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The Culture Concept as Theory, in Context

JamesP. Boggs
Current Anthropology
Vol. 45, No. 2 (April 2004), pp. 187-209
DOI: 10.1086/381048
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/381048
Page Count: 23
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The Culture Concept as Theory, in Context
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Abstract

This essay presents anthropologys culture concept (hereafter culture) asformally, precisely, definablya scientific theory. Representing new knowledge, an emerging theory challenges, reconfigures, existing knowledge. It has a starting place, a context. To advance anthropologys idea of culture as theory is to place it in time, in relation to ideas it reconfigures or replaces. So situated, culture is seen to replace the existing theory of human order, inherited from the Enlightenment, that underlies the doctrine political theorists call liberalism: as theory, culture supplants no less than the currently dominant social/political theory of Western modernity. In this light the present essay reconsiders the contention, with its attending sense of malaise, that is now swirling around the idea of culture in anthropology. While critics blame cultures difficulties on its inherent flaws, this essay suggests that its troubles follow first from its very success as theory. Significantly disturbing the conceptual groundwork for the liberal polity, culture sparks reactions within that polity aimed in part against its credentials as theory. Anthropologys discovery of culture thus places ititself a discipline within the liberal tradition, an institution within the liberal polityin a position in relation to current affairs that is at once difficult, paradoxical, and strategic.

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