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«The Key Concepts Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts is the ideal guide to this discipline, defining and discussing its central terms ...»

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The Key Concepts

Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts is the ideal guide to this

discipline, defining and discussing its central terms with clarity and

authority. Among the concepts explored are:

• Cybernetics • Human Rights • Kinship

• Ecriture Feminine • Alterity • Thick Description

• Gossip • Stereotypes • Violence Each entry is accompanied by specific cross-referencing and there is an extensive index and bibliography. Providing both historical commentary and future-oriented debate Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts is a superb reference resource for anyone studying or teaching anthropology.

Nigel Rapport is Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies at the University of St Andrews and the author of numerous books on anthropology, including Transcendent Individual: Essays Toward a Literary and Liberal Anthropology (1997) and, with Anthony P.Cohen, Questions of Consciousness (1995), both published by Routledge. Joanna Overing is Professor and Chair of Social Anthropology, also at the University of St Andrews. She is the author of many publications on Amazonia and on anthropological theory. She was editor of the volume Reason and Morality (Routledge, 1985).


Ancient History: Key Themes and Approaches Neville Morley Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings Oliver Leaman Fifty Contemporary Choreographers edited by Martha Bremser Fifty Eastern Thinkers Diané Collinson, Kathryn Plant and Robert Wilkinson Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers John Lechte Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations Martin Griffiths Fifty Major Economists Steven Pressman Fifty Major Philosophers Diané Collinson Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies (second edition) Tim O’Sullivan, John Hartley, Danny Saunders, Martin Montgomery and John Fiske Key Concepts in Cultural Theory edited by Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy Oliver Leaman Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics R.L.Trask Key Concepts in the Philosophy of Education Christopher Winch and John Gingell Key Concepts in Popular Music Roy Shuker Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (2nd edition) Susan Hayward Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts Nigel Rapport and Joanna Overing




The Key Concepts Nigel Rapport and Joanna Overing London and New York First published 2000 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor and Francis Group This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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This is a book of some sixty essays each of which deals with an important term in the toolbox of contemporary anthropological studies.

The aim is to provide a concise repository of explanatory statements cover ing a number of the major concepts that professional anthropologists might use.

‘Explanation’ here includes argumentation concerning the diversity of ways in which anthropologists have understood the key concepts of their discipline and the way these have changed over time and might be expected to change in future. The volume is both overview and polemic, intended as a study guide as well as a research tool for original writing.

The ‘cultural anthropological’ tradition originating in North America and the ‘social anthropological’ tradition of Europe are combined in the book, reflecting the growing similarity of what is taught in university courses around the world.

Key Concepts would write anthropology into a changing environment of academic disciplines—their changing interrelations, methodologies and epistemologies—in the light of the current (‘post-modern’, ‘reflexive’) blurring of generic divisions and challenge to established verities. The volume draws on a range of disciplinary sources (including philosophy, psychology, sociology, cultural studies, literary criticism and linguistics), so situating anthropology within a broadly conceived notion of the humanities.

*** A book of key anthropological concepts is something of a departure.

There are a number of introductions to anthropology (Social Anthropology (Leach 1982), Other Cultures (Beattie 1964)), also dictionaries (The Dictionary of Anthropology (Barfield 1997), Macmillan Dictionary of Anthropology (Seymour-Smith 1986)), encyclopaedias (Encyclopedia of


Social and Cultural Anthropology (Barnard and Spencer 1996), Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (Levinson and Ember 1996)), and a companion (Ingold 1994a); but there have not been many attempts to distil ‘anthropological wisdom’, theoretical, methodological, analytical and ethnographic, by way of key concepts.

Of the two most comparable volumes, Robert Winthrop’s Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology (1991), and South African Keywords edited by Emile Boonzaier and John Sharp (1988), Winthrop’s rather particular emphasis on ‘cultural anthropology’ as the description and interpretation of ‘culturally patterned thought and behavior’ (1991:ix) means that there are few overlaps—‘community’, ‘interpretation’, ‘network’, ‘urbanism’, ‘world-view’,—between the eighty concepts he highlights and those selected here. Boonzaier and Sharp, meanwhile, analyse thirteen key words which they take to be instrumental in the construction, representation, objectification and interpretation of South African apartheid, both by anthropologists and by politicians. While less ethnographically focused than Boonzaier and Sharp’s volume, the present book attempts likewise to look askance at the ‘culture and society’ of anthropology as an academic discipline and relate its conceptual tools to wider philosophical and folk discourses.

It echoes Boonzaier and Sharp too in claiming kinship with, and drawing inspiration from, an original project of the Marxian critic and theorist of culture, Raymond Williams. In 1976, Williams produced a book of Keywords in which he attempted to isolate certain significant landmarks in Western social and cultural discourse. The approach had been made famous in Germany, since the Second World War, under the title, Begriffsgeschichte, or ‘conceptual history’; shifts and discontinuities in conceptual for mation, it was argued, were an index of wider sociocultural change as well as being instrumental in the shaping of such change. Through an assemblage of ‘keywords’, Williams explained (1983a:15), he sought to delineate and detail a complex and broad landscape of the Western imagination. Here were 131 words, he suggested, which forced themselves on his attention because of their general sociocultural import: their indicativeness of certain abiding values or forms of thought, and their connection to certain fundamental activities.

