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The Predicament of Culture – 1989.

Looking inside exercise. As an American anthropologist, and using the tools of ethnography,
Clifford investigate his own culture in their relation with other cultures.

“This book is concerned with Western visions and practices. They are shown, however,
responding to forces that challenge the authority and even the future identity of “the West”. “


*as academic practice – cannot be separated from anthropology.

* more generally can be seen as ways of thinking and writing about culture from a standpoint
of participant observation.

Part 1 – Discourses – On ethnographic authority

Traces the formation and breakup of ethnographic authority in 20th century social

There was a crises de conscience, especially after the black movement’s “reversal of the
European gaze”. The Western started to understand that it can no longer put itself as the
observer of other people’s cultures.

Mikhail Bakhtin – Heteroglossia – “language do not exclude each other, but rather intersect
with each other in many different ways” ambiguous, multivocal world makes in opposition of
a world separated in “bounded and separated cultures.

Deleuze and Foucault - Theory as a tool kit.

To be constructed – not a system but a instrument

Investigation can be only carried on step by step

Experience of Translation of the ethnographer

His field of study is the professional anthropology, and specially ethnography since 50’s –
Dispersion of ethnography authority – after the period between 1900-1960

Science of Participant Observation.

The establishment of intensive participant observation as a professional norm, however,
would have to await the Malinowskian cohort.

Malinowski was greatly concerned with the rhetorical problem of convincing his reader that
the facts he was putting before them were objectively acquired, not subjective creations…but
he was aware of the distance between the primary sources and the “final authoritative
presentation of the results – Scientific validity of participant observation

The professional ethnographer:

- Claim to get to the heart of a culture more quickly
- Science sophistication
- Relativist sympathy
- Fieldworker has to live in the native village
- Use the vernacular,
- Stay a sufficient length of time
- Investigate certain subjects

Transmission of experience to the text form –

Malinowski generation:

Participant Observation as methodological tool.


Ethnographic Experience: traces, clues, develop interpretation

Every I presupposes a you

“The world in language is half someone else’s.”

Jeanne Favret-Saada :

There’s no neutral standpoint

The ethnographer is always in a specific relation with the interlocutor.

Part III

"Primitivism" in 20th Century Art:

Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern
September 27, 1984–January 15, 1985
Conceptualism and abstraction

And the omission of pieces in which one could see different characteristics, not that could be
described as “similar” to European modern art.

The “curatorial act” and the effort to force a comparison can be understood as “the restless
desire and power of the modern West to collect the world”.

MOMA excluding the objects from its original context. – ignorance as a precondition for
artistic appreciation. The piece is taken from its place to be reinserted in another logic: the
one from the art system and market.

Nothing suggests that good tribal art is being produced in the 80’s. The exhibitions are
always showing the tribal objects displaced from temporality, belonging to an “world that is
no more”. Even though researchers could offer a ethnographic perspective and historical
background, “the historical contacts and impurities that are part of the ethnographic work –
and that may signal the life, not the death, of societies – are systematically excluded.

Room: “Contemporary Exploration”

Western artworks with “primitive feel” – use of rough or “natural” materials, a ritualistic
attitude, ecological concern, archeological inspiration, certain techniques of assemblage, a
conception of the artist as shaman, or some familiarity with “the mind of primitive man in his
science and mythology”…”such criteria, added to all the other “primitivist” qualities invoked
in the exhibition and its catalog….exposing it as an incoherent cluster of qualities that at
different times have been used to construct a source, origin or alter ego confirming some new
“discovery” within the territory of the Western Self.

Chapter 10

1- Critical historical approach to collecting

CB Macpherson’s – “possessive individualism” of western society.

17th century emergence of an ideal self as owner: the individual surrounded by
accumulated property and goods.

In western collecting has long been a strategy for the deployment of a possessive self,
culture and authenticity.

Susan Stewart – Collection, most notably museums, create the illusion of adequate
representation of the world by first cutting objects out of specific contexts and making
them “stand for” abstract wholes (like a Bambara mascara becoming an ethnographic
metonym for Bambara Culture)

The time and order of the collection erase the concrete social labor its making.
Baudrillard, collected objects create a structured environment that substitutes itsown
temporality for the “real time” of historical and productive processes.

The history of the collection is “central to an understanding of how those social

groups that invented anthropology and modern art have appropriated exotic things,
facts, and meanings.

Appropriate: to make one’s own

2- Cultural description as a form of collecting

3- Revealing moment in the modern appropriation – Levi Strauss

4- Alternative “tribal” histories and contexts are suggested

Benjamin collection