Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sources on Contemporary Anthropology - 4

From Robert Canfield, Professor and former Chair, Department of Anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis:

It seems to me the major turn in anthropology in the discussion about culture is the attempt to deconstruct the term and the attempt to specify how/ when specific cultural practices are created and reinforced. The result is that other categories than “culture” become useful. When the recent focus is on how “culture” gets constructed and reiterated and re-enforced in social life then it is helpful to think in terms of social history—that is, the ways ideas and conventions are created in specific cultural contexts and the ways they continue to be objectified and deployed for specific purposes in social practice.

At the risk of promoting a certain viewpoint and my own course I list here some articles that seem to me useful in examining the many contexts and mechanisms for the construction of cultural practices. Clifford Geertz ("Thick Description," Ideology as a Cultural System”; both essays appear in his The Interpretation of Cultures), Marshall Sahlins (Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities, Islands of History, Apologies to Thucydides), Pierre Bourdieu (several passages from Outline of Theory of Practice, especially on the creativity and “virtuosity” necessary in cultural practice); Raymond Williams (selections from Marxism and Literature); Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities); William Sewell (Logics of History); F. G. Bailey (The Prevalence of Deceit); Fredrik Barth (selections from Balinese Worlds), and some of the postmodernists such as James Clifford (introduction to his Writing Culture).

For those who care to put up with the nuisance of working through the WashU library system you can retrieve most of these on line by going to the WashU library site, and thence to “eres” [put it in the search box], to my name [Canfield] and my course “Works and Ideas of Great Anthropologists” (, and enter the password “change”.

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