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Culture, Identity and the Project of a Cosmopolitan Anthropology

Author(s): Adam Kuper


Source: Man, New Series, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 537-554
Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2804342 .
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CULTURE, IDENTIfY AND THE PROJECT OF A


COSMOPOLITAN ANTHROPOLOGY
ADAM KUPER

BrunelUniversity

There is a curious tendency,particularlymarkedin Americanculturalanthropology,to


combine elements of the post-modernistprogrammewith a radical politicalengagement.
Though insistingthatnothingcan be known for certain,and certainlythatethnographers
have no independentauthority,some argue thatneverthelessauthentic- and preferredarticulating
thegenuinesentimentsand aspirationsofa people.
nativevoices maybe identified,
This premissopens the way foran obvious challenge:if it is true,then only the nativecan
a medium.
would thenbe merelyan interpreter,
speakforthenative.The foreignethnographer
As thestudyofethnicity
moves to thecentreof theanthropologicalagenda,theseassumptions
must be urgentlyquestioned. That requires a reassessmentof the nature and purpose of
ethnography.

to thepoliticsofculture
Frompoliticaleconomy
In the 1960s and 1970s we arguedabout theory.However,thesewere turbulenttimesand the theoreticaldebatesall had a politicaledge. The European
empireshad recentlyfallenapart,theAmericanshad picked up the sword of
the Frenchin Indochina,and manysane people thoughtthatwe were heading fornuclearcatastrophe.
certaintruthswere verygenerallyaccepted,except
Among anthropologists
by the naive (the favouredepithetof the day), and, of course, the old and
out-of-touch.World historicalprocessesshaped local histories,the imperial
factorwas dominant(thoughdisguised,perhaps,as multi-national
companies
took overfromthe colonial administrators).
Structuralism
and functionalism
theirproponentssuspectedof indifference
were equated with conservatism,
to the eventsin Vietnam.Social science should become at one with history
(not, to be sure, the disciplineof history,but the Hegelian movementof
promoted
had, if unwittingly,
history).Too many old-styleanthropologists
colonial interests.Anthropologists
who workedin any capacityin the Third
nationalistor socialistforces.NeuWorldshould ratherserverevolutionary
was the refugeof foolsand scoundrels.1
trality
I exaggerate,
but not verymuch. One of the questionsput thenwithsome
seriousness- I cite it just to give the flavourof the time - was whether
a Marxist.(Asked
Levi-Strausswas really,deep down, or at least implicitly,

Man (N.S.) 29, 537-554

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538

ADAM KUPER

thisquestion recently,
Levi-Straussreplied,'Only a fewlessons fromMarx's
teachinghave stayedwith me - above all, thatconsciousnesslies to itself'
(Eribon 1991: 108.)) There was a slogan in those days,'Structuresdo not go
out in the streets'.This was regardedas a devastatingcritiqueof academic
A Marxisanteevolutionismand a commitmentto 'developanthropology.
ment'were thoughtto be at once morallypreferableand intellectually
more
profitablethanthe theoriesof anthropologists,
blind to the course of history,
taintedby theirassociationwith colonialism.
Then verysuddenly- perhapsjust as thelastAmericanswere winchedinto
helicoptershoveringabove the Saigon embassy- the New Lefttide turned
in the USA. In Europe, more and more people concluded that Marxism
representedan unlikelysource of freedomand progress.By the late 1970s,
in the 1980s,intellectualdebate concerneditselfless with a
and increasingly
global politics of clashing empires than with a more personal politics,a
The groundcontestedin this
politicsof identity,
genderand representation.
new politicswas oftendefinedas 'culture'.
Withinanthropologywe found ourselvesarguingabout ethnographyand
the representation
of cultures.Ethnographywas bound up with the problems of identity,
of the 'self' and the 'other'. 'These days',Renato Rosaldo
announcedin theveryfirstsentenceof his Cultureand truth
(1989: ix), 'questions of cultureseem to touch a nervebecause theyquite quicklybecome
anguished questions of identity'.And this identitywas at once personal,
culturaland political.'For me as a Chicano', Rosaldo affirms,
'questions of
cultureemergenot only frommy discipline,but also froma more personal
politicsof identityand community'(Rosaldo 1989: xi).
The
As much as ethnic identity,
gender became a key to self-definition.
who became the most influentialculturalactivistswithinanthrofeminists,
pology,insistedthatthe hithertomutedvoices of women should be granted
a privilegedhearing,not only to promote a sort of ethnographicbalance,
redressingthewrongsof the past,but in orderto introducea freshand vital
was at once a
perspectiveon othercultures.For some, feministethnography
a contributionto femaleemancipation,and an exercise
theoreticalenterprise,
in self-definition.
Culturein Americananthropology
The recentdebates have been dominatedby Americanscholars,and it is
necessaryto make explicitsomethingtheytake forgranted.The projectof
anthropologythat is in dispute in theirwork is the American project of
one quite distinctin the second halfof the twentieth
culturalanthropology,
MorecenturyfromthedominantlyEuropean projectof social anthropology.
American
over,thepoliticalspiritthatofteninformsit has,again,a distinctively
character.This is veryevidentin therhetoricof Marcus and Fischer'sAnthrocritique
pologyas cultural
(1986). Rosaldo (1989: 34-45) collapses into a single
movementthe Geertziandenialof social theoryand his advocacyof interpretative ethnography,the New Left's adoption of a rainbow coalition of

