Reinventing the Invention of Culture

in Social Analysis

In a recent special issue of Social Analysis, Culture at the End of the Boasian Century (1997) the editors noted that the 1970s was a time of particularly intense anthropological debate about culture. They mentioned Geertz, Sahlins, Schneider and Boon as anthropologists who made some of the key theoretical contributions of that era, interrogating the meaning of the ‘culture concept’ and extending it in new directions. As much as those names conjure up a period of impressive accomplishment in anthropological culture theory, we feel there is an important omission from this list: Roy Wagner’s The Invention of Culture, first published in 1976 (with a revised volume published in 1981). In fact, we would argue that more than twentyfive years later, this book remains highly relevant to contemporary debates on the meanings and definitions of culture in anthropological circles and, indeed, to debates on the meanings and definitions of anthropology itself.

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