More Power to You, or Should It Be Less?

in Social Analysis

If anthropology is in need of a lesson against reductionism, it would appear that no longer is it in need of one against reification, for this is more often the logical flaw that contemporary anthropologists strive hardest and most consciously to avoid. Yet for all the merits of the critique against reification, it has its downside: it renders us less sensitive to the dangers of reductionism. Quite frequently today the charge of reification is leveled against what was once the discipline’s core concept, the concept of culture, which we are told is overly deterministic, excessively totalizing, and insufficiently sensitive to issues of multivocality and hermeneutic multiplicity. Cultural theorists are accused of investing the concept with too much causal weight and of sheltering it from the tides of history and contingency. Mere museum curators rather than observers of the dynamic human condition, cultural theorists are said to place ‘cultures’ under bell jars and then to claim that culture determines everything.