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ADAM KUPER

539

minoritycauses, and the much-trumpeted'experimentalmoment' in ethnography (a moment that seems to have lasted a very long time and
producedonly one kind of experiment).
We must contextualizethese textsif we are to interpretthem. One approachwould be to set them in the contextof a long-runningdebate about
Two contrasting
perspectivesrethe natureof cultureand culturalhistory.2
to the traditional
Westernequation
cur,again and again. One is sympathetic
of 'culture'with 'high culture',high culturebeing derivedin an unbroken
line fromclassical antiquity.This orthodoxidea was long confrontedby a
contraryperspective,favouredby nationalistand also by socialistwriters,
who arguedthatauthenticculturewas not cosmopolitan,nor an elitemonopoly, but ratherthe achievementof the people - whether Black Forest
peasants or workers on Wigan Pier. This authenticculture was a shield
againstthe corruptionemanatingfromthe mass media,and it could become
a resourcein battlesforpoliticalemancipation.
For proponents
There was a comparabledivisionamong anthropologists.
of an evolutionaryview, all human cultureswere more or less developed
variantsof a singletype,one in originand in destiny.This view came natuto men like
rallyto the classicallyeducated generationof anthropologists,
RobertsonSmithand Frazer,forwhat it did, in effect,was simplyto extend
back in time the Enlightenmentaccount of intellectualprogress,by which
was meantthe developmentof reasonand of highculture.
An alternative
view derivedfromthe Germanromantictradition.This was
and antagonisticto the notionof progress,and in due
alwaysmore relativist,
course to ideas of culturalevolution.Human populationswere differentiated
not accordingto thedegreeof culturalachievementtheyexhibitedbut by the
election of distinctand incommensurateways of being. Every people expressedthroughitsculturea distinctiveVolksgeist.
This was the approachthat
Franz Boas broughtfromBerlin to Columbia Universityat the turnof the
in Americanculcentury.Through his influenceit became institutionalized
turalanthropology,
the dominantschool in twentieth-century
anthropology.
The Boasian scholarsidentified'culture'as a distincthistoricalagency,the
cause of variationbetween populationsand the main determinantof consciousness, knowledge and understanding. In contradiction to the
evolutionists,
theyinsistedthatculturalhistorydid not followanyset course.
A culturewas formedby contacts,exchanges,populationmovements.Each
culturewas a historically
and geographically
specificaccretionof traits.And
iftherewas no necessarycourse of culturaldevelopment,culturescould not
be rated as higher or lower. The Boasians favoureda relativistposition.
Valueswere culturallyvariable,and so therecould be no objectiveevaluation
of culturaltraits.
Althougha 'culture'was an accidental,historicalgrowth,some of Boas's
outstandingstudents(notablyKroeber,Sapir and Benedict) argued that it
neverthelessconstituteda completeway of life.Each culturehad itsparticular configurationof values, to be grasped intuitively,
guided by art and

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540

ADAM KUPER

mythology.
Moreover,this cultureshaped the being of actors in particular
communities.It createddistinctmodes of experiencingthe world. A coherent, holisticcultureshapes action by informingconsciousness and, in the
formulations
of the cultureand personality
writers,by mouldingpersonality.
In mid-century,
leadingculturalanthropologists
were drawn into broader
enterprisesin the social sciences.Some of the leadingneo-Boasians,notably
Kluckhohn,were associatedparticularly
withTalcottParsons,who createdan
interdisciplinary
school that incorporatedanthropologyat the Social Relationsdepartmentat Harvard.
Parsonian social science had a significantphilosophical rationale. As
Darnell (1990: 383) has noted,'Pragmaticphilosophyproduced a new view
of science in this period, stressing"multiple independentcausation" in
which causes at different
levels of structurecould not be reduced to one
In
the
of
the
another'.
spirit
time,Parsons endeavouredto definedifferent
structurallevels at which human behaviourcould be analysed.There was a
hierarchyof what he called 'ontological'concepts:physical,biological,sociologicaland cultural.Each was to be treatedin thefirstinstanceautonomously,
by a distinctdiscipline.The culturallevel was assignedto the anthropologists.(Parsonshimselfwould eventuallyprovidea grandsynthesis.)
The two leadersof neo-Boasianculturalanthropology
in thesecond halfof
the twentiethcentury- CliffordGeertzand David Schneider- began their
careerswith Parsons.They generateda culturalanthropologyin which the
Boasian projectwas recastwithina Parsonianframework,
becominga more
specializedoperation.Geertz'sfamousfirstcollectionof essays,The interpretation
ofcultures
(1973), set out the programmemostfully.First,cultureis one
of severalpossible abstractionsfromthe observationof human behaviour.
Prefacinga long citationfromParsons's 7he socialsystem
(1951), he wrote:
'Culture is the fabricof meaningin termsof which human beings interpret
their experienceand guide their action; social structureis the form that
action takes,the actuallyexistingnetworkof social relations.Culture and
abstractionsfromthe same phenomsocial structureare then but different
ena' (Geertz 1973: 145). And social structureshould be left to the
were to concernthemselvesonlywithculture.
sociologists.Anthropologists
Moreover,the notionof culturewas now refined,or,at least,redefined.It
was a systemof symbols,located in the mind of the actor.This conception
was also derivedfromParsons.('Parsons,followingnot onlyWeberbut a line
back at least to Vico, has elaborateda concept of culof thoughtstretching
tureas a systemof symbolsby which man conferssignificanceon his own
experience' (Geertz 1973: 250).)3 Here was a narrower,more mentalistic
understandingof 'culture' than that of the Boasians, for whom 'culture'
meantsomethingcloserto 'tradition'.
Particularprogrammestradingunder the names of 'symbolicanthropology', 'the new ethnography'and Geertz's own 'thick description'were
attemptsto operationalizethis view of culture.All were hostile,or at best
to sociologicalconsiderations.Schneider,in hisAmerican
indifferent,
kinship:

