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Recapturing Anthropology

Worhing in the Present


Edited by

Richard G. Fox

gq\
SCHOOLOF AMERICAN RESEARCH PRE55
S,{NTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Chapter I
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE

Lila Abu-Lughod

W'orrt" CULTURE(Clifford and Marcus 1986), the collection that


marked a major new form of critique of cultural anthropology's premises,
more or less excluded two critical groups whose situati,ons n"utiy expose
and challenge the most basic of those premises: feminists and ,,hlfies"-
people whose narional or cultural identity is mixed by virtue of migration,
overseas educarion, or parenrage.r In his introducti,on, clifford
itqgou)
apologizes for the feminist absence; no one menrions halfres or the in-
digenous anthropologists to-whom they are related. perhaps they are not
yet numerous enough or sufficiently self-defined as a grou.r The impor_
tance of these two groups lies not in any superior moial ciaim or advan-
tage they might have in doing anthropology, but in the special dilemmas
they face, dilemmas that reveal starkly the
roblems with cultural anrhro-
pology's assumprion of a fundamental distinction between self and other.
ln this essay I explore how feminists and halfies, by the way their
anthropological practice unsertles the boundary benveen self and other,
enable us ro reflect on the convenrional natuie and political effects of
this distinction and ultimately ro reconsider the value of the concept of
culture on which ir depends. I will argue thar "culture" operares in
I38 LILAABU-LUGHOD
,
anthropological discourse to enforce separations that inevitably carry a tal aspect. Anthr
sense of hierarchy. Therefore, anthropologists should now pursue, with- but it is a discip
out exaggerated hopes for the power of their texts to change the world, a the West and rhe
variety of strategies for writing dgdinst culture. For those interested in study of the nor
textual strategies, I explore the advantages of what I call "ethnographies guise it seeks ex
of the particular" as instruments of a tactical humanism. between the self
the fieldwork en<
SELVES AND OTHERS 1978, Dwyer 19
Tyler 1986). And
The notion of culture (especia as it functions to distinguish "cultures"), least since the bi
despite a long usefulness, may now have become something anthropolo- domination. This
giss would \Mant to work against in their theories, their ethnographic relationship berw
practice, and their ethnographic writing. A helpful way to begin to grasp stood as the rsul
why is to consider what the shared elements of feminist and halfie anthro- through oppositir
pology clarify about the self/other distinction central to the paradigm of of a power divide
anthropology. Marilyn Strathern (1985, I987a) raises some of the issues The enduring
:,:,:l regarding feminism in essays that both Clifford and Rabinow cited in gemony of the dil
,'1,,'.]:
':1.) Writing Culntre. Her thesis is that the relationship between anthropology the defensiveness
,illl and feminism is awkward. This thesis leads her to try to understand why volume) conduct
',,| feminist scholarship, in spite of is rhetoric of radicalism, has failed to
;

whether they hav


j:l'
::;'l
fundamentally alter anthropology, and why feminism has gained even less thropology and o
.''i
::r' from anthropology than vice versa. tain their identitir
:::::,i

:tii:;
The awkwardness, she argues, arises from the fact that despite a com- study seem "othe
:,i:'i mon interest in differences, the scholarly practices of feminists and anthro- sures this.3 So do
':,ii,i

:',i
pologiss are "different structured in the way they organize knowledge lism based on it,
:.:, and draw boundaries" (Strathern I987a:289) and especially in "the na- discuss later. The
'ri 1

:
ture of the investigators' relatianship to their subject mtter'r (I9B7a:284). cnnot be objectir
,i Feminist scholars, united by their common opposition to men or to pa-
]: nous anthropolog
triarchy, produce a discourse composed of many voices; they "discover understanding tha
,:.1:rl the self by becoming conscious of oppression from the Oth er" (I987a:289) .' their own or relat
i:,:li
:,'1.,
Anthropologiss, whose goal is "to make sense of differences" (I987a:286), ognizable as anthr
also constitute their "selves" in relation to an other, but do not view this If anthropolog
other as "under attack" (I987a:289). lematic and unma
ln highlighting the self/other relationship, Strathern takes us to the theory, an acader
heart of the problem. Yet she retreats from the problematic of power its relatively short
(granted as formative in feminism) in her strangely uncritical depiction of others as givens.
anthropology. When she defines anthropology as a discipline that "contin- anthropology to cr
ues to know iself as the study of social behavior or society in terms of to what some mig
systems and collective representations" (1987a:281), she underplays the opment of postfen
self/other distinction. In characterizing the relationship between anthro- From Simone c
pological self and other as nonadversarial, she ignores its most fundamen- modern West, wo
IGHOD
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE r39

;eparations that inevitably carry a tal aspect. Anthropology's avowed goal may be "the study of man [sic],"
ologists should now pursue, with- but it is a discipline built on the historically constructed divide berween
f their texts to change the world, a rhe west and the non-wesr. lt has been and conrinues to be primarily the
;t culture. For those interested in srudy of the non-wesrern orher by the wesrern self, even lf in its ne*
ages of what I call "ethnographies guise it seeks explicitly to give voice to the other or ro present a dialogue
rctical humanism. between the self and other, eirher rexrually or througtr an explication of
the fieldwork encounrer (as in such works as crapan-ano l9gb, Dumonr
OTHERS 1978, Dwyer 1982, Rabinow 1977, Riesman 1977, Tedlock 1993, and
Tyler 1986). And the relationship between the west and the non-wesr, ar
unctions to distinguish "cultures"), least since the birth of anthropology, has been consrituted by western
ve become something anthropolo- domination. This suggess that the awkwardness strathern senses in the
their theories, their ethnographic relationship between feminism and anthropology might betrer be under.
A helpful way to begin to grasp
rg. stood as the rsult of diametrically opposed processes=of self-consrrucrion
nents of feminist and halfie anthro- through opposition ro orhers-processes that begin from different sides
inction central to the paradigm of of a power divide.
, l987a) raises some of the issues The enduring strength of what Morsy (1988:70) has caned "the he-
th Clifford and Rabinow cited in gemony of the distincrive-other tradirion'in anthropology is betrayed by
:elationship between anthropology the defensiveness of partial exceprions. Anthropolojists iite ortner, this
leads her to try to understand why volume) condlcting fieldwork in the ljnited srates or Europe wonder
retoric of radicalism, has failed to whether they have not blurred the disciplinary boundaries btween an-
why feminism has gained even less thropology and other fields such as sociology or history. one way ro re-
tain their idenrities as anthropologists is ro make rhe communities they
s from the fact that despite a com- study seem "other." studying ethnic communiries and the powerless as-
y practices of feminists and anthro- sures this.3 so does concentrating on "culture" (or on the method of ho-
the way they organize knowledge lism based on it, as Appadurai [1988] has argued), for reasons I will
7a:289) and especially in "the na- discuss,later. There are two issues here. one is the conviction that one
their subject matter'? (1987 a: 284). cannot be objective about one's own society, something that affecs indige-
rmon opposition to men or to pa- nous anthropologiss (\Mestern or non-western). The second is a tacit
ed of many voices; they "discover understanding thar anthropologists study the non-west; halfies who study
ssion from the Other" (l997a289).' their own or related non-western communities are still more easily rec-
: sense of differences" (l9B7a: 286), ognizable as anthropologiss than Americans who study Americans.
r to an other, but do not view this If anthropology continues to be practiced as the study by an unprob-
-lematic and unmarked western self of found "others" out there, feminist
:onship, Strathern takes us to the theory, an academic practice that also trafflcs in selves and others, has in
s lrom the problematic of power is relatively short history come to realizethe danger of treating selves and
Ler strangely uncritical depiction of others as givens. It is instructive for the development of a critique of
,pology as a discipline that "contin- anthropology ro consider the trajectory that has led, within two deades,
Lal behavior or society in terms of to what some might call a crisis in feminist theory, and orhers, the devel-
' (I9B7a:28I), she underplays the opment of postfeminism.
1 the relationship between anthro- From simone de Beauvoir on, it has been accepted that, at least in the
ial, she ignores its most fundamen- modern west, women have been the other to men's self. Feminism has
140 ULA ABU-LUGHOD
,
been a movement devoted to helping women become selves and subjects positionality. Standin
rather than objects and men's others.4 The crisis in feminist theory (related is a view from some
to a crisis in the women's movement) that followed on the heels of femi- somewhere. Cultural
nist attempts to turn those who had been constituted as other into the idelogy of scien
selves-or, to use the popular metaphor, to let women speak-was the and deflnition of objt
problem of "difference." For whom did feminists speak? Within the wom- implications of the a<
n's movement, the objections of lesbians, African-American,women, and Two common, intr
other "women of color" that their experiences as women were different or semi-native anthrc
from those of white, middle-class, heterosexual women problematized the sistence of ideals of c
identity of women as selves. Cross-cultural work on women also made it bias or position) of r
clear that masculine and feminine did not have, as we say, the same mean- (incomplete) nature <
ings in other cultures, nor did Third World women's lives resemble West- with the first problen
ern women's lives. As Harding (1986:246) puts it, the problem is that one's own society is a
"once'woman is deconstructed into'women and'gender' is recognized to Since for halfres, the
have no fixed referents, feminism itself dissolves as a theory that can re- the danger shared wi
flect the voice o[ a naturalized or essentialized speaker."5 the easy slide into sr
From its experience with this crisis of selfhood or subjecthood, [emi- pologist is still define
nist theory can-offer anthropology two useful reminders. First, the self is even when he or she
always a construction, never a natural or found entity, even if it has that (1977: I-2), who pe
appearance. Second, the process of creating a self through opposition to has on the anthropolc
an-other always entails the violence of repressing or ignoring other forms with this doxa. The o
of difference. Feminist theoriss have been forced to explole the implica- simply stands outsid,
tions for the formation of identity and the possibilities for political action Other of the study, n<
of the ways in -lrich gender as a system o[ difference is intersected by during the war of in
other systems of difference, including, in the modern capitalist world, 1967 Arab-lsraeli wa
race and class. we call the outside ir
where does this leave the feminist anthropologist? strathern (1987a: plex. No less than th
286) characterizes her as experiencing a tension-"caught between struc- vis the community be
rures . . . faced with two different ways of relating to her oI his subject The debates about
matter." The more interesting aspect of the feminist's situation, though, is uneasiness about por
what she shares with the halfre: a blocked ability to comfortably assume studying gender, fen
the self of anthropology. For both, although in different ways, the self is only a panial picture
split, caught at the intersection of systems o[ difference. I am less con- to be studying only w
crned with the existential consequences of this split (these have been form. The study of w
eloquently explored elsewhere [e.g.,Joseph 1988, Kondo 1986, Narayan as Strathern (1985) n
19891) than with the awareness such splits generate about three crucial of society have been
issues: positionality, audience, and the power inherent in distinctions of Malinowski's Trobrial
self and other. What happens when the "other" that the anthropologist is tralian aborigines ind
studying is simultaneously constructed as, at least partially, a self? not make such studi,
Feminists and halfie anthropologists cannot easily avoid the issue of must constant atten
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE I4I

