Reinventing "The Invention of Culture"

in Social Analysis
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There has been much anthropological ink spilled over the question of “structure” and “agency,” but those of us who have been spilling it over the last couple of decades do not often think of this activity as an example of the very process we are theorizing. Or, to phrase it another way, how many of us working on what we see as the ‘cutting edge’ maintain explicitly in consciousness the connectedness of our cutting-edge work to past work? True, most of us cite revered ancestors or respected contemporaries, but the politics of citation is one thing, an appreciation of meaningful intellectual genealogies quite another. I will admit that I have on occasion cited work I have not read, simply to avoid a referee’s anticipated objection or to bow to disciplinary fashion; but I will also admit to occasional feelings of despair underpinned by the old notion that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” That is, whether or not I bother to cite predecessors, I operate under the assumption that whatever I might figure out in “my work” will have been figured out by someone else, and probably by many other people on many other occasions.