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Beyond Writing Culture

Beyond Writing Culture: Current Intersections of Epistemologies and Representational Practices

Olaf Zenker
Karsten Kumoll
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Writing Culture
    Book Description:

    Two decades after the publication of Clifford and Marcus' volumeWriting Culture, this collection provides a fresh and diverse reassessment of the debates that this pioneering volume unleashed. At the same time,Beyond Writing Culturemoves the debate on by embracing the more fundamental challenge as to how to conceptualise the intricate relationship between epistemology and representational practices rather than maintaining the original narrow focus on textual analysis. It thus offers a thought-provoking tapestry of new ideas relevant for scholars not only concerned with 'the ethnographic Other', but with representation in general.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-817-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Günther Schlee
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Olaf Zenker and Karsten Kumoll
  5. 1 Prologue: Opening Doors Beyond Writing Culture
    (pp. 1-38)
    Olaf Zenker and Karsten Kumoll

    The publication of James Clifford and George E. Marcus’s volumeWriting Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography(Clifford and Marcus 1986b) has been represented in anthropology and beyond ‘as something of a watershed in anthropological thought’, as Allison James, Jenny Hockey and Andrew Dawson wrote a decade ago in their introduction toAfter Writing Culture(James, Hockey and Dawson 1997a: 1). In highlighting the epistemic and political predicaments adhering in ethnographic representation,Writing Cultureindeed marked an important turn within anthropology, variously described as ‘literary’ (e.g., Scholte 1987), ‘reflexive’ (e.g., McCarthy 1992: 636), ‘postmodern’ (e.g., Wagner 1986: 99), ‘deconstructive’...

  6. 2 Textualization, Mystification and the Power of the Frame
    (pp. 39-56)
    Vincent Crapanzano

    In order to think beyond ‘the writing culture movement’, it is necessary, it would seem, to ask what that movement was. We might say that reference to the movement sets up, pragmatically, its sequel. It opens, as it closes, a direction of thought – possible futures.

    The first question I want to ask is: Was all the fuss about writing culture, writing about culture, a movement? I do not, in fact, believe that it was ever a movement in the sociological sense, in which, as I take it, a group of people unite, however loosely, to achieve some goal or...

  7. 3 Reading James Clifford: On Ethnographic Allegory
    (pp. 57-68)
    Steffen Strohmenger

    In this contribution I shall provide a close reading of James Clifford’s essay ‘On Ethnographic Allegory’ (Clifford 1986), first published inWriting Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. While most of the postmodern debates, in one way or another, touch upon the problem of objective knowledge in general, I want to shift the attention towards the question of the objectivity of value statements in particular. In this regard, I will first briefly introduce a line of argument which provides the background against which the text of Clifford will be subsequently discussed. It will then be shown that the author...

  8. 4 Indigenous Research and the Politics of Representation: Notes on the Cultural Theory of Marshall Sahlins
    (pp. 69-88)
    Karsten Kumoll

    Within some branches of sociological theory, the ‘social’ seems to have been redefined as the ‘cultural’ in recent decades (see Reckwitz 2002). Furthermore, since the 1980s, concepts like the ‘new cultural history’ (Hunt 1987) and ‘historical anthropology’ (Biersack 1991) have become increasingly influential in historical studies. One important source of this ‘cultural turn’ within sociology and history, though by no means the only one, is American cultural anthropology. However, within anthropology itself, cultural theories have been seriously questioned from various perspectives, including those held by proponents of theWriting Culturedebate, which turned anthropology’s attention towards both the literary status...

  9. 5 From the Spirit’s Point of View: Ethnography, Total Truth and Speakership
    (pp. 89-112)
    Thomas G. Kirsch

    In 1985, the president of the African Spiritual Churches Association (ASCA), Archbishop Nbumiso Ngada, published a booklet entitledSpeaking for Ourselvesin which he notes, with regard to African-initiated churches: ‘Anthropologists, sociologists and theologians from foreign churches have been studying us for many years and they have published a whole library of books and articles about us … The view from outside … tends to distort the picture and to prevent the outsider from seeing the real point about what we believe and what we are doing’ (Ngada 1985: 5). Calling into question the authority of Western representations of African...

