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Debating Authenticity

Debating Authenticity: Concepts of Modernity in Anthropological Perspective

Thomas Fillitz
A. Jamie Saris
with the editorial help of Anna Streissler
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Debating Authenticity
    Book Description:

    The longing for authenticity, on an individual or collective level, connects the search for external expressions to internal orientations. What is largely referred to as production of authenticity is a reformulation of cultural values and norms within the ongoing process of modernity, impacted by globalization and contemporary transnational cultural flows. This collection interrogates the notion of authenticity from an anthropological point of view and considers authenticity in terms of how meaning is produced in and through discourses about authenticity. Incorporating case studies from four continents, the topics reach from art and colonialism to exoticism-primitivism, film, ritual and wilderness. Some contributors emphasise the dichotomy between the academic use of the term and the one deployed in public spaces and political projects. All, however, consider authenticity as something that can only be understood ethnographically, and not as a simple characteristic or category used to distinguish some behaviors, experiences or material things from other less authentic versions.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-497-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Art & Art History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Thomas Fillitz and A. Jamie Saris
  5. Introduction. Authenticity Aujourd’hui
    (pp. 1-24)
    Thomas Fillitz and A. Jamie Saris

    It is difficult to live in Europe or North America and not be struck by the ubiquity of the notion of authenticity and cognate terms in the society at large. Modern consumer society in late capitalism is intimately entwined with debates about authenticity, not just with products, whose validity needs somehow to be authorized – from organic food to art (that is, the sense of authentic origins) – but also with respect to certain sorts of experiences and ways of being-in-the-world (that is, in the sense of the authentic correspondence of content). At this level, authenticity presents us with some productive ambiguities....

  6. Part II. Moral Discourses of Authenticity

    • Chapter 3 Authentic Wilderness: The Production and Experience of Nature in America
      (pp. 63-77)
      Lawrence J. Taylor

      We followed Leslie, single file, stepping as lightly as we could manage on the yielding sands. We had camped the night before in this same wash, our hyper-modern, space-age tents secreted under boughs of brilliant green palo verde or gnarled tangles of mesquite twigs already in full spring foliage. This was the vast Cabeza Prieta of Ari zona’s Sonoran Desert: An official wilderness, and at some 840,000 acres, the largest in the ‘lower forty-eight states’. There were about twenty of us in the group – a training session – learning to move through the wilderness as if we were not there. Hence...

    • Chapter 4 The Moral Economy of Authenticity and the Invention of Traditions in Franche-Comté (France)
      (pp. 78-90)
      Jean-Pierre Warnier

      In order to introduce my contribution, I will make four points:

      (1) A moral economy of authenticity. Amongst other things Rajko Muršič points out in his chapter that, if you scratch on the surface of the quest for authenticity, you quickly uncover political implications. He said they were mostly of an objectionable nature.

      The point I want to make is that, when you scratch on the surface of the quest for authenticity, you also quickly uncover economic implications. Authenticity means wealth and money. Think of an authentic Vermeer as against a fake one. If you add up together these two...

    • Chapter 5 ‘Oh, That’s So Typical!’ Discussing Some Spanish ‘Authentic’ Essential Traits
      (pp. 91-108)
      Jorge Grau Rebollo

      This paper could very well have been entitled: ‘Typically Spanish’ (or ‘How Many Learned to Stop Wondering and Hate the Stereotype’), after Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated filmDr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.² The film script was based on Peter George’s novel ‘Red Alert’ (U.S. title, since George’s work, under his pseudonym Peter Bryant, was first published in 1958 under the title ‘Two Hours to Doom’).³ According to some sources, the original novel dealt with the threat the world faced before an accidental nuclear war. While Dr Strangelove plays a key role in the...

  7. Part III. Authenticity:: Popular and Academic Discourses

    • Chapter 6 Is Form Really Primary or, What Makes Things Authentic? Sociality and Materiality in Afro-Brazilian Ritual and Performance
      (pp. 111-127)
      Inger Sjørslev

      From an anthropological point of view, authenticity is a puzzling concept. The everyday connotations of true, real, original, sincere, valid, historical or deep are well-known and the opposite of authentic may be thought of as false, pretending, copy, superficial, not-what-it-seems, or just new.¹

      In this paper, I want to set out from two issues related to the overall question of what makes things authentic. One is the statement that form is primary, a statement inspired by the ethnography of ceremonial speech among the Waiwai of the Amazon (Fock 1963; Sjørslev 2002). The other is the implication of the Western idea...

