"The Invention of Culture," Magalim, and the Holy Spirit

in Social Analysis
Author: Dan Jorgensen1
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  • 1 University of Western Ontario dwj@uwo.ca
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One of Roy Wagner’s consistent positions is that meaning (or culture) does not simply exist as something out there in the world, but that it is elicited and created, something that people do and make. Anthropologists create culture as a more or less plausible account of what we think people are up to, and one of Wagner’s complaints is that the anthropologist’s success in this task often comes at the expense of recognizing the creativity of those we study. In our notions of culture-as-system we invent “rules” (conventions) and models of seamless wholes that leave precious little for people to do apart from being rule-abiding or occasionally deviant, when in fact they are improvising their way through life, making it up as they go along. Although this might sound a bit like Bourdieu’s practice theory, Wagner sees something else at work, a flow of innovation that leverages meaning out of the dialectic between the realm of the innate and the realm of human responsibility and action. Discontinuous but constantly impinging on one another, these realms provide the dynamic that moves culture along.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology