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Anthropology and the Politics of Representation

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina

Publication Year: 2013

Anthropology and the Politics of Representation examines the inherently problematic nature of representation and description of living people, specifically in ethnography and more generally in anthropological work as a whole.
In Anthropology and the Politics of Representation volume editor Gabriela Vargas-Cetina brings together a group of international scholars who, through their fieldwork experiences, reflect on the epistemological, political, and personal implications of their own work. To do so, they focus on such topics as ethnography, anthropologists’ engagement in identity politics, representational practices, the contexts of anthropological research and work, and the effects of personal choices regarding self-involvement in local causes that may extend beyond purely ethnographic goals.
Such reflections raise a number of ethnographic questions: What are ethnographic goals? Who sets the agenda for ethnographic writing? How does fieldwork change the anthropologist’s identity? Do ethnography and ethnographers have an impact on local lives and self-representation? How do anthropologists balance longheld respect for cultural diversity with advocacy for local people? How does an author choose what to say and write, and what not to disclose? Should anthropologists support causes that may require going against their informed knowledge of local lives?

Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz / Beth A. Conklin
/ Les W. Field / Katie Glaskin / Frederic W.
Gleach / Tracey Heatherington / June C.
Nash / Bernard C. Perley / Vilma Santiago-
Irizarry / Timothy J. Smith / Sergey
Sokolovskiy / David Stoll / Gabriela Vargas-
Cetina / Thomas M. Wilson

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Anthropology and the Politics of Representation

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pp. 1-16

Representation and the epistemological problems inherent to it are key anthropological problems of the twenty-first century. Local people everywhere feel betrayed by anthropology. Instead of studying identifiable, rooted communities, anthropologists have turned their attention to the rhetorical construction underpinning the very ideas and practices sustaining the...

I. Identity Strategies

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1. Double Trouble: Implications of Historicizing Identity Discourses

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pp. 19-32

In this chapter, I will explore dynamic facets of the analysis of identity in both anthropological circles and indigenous communities. As a part of this discussion, I will describe my work with a federally unrecognized tribe in California, the Muwekma Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay area, among whom the last dozen years of change and growth have helped me and others...

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2. Strategic Essentialism, Scholarly Inflation, and Political Litmus Tests: The Moral Economy of Hyping the Contemporary Mayas

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pp. 33-48

Our subject is the collision between deconstructive anthropology and indigenous activism. James Clifford (1988) spotted it in the 1976 Mashpee trial—cultural anthropologists no longer believed in the reified definition of tribe and culture, which the Mashpees needed to prove their existence as a legally recognizable entity. Jean Jackson fine-tuned the question in 1989: How...

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3. Yucatecan Food and the Postcolonial Politics of Representation

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pp. 49-65

During the last two decades, Yucatecans, in general, and Meridans, in particular, have witnessed (and many have suffered) the growing immigration of individuals from different Mexican regions but, particularly, from the center of Mexico.1 The relationship between Yucatan and Mexico has always been an uneasy one. Many immigrants from the central highlands are locally perceived...

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4. Subverting Stereotypes: The Visual Politics of Representing Indigenous Modernity

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pp. 66-77

In the media politics of contemporary indigenous rights activism and advocacy, representations based on strategic essentialisms are both tools and traps. Positive representations have proven enormously effective to develop solidarity and rally support for indigenous causes. But idealized representations have their downside. However sympathetic their content, such...

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5. Labels, Genuine and Spurious: Anthropology and the Politics of Otherness in the United States

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pp. 78-98

Growing up in Puerto Rico, my sense of identity was primordially informed —bad pun intended—by the notion of simply being puertorriqueña, however conscious I eventually became that differentials of race, gender, and class complicated such an insidiously placid nationalistic claim. In turn, hispano or hispana, latina or latino—the closest Spanish-language terms for the English...

