Of Polyglots and Parochiality
It seems appropriate to launch Polyglot Perspectiveswith a book about alterity written by Greeks in and about Greece. Greece's interest for anthropology lies partly in its combination of political marginality and ideological centrality to the construction of "the West"—the home, with all its professional intimations of colonial shame, of our discipline. Our new feature aims, as the rubric explains, to open up the multilingual world of anthropological research and to level the playing field among traditions couched in many different languages. Greece, despite its symbolic importance, has not only been marginalized on the international political stage but has also been treated as a cultural backwater and as a place where scholars follow outmoded trends rather than generating original work of their own. [End Page 311]
The book discussed here makes nonsense of such slanders. More than that, it shows how this dismissive treatment of Greece and its scholars may have generated its own disproof. A Greek anthropology of otherness—a condition at once collectively suffered in the international context and bestowed on migrants and minorities within the national borders—has much to teach us about the conditionality of our discipline and its concepts and offers new perspectives on some of its oldest themes. Greece wrestles continually with the tensions that its political history has generated between a carefully concealed, familiar world and the idealized national image that its leadership has, for most of its history, sought to deliver to its inspecting and censorious Western "protectors." Its anthropologists are, willy-nilly, caught up in these dynamics, but their capacity for transcending them produces engaging and original perspectives.
A regional or national emphasis is thus not always disadvantageous. A serious—indeed, an anthropological—appreciation of such conceptual localism would benefit the development of a truly cosmopolitan, comparative, and intellectually open body of theory. The edited volume that I am discussing here represents an excellent opportunity. Beautifully crafted, Peripeties tis eterotitas[Adventures of Alterity] offers innovative and empirically rich studies by Greek scholars who have done fieldwork in their own country while also exploring with an open mind their scholarship's complex relationship with foreign as well as local cultural and academic roots.
Moreover, the book's focus on alterity(or "otherness" ) addresses a phenomenon that official Greek ideology, itself historically influenced by foreign pressure, has insistently silenced. Now we have the opportunity to see how Greek scholars confront the resulting dilemmas. 1 How do they frame them politically and conceptually, and how do these dilemmas affect their research? What are the consequences for the emergent international configuration of ethical responsibility? What, in short, is the appropriate role of an anthropology inescapably engaged in local situations of moral complexity and complex political inequality?
Nor is alterity a matter of ethnic politics alone. In Greece, as in Italy, the term " racism" covers sexual and gender discrimination. Until the publication of James D. Faubion's Modern Greek Lessons(1993), moreover, there was virtually no recognition of homoerotic relations in Greek society—a silence due more to lingering Victorian prudery than to their relatively unmarked status in antiquity (see Winkler 1990:4, 36). These silences, along with the hyper-idealization of "Greek hospitality" as the [End Page 312]matrix of attitudes toward foreign migrants, eloquently index encompassing relations of power that, as Alexandra Bakalaki (386) observes, are partly reproduced in the treatment of local scholars by visiting anthropologists—a tendency we hope this new AQfeature will counteract.
To say that the racism and conservatism of the Greek military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974 did not die easily sidesteps the key questions of what structures of power allowed theirattitudes to flourish and even to survive them, and what strategies of survival conversely enabled their intended victims to remain relatively undisturbed and indeed active in Greek society. Even the resistance of Greek scholarship to any form of comparison—for example, with African...