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The Forms Culture takes: A State-of-the-Field Essay on the Anthropology of Southeast Asia

John R. Bowen
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 54, No. 4 (Nov., 1995), pp. 1047-1078
DOI: 10.2307/2059959
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2059959
Page Count: 32
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The Forms Culture takes: A State-of-the-Field Essay on the Anthropology of Southeast Asia
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Abstract

JOHN BOWEN reviews key issues and developments in his state-of-the-field article on Southeast Asian anthropology. Although much of the work in the field shares an interest in culture, the emphases have shifted recently, away from an earlier preoccupation with studying culture through its "public forms" and their "intrinsic" meanings to a concern with interpreting the meanings they acquire and possess for different sets of actors. Through his extensive survey of the literature, Bowen shows that anthropologists have turned their attention away from face-to-face communities to scrutinize how people understand and interpret their roles and experiences in a changing world, where their lives are increasingly shaped by a variety of institutions ranging from state to school to mosque. "Rather than analyzing culture into intrinsically meaningful symbols and meanings," Bowen believes, "Southeast Asianists have come to see culture as a history of people interpreting public forms."

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