II. Decentering the Ethnographic Self

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6. “Gone Anthropologist”: Epistemic Slippage, Native Anthropology, and the Dilemmas of Representation

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pp. 101-118

It all began so innocently. How did a nice self-respecting Native American man working on a career in architecture become an anthropologist?1 Regarding innocence, don’t we all say that when find ourselves mired in existential and, apropos for this chapter, epistemic dilemmas? As for my decision to become an anthropologist, I do have to plead some innocence. I was unaware...

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7. Matthew the Canadian Journalist: Engagement and Representation in Highland Guatemala

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pp. 119-139

This chapter represents an attempt to address the difficult balance between writing about the contingent nature of truth and participating in a local struggle, taking heed of the critiques levied at and from anthropology over the past twenty-five years with regard to ethnographic authority and the impossibility of representation (Clifford 1986a, 1988; Clifford and Marcus...

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8. Performing Music, Silence, Noise, and Anthropology in Yucatan, Mexico

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pp. 140-156

Representation, including self-representation, is a necessary tool for everyday communication. It is important to keep in mind that all categories, including representational ones, are contingent and subject to contextual change. Indigenous, white, black, or Yucatecan can only be understood historically and contextually; anthropology has to map these referential categories and also...

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9. Ethnography and the Cultural Politics of Environmentalism

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pp. 157-175

During my first months of ethnographic research on the island of Sardinia, Italy, I found myself one afternoon in a restaurant in a town near the eastern coast as the guest of six men who had befriended another anthropologist the year before. The men were workers in their thirties and forties whose economic strategies included flexible combinations of informal and formal...

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10. Notes on the Use and Abuse of Cultural Knowledge

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pp. 176-190

When I started working as an archaeologist in Virginia in the early 1980s, we used to joke that if you wore a sign saying “I’m an archaeologist” you wouldn’t be able to walk down the street for all the people stopping you to ask questions.1 I have since found similar levels of interest in other forms of anthropological inquiry, from language to cultural practices to evolutionary...

III. Anthropology in Crucial Places

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11. Rooted or Extinct? Post-Soviet Anthropology and the Construction of Indigenousness

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pp. 193-211

Post-Soviet anthropology has undergone drastic changes during the last twenty years in terms of both its theoretical orientations and the construction of its subject. However, the liberation from the ethnographic essentialism of the Marxist brand occurred at a time when regional ethno-nationalism was on the rise. This has resulted in a split within the Russian academy and a reinforcement...

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12. Anthropology on Trial: Australian Anthropology and Native Title Litigation

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pp. 212-229

In a keynote address delivered to the Australian Anthropological Society’s annual conference in 2002, Annette Hamilton considered where anthropology is heading in the twenty-first century, arguing that in Australia the discipline was in something of a crisis. One basis for her argument was the diminishing enrollments in the discipline and the attrition in the number of...

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13. The Politics of Europeanization, Representation, and Anthropology in Northern Ireland

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pp. 230-251

Various governmental and nongovernmental (NGO) organizations have been reinventing and representing Belfast, Northern Ireland, in significant ways since the paramilitary cease-fires and peace agreements of the 1990s. As part of this reinvention of Belfast as a location for investment and tourism, as a historical site of heritage and pride, and as a symbol of peace and...

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Epilogue: Identities and the Politics of Representation

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pp. 252-258

Despite my protests that I had little to add to the problematic of representation in anthropology, Gabriela Vargas-Cetina provoked me to respond with her question as to what it was like to have persisted in the ethnographic quest after two major paradigm changes...


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pp. 259-296

List of Contributors

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pp. 297-300


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pp. 301-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386245
E-ISBN-10: 0817386246
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357177
Print-ISBN-10: 0817357173

Page Count: 315
Illustrations: 3 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 840607708
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Anthropology and the Politics of Representation

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ethnology -- Methodology.
  • Ethnology -- Philosophy.
  • Representation (Philosophy).
  • Political anthropology.
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