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ADAM KUPER

541

a culturalaccount(1968), refusedto consider social factors- class, divorce


rates,regionalvariation- because he posited the existenceof a universal
symbolicsystem,which,like theAmericanlanguage,could be treatedat one
level at leastwithoutdraggingin dialect,pragmaticsor sociolinguistics.
Treatedas a systemof symbols,a culturehad to be approachedin a phenomenological spirit. The messages of a 'culture' had to be grasped and
rendered,in Geertz's phrase. 'Doing ethnographyis like tryingto read (in
the sense of "constructa readingof") a manuscript... writtennot in conventionalized graphsof sound but in transientexamples of shaped behavior'
not
(Geertz 1973: 10). The productof such a readingwas an interpretation,
an explanation.The new culturalanthropologydid not aspire to compare
and explain.'Believing,withMax Weber,thatman is an animalsuspendedin
webs of significance
he himselfhas spun,I takecultureto be thesewebs, and
not an experimentalscience in searchof law,
the analysisof it to be therefore
but an interpretive
one in search of meaning.It is explicationI am after'
(Geertz 1973: 5). This was a projectin the hermeneutictradition,and, inbut Geertz
deed, Ricoeurwas much citedbytheinterpretive
anthropologists;
was also influencedby literary
theoristsof the day,notablyKennethBurke.
The post-modernist
movementin Americananthropologyis, in essence,a
radicalrepositioningof this programme.Writing
culture(Clifford& Marcus
both
1986) takesofffromGeertz.Geertzhad arguedthatthe anthropologist
reads and writesa text,he "'inscribes"social discourse;he writesit down ...
do?" - he writes'(Geertz 1973: 19). What the
"Whatdoes the ethnographer
contributorsto Writing
cultureargue - stronglyinfluencedby Geertz, and
reactingdirectlyto him - is thatthiswritingdown does not constitutean
different
in kind fromthe culturaltextit preauthoritative
interpretation,
tends to 'inscribe'. Rather,it constitutesanother cultural text,its author
equally trappedin a web of significancethathe or she has constructedbut
cannot escape. Instead of Kenneth Burke, the new generation- some of
whom held joint appointmentsin departmentsof literature- favouredthe
criticalliterarytheoristsof the 1980s. Geertz's response,Worksand lives:the
as author(1988), verylargelyaccepts this reconstitutionof his
anthropologist
platform.
and politicalcorrectness
Post-modernism
It is not surprisingthatEuropeansare sometimesconfusedas to whatAmerican anthropologistsmean by post-modernism,and in particularby its
In France,where it all began, the deconstructionists
politicalaffinities.
and
the post-modernists
were on the whole antagonisticto the establishedleft,
and sometimesadopted a quietist political position. They rejectedglobal
narratives
and prescriptive
judgements'in favourof recountingthepetitsre'cits
of localizable collectivities'(Ingram 1992: 139). They preachedonly against
preachers.Initiallyit seemed as thoughthe post-modernist
movement,as it
gained ground, must thereforeundermine the traditionalpolitical programmesof the left.

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542

ADAM KUPER

And, indeed,when a versionof post-modernism


became currentin American anthropology,
this appearedto be its effect.Some earlypost-modernist
ethnographiesseemed to heralda retreatto a world of privacy,
to the examination of the self The true purpose of ethnographicresearch in other
cultureswas reallyto gainself-knowledge.
We learnabout ourselves,Rabinow
suggested,quotingRicoeur in what seems to have been a ratherunidiomatic
translation,
byway of a 'detourof thecomprehensionof theother'(Rabinow
1977: 5). The firstwave of post-modernist
ethnographieswas largelyabout
own
the ethnographer's
experienceof culturaldislocation,inspiringthejoke
(forwhich Marshall Sahlins claims authorship)in which the nativepleads
withthe ethnographer,
'Can't we talkabout mefora change!'
For others- Clifford,forinstance,or Taussig- culturaltextsand performances were like works of art.In recreatingand representing
these acts, the
workedlikea criticof literature
or art.The rhetoricalperformethnographer
ances of actorand ethnographer
became the subject-matter
of anthropology.
Ethnographiesmatterednot because theyrecordedwhat in more innocent
dayshad been thoughtof as ethnographic
data,but because theywere themselvesculturalacts.Ethnographers
learnt,some to theirsurpriseand delight,
thattheyhad not only been writing,but had indeed been writingpoetry,or
at leastpoetics,all along.
There could be no singletrueaccountof a culturaleventor a social process. No objectivesummarywas possible.The post-modernists
the
preferred
image of a cacophonyof voices, commentingupon each otherand as they
say,somewhatmysteriously,
ironicizing.The ethnographicobject is multifaceted,it can only be partiallyand fleetinglyglimpsed from any one
perspective,and cannot be analysed.The assertionof objectivityin traditional ethnographyhad been in realitya display,promotinga claim to
politicalas well as intellectual.The rhetoricalperformanceof the
authority,
was a trick,an exercisein persuasion,and the critic'sjob was
ethnographer
to unmaskit.4
Yeta paradoxicalconditionwas attachedto thisnew praxis.Though lacking
and withoutmakingclaimsto objectiveinsight,there
independentauthority,
was neverthelessobliged to
was a kind of truthto which the ethnographer
bearwitness:the nativeshad to be giventheiruneditedsay.This prescription
was justifiedby a politicalargumentagainstdomination,and in favourof
democraticexpression(most explicitly,
perhaps,in Marcus & Fischer1986).
The ethnographer
had the dutyto bearwitnessforthe natives,but
therefore
without imposing an editorialvoice. There was increasinglya vogue for
ethnographiesin which the ethnographersimplyacts as a facilitatorfor a
or fororal histories.The ethnographeris a medium,
nativeautobiographer,
and publishingtexts(an enterprisewhich, interestingly
translating
enough,
can be tracedback to Boas).
This view of the ethnographeras a spokesperson- or medium - forthe
the post-modernist
demos permittedsome to reincorporate
programmewith
a Marxistview,or,in othercases,a feministprogramme(or indeed both) that

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ADAM KUPER

543

had been inheritedfromthe 1960s and 1970s. This line of argumentfeeds


cultureand polireadilyinto a currentpoliticaldiscoursethatlinksidentity,
since the traditionof thoughtcan be
tics.That is perhapshardlysurprising,
traceddirectlyto Herderand the Volkromanticismof the nineteenthcentury.
However, the ethnographerneed not end up as a spokesperson,or
medium, only for a particularethnic interest.Everywherethe oppressed
sharea common cause. While thereis no objectivetruth,thereis a Hegelian
movementin history.
The privilegedlie and mislead,but theoppressedcome
graduallyto appreciatetheirobjectivecircumstancesand formulatea new
to
consciousnessthatwill ultimatelyliberatethem.It is thevoices struggling
articulatea messageof liberationthatthe ethnographermust strainto hear.
The ethnographershould thereforeconvey the messages of progressive
forcesto sympathizersabroad. Rosaldo, forinstance,advises us to pay particularattentionto 'social criticismmade fromsociallysubordinatepositions,
where one can work more towardmobilizingresistancethanpersuadingthe
powerful',and he cites approvinglyas one exampleof what he has in mind
'Fanon's uncompromisingrage' (1989: 195).
It is tempting- thoughno doubt politicallysuspect- to suggestthatthe
politicallycorrectpost-modernistethnographeris an academic theoristfor
the rainbow coalition thatJesseJacksonwas tryingto build in American
politics.This was preciselythe momentthatMarcus and Fischerwere writingAnthropology
as cultural
critique
and Rosaldo was preparinghis Cultureand

truth.

The perhaps surprisingelective affinitybetween post-modernismin


Americanscholarshipand politicalcorrectnessis also abundantlyillustrated
in manyrecentethnographies.
There are difficulties,
methodologicalcomplications. Lila Abu-Lughod has a sophisticatedand sometimes anguished
discussionof the problemsof representation
and advocacyin the introduction to her Writingwomen'sworlds:Bedouin stories(1993). Crapanzano,
allowingwhiteSouth Africansto speak in Waiting
(1985), is obligedto editorialize, lest theirvoices should be grantedtoo much credence. Feldman,
whose Formations
is based on interviews
withrepublicanactivistsin
ofviolence
NorthernIreland,manyof themengagedin terrorism,
'found thatthe cultural dynamics of secrecy,of editing,became the preconditionfor the
interpersonalconstructionof meaning' (1991: 12). Nevertheless,in the cacophonyof voices,the best lines are alwaysgivento the oppressed.5

Thenativist
challenge
consensus clearlydominatescurrentAmerican
Somethingof a bien-pensant
as anyforeignvisitorto a recentAAA conferencewill confirm.
anthropology,
The intellectualcontradictions
withinthisconsensusare nonethelessevident
enough; and it also laysitselfopen to chargesthatare formulatedin its own
terms.If the focus is upon the experienceof the ethnographer,
the native
should serveas an exotic accompanimentto
may enquire why ethnography
the psychotherapy
of theWesternself The foreignethnographer
is, however,

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544

ADAM KUPER

also at an evident disadvantageif the purpose of ethnographyis to bear


witnessto the mutedvoices of the oppressed.
had been
To be sure, a nativeprotestagainstmetropolitanethnographers
articulatedlong before post-modernismswept into anthropologicaldiscourse. Africanintellectuals- and others- were makinga nationalistcase
and sometimesagainstethnography
altogether
againstforeignethnographers,
fromthe 1960s onwards.However,todaythe nativistethnographer
can and
does deploythe rhetoricthatbecame currentin the 1970s and the 1980s.
To begin with,to be the subjectof foreign,metropolitan,
exoticizingethnographyis equated with the experienceof colonialism.Certainly,the two
did oftengo together.Where the ethnographers
fromthe
were not, literally,
formercolonial country- as in Greece, forinstance- neverthelesstheyare
associated with the dominant 'West'. The thrustof Michael Herzfeld's
thelooking
Anthropology
through
glass (1987) is that Greece is in a sense the
intellectualcolony of everyWesternintellectual,which theymine not for
copper,gold and precious stones but for fragmentsof sculptures,temples
and lost inscriptions.6
Everywherethe dominantWesternersdo the ethnography,
marginalizing
the natives,packagingtheirway of lifeforexploitation
(if onlyin the economicallyratherunprofitable
businessof academic life).
and
the
Moreover
herethe nativistborrows
rhetoricof the eighties- the
mind-set,canforeignethnographer,
imprisonedin a culturally-constructed
not trulyunderstandthe native,or masterthe inwardnessof the native
language. American intellectualshad been told for some time that white
people could neverappreciatewhat it meantto be black,thatmen could not
understandwomen, and thatonly the ill or disabledcould understandthose
similarlyafflicted.Some believed it. Few argued publiclyto the contrary.
and some were led to the
These Americangospels penetratedanthropology,
conclusionthatonlythenativecan understandthenative,onlythe nativehas
the rightto studythe native.Who needs a white Americanmale to give a
voice to an Inuit shaman,who electedsome donnishEuropean to speak for
a Melanesian big-man?
The nativistcan also appropriatethe premiss- mysteriouslytaken for
- thattheonlyreliableknowledgeis
grantedin much of the recentliterature
self-knowledge.The native ethnographercan claim an intuitiveunderstandingof the native.This may be takento confera naturaland exclusive
contexts
of all natives.(In some highly-politicized
rightto be the spokesperson
will welcome thewitnessof foreign
it maybe thatthe nativistethnographer
but only iftheyrespectthe agendasof nativeintellectuals.)
sympathizers,
and arguenot onlythatthenativeshould speakfor
Some would go further,
should addresshimselfor herself
the native,but thatthenativeethnographer
not to the foreignscholarbut to a nativeaudience; and should,indeed,write
up the ethnographyin the nativelanguage.This would avoid the distorting
compromisesthatresultfromtranslationinto one of the colonizing,metropolitan languages; and, moreover,would protectthe confidencesof the
familyfrompryingeyes. (There is, though,anotherdanger:thatthis mode

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ADAM KUPER

545

of ethnography
exposesthe secretsof familiesand communitiesto theirown
neighbours.),
These debateshave had consequencesforaccess to the field.The seventies
spawned a whole libraryof books about the ways in which anthropology
inspiredand legitimatedcolonialism. I am sceptical about some of these
historicalclaims.7Nevertheless,thisradicalcritiqueof colonialistanthropologycertainlydid have an impacton post-colonialpolicy- ifmostparticularly
upon policies concerninganthropologicalresearch.Increasinglyin the past
threedecades, anthropologists
in manypartsof the formerly
colonial world
were obliged to do researchthatwould be useful:thatwould improvethe
economic developmentof particulargroups. (They oftendid this research,
thoughthe impacton economic developmentwas on thewhole disappointing.) In the eighties,the requirementwas commonly that this applied
researchshould pay particularattentionto women, who, it was argued,had
been neglectedby the earlierwave of developmentexperts.
- at timesa foreignanthropologist
Quite oftenit was an anthropologist
who actuallyapplied these new guidelinesthatrestrictedethnographicresearch, answering for native interests against the interests of their
professionalcolleagues.In principle,however,the subjectsof studywere also
now given a voice in decidingwhetheran ethnographershould be granted
access; thoughwho asked,and, indeed,who answeredthese questions (and
preciselywhatquestionwas put) was commonlyspecifiedonlyin thevaguest
way.
The nativist
caseand itscritics
The view thatonly nativesshould studynativesis a logical step fromthe
orthodoxiesof the previousdecades. It is the reductio
ad absurdum
of a whole
movementof academicanthropology.
This premiss has potentiallydangerous implicationsfor the practiceof
anthropology
today.In the 1990swe will findourselvesincreasingly
preoccupied with ethnicity.
We must beware lest the question of whom we should
study,who should make the study,and how it should be conducted is answeredwith referenceto the ethnicidentityof the investigator.
There is a precedent,in the neglectedhistoryof our discipline.This is the
formof ethnography
thatEuropean ethnologistsonce called Volkskunde,
the
romanticcelebrationof an ethnicidentityby nationalistscholars.Disgraced
forhalfa centuryin mostcentresof thedisciplineafteritsapotheosisin Nazi
nonethelesssurvivedin partsof EasternEurope, and it
Volkskunde
ethnology,
flourishesin some universitiesin contemporary
Spain. It may be due fora
more generalrevival.
a Greekassociationofsocialanthropologists
was formed,
When,veryrecently,
the most emotive issue was 'whetherforeignanthropologists
workingand
writingon Greece could become regularmembersof theAssociationand also
whetherfolklorists
who wereoriginally
trainedin Greecebutstudiedethnology
or anthropology
abroadcould also become members'(Gefou-Madianou1993:

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546

ADAM KUPER

172, n.7). The decision was taken that only 'pure' Greeks mightbecome
members.
The reasonsbehindthisdecisionare familiarenough: theycould be duplicated in many other places. Gefou-Madianou gives a clear account of the
whichare ironically,
but hardsourcesof thisnativismin Greekanthropology,
ly surprisingly,
the hegemonicdiscoursefashionablein Americanacademia.
and thepost-modern
reflexTakingtheircue fromtheseminalworkofSaid'sOrientalism,
at home.Pointing
ive anthropological
discourse... theyseek to createan anthropology
outwesternbiasesandgeneralizations
theycriticize
westernanthropological
discourseon
Greeceforexoticizing
and misrepresenting
Greeceand for'concealingGreekself-knowlIt is implicitin theirwritingsthatnativeGreekanthropologists
have
edge' altogether.
Greekcultureand indigenouscategogreaterreflexivity
and abilityto 'truly'understand
ries(Gefou-Madianou
1993: 172-3).

The nativistargumentcan become rathercomplicated,since it turnsout


thatthereare nativesand natives.Althoughgiven,primordialeven, native
identityis representedas liable to corruption,demandingan effortof selfrealization.The politics of culture require the discoveryof the true, the
and the studyof culturebecomes an act of personalpoliauthenticidentity,
tics. (By implication,an immigrantor convertcannot achieve an authentic
identitythrougha processof assimilation.)
and crushinglyreviewedthe
Kwame AnthonyAppiah,who has brilliantly
discourse in America (Appiah 1992), tells a possiblytoonew Afrocentric
good-to-be-trueanecdote:'I am reliablyinformedthat,on one occasion not
so long ago, a distinguishedZairian intellectualwas told by an AfricanAmericaninterlocutorthat'We do not need you educatedAfricanscoming
here to tell us about Africanculture"'(Appiah 1993: 25). The point is that
nativecan say what is
one cannot trusteverynative.Only an authoritative
trulynative:and authorityis not necessarilybestowedby academicqualificathese may be the stigmataof the sell-out. Others
tions - on the contrary,
native,who understandswhat the
grantspecial authorityto the avant-garde
whose role is to crystallizetheiremernativeswill thinkand feeltomorrow,
gentconsciousness.
The nativistalso usuallyinsiststhatthe nativemustbe the properjudge of
even itscensor.Citinga nativistGreekscholar,Gefou-Madianou
ethnography,
reportsthat some Greek nativistshave taken to 'reading excerptsfrom a
to the local people studied"askingthepeople of the
westerner'sethnography
communityto commenton both the qualityof the foreignanthropologist's
data as well as his interpretations"'
(1993: 173).
Gefou-Madianou is critical:she points out the value of a debate with
involved,knowledgeableoutsiders,with their particularperspectives;she
sociologicalmodels and theoriesin the
arguesforthe power of international
of
social
cultural
and
processes,even iftheseare unintelinterpretation local
to
ligible manynatives.
There have been other interestingcritiqueswrittenby nativeethnographers - and also by the 'halfies' (a term that Abu-Lughod (1991) and
Narayan (1993) use of themselves).They have expressedreservationsabout

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547

the privilegedinsightascribedto insiders,pointingout the difficulties


that
may confrontthe anthropologistworking in his or her home country
(though,almost always,among people to whom he or she is an elite outsider),and protestingagainstthe chauvinisticrejectionof foreignexpertise.8
There is indeed an ironiccounterpointbetweenthese sophisticated'native'
reflectionsabout the complexitiesof doing ethnographyat home and the
patronisingself-denialpreachedby some metropolitanscholars.
Some foreignethnographers
have been bold enough to make comparable