:come selves and subjects positionality. Standing on shifting ground makes it clear that every view
n feminist theory (related is a view from somewhere and every act of speaking a speaking from
ved on the heels of femi- somewhere. Cultural anthropologists have never been fu convinced of
:onstituted as other into the ideology of science and have long questioned the value, possibility,
r women speak-was the and definition of objectivity. But they still seem reluctant to examine the
; speak? Within the wom- implications of the actual situatedness of their knowledge.T
ln-American women, and Two common, intertwined objections to the work of feminist or native
as women were different or semi-native anthropologists, both related to partiality, betray the per-
/omen problematized the sistence of ideals of objectivity. The first has to do with the partiality (as
k on women also made it bias or position) of the observer. The second has to do with the partial
as \/e say,the same mean- (incomplete) nature of the picture presented. Halfies are more associated
nen's lives resemble West- with the frrst problem, feminists the second. The problem with studying
it, the problem is that one's own society is alleged to be the problem of gaining enough distance.
d'gender' is recognized to Since for halfies, the Other is in certain ways the slf, there is said to be
s as a theory that can re- the danger shared with indigenous anthropologists of identification and
peaker."5 the easy slide into subjectivity.s These worries suggest that the anthro-
rcd or subjecthood, femi- pologist is still defined as a being who must stand apart from the Other,
eminders. First, the self is even when he or she seeks explicit to bridge the gap. Even Bourdieu
I entity, even if it has that (1977: l-2), who perceptively analyzed the effects this outsider stance
;elf through opposition to has on the anthropologist's (mis)understanding of social life, fails to break
rg or ignoring other forms with this doxa. The obvious point he misses is that the outsider self never
ed to explore the implica- simply stands outside. He or she stands in a definite relation with the
ibilities for political action Other of the study, not just as a Westerner, but as a Frenchman in Algeria
ifference is intersected by during the war of independence, an American in Morocco during the
modern capitalist world, 1967 Arab-Israeli war, or an Englishwoman in postcolonial lndia. What
we call the outside is a position within a larger political-historical com-
ologist? Strathern (1987a: plex. No less than the halfie, the "wholie" is in a specific position vis--
r-"caught between struc- vis the community being studied.
rting to her or his subject The debates about feminist anthropologiss suggest a second source of
inist's situation, though, is uneasiness about positionality. Even when they present themselves as
ity to comfortably assume studying gender, feminist anthropologists are dismissed as presenting
r different ways, the self is only a partial picture of the societies they study because they are assumed
difference. I am less con- to be studying only women. Anthropologists study society, the unmarked
his split (these have been form. The study of women is the marked form, too readily sectioned off,
88, Kondo 1986, Narayan as Strathern (1985) notes.e Yet it could easily be argued that most studies
:nerate about three crucial of society have been equa partial. As restudies like Weiner's (1976) of
inherent in distinctions of Malinowski's Trobriand Islanders or Bell's (1983) of the well-studied Aus-
" that the anthropologist is tralian aborigines indicate, they have been the study of men.10 This does
:ast partially, a self? not make such studies any less valuable; it merely reminds us that we
rt easi avoid the issue of must constantly attend to the positionality of the anthropological self and
142 LILA ABU-LUGHOD
,
its representations of others. James Clifford (1986a:6), among others, has
. ii by "white men' (to ur
convincingly argued that ethnographic representations are always "panial tuted subject-positior
uths." What is needed is a recognition that they are also positioned sign and instrument r

truths. Within anthropol


Split selfhood creates for the two groups being discussed a second don to racism, a fas
problem that is illuminating for anthropology generally: multiple audi- links to colonialism (l
ences. Although all anthropologists are beginning to feel what might be Hymes 1969, Kuper
called the Rushdie effect-the effects of living in a global age when the nography to relieve

subjecs of their studies begin to read their works and the governments of anthropological subje
the countries they work in ban books and deny visas-feminist and halfre skirted. Even attempt
anthropologists struggle in poignant ways with multle accountability. other speak" in dialo
Rather than having one primary audience, that of other anthropologiss, dons on the level o
feminist anthropologists write for anthropologiss and for feminists, rwo global power on whi<
groups whose relationship to their subject matter is at odds and who hold world, is based. To se
ethnographers accountable in different ways.rl Furthermore, feminist is to consider an an
circles include non-Western feminists, often from the societies feminist scholars stated their r
anthropologists have studied, who all them to account in new ways.r2 continued to domina
Halfres' diimmas are even more extreme. As anthropologiss, they and other academic
write for other anthropologists, mostly Western. Identified also with com- organization of econc
munities outside the West, or subcultures within it, they are called to Because of their s
account by educated members of those communiies. More important, uneasily between spe
not just because they position themselves with reference to two com- ables us to see more I
munities but because when they present the Other they are presenting ize differences, as in
themselves, they speak with a complex awareness of and investment in argue the concept of
reception. Both halfie and feminist anthropologiss are forced to confront inequality.
square the politics and ethics of their representations. There are no easy
solutions to their dilemmas. (
The third issue that feminist and halfie anthropologiss, unlike anthro-
pologists who work in Western societies (another group for whorn self The concept of cultu
and other are somewhat tangled), force us to confront is the dubiousness about anthropology.
of maintaining that relationships between self and other are innocent of "culture," notoriousll
power. Because of sexism and racial or ethnic discrimination, they may nevertheless the true
have experienced-as lvomen, as individuals o[ mixed parentage, or as be argued that cultur
foreigners-being other to a dominant self, whether in everyday life in pological distinction
the U.S., Britain, ot France, or in the Western academy. This is not simply essential tool for mak
an experience of difference, but of inequality. My argument, however, is on the meaning of c
structural, not experiential. Women, blacks, and people of most of the non- stand cultural differel
West have been historica constituted as others in the major political maintain it. Anthrop,
systems of difference on which the unequal world of modern capitalism separation between g
has depended. Feminist studies and black studies have made suffrcient In this regard, th
progress within the academy to have exposed the way that being studied cessor-race-even
WRITING AGANST CULTURE T43

1986a:6), among others, has by "white men' (to use a shorrhand for a complex aird historically consti-
sentations are always "partial tured subject-position) rurns into being spoken for by them. It becomes a
hat they are also positioned sign and instrument of their po$/er.
within anthropology, despite a long history of self-conscious opposi-
ls being discussed a second don to racism, a fast-growing, self-critical literature on anrhroplgys
,gy generally: multiple audi- links to colonialism (for example, Asad 1973, clifford r9g3a, Fabian 19d3,
nning to feel what might be Hymes-1969, Kuper l9B8), and experimentarion wirh techniques of eth-
ng in a global age when the nography to reliev a discomfort with the power of anthropologist over
'orks and the governments of anthropological subject, the fundamenral issues of domination kep being
ny visas-feminist and half,e skirted. Even attempts to refigure informants as consultants and to.,let the
vith multiple accountability. other speak" in dialogic (Tedlock l9B7) or polyvocar texrs-decoloniza-
hat of other anthropologists, tions on the level of the text-leave intact the basic configuration of
ogists and for feminiss, two global power on which anthropology, as linked ro other instituions of the
atter is at odds and who hold world, is based. To see the strangeness of this enrerprise, all that is needed
Lys. Furthermore, feminist is to consider an analogous case. what would our reaction be if rnale
r from the societies feminist scholars srated their desire to "let women speak" in their texts while they
to account in new ways.r2 continued to dominate all knowledge about them by controlling writing
re. As anthropologists, they and other academic pracrices, supported in their positions by a particulai
:rn. Identified also with com- organization of economic, social, and political life?
within it, they are called to Because of their split selves, feminist and halfie anthropologists travel
muniies. More imporrant, uneasily berween rp"kitrg "for" and speaking "from." ther sitarion en-
with reference to two com- ables us to see more clearly that dividing pracrices, whether they natural-
e Other they are presenting ize differences, as in gnder or race, or simply elaborate them, as I will
reness o[ and investment in argue the concept of culture does, are fundamental methods of enforcing
logiss are forced to confront inequality.
tentations. There are no easy

