Theory Can Be More than It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology's Method in a Time of Transition

Cornell University Press
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Within anthropology, as elsewhere in the human sciences, there is a tendency to divide knowledge making into two separate poles: conceptual (theory) vs. empirical (ethnography). In Theory Can Be More than It Used to Be, Dominic Boyer, James D. Faubion, and George E. Marcus argue that we need to take a step back from the assumption that we know what theory is to investigate how theory—a matter of concepts, of analytic practice, of medium of value, of professional ideology—operates in anthropology and related fields today. They have assembled a distinguished group of scholars to diagnose the state of the theory-ethnography divide in anthropology today and to explore alternative modes of analytical and pedagogical practice.Continuing the methodological insights provided in Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be, the contributors to this volume find that now is an optimal time to reflect on the status of theory in relation to ethnographic research in anthropology and kindred disciplines. Together they engage with questions such as, What passes for theory in anthropology and the human sciences today and why? What is theory's relation to ethnography? How are students trained to identify and respect anthropological theorization and how do they practice theoretical work in their later career stages? What theoretical experiments, languages, and institutions are available to the human sciences? Throughout, the editors and authors consider theory in practical terms, rather than as an amorphous set of ideas, an esoteric discourse of power, a norm of intellectual life, or an infinitely contestable canon of texts. A short editorial afterword explores alternative ethics and institutions of pedagogy and training in theory.Contributors: Andrea Ballestero, Rice University; Dominic Boyer, Rice University; Lisa Breglia, George Mason University; Jessica Marie Falcone, Kansas State University; James D. Faubion, Rice University; Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Andreas Glaeser, University of Chicago; Cymene Howe, Rice University; Jamer Hunt, Parsons The New School for Design and the Institute of Design in Umea, Sweden; George E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine; Townsend Middleton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Deepa S. Reddy, University of Houston–Clear Lake; Kaushik Sunder Rajan, University of Chicago
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About the author

Dominic Boyer is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University. He is the author of The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era; Spirit and System: Media, Intellectuals, and the Dialectic in Modern German Culture; and Understanding Media: A Popular Philosophy. James Faubion is the Radoslav Tsanoff Chair and Professor of Anthropology at Rice University. He is the author of An Anthropology of Ethics, The Shadows and Lights of Waco: Millennialism Today, and Modern Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constructivism. George E. Marcus is Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is coauthor of Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences and coeditor of Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. He was the founding editor of Cultural Anthropology.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cornell University Press
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Published on
Dec 21, 2015
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9781501700897
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The guiding inspiration of this book is the attraction and distance that mark the relation between anthropology and philosophy. This theme is explored through encounters between individual anthropologists and particular regions of philosophy. Several of the most basic concepts of the discipline—including notions of ethics, politics, temporality, self and other, and the nature of human life—are products of a dialogue, both implicit and explicit, between anthropology and philosophy. These philosophical undercurrents in anthropology also speak to the question of what it is to experience our being in a world marked by radical difference and otherness. In The Ground Between, twelve leading anthropologists offer intimate reflections on the influence of particular philosophers on their way of seeing the world, and on what ethnography has taught them about philosophy. Ethnographies of the mundane and the everyday raise fundamental issues that the contributors grapple with in both their lives and their thinking. With directness and honesty, they relate particular philosophers to matters such as how to respond to the suffering of the other, how concepts arise in the give and take of everyday life, and how to be attuned to the world through the senses. Their essays challenge the idea that philosophy is solely the province of professional philosophers, and suggest that certain modalities of being in the world might be construed as ways of doing philosophy.

Contributors. João Biehl, Steven C. Caton, Vincent Crapanzano, Veena Das, Didier Fassin, Michael M. J. Fischer, Ghassan Hage, Clara Han, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, Michael Puett, Bhrigupati Singh

Over the past two decades anthropologists have been challenged to rethink the nature of ethnographic research, the meaning of fieldwork, and the role of ethnographers. Ethnographic fieldwork has cultural, social, and political ramifications that have been much discussed and acted upon, but the training of ethnographers still follows a very traditional pattern; this volume engages and takes its point of departure in the experiences of ethnographers-in-the-making that encourage alternative models for professional training in fieldwork and its intellectual contexts.

The work done by contributors to Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be articulates, at the strategic point of career-making research, features of this transformation in progress. Setting aside traditional anxieties about ethnographic authority, the authors revisit fieldwork with fresh initiative. In search of better understandings of the contemporary research process itself, they assess the current terms of the engagement of fieldworkers with their subjects, address the constructive, open-ended forms by which the conclusions of fieldwork might take shape, and offer an accurate and useful description of what it means to become—and to be—an anthropologist today.

Contributors: Lisa Breglia, George Mason University; Jae A. Chung, Aalen University; James D. Faubion, Rice University; Michael M. J. Fischer, MIT; Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jennifer A. Hamilton, Hampshire College; Christopher M. Kelty, UCLA; George E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine; Nahal Naficy, Rice University; Kristin Peterson, University of California, Irvine; Deepa S. Reddy, University of Houston-Clear Lake

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

News journalism is in the midst of radical transformation brought about by the spread of digital information and communication technology and the rise of neoliberalism. What does it look like, however, from the inside of a news organization? In The Life Informatic, Dominic Boyer offers the first anthropological ethnography of contemporary office-based news journalism. The result is a fascinating account of journalists struggling to maintain their expertise and authority, even as they find their principles and skills profoundly challenged by ever more complex and fast-moving streams of information.Boyer conducted his fieldwork inside three news organizations in Germany (a world leader in digital journalism) supplemented by extensive interviews in the United States. His findings challenge popular and scholarly images of journalists as roving truth-seekers, showing instead the extent to which sedentary office-based "screenwork" (such as gathering and processing information online) has come to dominate news journalism. To explain this phenomenon Boyer puts forth the notion of "digital liberalism"—a powerful convergence of technological and ideological forces over the past two decades that has rebalanced electronic mediation from the radial (or broadcast) tendencies of the mid-twentieth century to the lateral (or peer-to-peer) tendencies that dominate in the era of the Internet and social media. Under digital liberalism an entire regime of media, knowledge, and authority has become integrated around liberal principles of individuality and publicity, both unmaking and remaking news institutions of the broadcast era. Finally, Boyer offers some scenarios for how news journalism will develop in the future and discusses how other intellectual professionals, such as ethnographers, have also become more screenworkers than fieldworkers.
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