    • Chapter 7 A Cultural Search for Authenticity: Questioning Primitivism and Exotic Art
      (pp. 128-141)
      Paul van der Grijp

      This chapter is about the Western interest in non-Western art as well as the non-Western influences on Western art within both local and global perspectives (globalization). The major research question is: Why are we in the West so interested in non-Western art and what is, within this context, the real relationship between the Western and the non-Western world? The chapter has two major parts: (1) the contemporary art production in a particular non-Western society, the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, and local ideas about authenticity; (2) Primitivism in Western art and the set of ideas behind, focused on the natural and...

    • Chapter 8 Wooden Pillars and Mural Paintings in the Saudi South-west: Notes on Continuity, Authenticity and Artistic Change in Regional Traditions
      (pp. 142-159)
      Andre Gingrich

      In south-western Saudi Arabia, as elsewhere, icons of what is considered traditional folk art often serve local residents as examples of ‘authentic’ regional traditions. These in turn support a widely held local assumption that continuity and authenticity are synonymous: If a practice or style is thought to have a long local history, it is considered to truly represent a given cultural tradition. In this paper, I discuss connections in both terminology and ethnography that illuminate notions of continuity and authenticity in the context of regional case studies of certain architectural and design elements that are characteristic of the Saudi south-west.¹...

    • Chapter 9 True to Life: Authenticity and the Photographic Image
      (pp. 160-172)
      Marcus Banks

      Towards the end of this paper I shall consider what visualinauthenticty might look like. To start off however, it is necessary to consider the varied meanings and implications of authenticity for anthropology when it comes to a consideration of the visual image.

      This is not the place to consider the role of the visual image within the discipline more widely. A variety of anthropologists writing from within the sub-discipline of visual anthropology have sought to justify the role played by visual images both within the course of anthropological investigation and in analysis.¹ For the purposes of this paper I...

  8. Part IV. Entangled Spaces of Authenticity

    • Chapter 10 Questions of Authenticity and Legitimacy in the Work of Henri Gaden (1867–1939)
      (pp. 175-195)
      Roy Dilley

      The questions of authenticity I wish to consider in this paper are closely linked to the concept of legitimacy. Both ideas are a function, I will argue, of social and political processes that occur within a specific cultural milieu and are not to be viewed in an essentialist or a decontextualized manner. As Jean-Pierre Warnier argues in his chapter, authenticity is a value, indeed a sign-value. And like all signs, it can carry both positive and negative loads. The pursuit of these symbolic loadings and the generation of value around them, involves the examination of key social processes within tightly...

    • Chapter 11 Constructing Culture through Shared Location, Bricolage and Exchange: The Case of Gypsies and Roma
      (pp. 196-210)
      Judith Okely

      This chapter addresses the vexed link between place and culture and the age-old pre sumption that cultural authenticity depends on a spatial as well as bounded isolate. As a student of anthropology, I recall world maps being placed on a board with marked places for peoples and their cultures. This may have had the intentions of expanding horizons, but it rooted culture, implying that it was defined by geographical location. While presented as the ideal, yet this is rarely what the anthropologist encountered in practice, although s/he may have felt obliged to invent and create cultural isolation in the field...

    • Chapter 12 Cultural Regimes of Authenticity and Contemporary Art of Africa
      (pp. 211-225)
      Thomas Fillitz

      Looking at publications by anthropologists before the 1970s, authenticity does not seem a major concern in the study of societies and cultures (e.g., Graburn 1999: 350, Steiner 1995: 100). This however does not imply that the authenticity, or the genuineness of a (material) culture, would not have been a concern of researchers in anthropology. If we look at diaries and field notes of researchers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, we can see the great interest they had in authentic objects. Personalities like the German ethnographer Leo Frobenius, who collected during his travels in Africa more than ten...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 226-228)
  10. Index
    (pp. 229-248)