liberation came from both Said’s perspectivism and his emphasis on worldliness as a characteristic of anthropology. The idea of worldliness compelled me to recognize the anthropological subjectivity embedded in concrete practices in the historically formed geopolitical space. I sensed that there might be a different vision of anthropology for the future—a vision emerging out of historical and locational conjunctures often overlooked in the hegemonic narration of the disciplinary past and present.

This recognition helped me to articulate for the first time a persistent, unsettling feeling I could not shake off, the source of which I had thought stemmed from my experience of being a subject as well as an object of ethnographic investigation—or, to be more precise, being interpellated as such (I use “interpellation” in Louis Althusser’s sense of “being hailed” [1971:174]). From my parochial perspective it seems that discussions of

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