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.