Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sources on Contemporary Anthropology - 3

From an anthropologist in the United States:

Steven, I don't know those sources or anything about “worldview.” It's been common since the early 1990s to criticize “anti-essentialism” very strongly, for numerous reasons. I've heard Jonathan Friedman do it most flamboyantly. But the critique is not usually performed by anthropologists in their own right (in a technical sense), but rather by anthropologists on behalf of others who make essentialist claims. This seems most common among anthropologists who work with indigenous “Fourth World” peoples like native Australians and native Americans. The term I've seen most often is “strategic essentialism” or, in the case of Maximilian Forte, “anti-anti-essentialism”: http://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2007/10/20/anti-anti-essentialism-1/ So far as I know, Forte takes the term from Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1992): http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Gilroy.htm

Point 1 of Forte’s essay: Do not meet the essentialist claim that “My people have been living here for thousands of years” with the evidence that “your people” by their own admission and by the historical record came here in 1750. To do so would be anti-essentialist. But we shouldn't ignore facts, merely defer their application. Instead of ridiculing the speaker, try to figure out what he means when he makes that statement. Maybe we can learn how such essentialist statements serve in a strategy for gaining a more powerful voice.

Point 2: Two wrongs don't make a right, and strategic essentialism cannot be equated with essentialism.

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