thropologists, unlike anthro- CUL|URE AND DIFFERENCE


nother group for whorn self The concept of culture is the hidden rerm in all that has just been said
confront is the dubiousness about anthropology. Most American anthropologiss behee or act as if
,lf and other are innocent of "culture," notoriously resistant to definition and ambiguous of referent, is
ric discrimination, they may nevertheless rhe rrue object of anthropological inquiry. yet it could also
of mixed parentage, or as
.s be argued that culture is important to u.rtropology b".uure the anthro-
whether in everyday life in pological distinction between self and orher resrs on it. culture is the
academy. This is not simply essential tool for making other. As a professional discourse that elaborates
r. My argument, however, is on the meaning of culture in order to account for, explain, and under-
nd people of most of the non- stand cultural difference, anthropology also helps construct, produce, and
>thers in the major political maintain it. Anthropological discourse gives cultural difference (and the
world of modern capitalism separation berween groups of people it implies) the air of the self-evident.
;tudies have made sufficient In this regard, the concept of culture operares much like its prede-
I the way that being studied cessor-race-even though in its twentieth-century form it has some
t44 LILA ABU-LUGHOD
,
important political advantages. Unlike race, and unlike even the nine- explorations of an
teenth-cet irrry sense of culture as a synonym for civil2ation (contrasted Cultural feminism
to barbarism), the current concept allows for multle rather than binary of the qualities of r

differences. This immediatd checks the eay move to hierarchizing; the like lrigaray (l98l
shift to "culture" ("lower case c with the possibiliry of a fi.nal s," as Clifford culine and feminir
[988a:234] puts it) has a relativizing effect. The most important of cul- different modes ol
ture's advantages, however, is that it removes difference from the realm of Some attempt to
the natural uttd th" innate. Whether conceived of as a set of behaviors, women-Gilligan
customs, traditions; rules, plans, recipes, instructions, or programs (to list who elaborate the
the range of definitions Geertz [I973a:44] furnishes), culture is learned ers ffy to "explair
and can change. psychoanalytic th,
Despite its anti-essentialist intent, however, the culture concept retains of the effecs of th
,o*. oi the tendencies to freeze difference possessed by concepts like tion (Harsock 19

race. This is easier to see if we consider a field in which there has been a or even a theory o
shift from one to the other. Orientalism as a scholar discourse (among theorizing and pr
other things) is, according to said (1978:2), "a style of thought based this "women's cult
upon an tological and epistemological distinction made between'the university (Rich I
Oient' and (moit of the time) 'the Occident'." What he shows is that in methodology in t
mapping geography, race, and culture onto one another, orientalism fixes 1983; Smith 198
diffienei between people of "the West" and people o[ "the East" in ways sible critique), an
so rigid that they might as well be considered innate. In the twentieth posals near alw:
..tttity, cultural difference, not race, has been the basic subject of Ori- with women-a
entalisi scholarship devoted now to interyreting the "culture" phenomena immediacy of exp
(primarily religion and language) to which basic differences in develop- and so forth.
rn.rrt, ..ttomc performance, government, character, and so forth are This valorizati
attributed. previously devalu
Some anticolonial movements and present-day struggles have worked ful in forging a se
by what could be labelled reverse Orientalism, where attempts to reverse Yet because it lear'

th" po*.t relationship proceed by seeking to valorize for the self what selfhood and opp
in the former system had been devalued as other. A Gandhian appeal to ous tendencies. Fi
rhe greater spirituality of a Hindu lndia, compared with the materialism those on each sid
and Violence of the West, and an Islamicist appeal to a greater faith in other. Second, tht
God, compared with the immorality and corruption of the west, both by the dividing p
accept the essentialist terms of Orientalist constructions. While turning ality (to repeat th
them on their heads, they preserve the rigid sense of difference based but also ethnic r

on culture. health, living situ


A parallel can be drawn with feminism. It is a basic tenet of feminism and perhaps mos
that "women are made, not born." lt has been important for most femi- have been constrl
nists to locate sex differences in culture, not biology or nature. While this tural feminism al
has inspired some feminist theorists to attend to the social and personal thenticity and tl
effects f gender as a system of difference, for many others it has led to dominant other.
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE I45

nd unlike even the nine- explorations of and strategies built on the notion of a women's culture.
'or
civilization (contrasted Cultural feminism (cf. Echols t9B4) takes many forms, bur ir has many
rultiple rather than binary of the qualities of reverse Orientalism just discussed. For French feminists
r.ove to hierarchizingt the like lrigaray (1985a, 1985b), Cixous (1983), and Kristeva (1981), mas-
lity of a frnal s," as Clifford culine and feminine, if not actually male and female, represent essentially
he most important of cul- different modes of being. Anglo-American feminists take a different tack.
fference from the realm of Some attempt to "describe" the cultural differences between men and
I of as a set o[ behaviors, women-Gilligan (1982) and her followers (e.g., Belenky et al. 1986)
rtions, or programs (to list who elaborate the notion of "a different voice" are popular examples. Oth-
nishes), culture is learned ers try to "explaini' the differences, whether through a socially informed
psychoanalytic theory (e.g., Chodorow 1978), a Marxist-derived theory
:he culture concept retains of the effects of the division of labor and women's role in social reproduc-
rssessed by conceps like tion (Hartsock l9B5), an anais of marernal practice (Ruddick l9B0),
in which there has been a or even a theory of sexual exploitation (MacKinnon 982). Much feminist
:holar discourse (among theorizing and practice seeks to build or reform social life in line with
'a style of thought based this "women's culture." 13 There have been proposals for a rv/oman-centered
rction made between'the university (Rich 1979), a feminist science (Rose 1983, t986), a feminist
What he shows is that in methodology in the sciences and social sciences (Meis 1983; Reinharz
another, Orientalism fixes 1983; Smith l9B7; Stanley and Wise 1983; see Harding 1987 for a sen-
:ople of "the East" in ways sible critique), and even a feminist spirituality and ecology. These pro-
I innate. In the twentieth posals nearly always build on values traditionally associared in the West
the basic subject of Ori- with women-a sense of care and connectedness, maternal nurturing,
, the
"culture" phenomena immediacy of experience, involvement in the bodily (versus the abstract),
;ic differences in develop- and so forth.
raracter, and so forth are This valorization by cultural feminists, like reverse Orientalists, of the
previously devalued qualities attributed ro rhem may be provisionally use-
lay struggles have worked ful in forging a sense of unity and in waging struggles of empowerment.
where attempts to reverse Yet because it leaves in place the divide rhar strucrured the experiences of
valorize for the self what selfhood and oppression on which it builds, it perpetuates some danger-
.er. A Gandhian appeal to ous tendencies. First, cultural feminists overlook the connections between
ared with the materialism those on each side of the divide, and the ways in which they define each
>peal to a greater faith in other. Second, they overlook differences within each category constructed
uption of the West, borh by the dividing practices, differences like those of class, race, and sexu-
structions. While turning ality (to repeat the feminist litany of problematically abstract categories),
sense of difference based but also ethnic origin, personal experience, age, mode of livelihood,
health, living situation (rural or urban), and historical experience. Third,
a basic tenet o[ feminism and perhaps most important, they ignore the ways in which experiences
important for most femi- have been constructed historica and have changed over time. Both cul-
,logy or nature. \Mhile this tural feminism and revivalist movements tend to rely on notions of au-
to the social and personal thenticity and the return to positive values not represented by the
many others it has led to dominant other. As becomes obvious in the most extreme cases, these
146 LILAABU-LUGHOD
,
moves erase history. Invocations of Creun goddesses in some cultural- seeks to show h
feminist circles and, in a more complex and serious way, the powerful and the people z

invocation of the seventh-century community of the Prophet in some Is- of one by the ot
lamic movements are good examples. "culture" and "cl
The point is that the notion of culture which both types of movements ness and differer
use does not seem to guarantee an escape from the tendency toward es-
"ulismanic quali
sentialism. It could be argued that anthropologiss use "culture" in more
sophisticated and consistent ways and that their commitment to it as an THREE
anatical tool is fi.rmer. Yet even many of them are now concerned about
the ways it tends Lo fteeze differences. Appadurai (1988), for example, in If "culture," shad
his compelling argument that "natives" are a figment o[ the anthropologi- prime anthropol
cal imagination, shows the complicity of the anthropological concept of niss and halfies
culture in a continuing "incarceration' of non-Western peoples in time anthropologiss r

and place. Denied the me capacity for movement, travel, and geographi- will discuss thre
cal inieraction that Westerners take for granted, the cultures studied by haust the possib
anthropologists have tended to be denied history as well. substantive, and
issues of positio
Others, including myself (I990b), have argued that cultural theories
also tend to overemphasize coherence. Clifford notes both that "the dis- thropological pr
cipline of freldwork-based anthropology, in constituting its authority, inequalities, I w
constructs and reconstructs coherent cultural others and interpreting all anthropologi<
:l selves" (Ctifford 1988b:112) and that ethnography is a form of culture
i'rtl,l
r,ij lll collecting (like art collecting) in which "diverse experiences and facts are DISCOURSEAN
,rjl
llil.ii selected, gathered, detached from their original temporal occasions, and
,,;l;lll
jt:i;: given enduring value in a new arrangement" (Clifford l988a:231). Or- Theoretical disc
ganic metaphors of wholeness and the methodology of holism that char- pologists engag(
iii. "culture." It seer
acterizes anthropology both favor coherence, which in turn contributes to
the perception of communities as bounded and discrete.
increasingly po1
away from cultu
Certainly discreteness does not have to imply value; the hallmark of
twentieth-century anthropology has been its promotion of cultural relativ- will come to be
ism over evaluation and judgment. If anthropology has always to some to enable us to
ence that the cu
extent been a form of cultural (self-) critique (Marcus and Fischer, 1986),
Practice is as
that too 'vr/as an aspect of a refusal to hierarchize difference. Yet neither
position would be possible without difference. It would be worth thinking Ortner 1984), I
about the implications of the high stakes anthropology has in sustaining contradiction, n
gies, interests, at
and perpetuating a belief in the existence of cultures that are identifiable
as dicrte, diffeient, and separate from our own.ra Does difference always
cultural tropes (
hierarchy? cuss in L. Abu-l
smuggle in :

ln Orientalm, Said (1978:28) argues for the'elimination of "the Ori- diverse sources
ent" and "the Occident" altogether. By this he means not the erasure of vation, as it rela
all difierences but the recognition of more of them and of the complex technologies, it
tices or text and
ways in which they crosscut. More important, his analysis of one field
i:..

