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In: Land, Law and Politics in Africa
In: Translocality
Author: Peter Geschiere

Abstract

The Return of Culture: Anthropology’s Temptations

An important turning point in African studies in the 1980s was the emergence of culture as a central concern in fields where it had been quite marginal until then. Development experts began to emphasize culture as crucial to any intervention or project. Economists came into the habit of invoking “culture” as a final explanation, turning it into some sort of black box that had the capacity to explain why African societies continued to falsify their neat models of how development should be realized.

For anthropologists, this new attention to culture was somewhat confusing. It had always been a central notion in our discipline, especially in US anthropology. So the sudden advancement of the notion in the development industry and elsewhere opened up promising perspectives. However, this came at the very time when leading anthropologists – again, especially in the US – began to warn against the dangers of our notion of culture, insisting that anthropology had to liberate itself from its ancestral heritage, notably of this central concept. James Clifford (1988), for instance, attacks the essentialist tenor of classical anthropology’s take on culture. In his view, this notion inspires a search for an authentic core that not only risks isolating the discipline from modern changes, but also turns culture into some sort of timeless mall in which people seem to be imprisoned. Similarly, Arjun Appadurai, in his Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996), pleads for a complete ban on the term culture – in any case as a substantive – since it could so easily inspire a “culturalist” approach in which cultural difference seems to be a given. Appadurai warns, moreover, that such a view on culture could be dangerous in the present-day world, where globalization processes seem to be closely int ertwined with ever fiercer eruptions of communal violence.

In: Africa and Its Significant Others
Author: Peter Geschiere

Abstract

The Return of Culture: Anthropology’s Temptations

An important turning point in African studies in the 1980s was the emergence of culture as a central concern in fields where it had been quite marginal until then. Development experts began to emphasize culture as crucial to any intervention or project. Economists came into the habit of invoking “culture” as a final explanation, turning it into some sort of black box that had the capacity to explain why African societies continued to falsify their neat models of how development should be realized.

For anthropologists, this new attention to culture was somewhat confusing. It had always been a central notion in our discipline, especially in US anthropology. So the sudden advancement of the notion in the development industry and elsewhere opened up promising perspectives. However, this came at the very time when leading anthropologists – again, especially in the US – began to warn against the dangers of our notion of culture, insisting that anthropology had to liberate itself from its ancestral heritage, notably of this central concept. James Clifford (1988), for instance, attacks the essentialist tenor of classical anthropology’s take on culture. In his view, this notion inspires a search for an authentic core that not only risks isolating the discipline from modern changes, but also turns culture into some sort of timeless mall in which people seem to be imprisoned. Similarly, Arjun Appadurai, in his Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996), pleads for a complete ban on the term culture – in any case as a substantive – since it could so easily inspire a “culturalist” approach in which cultural difference seems to be a given. Appadurai warns, moreover, that such a view on culture could be dangerous in the present-day world, where globalization processes seem to be closely int ertwined with ever fiercer eruptions of communal violence.

In: Africa and Its Significant Others
African History seeks to publish scholarly writing on the history of Africa. It welcomes submissions on the history of any part of the continent and its islands. Works could range from the earliest epochs through to the recent past. Particularly welcome are studies that bring to light new archival materials, offer new interpretations of established sources or arguments, and that are interdisciplinary in method but historically-grounded.

We are keen to have the publications in this series widely available on the African continent and therefore pursue co-publishing arrangements with local publishers.


The Study of Globalising Processes from a Southern Perspective
This volume discusses globalising processes from the perspective of the humanities and social sciences. It focuses on the ‘global south’, notably the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Densely researched case studies examine a variety of approaches for their potential to understand connecting processes on different scales. The studies seek to overcome the main traps of the ‘globalisation’ paradigm, such as its occidental bias, its notion of linear expansion, its simplifying dichotomy between ‘local’ and ‘global’, and an often-found lack of historical depth. They elaborate the asymmetries, mobilities, opportunities and barriers involved in globalising processes. Their new perspective on these processes is captured by the concept of ‘translocality’, which aims at integrating a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches from different disciplines.

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Open Access

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Open Access