Herzfeld's
andthemaking
Oursoncemore:folk-lore,
arguments.
ideology
ofmodern

Greece(1986) addresses the limitationsof the native Greek ethnographic


traditionmore generally,bringingout its subordinationto political programmes, and its sometimes hidden relationship to a cosmopolitan
anthropologicaldiscourse.McDonald's studyof the Breton movement,We
are notFrench!(1987), is also a powerfuldeconstructionof an intellectual
elite'snativizingproject,and the resistanceto it of the natives.
I share this scepticalview of nativistethnography,
with its nationalistI
not
that it will be
overtones.
Yet
do
believe
occasionallyeven racist
enough to criticizeand situatethesenativistanthropologiesbyway of ethnographic studies by outsiders (so long, indeed, as they are permittedto
undertakethem),What is requiredis a reconsideration
of the whole project
ofwhich nativismis simplytheculmination.We mustask fundamental
questions about the natureof ethnography
and its uses. We must rememberthat
thereare alternative
definitionsof our projectavailable.What does the process of ethnographicwork reallyinvolve?Is the ethnographeranalysingand
composing 'texts'thatare on a par with literarytexts?And who reads the
and forwhat purpose?
ethnographies,

Ethnographic
projects
It has become a cliche of Americanculturalanthropologythatcultureis a
a second-ordertext.However,the metaphoris too
text,and an ethnography
simple. Even if we limitourselvesto the elementsof ethnographythatare
most text-like- thedescriptionsand exegesesof expertinformants,
recorded
by ethnographers- it is apparentthat these are not generallytreatedby
in the way thatclassicistsor orientalists,
forexample,handle
ethnographers
theirtexts;and theyare constitutedin a verydifferent
fashion.
Boas systematically
employed local expertswho were bilingual,literate,
oftenbiculturaland of mixed ancestry;most notablyGeorge Hunt. Their
position,it has been well said,was similarto thatof techniciansin laboratory
research(Smith 1959: 56). They were under the controlof Boas, collecting
informationhe mighthave collected.There is no record thattheyhelped
him to interpret
the material,but thenBoas deliberatelydid littleby way of
interpretation.The ethnographer,he believed, should recover what
Malinowskiwas to call 'documentsof nativementality'(Malinowski 1922:
25), but these should be presentedin an undigestedform,so that other
scholarsand latergenerationscould use them.Boas saw his businessas the

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548

ADAM KUPER

creationof textsthatwould servethe same purposeas the textsthatformed


the main resourceof the classicistsand orientalists,
which would be pored
over and annotatedby generationsof scholars.
At the otherextremefromthe austereBoasian is the creativetext-maker,
exemplifiedpowerfullyby the FrenchAfricanist
Marcel Griaule,who virtually created,togetherwith the remarkableDogon seer Ogotemmeli,a new
cosmology.Van Beek has subjectedthe Griaule-Ogotemmelidialogue to a
thoroughcritiqueand has come to the conclusion thatthe books thatresultedwere originalworksof creativeart,in which both interlocutors
played
a part.No Dogon would everreplicatethesecosmologicalideas because they
resultedfromthe interactionbetweena highlyindividualDogon mysticand
a European with a particularand time-boundagenda of his onv (van Beek
1991; cf de Heusch 1991).
Between theseextremesthereremain,of course,manyotherpossibilities.
The neo-Malinowskian,VictorTurner,forinstance,collectedtextsfrominbut he also preparedhis own sources,based on directobservation,
formants,
participation,
counting,measuringand the compilationof censuses and genealogies. In Turner's view, the ethnographerassesses and compares
informants,
payingparticularbut criticalattentionto experts(and carefully
negotiatingthe Ogotemmelitrap- the trapof the creativeinformant).Texts
are relatedalwaysto contextsof performance.He compareswhat is said to
what is done, recordspatternsof interaction,followsthroughmicro social
processes. He then redeploysthese very different
sources of information,
themwith each otherin a criticalfashion.The social processconfronting
which Turnerconstitutesfromhis own observations- providesthe context
forthe explicationof the texts.9
The conclusions he draws will thereforenecessarilybe differentfrom
and theyservea different
those drawnby any informant,
purpose. Turner's
aim was to explain Ndembu divinationand symbolismto his colleagues. If
an educated person (includingan educated Ndembu) wants, forwhatever
reason,a thorough,careful,sophisticatedaccount of Ndembu ritualbehavhe or she will read Turner.And
iour as it was in the mid twentiethcentury,
Turnerwroteforpreciselysuch scholarlyreaders.
It is the approachrepresentedso brilliantly
by Turnerthatwas dominant
for a generation.The challengeof the post-modernistsis thatthere is no
justificationforhis selectionofvoices,or forhis claim to be standingat some
pointoutsidethe system- above the system,perhaps.
The nativistadvances a ratherdifferent
objection. There is an authentic
At itsmost prizedand most
is
to
the
outsider.
it
inaccessible
nativeview,but
is
profound,this deep native understanding presentedonly in symbolic
form,and is keptsecretexceptfromthe initiated(which,some Afrocentrists
suggest, is why Griaule's findingshave not been duplicated by later
ethnographers).
CertainlyTurner'sconfidencemustseem todaya littleoverdone,aware as
we are of the discrepanciesbetweenaccountsof similarsituationsgivenby

