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Questions of Tradition

Questions of Tradition

Mark Salber Phillips
Gordon Schochet
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 340
  • Book Info
    Questions of Tradition
    Book Description:

    Tradition is a central concern for a wide range of academic disciplines interested in problems of transmitting culture across generations. Yet, the concept itself has received remarkably little analysis. A substantial literature has grown up around the notion of 'invented tradition,' but no clear concept of tradition is to be found in these writings; since the very notion of 'invented tradition' presupposes a prior concept of tradition and is empty without one, this debunking usage has done as much to obscure the idea as to clarify it. In the absence of a shared concept, the various disciplines have created their own vocabularies to address the subject. Useful as they are, these specialized vocabularies (of which the best known include hybridity, canonicity, diaspora, paradigm, and contact zones) separate the disciplines and therefore necessarily create only a collection of parochial and disjointed approaches.

    Until now, there has been no concerted attempt to put the various disciplines in conversation with one another around the problem of tradition. Combining discussions of the idea of tradition by major scholars from a variety of disciplines with synoptic, synthesizing essays,Questions of Traditionwill initiate a renewal of interest in this vital subject.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7895-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction What Is Tradition When It Is Not ‘Invented’? A Historiographical Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    In general usage the concept of tradition has the widest currency, yet in most academic disciplines it has come near to disappearing in serious use. A few studies do exist, but considering the importance of the idea, scholarly analyses of the history and present meaning of the concept of tradition remain remarkably few. ‘If there had been other comprehensive books about tradition and traditions,’ Edward Shils wrote in his 1981 bookTradition, ‘this book would have been a better one.’¹ Two decades after the publication of Shils’s book, the situation is not remarkably different.²

    Much of the reason for this...

  5. Part I

    • Chapter One Narratives of the Treaty Table: Cultural Property and the Negotiation of Tradition
      (pp. 33-55)

      Although established to resolve outstanding claims to land, contemporary treaty negotiations between the government of Canada and Canadian Aboriginal¹ peoples now include historical objects of Aboriginal origin. In the early 1990s the collections of federal and provincial museums became subject to negotiation as part of the comprehensive claim of the Nisga’a, an Aboriginal people whose homeland is located on the Nass River in northwestern British Columbia. As the primary federal repository for objects of Nisga’a origin, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC)² joined the Nisga’a treaty discussions in 1993 and participated in them until the conclusion of the final agreement...

    • Chapter Two Disappearing Acts: Traditions of Exposure, Traditions of Enclosure, and Iroquois Masks
      (pp. 56-87)

      One of the most striking changes in ethnographic and art museum representations of Native North American peoples at the turn of the twenty-first century has been the disappearance from public display of object types long celebrated as canonical forms of art and material culture. As the result of carefully orchestrated campaigns by community representatives, ZuniAhayu:da(or ‘war gods’) have been returned to the Zuni for reburial, wampum belts have been repatriated to the care of Iroquois confederacy chiefs, Coast Salish rattles and masks have been moved to restricted store rooms, female museum staff have been asked to stop handling...

    • Chapter Three The Tradition of African Art: Reflections on the Social Life of a Subject
      (pp. 88-109)

      My impetus for writing this essay dates back to a debate that took place in 1993 at a conference at Dartmouth College on the subject of textiles and cross-cultural trade in Africa and Southeast Asia. Invited to respond to a set of papers that dealt with the history and ethnography of textile commerce in the modern world system, I began my discussion by addressing a graduate student’s essay on the manufacture of madras cloth in India for the Kalabari market in Nigeria.¹ The Kalabari are a riverine people inhabiting the inner delta of the Niger at the southern tip of...

    • Chapter Four Zwarte Piet’s Bal Masqué
      (pp. 110-151)

      They dance, jump about, play the fool. Colourful, festive, full of surprises, they turn boring, grey, early-winter days into a period of partying. They knock on windows, while inside, near the hearth, children sing the season’s songs. Sometimes, without anyone leaving the room, the door opens a notch and a handful of candies are thrown in. They used to threaten and shake their birch branches, but these days they mainly reassure kids by giving them candy. Reassurance is called for. This alone is what deserves attention. Fascination and reassurance – hence, a play with anxiety – are what underlie the...

