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Anthropology as a Kind of Writing

Jonathan Spencer
Man
New Series, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 145-164
DOI: 10.2307/2802551
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2802551
Page Count: 20
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Anthropology as a Kind of Writing
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Abstract

This article reviews the recent interest in the literary aspects of ethnographic writing, concentrating on the work of Geertz, Sperber and the authors associated with the collective volume Writing culture. While it is argued that serious questions are raised in some of this work, it is also argued that recent fashions in literary critical theory may prove unhelpful in addresing those questions. In particular, the tendency to read texts with little or no consideration for the social and historical context in which they were written seems an especially barren approach. Instead it is argued that anthropology is as much a way of working-a kind of practical activity-as it is a way of writing. Acknowledgement of the personal element in the making of ethnographic texts may help the reader to a better assessment of the interpretation on offer; more radical change requires a change in anthropological practice as well as in anthropological writing.

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