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549

A richeraccountof fieldworkpractice,and in particular


able ethnographers.
of interactionsbetween ethnographersand local experts,is Gudeman and
Rivera'sConversations
in Colombia(1990).
Gudeman is an American,trainedat Harvardand Cambridge.Rivera is a
Colombian trained (partlyby Gudeman himself) at the Universityof
Minnesota and professionally
employedas an anthropologistin Colombia.
travellingabout together,interThey worked in the fieldas a partnership,
viewing peasant farmers about their economic arrangementsand the
conceptionsthatunderliethem.As the researchprogressed,theydiscussed
theirfindings.The fieldworkwas increasingly
accompaniedby,interwoven
with, a conversationbetween the two ethnographers.But as theirunderthe
standingdeepened,theyfoundthattheywere not so much interviewing
farmersas engagingthem too in theirconversations,solicitingcritiquesof
theirown ideas.
At some stagetheybeganto recognizeparallelsbetweenthelargelyimplicit
economic ideas of the farmers,which theywere piecing together,and the
theoriesof the French Physiocrats,pioneer economists of the 1760s and
1770s. It is possible thatthe Colombian farmershave been indirectlyinfluenced by Physiocraticideas,whichwere widelydiffusedin Europe. But they
also suggestthat the Physiocrats(like other classical schools of economic
contemporaryEuropean folk ideas about
theory)were reallycrystallizing
economics, ideas thatwould have been shared by Spanish peasant immigrantsto Colombia. In short,the conversation- Gudeman and Rivera's
image of the fieldworkprocess - stretchesbeyond the ethnographersto
and then furtheragain,to encominclude theirmore articulateinformants,
pass echoes of earlier conversations,elsewhere, which nevertheless(in
different
and theirpeasant
ways) feedthethinkingbothof theethnographers
interlocutors.
This is a model of fieldworkmore flexibleand modestthanthatof Turner,
in which local expertiseis granteda positionof greaterequality,althoughthe
ethnographers(a local-foreignpartnership)add something- an analytical,
historicaland comparativeperspective- which no nativeexpertcould provide. They end with an analyticalmodel thatencompassesand accountsfor
the varietyof explicitand implicitfolkmodels theyencounter.Folk models
serveas waysof thinkingand as guidesto action,but theydo not addressthe
comparativeand more abstractprojectof the ethnographers.
I would add another level of conversationor debate to the GudemanRivera model of ethnography.This is the intercoursebetween social
- beforeand afterpublicascientistswith local expertise.The ethnography
tion - is subjectedto critical,collegialexaminationby otherethnographers,
and also by geographers,historians,economistsand so on, themselvesengaged in local researchand equipped with overlappingand complementary
expertise.This is a conversationthattodaydecisivelyshapes ethnographic
production,and, of course, it may ofteninclude both local scientistsand a
varietyof foreigners,representingdistinctintellectualtraditionsas well as

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different
disciplinarybackgrounds.There are, in consequence, increasingly
richand distinctivelocal debatesintowhich everyethnographer
is drawn.
At this level, a more sophisticateddebate is possible between nativeand
foreignethnographers
and indeed betweendifferent
traditionsof ethnographic
study Pina-Cabral's critiqueof the anthropologicaltreatmentof the Mediterraneanas a culturearea is a good example (1989). He accepts Llobera's
argument(1986) thatthe 'Mediterraneanculturearea' was constitutedvery
largelyto meettheneeds ofAnglo-Saxonanthropological
departments,
buthe
notes thatthispointhas also been made by foreignethnographers,
Herzfeld
forinstance,who has writtenabout the motivesforthe exoticizingof Mediterraneanways of life(Herzfeld 1986: ch. 1). Pina-Cabralagreesthat:
It is time ... for a rethinkingof the notion of the Mediterranean- one that sees anthropologists as strategists,wheeler-dealers,and manipulatorsof power like Italian, Greek,
and Spanish peasants. In this case it is academic power thatis in question, but one should
not forgetthatthis is also political,also has centraleconomic importancefor the participants,and, finally,is also clearlysubject to patron-clientrelations(1989: 400).

But Pina-Cabralmoves on fromthisby now conventionalcritique.'I want


to make it quite clear',he insists,'thatI do not considerthisfactsufficient
to
denythe scientific
validityof social anthropology.
The subjectionof scientific
knowledgeto constantcriticaland reflexivescrutinyis not to my mind an
argumentagainst its validitybut the primarycondition of its privileged
status'(1989: 400). Pina-Cabral'sclaim is thatthe processof criticalmutual
evaluationby specialistsraises the quality of ethnographybeyond that of
othersortsof culturalreportage.
Such debates between regional specialistssurely provide good tests of
richand
ethnographicresearch,and allow forthe productionof increasingly
sophisticatedethnographicaccounts.The regionaldebatesare, however,not
without theirown dangers.Local debates develop theirown momentum,
and may become partlyinsulatedfrom broaderdisciplinarydebates. One
findslocal traditionsof researchand argument,even where scholarsfroma
varietyof different
backgroundsare involved(see Fardon 1990). A formof
ethnographicprovincialismmay easilyevolve. Does the conversationpeter
out as one crossesthe boundariesbetweenregionaltraditionsof study?

a cosmopolitan
Towards
anthropology
do not only converse,or onlywrite.They read,and are
But ethnographers
and its methods,must thereforebe underread. The point of ethnography,
stood also withreferenceto itsusers.Who buysit?
There are four possibilities.One - attributedto the most corruptedof
- is to write for curious foreigners,
armchairvoyeurs,who
ethnographers
want only the safepleasuresof vicarioustravel.A second is to writeforthe
natives.This is a plausibleenterprisein Greece or Spain, forinstance,less so
in manyotherplaces,perhaps(thereis only a verysmall indigenousmarket
but simplyaccept
forBushman ethnography).I shall not criticizeit further,
it as a possibility,
thoughnot one thatexcludesall others.A thirdoptionis to

