Cultural Anthropology Must Die
April 10, 2003

RANT #185: Society & Politics
Summary: Look, funny natives! Er, pardon me. Look, funny non-othered they-centred-narriative anthropological subjects!
Questionable Content This rant contains profanity or other offensive material.
Full Text:

Okay, so the audience for this one is a little specific, but I have to vent before I explode and go back in time to kill Bronislaw Malinowski.

I've wasted three years of my life.

Well, not wasted. But I sure as hell wish I'd picked a different discipline.

When I first encountered postmodern cultural anthropology, I got excited. In subsequent classes I started to get a little skeptical; why let people die because you don't want to mess with cultures? In every one of my classes, DON'Ts were hammered into my head: DON'T write an ethnography that's timeless and decontextualized; DON'T use Western logic; DON'T make things seem exotic; DON'T set your sights on a fancy, warm, faraway place; DON'T forget about colonial powers; DON'T label or judge cultures - in fact, don't write about cultures at all, because they don't exist. In fact, just write about ethnoscapes, or particulars. Don't even assume that everyone in the world has the same concept of self or thought or feeling. Write long, rambling, flowing, nebulous postmodern accounts of individual life narratives.

Ok. Ok. I got it. So where is anthropology supposed to go now? Now that it's not accounts of exotic cultures? Well, this very question was posed to one of my "profs" (actually an overblown PhD student). She was just tidying up her (very recent) research for her thesis. "In the face of these modern critiques," we asked her, "how did you do your research?"

So, here's the kicker. She went to a warm, exotic island. She made friends with some women, won their trust, got close to them, extracted personal information about their sexual practices - and then went back North and wrote this information down for publishing, just like anthropologists have done for decades and decades. She claims she's had some "ethical dilemmas".

No shit.

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