Every year, around the time of the meetings of the American Anthropological Association, the New York Times asks a Big Name anthropologist to contribute an op-ed piece on the state of the field. These pieces tend to take a rather gloomy view. A few years ago, for example, Marvin Harris suggested that anthropology was being taken over by mystics, religious fanatics, and California cultists; that the meetings were dominated by panels on shamanism, witchcraft, and "abnormal phenomena"; and that "scientific papers based on empirical studies" had been willfully excluded from the program (Harris 1978). More recently, in a more sober tone, Eric Wolf suggested that the field of anthropology is coming apart. The sub-fields (and sub-sub-fields) are increasingly pursuing their specialized interests, losing contact with each other and with the whole. There is no longer a shared discourse, a shared set of terms to which all practitioners address themselves, a shared language we all, however idiosyncratically, speak (Wolf 1980). The state of affairs does seem much as Wolf describes it. The field appears to be a thing of shreds and patches, of individuals and small coteries pursuing disjunctive investigations and talking mainly to themselves. We do not even hear stirring arguments any more. Although anthropology was never actually unified in the sense of adopting a single shared paradigm, there was at least a period when there were a few large categories of theoretical affiliation, a set of identifiable camps or schools, and a few simple epithets one could hurl at This essay contains much of my own intellectual history. There will be no more appropriate context in which to thank my teachers, Frederica de Laguna, Clifford Geertz, and David Schneider for having turned me, for better or for worse, into an anthropologist. In addition, I wish to thank the following friends and colleagues for helpful contributions to the development of this essay:
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This essay traces the effects of what I call ethnographic refusal on a series of studies surrounding the subject of resistance. 1 I argue that many of the most influential studies of resistance are severely limited by the lack of an ethnographic perspective. Resistance studies in turn are meant to stand in for a great deal of interdisciplinary work being done these days within and across the social sciences, history, literature, cultural studies, and so forth. Ethnography of course means many things. Minimally, however, it has always meant the attempt to understand another life world using the self-as much of it as possible-as the instrument of knowing. As is by now widely known, ethnography has come under a great deal of internal criticism within anthropology over the past decade or so, but this minimal definition has not for the most part been challenged. Classically, this kind of understanding has been closely linked with field work, in which the whole self physically and in every other way enters the space of the world the researcher seeks to understand. Yet implicit in much of the recent discussions of ethnography is something I wish to make explicit here: that the ethnographic stance (as we may call it) is as much an intellectual (and moral) positionality, a constructive and interpretive mode, as it is a bodily process in space and time. Thus, in a recent useful discussion of "ethnography and the historical imagination," John and Jean Comaroff spend relatively little time on ethnography in the sense of field work but a great deal of time on ways of reading historical sources ethnographically, that is, partly as if they had been produced through field work (1992). What, then, is the ethnographic stance, whether based in field work or not? 1 An earlier and very different version of this essay was written for "The Historic Turn" Conference organized by Terrence McDonald for the Program in the Comparative Study of Social Transformations (CSST) at the University of Michigan. The extraordinarily high level of insightfulness and helpfulness of critical comments from my colleagues in CSST has by now become almost routine, and I wish to thank them collectively here. In addition, for close and detailed readings of the text, I wish to thank
This paper reviews the use of the notion of "key symbol" in anthropological analysis. It analyzes phenomena which have been or might be accorded the status of key symbol in cultural analyses, categorizing them according t o their primary modes of operating on thought and action.
In this article I consider several emergent trends in anthropology since the 1980s against a backdrop of the rise of neoliberalism as both an economic and a governmental formation. I consider first the turn to what I call "dark anthropology, " that is, anthropology that focuses on the harsh dimensions of social life (power, domination, inequality, and oppression), as well as on the subjective experience of these dimensions in the form of depression and hopelessness. I then consider a range of work that is explicitly or implicitly a reaction to this dark turn, under the rubric of "anthropologies of the good, " including studies of "the good life" and "happiness, " as well as studies of morality and ethics. Finally, I consider what may be thought of as a different kind of anthropology of the good, namely new directions in the anthropology of critique, resistance, and activism.
In the many works that try to bring back ‘the actor’ in some sense, there is a tendency to avoid questions of subjectivity, that is, complex ‘structures of feeling’ (in Raymond Williams’s phrase). This article returns to the work of Max Weber and Clifford Geertz to consider various issues of subjectivity, including both fundamental existential anxieties, and specific cultural and historical constructions of ‘consciousness’. The article concludes with a rereading of several recent texts on postmodern consciousness as a specific configuration of anxieties, tied in turn to formations of ‘late capitalism’.
This is an article about the difficulties of doing ethnography in relatively enclosed and secretive communities, based on my experience of trying to launch an ethnographic study of Hollywood. I consider (separately) the problems of doing participant observation in ‘inside’ locations, and the problems of gaining access to industry insiders for interviews. In response to the problem of doing participant observation, I propose the practice of what I call ‘interface ethnography’, attending events in which the closed institution presents itself to ‘the public’. In response to the problem of gaining access to insiders for interviews, I discuss the important role of the interviewee’s ‘interest’, whether practical or intellectual, in the project.
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