D WRITING AGAINST CULTURE 147

r goddesses in some cultural- seeks to show how and when cerrain diffrences, in this case of places
nd serious way, the powerful and rhe people amached to rhem, become implicated in the ciomination
Lity of the Prophet in some Is- of one ,h: orh..r should anthropologists treat with similar suspicion
!.y
"culture" and "cultures" as the key terms in a discourse in which ther-
hich both types of movements ness and difference have come ro have, as said (1989:213) points out,
from the tendency toward es- "talismanic qualities"?
ologiss use "culture" in more
their commitment to it as an
THREE MODES OF WRITING AGAINST CULTURE
rem are now concerned about
rdurai (1988), for example, in If "culture," shadowed by coherence, timelessness, and discreteness, is the
a figment of the anthropologi- prime anthropological tool for, making "orher," and difference, as femi-
re anthropological concept of nists and halfres reveal, tends ro be a relationship of power, then perhaps
non-Wester peoples in time anthropologiss should consider srraregies for writing against .ultr... I
/ement, travel, and geographi- will discuss three that I find promising. Although they by no means ex-
:nted, the cultures studied by haust the possibilities, the sorts of projects I will describe-theoretical,
istory as well. substantive, and textual-make sense for anthropologists sensitive to
argued that cultural theories issues of positionality and accountability and inteieste in making an-
lord notes both that "the dis- thropological practice something that does not simply shore up g'obal
in constituring its authoriry, inequalities. I will conclude, however, by considering the limitations of
ural others and interpreting all anthropological reform.
ography is a form of culture
erse experiences and facts are
DISCOURSEAND PRACTICE
;inal temporal occasions, and
rt" (Clifford 1988a:231). Or- Theoretical discussion, because it is one of the modes in which anthro-
rodology of holism that char- pologiss engage each other, provides an impoftant site for contesting
, which in turn contributes to "culture." It seems to me that current discussions and deployments of
n
lnd discrete. increasingly popular rerms-practice and discourse-o signal a shift
imply value; the hallmark of away from cuhure. Although there is always the danger that t-hese terms
promotion of cultural relativ- will come tobe used simply as synonyms or culturelh.y *.." intended
:opology has always ro some to enable us to analyze social life without presuming the egree of coher-
: (Marcus and Fischer, 1986), ence that the culture concept has come to carry. :

rch\ze difference. Yet neither Practice is associated, in anrhropology, with Bourdieu (1977;also see
e. It would be worth thinking ortner_ I9B4), whose_ tlEeoretical approach is built around problems of
thropology has in susraining contradiction, misunderstanding, and misrecognition, and fvors strate-
cultures that are identifrable gies, interests, and improvisations over the more static and homogenizing
)wn.Ia Does difference always cultural rropes of rules, models, and texs. Discourse (whose uss I dis-
cuss in L. Abu-Lughod 1989 and Abu-Lughod and Lutz 1990) has more
r the'elimination of "the Ori- diverse sources and meanings in anthropology. In its Foucauldian deri-
he means not the erasure of vation, as it relates to notions of discursive formations, apparatuses, and
of them and of the complex technologies, it is meant to refuse the distinction betweeneas and prac-
mt, his analysis of one field tices or text and world that the culture concept too readily encourages. In
I48 LILAABU-LUGHOD

its more sociolinguistic sense, it draws attention to the social uses by volved. The anthro
individuals of verbal resources. ln either case, it allows for the possibility the present and th,
of recognizing within a social group the play of multiple, shifting, and development.
competing statements with practical effecs. Both practice and discourse Not all projects
are useful because they work against the assumption of boundedness, not are increasingly co
to mention the idealism (Asad 1983), of the culture concept.r5 of people, cultural
ample, see Appadu:
capitalism and inte
CONNECTIONS
in particular comm
Another sffategy of writing against culture is to reorient the problems or to include phenom,
subject matter anthropologists address. An important focus should be the cept of culture and
various connections and interconnections, historical and contemporary, cultures. Although
benveen a community and the anthropologist working there and writing widen the object, r
about it, not to mention the world to which he or she belongs and which would be attention
enables him or her to be in that particular place studying that group. This within and across
is more of a political project than an existential one, although the reflexive anthropologists cor
anthropologists who have taught us to focus on the fieldwork encounter communities as iso
as a site for the construction of the ethnographic "facts" have alerted us in the present makr
to one important dimension of the connection. Other signifrcant sorts of
connections have received less attention. Pratt (1986.42) notes a regular ETHNOGRAPHIES
mystifrcation in ethnographic writing of "the larger agenda of European
expansion in which the ethnographer, regardless of his or her own atti- The third strategy
tudes to it, is caught up, and that determines the ethnographer's own one insight of Geel
material relationship to the group under study." We need to ask questions everyone in this "or
about the historical processes by which it came to pass that people like takes textuality ser
ourselves could be engaged in anthropological studies of people like the main things ant
those, about the current world situation that enables us to engage in this tions (which does n
sort of work in this particular place, and about who has preceded us and ethnographic writil
is even now there with us (tourists, travelers, missionaries, AID consul- those involved in \l
tants, Peace Corps workers). We need to ask what this "will to knowledge" \ryerenot involved.
about the Other is connected to in the world. the suspicion that ir
These guestions cannot be asked in general; they should be asked the politics of ethn,
about and answered by tracing through specific situations, configura- issue that cannot be
tions, and histories. Even though they do not address direct the place of representing oth
of the ethnographer, and even though they engage in an oversysremiza- degree to which p<

tion that threatens to erase local interactions, studies like those of Wolf must also be part
(1982) on the long history of interaction between particular Western so- Are there ways to w
cieties and communities in what is now called the Third World represent I would argue ti
important means of answering such guestions. So do studies like Mintz's cept and subvertin
(I985b) that trace the complex processes of transformation and exploi- nographies of the p
tation in which, in Europe and other parts of the world, sugar was in- operation and style
)
-, aRITING AGAINST CULTURE I4g

tention to the social uses by volved. The anthropological turn to history, tracing connections between
se, it allows for the possibility the present and the past of particular communities, is also an important
rlay of multiple, shifting, and develoPment.
;. Both practice and discourse Not all projects about connections need be historical. Anthropologiss
;umption of boundedness, not are increasingly concerned with national and transnational connections
: culture concept.15 of people, cultural forms, media, techniques, and commodities (for ex-
ample, see Appadurai, this volume).r6 They study the articulation of world
capitalism and international politics with the situations of people living
in particular communities. All these projecs, which involve a shift in gaze
is to reorient the problen$ or to include phenomena of connection, expose the inadequacies of the con-
important focus should be the cept of culture and the elusiveness of the entiries designated by the term
historical and contemporary, atltures. Although there may be a tendency in the new work merely to
fst working there and writing widen the object, shifting from culture to narion as locus, idea there
r he or she belongs and which would be attention to the shifting groupings, identities, and inreracrions
lace studying that group. This within and across such borders as well. If there was ever a time when
dal one, although the reflexive anthropologists could consider without too much violence at least some
on the fieldwork encounter communities as isolated units, certainly the nature of global interactions
aphic "facts" have aleried us in the present makes that now impossible.rT
ion. Other significant sorts of
ratt (1986:42) notes a regular
ETHNOGRAPHIES OF THE PARTICUIAR
he larger agenda of European
rrdless of his or her own atti- The third strategy for writing against cuhure depends on accepring the
nes the ethnographer's own one insight of Geertz's about anthropology that has been built upon by
dy." We need to ask questions everyone in this "experimental moment" (Marcus and Fischer 1986) who
came to pass that people like takes textuality seriously. Geeru (I975a,1988) has argued that one of
ogical studies of people like the main things anthropologists do is wrire, and what they write are fic-
rt enables us to engage in this tions (which does not mean they are fictitious).rs Certainly the practice of
out who has preceded us and ethnographic writing has received an inordinate amount of attention from
:rs, missionaries, AID consul- those involve d in Writing Culture ahd an increasing number of others who
what this "will to knowledge" were not involved. Much of the hostility toward their project arises from
d. the suspicion that in their literary leanings they have too readily collapsed
:neral; they should be asked the politics of ethnography into its poetics. And yet they have raised an
pecifrc situations, configura- issue that cannot be ignored. Insofar as anthropologiss are in the business
not address direct the place of representing others through their erhnographic writing, then surely the
engage in an oversystemiza- degree to which people in the communiries rhey study appear "orher"
ns, studies like those of Wolf must also be part a function of how anrhropologiss write about them.
ltween particulff Western so- Are there ways to write about lives so as to constitute others as less other?
ed the Third World represenr I would argue that one powerful tool for unsettling the culture con-
rns. So do studies like Mintz's cept and subverting the process of "othering" it entails is to write 'leth-
rf transformation and exploi- nographies of the particular." Generalization, the characteristic mode of
; of the world, sugar was in- operation and style of writing of the social sciences, can no longer be
r5O LII.A ABU,LUGHOD

regarded as neutral description (Foucault l97g; said l97g; smith IggT).


