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.