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In these new essays, a group of experienced ethnographers, a literary critic, and a historian of anthropology, all known for advanced analytic work on ethnographic writing, place ethnography at the center of a new intersection of social history, interpretive anthropology, travel writing, discourse theory, and textual criticism. The authors analyze classic examples of cultur In these new essays, a group of experienced ethnographers, a literary critic, and a historian of anthropology, all known for advanced analytic work on ethnographic writing, place ethnography at the center of a new intersection of social history, interpretive anthropology, travel writing, discourse theory, and textual criticism. The authors analyze classic examples of cultural description, from Goethe and Catlin to Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, and Le Roy Ladurie, showing the persistence of allegorial patterns and rhetorical tropes. They assess recent experimental trends and explore the functions of orality, ethnicity, and power in ethnographic composition. "Writing Culture" argues that ethnography is in the midst of a political and epistemological crisis: Western writers no longer portray non-Western peoples with unchallenged authority; the process of cultural representation is now inescapably contingent, historical, and contestable. The essays in this volume help us imagine a fully dialectical ethnography acting powerfully in the postmodern world system. They challenge all writers in the humanities and social sciences to rethink the poetics and politics of cultural invention.


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In these new essays, a group of experienced ethnographers, a literary critic, and a historian of anthropology, all known for advanced analytic work on ethnographic writing, place ethnography at the center of a new intersection of social history, interpretive anthropology, travel writing, discourse theory, and textual criticism. The authors analyze classic examples of cultur In these new essays, a group of experienced ethnographers, a literary critic, and a historian of anthropology, all known for advanced analytic work on ethnographic writing, place ethnography at the center of a new intersection of social history, interpretive anthropology, travel writing, discourse theory, and textual criticism. The authors analyze classic examples of cultural description, from Goethe and Catlin to Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, and Le Roy Ladurie, showing the persistence of allegorial patterns and rhetorical tropes. They assess recent experimental trends and explore the functions of orality, ethnicity, and power in ethnographic composition. "Writing Culture" argues that ethnography is in the midst of a political and epistemological crisis: Western writers no longer portray non-Western peoples with unchallenged authority; the process of cultural representation is now inescapably contingent, historical, and contestable. The essays in this volume help us imagine a fully dialectical ethnography acting powerfully in the postmodern world system. They challenge all writers in the humanities and social sciences to rethink the poetics and politics of cultural invention.

