Boas and Anthropology

Pages 12 (3012 words)
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Over the past twenty-five or so years of interdisciplinary conversation between anthropology and literary studies, something like a consensus has emerged on one fundamental point: that anthropology, though working within the language and methodologies of social science, also involves a writing practice comparable in many respects to that of the literary text.


Many of us now speak of a "Victorian" as opposed to a "modernist" anthropology.
This essay represents an attempt to complicate the basic assumptions of this interdiscipline on a number of grounds, and from a number of different perspectives. First, I would like to trouble the border we often imagine existing between Victorian and modernist anthropology, a gesture which I hope will have its implications for the literary border as well. I am interested in this project not so much because I see periodisations as inherently misguided, but rather the opposite: because I think such distinctions are only as good as the specific historical instances that both support and challenge them. Second, I would like to challenge the largely textual basis of the grounds on which we may be tempted to delineate this border, and suggest that, having established the textual nature of ethnography, we may wish to turn our attention to other social and institutional similarities between ethnographic work and the artistic and literary practices of a given period. I am especially interested here in the changing conditions of intellectual labor in the epochal moment of the turn of the twentieth century.
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