The key concepts signalled in this book are to be regarded in a comparable way: they are discursive nodes from which a broader, interconnected landscape of anthropological work and understanding should become apparent. The dictionary defines ‘concepts’ as ‘things formed through the power of the mind’, also ‘general notions, fancies, thoughts and plans’ (Chambers 1966). More technically, one might wish to


identify by ‘concepts’ the specific things that human beings think about, the meaning(s) of those things at particular moments, and the relations between those things and various other things in a classificatory array (cf.

McInnis 1991:vii). Each concept-entry in this book sets out to define an aspect of anthropological thought, therefore, to describe something of the range of a concepts meaning-in-use, and to offer pointers towards other entries with which the concept can be seen to connect.

Raymond Williams’s espying of a landscape of Western sociocultural discourse was an inevitably partial exercise; also, partisan, subjective, programmatic and open-ended. At the same time as it claimed to espy it also created a landscape; seeking to compass a vocabulary it succeeded, above all, in generating further discussion. The enterprise of Keywords was to provide an argument more than an encyclopaedic lexicon. This book would offer no more and no less than that. It is imbued with the perspective of its authors; it is the landscape of anthropology as they see and interpret it. Indeed, the authors would argue that the notion of an academic discipline (as with any other institution) whose workings and use are intrinsically perspectival, contingent, subjective and situational matters, and in that sense anti-disciplinary, is in itself an inherently ‘anthropological’ notion.

*** The key concepts adumbrated by this book figure as some sixty essays, as mentioned. These range in length from approximately 500 words to 5000, as the significance of the concepts varies and as they give on to discussions of variable complexity. The concepts also cover a range of types: ontological (‘Agent and Agency’, ‘Consciousness’, ‘Gender’), epistemological (‘Cyber netics’, ‘Kinship’, ‘World-View’), methodological (‘Culture’, ‘Methodological Individualism and Holism’, ‘Literariness’), theoretical (‘Community’, ‘The Unhomely’, ‘Urbanism’), and ethnographic (‘Home and Homelessness’, ‘Myth’, ‘Tourism’).

The essay format is intended to give sufficient space for the history of usage of the concept to be addressed and the argumentation surrounding it, also the way that conceptual meanings change over time and according to author and context. Besides the labelled concept-entries, however, there is a detailed Index to this book which can be used to inquire more immediately of precise features in the discipline’s discursive landscape. Finally, there is an extensive Bibliography of sources which directs the reader to further, specialized readings.


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Amid the diversity and range of the volume, its partiality and openendedness, it is intended that its dual authorship will tend towards a consistency of ethos and continuity of voice in the whole—at the least, towards a consistency and continuity of narrative tension.

A number of other voices have nonetheless ably assisted the authors in composing their text. For their support and advice the authors would like very much to thank Anthony Cohen, Andrew Dawson, Alan Passes, Marnio Teixeira-Pinto and Jonathan Skinner; Elizabeth Munro and Napier Russell; also their editors at Routledge, Roger Thorp and Hywel Evans, and copy editor Michael Fitch.

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Agent and Agency Alterity Auto-Anthropology Children Classification Code Cognition Common Sense Community Consciousness Contradiction Conversation Culture Cybernetics Dialogics and Analogics Discourse Ecriture Feminine Ethnomethodology Form and Content Gender Gossip Home and Homelessness Human Rights Humanism Individualism Individuality Interaction Interpretation Irony Kinship


Liminality Literariness Methodological Eclecticism Methodological Individualism and Holism Moments of Being Movement Myth Narrative Network Non-Places Post-Modernism Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies Reading The Rural Idyll Science Situation and Context Society Stereotypes Thick Description Tourism Transaction The Unhomely Urbanism Violence Visualism World-Making World-View Writing

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The concepts of agent and agency, perhaps related most closely to that of power, are usually deployed in debates over the relationship between individuals and social structure. They also pertain, however, to the nature of individual consciousness, its ability to constitute and reconstitute itself, and, ultimately, the extent of its freedom from exterior determination.

Agency and structure Agents act, and agency is the capability, the power, to be the source and originator of acts; agents are the subjects of action. Weber suggested that acts be distinguished from mere (animal) behaviour on the basis of acts

being seen to entail a number of features of human rationality:

consciousness, reflection, intention, purpose and meaning. He felt that social science should be an interpretive study of the meanings of human action and the choices behind them. G.H.Mead sought to clarify the Weberian notion of meaning, and its social-scientific understanding (Verstehung), by differentiating acts into: impulses, definitions of situations, and consummations.

On a Durkheimian view, however, what was crucial for an appreciation of human action were the conditions under which, and means by which, it took place; also the norms in terms of which choices between acts were guided. Over and against action, therefore, were certain structures which implied constraint, even coercion, and which existed and endured over and above the actions of particular individuals, lending to individuals’ acts a certain social and cultural regularity. What social science should study, therefore, was how such formal structures were created and how precisely they determined individual behaviour. To the extent that ‘agency’ existed, in short, it was a quality which derived from, and resided in, certain collective representations: in the social fact of a conscience collective; only in their pre-socialized, animal nature (a pathological state within a sociocultural milieu) were individuals able to initiate action which was not predetermined in this way.

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