30 review for Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Clifford, James & George E. Marcus, editors. WRITING CULTURE: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Between the introduction by James Clifford and the afterword piece by George E. Marcus, Writing Culture is an impressive undertaking by seven authorities in various fields of academic endeavor. The essays produced were a result of intensive discussions held at the School of American Research in Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1984. The essays are revised Clifford, James & George E. Marcus, editors. WRITING CULTURE: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Between the introduction by James Clifford and the afterword piece by George E. Marcus, Writing Culture is an impressive undertaking by seven authorities in various fields of academic endeavor. The essays produced were a result of intensive discussions held at the School of American Research in Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1984. The essays are revised versions of working papers presented at the Sante Fe seminar. The general purpose of the seminar was to focus on “the making of ethnography texts”. Of the nine contributors, seven have background in anthropology, one in history, and one in literary studies. By attempting textual and literary analyses, the essays seek to examine the past of cultural anthropology and, thereby, project the future of experimental work. Clifford uses in his introduction a pivotal quote from Roland Barthes, “Jeunes Chercheurs”. The last sentence in this quote states that “Interdisciplinarity consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one” (1). Conceivably, the question might be asked: what is ethnography? If not a “new object” then it is certainly looked at in new ways. Ethnography is changing and diverse. Clifford states it best when he says that “(e)thnography is actively situated between powerful systems of meaning. It poses its questions at the boundaries of civilizations, cultures, classes, races, and genders. Ethnography decodes and recodes, telling the grounds of collective order and diversity, inclusion and exclusion. It describes processes of innovation and structuration, and is itself part of the processes” (2-3). Because this is a complex interdisciplinary area, the essays take on various tenets. Each essay takes intense reading and reflection, with some getting across their point better than others. I found the essay by Stephen A. Tyler of much interest because his presentation flows gracefully from one idea to the other. Tyler believes there is the possible world of common sense and the impossible world of science and politics. He compares ethics (ethos) to “saying/hearing,” science (eidos) as “seeing/showing” and politics (pathos) as “doing\acting”. These are great allegories that respectively create the discourses of value, representation, and work. The question is then asked, is ethnography ethics? Tyler makes the bold claim that ethnography is “. . . a superordinate discourse to which all other discourses are relativized and in which they find their meaning and justification”. Ethnography’s superordination is the consequence of its “imperfection.” Neither self- perfecting in the manner of scientific discourse nor totalizing in the manner of political discourse, it is defined neither by a flexive attention to its own rules nor by the performative instrumentality of those rules. Defined neither by form nor by relation to an external object, it produces no idealizations of form and performance, no fictionalized realities or realities fictionalized. Its transcendence is not that of a meta-language-of a language superior by means of its greater form-nor that of a unity created by synthesis and sublation, nor of praxis and practical application . Transcendent then, neither by theory nor by practice, nor by their synthesis, it describes no knowledge and produces no action. It transcends instead by evoking what cannot be known discursively or performed perfectly, though all know it as if discursively and perform it as if perfectly” (123) The key then to understanding how ethnography is written is by how and what it evokes. Evoking in the reader of ethnography more questions than are answers is likely the very reason the author writes as he writes. Tyler declares that “(b)ecause post-modern ethnography privileges “discourse” over “text” it foregrounds dialogue as opposed to monologue, and emphasizes the cooperative and collaborative nature of the ethnographic situation in contrast to the ideology of the transcendental observer” (126). Tyler’s essay goes further and gives us an excellent history of ethnography. He describes the different periods and the stance that ethnography held during that period to contrast with what post-modern ethnography is. To Tyler post-modern ethnography is an occult document; it is enigmatic, paradoxical, and esoteric conjunction of reality and fantasy that evokes the constructed simultaneity we know as naive realism; is a return to the idea of aesthetic integration as therapy once captured in the sense of Proto-Indo-European *ar- (“way of being,” “orderly and harmonious arrangement as parts of a whole”); an object of meditation that provokes a rupture with the commonsense world and evokes an aesthetic integration whose therapeutic effect is worked out in the restoration of the commonsense world; aims not to foster the growth of knowledge but to restructure experience. (134-135) This volume of essays focus on textual theory and form within the discipline of anthropology. The authors have grappled with the predicament of post-modern fragmentation and global hegemony. Marcus, in his essay, suggests that ethnography is writing that spans the two disciplines of anthropology and sociology. He claims that the body of ideas that authoritatively unify a field-is in disarray. (166) Mary Louise Pratt, the only female contributor, investigates the history of travel writing and it’s earlier discursive traditions. She discusses the effects of personal narrative along side with objectifying description in ethnography writing. One source by Florinda Donner entitled Shabano: A True Adventure in the Remote and Magical Heart of the South American Jungle provided ample material to reinforce Pratt’s examination of travel writing. Vincent Crapanzano looks at how the ethnographer tries to make his message convincing. Crapanzano uses three examples in George Catlin’s account of the Mandan Indians’ O-Kee-Pa ceremony, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s description of the Roman carnival in his Italienische Reise and Clifford Geertz’s study of a Balinese cockfight. The strategies used to convince the readers on the truth of the events include the ethnographer’s authority (established by “being” there) and device to establish the validity of the work. He claims that “(i )n all three instances the events described are subverted by the transcending stories in which they are cast. They are sacrificed to their rhetorical function in a literary discourse that is far removed from the indigenous discourse of their occurance” (76). Renato Rosaldo also explores the use and abuse of authority and descriptive rhetoric by the analyses of two works, one by E.E. Pritchard called The Nuer and the other by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie called Montaillou. These works represent the use of pastoralism and the domination of the ethnographer over the natives in the guise of the inquisitor and the field worker. James Clifford takes the stance that “(e)thnographic writing is allegorical at the level both of its content (what it says about cultures and their histories) and of its form (what is implied by its mode of textualization)” (98). There needs to be a recognition of allegory that is manifest, not hidden. Only then, “(i )f we are condemned to tell stories we cannot control, may we not, at least, tell stories we believe to be true” (121). Tasal Asad exposes the inequality of languages in his essay The Concept of Cultural Translation. Language uncovers the breach between the dominated and the dominant societies. Michael M.J. Fischer takes a multicultural position wherein “ . . . ethnicity is a deeply rooted emotional component of identity” (195). He feels that “ . . . anthropological cultural criticism ought to be about: a dialectical or two-directional journey examining the realities of both sides of cultural differences so that they may mutually question each other, and thereby generated a realistic image of human possibilities and a self-confidence for the explorer grounded in comparative understanding rather than ethnocentrism” (217). Ethnography is cultural critique to Fischer. Paul Rabinow uses a variety of sources which includes the writing of Michel Foucault to get beyond epistemology and into interpretative communities, power relations, and ethics. He outlines the elements of the discourses and practice of modern representation and the relationship to politics. These essays have opened the crevice of cultural criticism wider. As Clifford aptly puts it in his excellent introduction the intent of the essays “ . . . has been to dislodge the ground from which persons and groups securely represent others. A conceptual shift, “tectonic” in it’s implications, has taken place . We ground things, now, on a moving earth” (22). This is not to say that all is lost in utter confusion but that the future holds exciting possibilities.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Hosseini

