The Legacy of Dell Hymes: Ethnopoetics, Narrative Inequality, and Voice

By Paul V. Kroskrity; Anthony K. Webster | Go to book overview

LISTENING FOR VOICES

1 Reinventing Ethnopoetics

Robert Moore

ASSESSING THE LEGACY of Dell Hymes (1927–2009) in ethnopoetics should entail assessing ethnopoetics more broadly, as a “legacy” in its own right within American cultural and linguistic anthropology since the 1960s. For indeed, ethnopoetics in the broad sense emerged more as a movement than as another subfield of (linguistic) anthropology, and it emerged at the same time and among the same generational cohort that produced Reinventing Anthropology (Hymes 1972), “the ‘antitextbook’ of anthropology’s then mid-career political Left” (Silverstein 2010, 935). Like Reinventing Anthropology, ethnopoetics —the term was coined in 1968 by Jerome Rothenberg (Quasha 1976, 65)—emerged in the context of a generational struggle between practitioners working in a number of different but overlapping fields of inquiry and expressive practice: academic anthropology, folklore, literary criticism, poetry, and what we now call performance art. Today we are separated from this period by at least two (demographic) generations, hence the need to ask, in the conclusion below, what parts of this legacy are still usable and active for students of narrative and other discourse practices today.

As a set of activities centered on verbal genres mostly of nonWestern, non literate peoples, ethnopoetics is rather unlike the other anthropological specializations whose names likewise begin with ethno and which used to be grouped under the heading of “ethnoscience”: ethnobotany, ethnozoology, ethnoastronomy, ethnomedicine, and so forth. Most of these take as their subject matter (lexically) explicit, formal knowledge about domains of human activity and/or perceptual experience (plants, animals, celestial bodies, etc.), the nomenclature of which had already been formalized within Western, unprefixed “science” when the anthropologists came a-calling.

But at least in its Hymesian mode, as verse analysis, ethnopoetics has not primarily involved the ethno graphic study of nonliterate

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