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551

writefora locally-basedthoughnot exclusivelynativecommunityof experts


- social scientists,planners,intellectuals.This is not, of course, the same as
writingfornatives,and it is again a perfectly
acceptablechoice, thoughwith
obvious limitations.The final option, however,is the one that I want to
emphasize.This is thatethnographers
should writeforanthropologists.
We
must in thatcase be preparedto go back to the 1970s (at least), to a time
when it was assumed thatethnographieshad to fitsomehow into broader
theoreticaland comparativeprojects.
This involvestakinga further
stepalong the pathI have indicated.Ethnographyis a conversation,as Gudeman and Rivera have shown, implicating
ethnographers,
informants
and the ancestralvoices theyinvokein theirconversations.Regional debate is anotherelementin the productionand use of
ethnographies,
a debate betweenexpertswith first-hand
knowledge,shared
preoccupationsand overlappingexpertise.Anthropologicaldebates draw in
colleagues studyingother regions,who invoke cases froma range of sites,
reinterpreting
them,mining them for information.And these debates address long-runningquestionsabout social and culturalprocessesin general,
so ultimatelycontributing
to the largerconversationof the human or social
sciences.
If social and culturalanthropology
are to escape fromthe currentimpasse,
we mustgeneratedebatesthathave a resonancebeyondour immediatefields
of ethnographicstudyand avoid theoreticalinvolution.Our contemporary
concernwith ethnicity,
forexample,should stimulatefreshthinkingin politicalanthropologyand kinshipstudies,but we seem to have succumbed
insteadto all the culturologicaltalk about 'imaginedcommunities',and to
interestourselvesonly in the ways in which ethnicidentitiesare culturally
constructed.
In short,I do not believethatwe need to takeour agendafromthe inwardlooking,self-referential
writerswho have capturedthe Boasian traditionin
AmericananthropologyOur discussionsneed not be restricted
to the interpretationof symbolsystems,whilewe wait forParsonsto come back and put
it all togetheragain. The culturalanthropologyof the neo-Boasians is a
projectin thehumanities,itsobjectthe interpretation
of culturaltexts.Social
anthropologyis a social science,closelyallied to sociologyand social history.
We must be clear as to what conversationswe wish to enter.To the extent
thatthe discourseof socialanthropologycan be reinvigorated,
it will provide
an alternative
answerto the question:forwhom is the ethnography
written?
We should once again address social scientists,and aspire to contributea
comparativedimensionto the enlightenment
projectof a science of human
variationin time and space. Our object must be to confrontthe models
currentin the social scienceswith the experiencesand models of our subjects, while insistingthatthis should be a two-wayprocess (Kuper 1992b).
This is, inevitably,
a cosmopolitanproject,and one thatcannotbe bound in
the serviceof any politicalprogramme.

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NOTES
The issues discussed in this article are evidentlyon many minds at present. I received
threeconcurrentinvitationsto talkabout them in the Springof 1993. Each talkled to interesting and helpful discussions and to furtherrevisionsof my text. I am gratefulfor their
invitations,their hospitalityand their criticismsto colleagues at the Department of Social
Anthropologyand Geographyat the Panteion Universityof Social and Political Sciences in
Athens,to the Departmentof Social Anthropologyat the Queen's University,Belfast,and
to the Departmentof Ethnologyat the Universityof Vienna. Following fromthatpresentaI must also thankmy
tion, a German version of this articleis to be published in Anthropos.
colleagues at Brunel University,Gerd Baumann, Eric Hirsch and Charles Stewart,for their
helpfulcomments on a draftof the article.Finally,I am indebted to Hastings Donnan and
to the anonymousreviewerswho helped me to improvethe textforpublication.
l See Rosaldo (1989: 34-8) foran Americanaccount of this movement,by a sympathizer.
ContrastMelhuus (1993), fora disillusionedEuropean account.
2 For alternative,recent, critical accounts of culture theory see Freilich (1989) and
Goody (1993).
3 The passage continues: 'Symbol systems,man-created,shared, conventional,ordered,
and indeed learned, provide human beings with a meaningfulframeworkfor orienting
themselvesto one another,to the world around them,and to themselves.At once a product
and a determinantof social interaction... the symbolsystemis the informationsource that,
and point to an ongoing
to some measurable extent,gives shape, direction,particularity,
flow of activity'(Geertz 1973: 250).
4 There are a number of critiquesof this post-modernistposition in culturalanthropology. See, for example, Gellner (1992), Kuper (1992a), Roth (1989), Sangren (1988) and
Spencer (1989).
5 For an insightinto the sort of problems raised by this stance see Jenkins(1992a), and
the resultingexchangebetween Feldman and Jenkins(Feldman 1992; Jenkins1992b).
6
am gratefulto Charles Stewartforguidingme to this formulation.
7 See the chapter'Anthropology
and colonialism'in Kuper (1983).
8 The debate on native anthropology,or 'anthropologyat home', is somewhat at a tangent to the theme of the article.Among many interestingcontributionsto that debate are
Aguilar (1981), Baharuddin (1982), Fahim (1982), Jones (1970), Kim (1990) and OhnukiTierney (1984). Cf. also Driessen 1993.
9 Turner's view was strikingly
articulatedin one of his earliestessays on Ndembu symbolism (Turner 1961).

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Culture,identiteet projetd'une anthropologiecosmopolite


Resume

marqueeau seinde
On remarquetoutd'abordune tendancecurieuse,particulierement
l'anthropologie
culturelleamericaine,
et qui consistea amalgamercertainselementsdu
et des positionspolitiquesradicalesqui s'estfaitressentir
programme
post-moderniste
touten insistant
sur le faitque rienne peutetresu de manierecertaine
dernierement,
nepossedeaucuneautorite
etque l'ethnographe
independante;
cesauteursn'endefendent
les
pas moinsl'existencede voixauthentiques
(indigenesde preference),
qui articulent
sentiments
d'un peuple. Une tellepresupposition
veritableset les aspirations
pretele
flanca la critique:si de tellesvoixpeuventetreidentifiees,
alors,seulsles natifspeuvent
en est reduita un r6led'interprete
et
parlerau nom des natifs.L'ethnographe
etranger
d'intermediaire.
Etantdonnelaplacede plusenpluscentrale
occupeeparla problematique
en cause ce typed'hypothese
il devienturgentde remettre
ethniqueen anthropologie,
surla base d'une reevaluation
de la natureet de l'objetethnographique.
Department
ofHuman Sciences,Brunel University,
Uxbridge,MiddlesexUB8 3PH

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