    این کتاب مجموعه جستارهاییه که بنابر گفته‌ی جورج مارکوس ،یکی از نویسنده‌های کتاب، هدفش معرفی پراتیک مردم‌نگاری (اتنوگرافی) به آگاهی ادبیه که با نشون دادن شیوه‌های مختلف خواندن و نوشتن متون مردم‌نگارانه محقق می‌شه. کتاب در زمان نوشته شدن بسیار جریان‌ساز بوده. نویسنده‌ها همچنین می خواستن بر یک نوشتار بینارشته‌ای تاکید کنن و بنابراین سرتاسر کتاب ما شاهد گفتگو و تلاقی رشته‌های مختلفی از جمله انسان‌شناسی،‌تاریخ،‌ ادبیات، نقد ادبی،‌ زبان‌شناسی، فلسفه و موارد متعدد دیگه هستیم. «Writing Cultue» بر شیوه‌ه این کتاب مجموعه جستارهاییه که بنابر گفته‌ی جورج مارکوس ،یکی از نویسنده‌های کتاب، هدفش معرفی پراتیک مردم‌نگاری (اتنوگرافی) به آگاهی ادبیه که با نشون دادن شیوه‌های مختلف خواندن و نوشتن متون مردم‌نگارانه محقق می‌شه. کتاب در زمان نوشته شدن بسیار جریان‌ساز بوده. نویسنده‌ها همچنین می خواستن بر یک نوشتار بینارشته‌ای تاکید کنن و بنابراین سرتاسر کتاب ما شاهد گفتگو و تلاقی رشته‌های مختلفی از جمله انسان‌شناسی،‌تاریخ،‌ ادبیات، نقد ادبی،‌ زبان‌شناسی، فلسفه و موارد متعدد دیگه هستیم. «Writing Cultue» بر شیوه‌های متعدد تولید و خوانش نوشتار مردم‌نگارانه تأکید داره و این هدف به طرق مختلف و از زوایای گوناگون توش پیگیری می‌شه. کتاب همچنین به دلیل زمان نوشته شدنش به شدت از متفکرین پست‌مدرن و پساساختارگرا متاثره. تو بسیاری از صفحات ما ارجاعاتی به فوکو، لیوتار، فردریک جیمسون،‌ لکان، دریدا و سایر متفکرینی که به نوعی با مساله‌ی زبان،‌ متن،‌ قدرت و برساخت سوژه درگیر بودن می‌بینیم. چند سال بعد از انتشار کتاب، روث بِهار و عده‌ی دیگری از زنان انسان‌شناس و فمینیست (از جمله لیلا ابولقود) کتابی می‌نویسن به نام «Women Writing Culture» که به نظرم خوندنش در امتداد (و شاید در مواردی گسست از) کتاب اول بسیار مفیده. پ.ن: خوندن این کتاب یازده ماه طول کشید اما من بیشترش رو تو یه هفته خوندم. پیشنهادم برای کسایی که می‌خوان بخوننش اینه که به چشم یه پروژه‌ای که باید سریع انجام بشه بهش نگاه کنین و نذارین طولانی شه.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    As much as I loved this book and have relied on it during my schooling, I think I can now say I am done with the intellectual hand wringing done within the discipline of Anthropology. Ethnography is a tough undertaking, we will necessarily do a violence to our subjects, but we aren't on the veranda anymore. If we engage our subjects as equals, if we don't writed in that staid, tired way then the discourse in our field grows and moves us forward - to learning a bit more about those we study with As much as I loved this book and have relied on it during my schooling, I think I can now say I am done with the intellectual hand wringing done within the discipline of Anthropology. Ethnography is a tough undertaking, we will necessarily do a violence to our subjects, but we aren't on the veranda anymore. If we engage our subjects as equals, if we don't writed in that staid, tired way then the discourse in our field grows and moves us forward - to learning a bit more about those we study with and amongst.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris Peterson