  10. 6 Interlogue: ‘Writing Cultures’ and the Quest for Knowledge
    (pp. 113-120)
    Rozita Dimova

    It is impossible to overestimate the effect that the volumeWriting Culture(Clifford and Marcus 1986) has had on shaping my modes of thinking. Serving as a powerful conceptual ‘sieve’, this book opened up new epistemological horizons, articulating and formulating research questions during and after my doctoral studies. Moreover, the volume has assisted me in applying and questioning theoretical frameworks during my subsequent academic engagements. It was through Clifford and Marcus’s ideas that I managed to make sense of my own position, to assess my own academic trajectory, and acknowledge its relevance and value in drawing important theoretical conclusions based...

  11. 7 Language Matters: Reflexive Notes on Representing the Irish Language Revival in Catholic West Belfast
    (pp. 121-138)
    Olaf Zenker

    Since the inception of anthropology as a modern discipline, ethnography has been its core business. Ethnography has thereby been linked from early on to both what ‘natives’ say and to what they do. Hence, inArgonauts of the Western Pacific, one of the classics of modern anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski (1922: 1–25) characterized the work of an ethnographer as entailing the ‘collection of ethnographic statements’ as well as the observation of ‘types of behaviour’. Methodologically, this required a prolonged period of fieldwork, participant observation and sufficient familiarity with the local vernacular. Based on this ethnographic method, ethnographic texts on ‘their’...

  12. 8 Ethnographic Cognition and Writing Culture
    (pp. 139-162)
    Christophe Heintz

    One of the best ways to pursue and go beyond the programme ofWriting Culture(Clifford and Marcus 1986), I suggest, takes as its point of departure the cognitive anthropology of anthropology, because situatingWriting Culturewith regard to this field of research can contribute to its further development.¹ It is, after all, sensible to start the anthropological study of anthropology with an analysis of its own cultural productions: ethnographic texts. The analyst can thus identify the relevant properties of such cultural products and track down their causes. These causes include in particular the cognitive processes of working ethnographers.


  13. 9 Hard Truths: Addressing a Crisis in Ethnography
    (pp. 163-186)
    Stephen P. Reyna

    This essay ¹ was written in the twentieth year after publication ofWriting Culture(Clifford and Marcus 1986), a text believed by many to offer a decisive break with a moribund modern anthropology through the offer of a literarily enriched postmodern ethnography. The passage of time offers commentators something of a vantage point to contemplate the significance ofWriting Culture. I wish to use this vantage point to identify one ofWriting Culture’s epistemological consequences and, in so doing, to suggest a way of going beyond it. The consequence in question is a negative one, thatWriting Cultureexacerbated a...

  14. 10 The Migration of the ‘Culture’ Concept from Anthropology to Sociology at the Fin de siècle
    (pp. 187-210)
    John H. Zammito

    BeyondWriting Culturelies a hurly-burly of theoretical and practical reorientation. If one can surmise that this intervention of 1986 opened some doors, it seemed also to essay the closure of others, perhaps most firmly on the ‘culture’ concept in anthropology. But here we come upon a case of revolving doors, for what seemed to close in anthropology simultaneously flew open in sociology. In this age of ostensible ‘interdisciplinarity’, it is sometimes fruitful to consider specific disciplines in a comparative light, or better still, to see them not as closed systems but as porous and plural (to perform what I...

  15. 11 Epilogue: How Do Paradigm Shifts Work In Anthropology? On the Relationship of Theory and Experience
    (pp. 211-228)
    Günther Schlee

    There are a number of turning points in the history of anthropology. Older theories have been discardedin toto, or at least characterized as hopelessly antiquated and uninteresting, and have been replaced by supposedly new ideas in publications and curricula. One example of this process is the replacement of evolutionism by Malinowski’s functionalism, with Malinowski and his disciples acting with the pathos of a movement and the air of an entirely new beginning. Adam Kuper writes in ironic retrospect that, with the help of his disciples, Malinowski succeeded in creating a myth about himself which – apart from early hardships,...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 229-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-246)