involved in profe
It has two unforrunare effects in anthropology that make it worth
"r.hei_ thus part of "the
ing.-I will-explore these_before pr.r"ning some examples from my own well to anthropo
work of what one could hope to accornplish through etirnographies-of the
and its origins in
particular.
world rather thar
I will not be concerned with several issues frequently raised about
women, blacks, r
generalization. For example, it has often been pointed out ihat the gener_
On the orher
alizing mode of social scientific discourse facilitates absrracrion and reifi_
social sciences ca
cation. Feminist sociolo-gist Dorothy Smith (19g7:I30) put the problem
have to recogniz
vividly in her critique of sociological discourse by noting that
hierarchy. The vr
the complex organization of activities of acual individuals and courses of genera
their actual relations is entered into the discourse through con. others') establishr
ceps such as class, modernization, formal organization. .ealm and the people I
of theoretically constituted objecs is created, freeing the discur- anthropological o
sive realm from its ground in the lives and work of actual individ- Thus, to the d
uals and liberating sociological inquiry to graze on a field of of everyday life a
conceptual entities. is reversed. The
anthropologists s
other critics have fixed on different flaws. Interprerive anrhropology, for
raphers who wa
example, in its critique of the search for generallaws in positivistic social
(1990a) that Rabi
science, notes a failure to take account of the centrality of meaning to
tics of ethnograpl
human experience. Yet the result has been to substiue generalizaiion
in academia, than
about meanings for generalizations about behavior.
stand a few thingr
I also want to make clear what the argument for particulrity is not: it
it that even som
is not to be mistaken for argumen for privileging micro orr",
processes.
-u.ro
Ethnomethodologists (discussed by watson, this volume) and
Writtng Culture.le
that they were no
other students of everyday life seek ways to generalize about microinter-
dubious distinctic
actions, while historians might be said to be tracing the particulars of
formations of cor
macroprocesses. Nor need a concern with the particulars of individuals'
thropologists havt
lives.imply disregard for forces and dynami., rhut are nor locally based.
in form.
on conrrary, the effects of extralocal and long-term processes are only
1fe But then a mol
manifested locally and specifically, produced in ihe acrirons of individuals
Without even ask
living their particular lives, inscribed in their bodies and their words.
patrons, and tenu
wh11 I am arguing for is a form of writing that might berrer convey that.
iself. Dedicated t<
There are two reasons for anthropologiss to be wary of generalization.
scriptions of socir
The first is rhar, as pn of a professional discourc. of ,,oectivity,' and
rized in accounts
expertise, it is inevirably a language of power. on the one hand, it is the
interested in the
language of those who_seem ro stand aprt from and outside of what they
form may have be
are describing. Again, smith's critique of sociological discourse is relevant.
that an anthropol
she has argued (1987:62) that this seemingly etached mode of reflecr-
thropology but be
ing on social life is actually located: ir represenrs the perspective of those
The second pr
WRITINGAGAINST CULTURE I5I

.id 1978;Smith I9B7). involved in professional, managerial, and administrative structures and is
make it worth eschew- rhus part of "the ruling apparatus of this society." This critique applies as
ramples from my own well to anthropology with its inter- rather than intrasocietal perspective
ethnographies of the and its origins in the exploration and colonization of the non-European
world rather than the management of internal social groups like workers,
:equent raised about women, blacks, the poor, or prisoners.
ted out that the gener- On the other hand, even if we withhold judgment on how closely the
s abstraction and reifi- social sciences can be associated with the apparatuses of management, we
J.30) put the problem have to recognize how all professionalized discourses by nature assert
noting that hierarchy. The very gap beween the professional and authoritative dis-
courses of generalization and the languages of everyday life (our own and
al individuals and
others') establishes a fundamental separation between the anthropologist
urse through con.
anization. A realm
and the people being written about that facilitates the consrrucrion of
freeing the discur-
anthropological objects as simultaneously different and inferior.
Thus, to the degree that anthropologists can bring closer the language
k of actual individ-
of everyday life and the language of the text, this mode of making other
nze on a field of
is reversed. The problem is, as a reflection on the situation of feminist
anthropologists suggest, that there may be professional risks for ethnog-
:tive anthropology, for raphers who want to pursue this strategy. I have argued elsewhere
vs in positivistic social (1990a) that Rabinow's refreshingly sensible observation about the poli-
ntrality of meaning to tics of ethnographic writing-that they are to be found closer to home,
bstitute generalization in academia, than in the colonial and neocolonial world-helps us under-
stand a few things about feminist anthropology and the uneasiness abour
r particulArity is not: it it that even someone like Clifford betrays in his introductory essay for
ing micro over macro Writing Culture.re His excuse for excluding feminist anthropologists was
on, this volume) and that they were not involved in textual innovation. If we were to grant the
rlize about microinter- dubious distinction he presumes between textual innovation and trans-
:ing the particulars of formations of content and theory, we might concede that feminist an-
ticulars of individuals' thropologiss have contributed little to the new wave of experimenrarion
are not locally based. in form.
erm processes are only But then a moment's thought would provide us with clues about why.
: actions of individuals Without even asking the basic questions about individuals, instirurions,
dies and their words. patrons, and tenure, we can turn to the politics of the feminist project
tht better convey that. itself. Dedicated to making sure that women's lives are represented in de-
wary o[ generalization. scriptions of societies and women's experiences and gender itself theo-
;e of "objectivity" and rized in accounts of how societies work, feminist scholars have been
the one hand, it is the interested in the old political sense of representation. Conservatism of
d outside of what they form may have been helpful because the goal was to persuade colleagues
rl discourse is relevant. that an anthropology taking gender into account '/as not just good an-
rched mode o[ reflect- thropology but better anthropology.
re perspective of those The second pressure on feminist anthropology is the need to assert
t52 LILA ABU-LUGHOD
,
professionalism. Contrary to what Clifford writes (l986a:21), women among them and to
have produced "unconventional forms of writing." He just ignored them, internal differentiatio
neglecting a few professional anthropologists like Borven (Bohannon) a discrete, bounded
(1951), Briggs (1970), and Cesara (Poewe) (1982) who have experi- Awlad Ali Bedouin'
mented with form.2o More significant, there is also what might be consid- effort to produce gen(
ered a separate "woman's tradition'within ethnographic writing. Because dons tends to smoott
it is not professional, however, it might only reluctant be claimed and and arguments, not t
explored by feminist anthropologists uncertain of their standing. I am The erasure of time a
referring to the often excellent and popular ethnographies written by the by homogenization I

"untrained" wives of anthropologists, books like Elizabeth Fernea's Guests special moment to ar
oJ the Sheih (1965), Marjorie Shostak's Nis (1981), Edith Turner's The of essentially differer
Spirit of the Drum (1987), and Margery Wolf's The Huse of Lim (1968). some sort of equally e
Directing their works to audiences slight different from those of the hierarchical, and asse
professional writers of standard ethnographies, they have also followed generalization itseif n
different conventions: they are more open about their positionality, less For these reasons
assertive of their scientific authority, and more focused on particular in- raphies of the particu
dividuals and families. ing.22 In telling srorier
Why does this other tradition not qualify as a form of textual innova- ethnographies would
tion? A partial answer can be found in Writing Culntre itself. The propo- tion'discussed abovt
nents of the current experiments and critiques of ethnographic writing replace arangeof oth
tend to break with humdrum anthropology by borrowing from elite dis- discussions to the ex[
ciplines like philosophy and literary theory rather than looking to more well represented by
prosaic sources like ordinary experience or the terms in which their the frnal section the
anthropological subjecs operate.2r They reject the rhetoric of social sci- Before that I want t,
ence not for ordinary language but for a rarefied discourse so packed ethnographies.
with jargon that a press editor was provoked to compose a mocking Anthropologists c,
jargon poem playing with their vocabulary of tropes, thaumasmus, me- that they are characte
ton),rny, pathopoeia, phenomenology, ecphonesis, epistemology, deictics, things. For example,
and hypotyposis-a poem ironica included as an invocation in the Bongo are polygynou
preface to the book (Clifford and Marcus 1986:ix). Whatever the merits instead asking how a
of their contributions, the message of hyperprofessionalism is hard to and his three wives
miss. Despite a sensitivity to questions of otherness and power and the known for a decade-
relevance of textuality to these issues, they use a discourse even more the particularity of th
exclusive, and thus more reinforcing of hierarchical distinctions between participants' discussio
themselves and anthropological others, than that of the ordinary anthro- make several theoretir
pology they criticize. First, refusing to g
The second problem with generalization derives not from its partici- that typicality so regu
pation in the authoritative discourses of professionalism but from the ef- counts. Second, show
fects of homogeneity, coherence, and timelessness it tends to produce. of individuals and the
When one generalizes from experiences and conversations with a number which are always pre
of specific people in a community, one tends to flatten out differences ences), are also alwal
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE t53

I writes (1986a:21), women among them and to homogenize them. The appearance of an absence of
riting." He just ignored them, internal differentiation makes it easier to conceive of a group of people as
ists like Bowen (Bohannon) a discrete, bounded entity, Iike the "the Nuer," "the Balinese," and "the
e) (1982) who have experi- Awlad'Ali Bedouin'who do this or that and believe such-and-such. The
: is also what might be consid- effort to produce general ethnographic descriptions of people's beliefs or ac-
:thnographic writing. Because tions tends to smooth over contradictions, conflicts of interest, and doubts
ly reluctant be claimed and and arguments, not to mention changing motivations and circumstances.
rtain of their standing. I am The erasure of time and conflict make what is inside the boundary set up
ethnographies written by the by homogenization something essential and fixed. These effects are of
like Elizabeth Fernea's Guests special moment to anthropologists because they contribute to the flction
(1981), Edith Turner's The of essentially different and discrete others who can be separated from
rlf's The House oJ Lim (t968). some sort of equa essential self. Insofar as difference is, as I have argued,
r different from those of the hierarchical, and assertions of separation a way of denying responsibility,
hies, they have also followed generalization itseif must be treated with suspicion.
about their positionality, less For these reasons I propose that we experiment with narrative ethnog-
rore focused on particular in- raphies of the particular in a continuing tradition of fieldwork-based writ-
ing.22 In telling stories about particular individuals in time and place, such
y as a form of textual innova- ethnographies would share elements with the alternative "women's tradi-
ting Cttlture itself. The propo- tion' discussed above. I would expect them to complement rather than
ques of ethnographic writing replace atange ofother types ofanthropological projects, from theoretical
'by borrowing from elite dis- discussions to the exploration of new topics within anthropology, a range
rather than looking to more well represented by the contributors to this volume. I wi[ take up in
or the terms in which their the frnal section the reason ethnographies are still important to write.
ject the rhetoric of social sci- Before that I want to give some sense of the potential value of such
rarefied discourse so packed ethnographies.
rked to compose a mocking Anthropologists commonly generalize about communities by saying
' of tropes, thaumasmus, me- that they are characterizedby certain institutions, rules, or ways of doing
onesis, epistemology, deictics, things. For example, we can and often do say things like "The Bongo'
rded as an invocation in the Bongo are polygynous." Yet one could refuse to generalize in this way,
986:ix). Whatever the meris instead asking how a particular set of individuals-for instance, a man
rerprofessionalism is hard to and his three wives in a Bedouin community in Egypt whom I have
otherness and power and the known for a decade-live the "institution' that we call polygyny. Stressing
y use a discourse even more the particularity of this marriage and building a picture of it through the
rarchical distinctions between participants'discussions, recollections, disagreements, and actions would
n that of the ordinary anthro- make several theoretical points.
First, refusing to generalize would highlight the constructed quality of
n derives not from its partici- that typicality so regular produced in conventional social scientific ac-
cfessionalism but from the ef- counts. Second, showing the actual circumstances and detailed histories
:lessness it tends to produce. of individuals and their relationships would suggest that such particulars,
Iconversations with a number which are always present (as we know from our own personal experi-
:nds to flatten out differences ences), are also always crucial to the constitution of experience. Third,
r54 LITAABU-LUGHOD
,
reconstructing people's arguments about, justifications for, and interpre- she plays with her grea
tations of what they and others are doing would explain how social life out of snuff. Come her
proceeds. It would show that although the terms of their discourses may Being pious and fir
be set (and, as in any society, include several sometimes contradictory and the exchanging of
and often historica changing discourses), within these limits, people relishing rhe ouffageor
contest interpretations of what is happening, strategize. feel pain, and live I saw her in 1987 wa
their lives. In one sense this is not so new. Bourdieu (1977), for example, herself a married motl
theorizes about social practice in a similar way. But the difference here an old husband and v
would be that one would be seeking textual means of representing how was funny for the upsi
this happens rather than simply making theoretical assertions that it does. This tale depicted a
By focusing closely on particular individuals and their changing rela- of the usual candy and
tionships, one would necessarily subvert the most problematic connota- of dung for gifts. Whr
tions of culture: homogeneity, coherence, and timelessness. lndividuals draw water from the w
are confronted with choices, struggle with others, make conflicting state- ers of honey and oil ir
ments, argue about points of view on the same events, undergo ups and find them spilling ever
downs in various relationships and changes in their circumstances and visit the second daugh
desires, face new pressures, and fail to predict what will happen to them while, the old man kil
or those around them. So, for example, it becomes difficult to think that discovered this and thr
the term "Bedouin culture" makes sense when one tries to piece together a slaughtered sheep in
and convey what life is like for one old Bedouin matriarch. out of the stomachs anr
When you ask her to tell the story of her life, she responds that one finery. But when the c
should only think about God. Yet she tells vivid stories, fixed in memory pretty in her new belt h
in particular ways, about her resistances to affanged marriages, her deliv- fly sitting on your nos(
eries of children, her worries about sick daughters. She also tells about As he wailed in grief he
weddings she has attended, dirty songs sung by certain young men as his dead wife, he heate<
they sheared the elders'sheep herds, and trips in crowded taxis where The old woman chu
she pinched a man's bottom to get him off her lap. over stories about the r

The most regular aspect of her daily life is her wait for prayer times. sense of humor, this

Is it noon yet? Not yet. Is it afternoon yet? Not yet. Is it sunset yet? Grand- prayer and protocols o
mother, you havent prayed yet? It's already past sunset. She spreads her when the area was emp
prayer rug in front of her and prays out loud. At the end, as she folds up used to play as a little,
her prayer rug, she beseeches God to protect all Muslims. She recites bottle in the area now fr
God's names as she goes through her string of prayer beads. The only Organization;when her
decoration in her room is a photograph on the wall of herself and her son and made butter in der
as pilgrims in Mecca. favorite grandson, whos
Her back so hunched she can hardly stand, she spends her days sitting man was rumored to ha'
or lying down on her mattress. She is practically blind and she complains drink in the community
rti, about her many pains. People come and go, her sons, her nephews, her What can "culture" mea
:: l':':: : daughter, her nieces, her granddaughters, her great-grandson. They chat, Time is the other in
1;rl
they confler with her about connections between people, marriages, kin- seriously the narrative c
,ii"',:,
ti',: : ,1,,, ship. She gives advice; she scolds them for not doing things properly. And father his him, the son
i, r,,i l,l;

!li::: ' '


WRITING AGAINST CULTURE 1-55

ons for, and interpre- she plays with her great grandson, who is three, by teasing, "Hey, I've run
xplain how social life out of snuff. Come here so I can sniff your little tuber."
i their discourses may Being pious and fiercely preserving protocol in the hosting of guests
letimes contradictory and the exchanging of visits and greetings does not seem to stop her from
l these limits, people relishing the outrageous story and the immoral tale. A new favorite when
ize, feel pain, and live I saw her in 1987 was one she had just picked up from her daughter,
t (1977), for example, herself a married mother of five living near Alamein. It was a rale about
ut the difference here an old husband and wife who decide to go visit their daughters, and ir
; o[ representing how was funny for the upside-down world it evoked.
assertions that it does. This tale depicted a world where people did the unthinkable. Instead
d their changing rela- of the usual candy and biscuits, the couple brought their daughters sacks
problematic connota- of dung for gifts. When the first daughter they stayed with went off to
Lelessness. Individuals draw water from the well, they started dumping out all rhe large conrain-
nake conflicting state- ers of honey and oil in her merchanr husband's house. she returned to
:nts, undergo ups and find them spilling everything and threw them out. So they headed off to
:ir circumstances and visit the second daughter. When she left them minding her baby for a
t will happen to them while, the old man killed it just ro srop if from crying. She came back,
difficult to think that discovered this and threw them out. Next they came across a house with
tries to piece together a slaughtered sheep in it. They made belts out of the intestines and caps
rtriarch. out of the stomachs and rried rhem on, admiring each other in their new
;he responds that one finery. But when the old woman asked her husband if she didnt look
ries, fixed in memory pretty in her new belt he answered, "You'd be really prerty, excepr for rhat
I marriages, her deliv- fly sitting on your nose." Wirh that he smacked the fly, killing his wife.
;. She also tells about fu he wailed in grief he began to fart. Furious at his anus for farting over
certain young men as his dead wife, he heated up a stake and shoved ir in, killing himself.
crowded taxis where The old woman chuckles as she rells this story, just as she laughs hard
over stories about the excessive sexuality of old women. How does this
wait for prayer times. sense of humor, this appreciation of the bawdy, go with devotion ro
s it sunset yet? Grand- prayer and protocols of honor? How does her nostalgia for the pasr-
lnset. She spreads her when the area was empty and she could see for miles around; when she
Le end, as she folds up usel to play as a little.girl digging up rhe occasional porsherd or glass
Muslims. She recites bottle in the area now fenced and guarded by the governmenr Antiquties
rayer beads. The only Organization;when her family migrated with the sheep herds and milked
of herself and her son and made butter in desert pasrures-go with her frerce defense of her
favorite grandson, whose father was furious with him because the young
;pends her days sitting man was rumored to have drunk liquor at a local wedding? people do not
ind and she complains drink in the community, and drinking is, of course, religiously proscribed.
rns, her nephews, her What can "culture" mean, given this old woman's complex responses?
:-grandson. They chat, Time is the other important dimension that gets built in if one rakes
,eople, marriages, kin- seriously the narrative of people's everyday lives. When the young man's
g things properly. And father hits him, the son who has been accused of drinking at the wedding
156 LILAABU-LUGHOD
,
sells his cassette player to a neighbor to raise cash and then disappears. How soon? Even
His grandmother cries over him, his aunts discuss it. His father says noth- defloration or pu
ing. It is days before a distant inlaw comes to reassure his grandmother sion whose outco
that the young man is fine and to indicate that they know his whereabouts floration, as I hav
(he is working at a construction site about 100 kilometers away). No one when the weddin
knows what the consequences of this event will be. Will he return? \Mhat friends, penetrate
will his father do? Fami honor is at stake, reputations for piety, paternal bride, surrounde<
authority. When the young man returns several weeks later, accompanied defloration involv
by a maternal uncle from 50 kilometers west who intervenes to forestall way. The narrativ
any further punishments, his grandmother weeps in relief. It could easily takes her virginit
have turned out different. Since his disappearance, her days had been reactions, her wo
taken up with worrying, discussing, waiting, and not knowing what tions in the room
would happen next. That beating and that running a\May, events that hap- to him, the problr
pened in time, become part of the history of that family, the individuals They compare bri
involved, and their relationships. In this sequence of events in a particular cloth. They evalua
family in 1987, we can read what we call the "larger forces" that made it stay in with the I
possible, things like growing oppoftunities for wage labor, the com- participants at w(
mercialization of Bedouin weddings, and the influx of goods from the drama of weddin
cities. Yet because these "forces" are only embodied in the actions of in- That is the nature
dividuals living in time and place, ethnographies of the particular capture alizations, by pror
them best. the essentialized
Even ritual, that communal practice for which time seems to have separate from us,
such a different, perhaps cyclical, meaning, that kind of practice which in
anthropological discourse so perfect marks the (exotic, primitive) cul- CO
tural other as different, turns out to be particular and anything but time-
less. lf looked at closely in terms of the actual participants and ritual The critiques of a

event, it involves unpredictability. Even in ritual the unfolding of what quarters have encr
cannot be known beforehand generates great drama and tension. Let me and for whom w
give an example, again from my work. Within the frrst week of my arrival which has been I
in the Bedouin community in Egypt where I was to spend years, the course, is a probl
young girls in my household outlined for me the exact sequence o[ events strategies, most al
every bride went through in a Bedouin wedding. Over the years, I at- I gave examples fi
tended many weddings, all of which followed this outline, yet each of ethnography of th
which was distinct. For each bride and groom, not to mention their fami- turb the culture c<
lies, the wedding would mark a moment of major life transformation, not The special val
:i,
just of status but of associations, daily life, experience, and the future. our lives. To say tl
Each wedding was di{Ierent in the kinds of families being brought to-
l,':
i,' ,
of us the particula
.-.: gether, the network of relations created and the goods exchanged, spent, the everyday we r
i
::
:1.,, and displayed. between everyday
rli, More important, the elements of unpredictability were many. Would structures, instituti
'!:l
,rl,:i'
the bride stay? Would the couple get along? Would there be children? modern West has
:: i: 1,
i.,1:ii
irr!:r,
r:i i

i,,,
i,ir ,: ,
i: ,!
l
l.
..:i
ll

WRITING AGAINS CULTURE T57


l:

:ash and then disappears. How soon? Even the cenrral rite of the wedding celebration itself-the
ss it. His father says noth- defloration or public virginity test-was an event of great dramatic ten-
reassure his grandmother sion whose outcome was unknowable in advance. The pattern of the de-
Ley know his whereabouts floration, as I have wrirren elsewhere (1988), is standard: in the daytime
kilometers awa. No one when the wedding guests are gathered, the groom, accompanied by his
be. Will he return? What friends, penetrates the women's sphere and enters the room in which his
Ltations for piety, paternal bride, surrounded and supported by several old women, waits. yet every
weeks later, accompanied defloration involves a specific set of people and takes place in a panicular
'ho intervenes to forestall way. The narratives of the women who stay with the bride as rhe groom
rs in relief. It could easily takes her virginity underscore this specificity. They describe the bride's
rance, her days had been reactions, her words, the extent of her struggle, their own specific loca-
and not knowing what tions in the room and role in the event, the groom's reactions, their advice
ng a\May, events that hap- to him, the problems encounrered, the rension of getting that blood out.
Lat family, the individuals They compare brides they have known and the blood stains on the whire
:e of events in a particular cloth. They evaluate the skills and qualities of the various old women who
arger forces" that made it stay in with the brides. Their narratives, as well as the responses of all
lr wage labor, the com- participants at weddings, reveal the cenrral quesrion that provides the
Lnfux of goods from the drama of weddings: Will rhere be blood? Evenrs take differenr courses.
died in the actions of in- That is the nature of "life as lived" (Riesman Ig77), everywhere. Gener-
; o[ the particular capture alizations, by producing effects of timelessness and coherence to support
the essentialized notion of "cultures" different from ours and peoples
hich time seems to have separate from us, make us forget this.
kind of practice which in
re (exotic, primitive) cul-
CONCLUSION: TACTICAL HUMANISM?
rr and anything but time-
rl participans and ritual The critiques of anthropology that have emerged recent from various
al the unfolding of what quarters have encouraged us to question what we work on, how we write,
:ama and tension. Let me and for whom we wrire. I have been arguing rhar cultural difference,
re first week of my arrival which has been both the ground and product of anthropological dis-
was to spend years, the course, is a problematic construction and have proposed a number of
: exact sequence of events strategies, most already taken up by others, for "writing against culture."
ng. Over the years, I at- I gave examples from my own work of the way in which one srraregy-
this outline, yet each of ethnography of the particular-might be an especially useful way ro dis-
rot to mention their fami- tub the culture concept.
lr life transformation, not The special value of this strategy is that it brings out similarities in all
perience, and the future. our lives. To say that we all live in the particular is not ro say thar for any
milies being brought to- of us the particulars are the same. Ir could well be that even in looking at
goods exchanged, spent, the everyday we might discover fundamental differences, such as those
between everyday experience in a world set up to produce the effect of
bility were many. Would structures, institutions, or other abstracrions (as Mitchell [19881 argues the
y'ould there be children? modern West has been), and in worlds that have nor. Bur the dailiness,
158 LILAABU.LUGHOD
,
in breaking coherence and introducing time, keeps us fixed on flux and This might t
contradiction. And the particulars suggest that others live as we perceive essary and limir
ourselves living, not as robots programmed with "cultural" rules, but as domination in tl
people going through life agonizing over decisions, making mistakes, lines of "cultura
trying to make themselves look good, enduring tragedies and personal humanism, whe
losses, enjoying others, and frnding moments of happiness. other modes of r
The language of generalization cannot convey these sorts of experi- guage or univers
ences and activities. In our own lives, we balance the accounts of our- tenuous our ide
selves that social science purveys with the ordinary language we use in westerners, and
personal conversations to discuss and understand our lives, our friends dimbe (1988:19
and family, and our world. For those who live "outside" our world, how- imagine any ant
ever, we have no discourse of familiarity to counteract the distancing gued earlier that
discourses of anthropology and other social sciences, discourses that also Riesman (982)
serve development experts, governments, journalists, and others who deal dialoglc anthrop
with the Third World. poses all the tin
Ethnographies of the particular could provide this discourse of famil- would never imi
iarity, a familiarity that the humanist conventions favored by the unpro- not worth pursu
fessional and devalued women ethnographers always encouraged. Why As Said (1989:2
invoke humanism when it has become so discredited in poststructural on the represent
and postmodernist circles?23 There are certainly good reasons to be sus- still has tremenc
picious of a philosophy that has continually masked the persistence of ing can either su
systematic social differences by appealing to an allegedly universal indi: We must alsr
vidual as hero and autonomous subject; a philosophy that has allowed us confronted with
to assume that the domination and exploitation of nature by man was humanistic end<
justified by his place at the center of the universe; a philosophy that has tions may not L
failed to see that its essential human has cultura and socially specific Again I can illusl
characteristics and in fact excludes most humans; and a philosophy that Western antipatl
refuses to understand how we as subjects are constructed in discourses a project to con\
attached to power. community.24 Ye
Because humanism continues to be, in the West, the language of hu- bers of that com
man equality with the most moral force, we cannot abandon it yet, if only way. My revelati
as a convention of writing. ln advocating new forms of writing-pastiche, ties through the
dialogue, collage, and so forth-that break up narrative, subject identi- not distance, ha
ties, and identifications, antihumanists ask their readers to adopt sophis- woman heard sc
ticated reading strategies along with social critique. Can anthropologists recited years eat
ask this? Already, complains about boredom and resistance to being For her, a book
jarred have been leveled against experimental ethnographies. Humanism nity might seem
is a language with more speakers (and readers), even if it, too, is a local My presentat
language rather than the universal one it pretends to be. To have an effect dence were man
on people, perhaps we still need to speak this language, but to speak it meanings in Egy
knowing its limitations. to the attention
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE 159

