The Predicament of Culture is a critical ethnography of the West in its changing relations with other societies. Analyzing cultural practices such as anthropology, travel writing, collecting, and museum displays of tribal art, Clifford shows authoritative accounts of other ways of life to be contingent fictions, now actively contested in postcolonial contexts. In discussions of ethnography, surrealism, museums, and emergent tribal arts, Clifford probes the late twentieth-century predicament of living simultaneously within, between, and after culture.
When culture makes itself at home in motion, where does an anthropologist stand? In a follow-up to The Predicament of Culture, one of the defining books for anthropology in the last decade, James Clifford takes the proper measure: a moving picture of a world that doesn't stand still, that reveals itself en route, in the airport lounge and the parking lot as much as in the marketplace and the museum. In this collage of essays, meditations, poems, and travel reports, Clifford (...) takes travel and its difficult companion, translation, as openings into a complex modernity. He contemplates a world ever more connected yet not homogeneous, a global history proceeding from the fraught legacies of exploration, colonization, capitalist expansion, immigration, labor mobility, and tourism. Ranging from Highland New Guinea to northern California, from Vancouver to London, he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Wherever people and things cross paths and where institutional forces work to discipline unruly encounters, Clifford's concern is with struggles to displace stereotypes, to recognize divergent histories, to sustain "postcolonial" and "tribal" identities in contexts of domination and globalization. Travel, diaspora, border crossing, self-location, the making of homes away from home: these are transcultural predicaments for the late twentieth century. The map that might account for them, the history of an entangled modernity, emerges here as an unfinished series of paths and negotiations, leading in many directions while returning again and again to the struggles and arts of cultural encounter, the impossible, inescapable tasks of translation. (shrink)
In now classic article, James Clifford offers a novel perspective on ethnographic texts. Inspired by literary studies he uses contemporary ethnographic works to question ethnography’s claims of scientific objectivity and a clear distinction between allegorical and factual. If ethnography aims to keep its contemporary relevance, it should specifically focus on allegory as an intrinsic quality of ethnographic texts This kind of analysis may assume that any ethnographic text accounts for facts and events but at the same time it tackles the (...) moral, ideological or even cosmological issues. According to Clifford, ethnography has been dominated by a “pastoral” allegorical register which allowed an ethnographer to occupy a privileged position to interpret other, non-writing cultures. Clifford notices that this register is loosing support in the modern world since the difference between illiterate and literate cultures is not relevant anymore. Ethnographic pastoral is now replaced with self-reflexive and dialogical forms of ethnographic writing, analyzed by Clifford by the example of Marjorie Shostak’s book Nisa: The Life and Words of a!Kung Woman. (shrink)
In these extracts from longer essays, James Clifford deals with the question of the dynamics of indigenous cultures. Following the ideas of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, he exposes the different dialectics that inhabit the relations to place and localization of power with regard to their terms of articulation. Across the dialectics that variously link aboriginal histories and diasporas, origins and dislocations, and the relations between past, present and future, Clifford explores the array of indigenous arrangements tangled up in the post- and neo-colonial (...) situations and the stakes behind the reappropriation of sovereignty. (shrink)