    • Chapter Five Traditional Futures
      (pp. 152-168)

      In his introduction to this volume, Mark Phillips proposes an ‘enlarged conversation about tradition’ that could ‘dissolve the simple binary of tradition and modernity.’ He argues that once we stop defining tradition as resistance to modernity, the term ‘becomes again a means of raising essential questions about the ways in which we pass on the life of cultures – questions that necessarily include issues of authority as well as invention, practice as well as interpretation.’ Tradition becomes a newly complex, open-ended subject.

      The Western idea of tradition, at least since the early modern period, has typically been opposed to notions...

  6. Part II

    • Chapter Six Tacit Knowledge: Tradition and Its Aftermath
      (pp. 171-202)

      The following essay is an effort to explore the meaning of ‘tradition’ from the perspective of English Enlightenment culture. The perspective seems promising because we commonly see Enlightenment thought as predicated on a more-or-less absolute repudiation of tradition. My inquiry is motivated by two basic questions. First, how might the idea of tradition coalesce under the powerful pressure of its wholesale critique? My second question grows out of the notion that once-valued ideas and institutions do not simply disappear when their force has been undermined. What ‘does the work’ of tradition after it has lost its authority in modern culture?...

    • Chapter Seven The Traditions of Liberalism
      (pp. 203-232)

      ‘There are always two parties,’ Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an aphoristic mood in the 1860s: ‘the party of the Past and the party of the Future; the Establishment and the Movement.’¹ By those lights, nineteenth-century liberalism was the party of the future. It was the party of emancipation from the iron cage of predetermined rank and status, from the overbearing claims of states and monarchs, from the relics of social custom, from the dead hand of the past itself. Liberalism was an ideological movement couched in the present and future tense, whose pride was to have swept away ‘traditional’...

    • Chapter Eight Law/Custom/Tradition: Perspectives from the Common Law
      (pp. 233-257)

      The pairing of ‘law’ and ‘tradition’ appears with sufficient frequency in legal scholarship, and for such a variety of purposes, that no discussion of the topic can proceed without some ruthlessly imposed boundaries and principles of selection. In what follows here, I shall draw on materials from the history of English legal thought and practice in order to explore some of the ways in which the idea of tradition has been understood and valued in the arena of jurisprudence.

      My starting point concerns an influential account of England’s system of customary or common law, which received its classic formulation in...

    • Chapter Nine Tradition, Ethical Knowledge, and Multicultural Societies
      (pp. 258-273)

      My concern in this paper is the relation between ethical knowledge and tradition in contemporary multicultural societies. Such societies are characterized by the recognition on the part of their members that their own cultures and traditions, including their ethical traditions, are not unique. My question, then, is how our ethical knowledge can orient our actions once we recognize the existence of diverse traditions, all with action-orienting conceptions of their own. I elucidate the link between tradition and ethical knowledge by looking at the work of Jane Austen. I then explore the problem with this link by looking at Bernard Williams’s...

    • Chapter Ten Ideas about Tradition in the Life and Work of Philippe Ariès
      (pp. 274-295)

      Current thinking about the relationship between tradition and history owes much to the anthology edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger entitledThe Invention of Tradition.¹ Published in 1983, it was widely read and is the basis for a good deal of the recent scholarly interest in the topic. Hobsbawm and Ranger emphasize the way politicians used factitious images of a traditional past to further their projects for building the nation-state in the late nineteenth century. Ironically, these authors conclude, the traditions the state-builders ‘invented’ crowded out the customary past they professed to honour. Some of their contributors link the...

    • Chapter Eleven Tradition as Politics and the Politics of Tradition
      (pp. 296-322)

      A substantial part of the link tradition makes between past and present is irreducibly political, as all the essays in this volume, especially those in Part II, demonstrate. Etymologically, tradition is a ‘handing down,’ or over, from the past to the present, but itfunctionsas a ‘reaching back’ from the present to the – perhaps better thought of asa– past. To identify something as a tradition, or traditional, is to assert and in some instances to establish that link and to embed a specific present in an equally specific (although not necessarily specified and however general) past....

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 323-325)