    Easily the worst book I have ever had to suffer through. Half-baked, pretentious nonsense. My copy is full of penciled in anger in the margins.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shane Wallis

    I find myself with mixed feelings at the end of this book. Some of the essays within this book I found to be incredibly entertaining and accesible. Others however were, unfortunately, quite beyond me. This unfortunately dampened my ability to appreciate their work. Of the essays which I was able to follow more easily, I did find they presented interesting perspectives. Especially the links between ethnographic writing and earlier forms of travelogues. The critique of Clifford Geertz's Balinese C I find myself with mixed feelings at the end of this book. Some of the essays within this book I found to be incredibly entertaining and accesible. Others however were, unfortunately, quite beyond me. This unfortunately dampened my ability to appreciate their work. Of the essays which I was able to follow more easily, I did find they presented interesting perspectives. Especially the links between ethnographic writing and earlier forms of travelogues. The critique of Clifford Geertz's Balinese Cockfight was also good. When I first read that during an anthropological theory class, I missed many of the critical readings. So this book did highlight many features of ethnography which I had previously missed, as well as covering a few points I had some grasp over.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    I read this book ten years ago (it was a little old even then), and I'm reading it again now. It is still totally applicable to a variety of disciplines that represent Others--and I'm concerned here specifically with Buddhist studies, which seems to have ignored the political issues of representation. What allegories do we enact, what fears do we project, what nostalgia do we inscribe, as we lay claim to the authoritative version of Buddhist histories? But I blather. This book rocks, and it's st I read this book ten years ago (it was a little old even then), and I'm reading it again now. It is still totally applicable to a variety of disciplines that represent Others--and I'm concerned here specifically with Buddhist studies, which seems to have ignored the political issues of representation. What allegories do we enact, what fears do we project, what nostalgia do we inscribe, as we lay claim to the authoritative version of Buddhist histories? But I blather. This book rocks, and it's still ahead of its time: 22 years later!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lululan

    out of date

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eldiablodehowies

    Post-mods really do have it out for feminist

  9. 5 out of 5

    ND

    dense but useful

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This is the worst book I have ever had to read. No redeeming value.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve Shanahan

    Read for a class on ethnography, but useful for clarifying critical thought more generally. Enough went over my head that I'll have to return when I’m smarter. Read for a class on ethnography, but useful for clarifying critical thought more generally. Enough went over my head that I'll have to return when I’m smarter.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Liked it, but not in a couldn’t put it down sort of way.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Bentley

    Seminar.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam Hoffritz

    If you like post-modernism in anthropology this is the book for you. This is in a way what started a revolution in ethnographic writing and there are some very useful comments, ideas and good critique on ethnographic in there. However, there are many gaps in the way authors present their arguments and the authors seem to reject all ideas exept their own and I find it often to arrogant. An ok book I think.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Risa

    Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (A School of American Research advanced seminar) by James Clifford (1986)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Antonsen

    Not every essay in this anthology is great, but the work is overall. It should be in every ethnographic fieldworker's personal collection. Not every essay in this anthology is great, but the work is overall. It should be in every ethnographic fieldworker's personal collection.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

  18. 4 out of 5

    Trent

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emma McDonell

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian Adams-THies

  21. 4 out of 5

    M R

  22. 4 out of 5

    Minna

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard Baxstrom

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sonny

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim Shively

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Stripes

  29. 5 out of 5

    Frederic

  30. 4 out of 5

    محمد محمود

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