eps us fixed on flux and This might be called a tactical humanism, made both politica nec-
thers live as we perceive essary and limited in its effects by anthropology's location on the side of
I "cultural"
rules, but as domination in the context of a world organized by global inequality along
sions, making mistakes, lines of "cultural" difference. We should not have illusions that tactical
1 tragedies and personal humanism, whether in the form of ethnographies of the panicular or
happiness. other modes of writing against culture, contributes to some universal lan-
3y these sorts of experi- guage or universal good. F.o* our positions as anthropologists, however
rce the accounts of our- tenuous our identifications if we are feminiss or "halfies," we work as
nary language we use in Westerners, and what we contribute to is a Western discourse. As Mu-
rd our lives, our friends dimbe (1988: ]9) writes in The Invention of AJrica, "it seems impossible to
)utside" our world, how- imagine any anthropology without a Western epistemological link." I ar-
)unteract the distancing gued earlier that positionality could not be escaped. Nor can the fact, as
rces, discourses that also Riesman (1982) blunt puts it in his critical response to proposals for
ists, and others who deal dialoglc anthropology, "that we are using other people for our own pur-
poses all the time" and !'using the knowledge they give us for goals they
e this discourse of famil- would never imagine themselves." That does not mean that the goals are
rs favored by the unpro- not worth pursuing or that working with Western discourse is not crucial.
rlways encouraged. Why As Said (1989:224) notes, "anthropological representations bear as much
redited in posstructural on the representer's world as on who or what is represented." The West
good reasons to be sus- still has tremendous discursive, military, and economic power. Our writ-
asked the persistence of ing can either sustain it or work against its grain.
allegedly universal indi- We must also be prepared, despite efforts directed at the West, to be
ophy that has allowed us confronted with the problems posed when even our most enlightened
r of nature by man was humanistic endeavors reach those in other contexts where the conven-
;e; a philosophy that has tions may not be recognized and the power issues are read differently.
ally and socially specific Again I can illustrate from my work. Writing in the context of widespread
s; and a philosophy that Western antipathy towards the people of the Middle East has been in part
onstructed in discourses a project to convey a sense of the common everyday humanity of an Arab
community.za Yet although I can try to explain this context to the mem-
/est, the language of hu- bers of that community, the work cannot be received by them in the same
abandon it yet, if only
Lot way. My revelation of Bedouin individuals'attachments and vulnerabili-
ms of writing-pastiche, tiei through their poetry, to create for Westerners a sense of recognition,
narrative, subject identi- not distance, has provoked several other responses in Egypt. When one
readers to adopt sophis- woman heard someone read from the book a few of the poems she had
ue. Can anthropologiss recited years earlier, she exclaimed, half joking, "You've scandalized us!"
and resistance to being For her, a book about particular people and everyday life in her commu-
hnographies. Humanism nity might seem only a public display of family secrets.
even if it, too, is a local My presentation of the way ideals of personal autonomy and indepen-
.sto be. To have an effect dence were manifested in men's lives also took on complex and different
anguage, but to speak it meanings in Egypt. A copy of a long review (in Arabic) of my book came
to the attention of an Awlad iA,li Bedouin who was a civil servant and
t60 LILAABU-LUGHOD
t
aspiring official in the Egyptian governmenr. He confronted my host with
the article, angry that I had reported that they riked to carry guns, errade
I. Halfies s
cation).
taxes, and guard their righs to settle their own disputes .t". than let
2. Likewise,
the government interfere. As my host told me, the man accusingly argued, ure toward fen
"This is your girl who wrore thisr" what happened then I will n*re,
k'o*, tique but do nc
since I was not there ad heard only my host's version. He was, as usual, long been intere
defiant, retorting that he had taught me everything I knew. An wasnt it 3. It is still r
true? Didnt this man have-unlicensed guns? Did he report all his sheep Nader (1969) ar
purposes? My host had often told *. he *ante my book trans- 4. Is variou:
.for 1ax (culturdnature,
lated into Arabic so thatrgyptians would come ro understand and appre-
ciate the superior moral standards of his community-of which mny particular, objec
Egyptians were conrempruous. yet this incident showd that he was it: (a) women sl
only men or have th
one voice in the Bedouin community and his ideas about what would
should be as va
gain him respect were different from those of someone loyal to the gov-
enter each other
ernment. My work, intended for a different audience, had entered a lcal 5. It does no
political freld where the relarionship between Awlad .Ali Bedouins and the most pressing is
Egyptian state was a contested issue. darity, coalition,
Like all anthropological works these days, my writings will no doubt solidarity of a u
enter into a range of other debates. That is not cause for despair. Rather, merly defined it
in forcing us ro reflecr on dilemmas about anthropological Haraway's (1985
iractice that 6. For a disc
w can no longer ignore-because we live in times whn the boundaries
of "culture" are harder to keep in place and global politics less cer- tiques of objectir
tain-such problems enable us ro choose proviiional strategies in line 7. In his l98i
Said's central poi
with our hopes but without self-righteous illusions about the irger value
pological site" br
,of our contributions.
fact done" (1989
__- 8. Much of tl
i\ots
advantages and d
None of the many people to whom I am indebted for conversations on which
I and El-Solh (l9B
have built over rhe years should be herd liable for what I made of them. As a
Mellon Fellow at the university of pennsylvania, I benefitted from discussions
9, See also m,
(L. Abu-Lughod
with Arjun Appadurai, carol Breckenridge, and various participants in the south
Asia Program's seminar on "orientalism and Beyond." i am giateful also
I0. In paralle
to the as studying a ma
members of the 1987-88 Gender seminar at the Institut" fJ. Aduun.ed
study by such figures as
(in which I was able to participate through generous supporr from
the National from which it dif
Endowment for the Humanities) for inrense and helpful^d^iscussions about femi_
nist theory. Dan Rosenberg first srarred me thinking critically about the parallels
LI. Crapanzat
distancing from
between "culrure" and "race." Tim Mitche[ helped me clarify many aspecL
r

of my anthropological a
argumenr, as did the participants in the enormously stimulting dvanced
semi_ from the field.
nar ar the school of American Research, where I first presented"this paper. ulti-
12. This is ha
mately, however, it has-been the generosity of the Awlad au famrliesn Egypt
East women's str
with whom I have lived that has made me seek ways to undermine notions of
women.
otherness. My most recenrxtended stay with them, in I9g7, was made possible
13. Some wot
by a Fulbright Islamic Civilization Award.
nism," but in mur
WRITING AGAINST CULTURE 161

ronted my host with l. Hatfies is a term I borrowed from Kirin Narayan (personal communi-
o carry guns, evade cation).
)utes rather than let 2. Likewise, Marcus and clifford (1985) and Marcus and Fischer (1986) ges-

n accusingly argued, rure toward feminiss as important sources of cultural and anthropological cri-
:n Iwill never know, tique but do not discuss their work. Fischer (1984, 1986, f 988), however, has
n. He was, as usual, long been interested in the phenomenon of biculturality.
j. lt ir still rare for anthropologiss in this society or others to do what l-aura
knew. And wasnt it
Nader (1969) advocated many years ago-to "study up."
report all his sheep
4. IS various strategies are based on this division and the series of oppositions
rted my book trans- (culturdnature, public/private, work/home, transcendence/immediacies, abstracl
derstand and appre- particular, objectivity/subjectivity, autonomy/connectedness, etc.) associated with
ty-of which many it: (a) women should be allowed to join the valued men's world, to become like
'ed that he was only men or have their privileges, (b) women's values and work, even if different,
r about what would should be as valued as men's, or (c) women and men should both change and
ne loyal to the gov- enter each other's spheres so that gender differences are erased.
, had entered a local 5. It does nor, Harding adds, dissolve feminism as a political identity, but the
\li Bedouins and the most pressing issue in feminist circles now is how to develop a politics of soli-
darit coalition, or affrnity built on the recognition of difference rather than the
itings will no doubt solidarity of a unitary self dened by its opposition to an other which had for-
merly defined it as other. The most interesting thinking on this subject has been
for despair. Rather,
Haraway's (1985).
logical practice that
6. For a discussion of the convergence o[ anthropological and feminist cri-
hen the boundaries
tiques of objectivity, see Abu-Lughod (1990a)'
al politics less cer- 7. In his 1988 address to the American Anthropological Association, Edward
Lal strategies in line Said's central point was that anthropologists had to attend not just to "the anthro-
)out the larger value pological site" but to the "cultural situation in which anthropological work is in
fact done" (1989:212).
8. Much of the literature on indigenous anthropology is taken up with the
advantages and disadvantages of this identification. See Fahim (1982) and Altorki
rversations on which I and El-Solh (1988).
I made of them. As a g. see also my discussion of the study o[ gender in Middle East anthropology
Ltted from discussions (L. Abu-Lughod 1989).
rticipants in the South 10. In parallel fashion, those who study the black experience are thought of
m grateful also to the as studying a marked form of experience. It could be pointed out, and has been
e for Advanced Study by such figures as Adrienne Rich, that the universal unmarked form of experience
rort from the National from which it differs is itself partial. It is the experience of whiteness.
iscussions about femi- IL. Crapanzano (1977) has written insightfully about the regular process of
rlly about the parallels distancing from the fieldwork experience and building identifications with the
fy many aspects of my anthropological audience that all anthropologists go through when they return
.lating advanced semi- from the field.
ented this paper. Ulti- 12. This is happening, for example, in heated debates in the field of Middle
'Ali families in Egypt Easr women's studies about who has the right to speak for Middle Eastern
undermine notions of women.
37, was made possible 13. Some would like to make distinctions between "womanism" and "femi-
nism," but in much of literature they blur together.
t62 LILAABU-LUGHOD

14. Arens (L979), for example, has asked the provocative question of why
anthropologisS cling so tenaciously to the belief that in some cultures cannibal-
ism is an accepted ritual practice, when the evidence (in the form of eye witness
accounts) is so meager (ifnot, as he argues, absent).
15. ln my own work on an Egyptian Bedouin community I began to think in
terms of discourses rather than culture simply because I had to frnd ways to make
sense of the fact that there seemed to be fwo contradictory discourses on inter- Prelim
personal relations-the discourse of honor and modesty and the poetic discourse
of vulnerability and attachment-which informed and were used by the same
individuals in differing contexts (Abu-Lughod 1986). In a recent reflection on
Bedouin responses to death (Abu-Lughod n.d.), I also had to make sense of the
fact that there were multiple discourses on death in this community. Not only
did people play with contradictory explanations of particular deaths (invoking,
in one case of an accidental killing, stupidity, certain actions on the part of family
members, the levil] eye, late, and God's will), but the two primary discourses-
j ritual funerary laments and the Islamic discourse of God's will-were attached
:
il to different social groups, men and women, and worked to sustain and justify
the power differences berween them.
ir
16. Two new journals, Public Culture: Bulletn of tIrc Center Jor Transnational
,l
Culturl Studes and Diaspora: A Journal oJ Transnational Studtes, provide forums
jilt
I
for discussion of these transnational issues.
.t
i:r:J
17. For evidence of a i'world system" in the thirteenth century, see J. Abu-
,lii Lughod (1989).
18. Dumont (1986) has recently reiterated this, declaring changes in social
iil..'i theory to be merely methodological changes.
.i :.,
19. For a more detailed and interesting discussion of Clifford's unease with A*rn*oPoLo
':i:,ri feminism, see Gordon (1988). study of modern Amr
lii,ii 20. To this list could be added many others, including most recent Friedl sixties,it was virtuall
(198e). (not to mention a gri
2I. This may also explain their neglect of Paul Riesman, whose experiment in my era to get such ba,
ethnographic writing was published in French in 1974 and in English in 1977, 1972), and one coulc
making it one of the earliest. seen as so exotic and
22. My own experiment in this sort of narrative ethnography is forthcoming
aborigines.
(Abu-Lughod, in press). ..The
growth of ant
23. So damning is an association with humanism that Said's lapse into it is
ties (I will discuss so
the crux of Clifford's (1980) critique of Orientalism.
24. The strength of anti-Arab racism in the West has sometimes seemed to may be taken in part
make this a discouraging project. A recent article called "The Importance of Hug- bringin it all back ho
ging" used a misrepresentation of my work as evidence for its argument that the process of playing ou
natural violence and bloodthirstiness of Arabs are caused by their supposed fail- the point still applies.
ure to hug their children (Bloom 1989). since then, both out
to the academic front
about the question o
scholars make about