Writing Culture In And Beyond Anthropology English Literature Essay

Categories: English Language

During the 25 old ages since the publication of Writing Culture: the poetics and political relations of descriptive anthropology, a great trade of treatment has accompanied it. In this essay I place this book in the context of the literary bend in anthropology, and concern with the postcolonial brush every bit good. Throughout the analysis of the chief subjects in the book, attending is paid to the building of ethnographic authorization and two relationships of ethnographer/reader and ethnographer/informant centered in Writing Culture.

The essay besides provides a position of the influential power of the book by showing some descriptive anthropologies conducted by Chinese anthropologists. Finally, I will reason the hazards of the textualism tendency and different forms in Writing Culture attack.

Background of the Book: In and Beyond Anthropology

More than ten old ages after the publication of Writing Culture, in a reappraisal article, George Marcus ( 1998:5 ) quoted Schneider 's words mentioning to the book:

I do n't believe Jim Clifford is celebrated for his monograph on Leenhardt.

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I do n't believe that George Marcus has achieved some ill fame because he worked on Tonga. Indeed, I do n't cognize anybody who 's read the descriptive anthropology he wrote. In fact, I 've frequently talked to people and asked them, `` Hay, have you read George Marcus 's descriptive anthropology? '' `` No! -but I read that other darn book. ''

It is a really typical and interesting remark. As an anthropologist, George Marcus is best remembered for redacting the aggregation of essays instead than his ain ethnographic work ; and likewise, James Clifford, a historian, is often regarded as an anthropologist by force of being the editor of the same book.

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The remark besides reveals that the book is controversial, and it has witnessed harshly unfavorable judgment after its visual aspect. However, there is no denying that Writing Culture is one of the most of import books throughout the history of anthropology-the milepost of the post-modern epoch and the basis of the experimental descriptive anthropology ( Gao 2007, Scholte 1987 ) .

1. The literary bend

There isA nil outside the text. ( Derrida )

The book, with 11 essays in it ( including the debut and afterword ) , is based on a series of seminars at the School of American Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the United States of America in April 1984 ( Clifford and Marcus 1985 ) . By taking `` the devising of ethnographic text '' ( Clifford and Marcus 1986: seven ) as the focal point of their seminars, the participants non merely viewed WRITING as a simple method, but besides the cardinal issue of societal cultural anthropology. Ethnographic authorship is so critically examined in facets of societal context, the usage of rhetoric devises, the restrictions of disciplinary traditions, the definition of its genre, the political battle, and historical transmutations.

Why is composing going a principle thing in anthropology? In order to reply this inquiry, necessarily, we take into consideration the literary bend, or say textualism tendency in anthropology in the 1980s. The literary bend, merely as its name implies, by taking text, composing and literary devices as cardinal constructs and using textual and literary analyses, is a extremist displacement which provides strikingly different epistemic and methodological attacks in the subject of anthropology ( Scholte 1987 ) . Although it is hard to calculate out whether Writing Culture is more a cause or a consequence of the literary bend, the book is decidedly a cardinal ingredient of it. I would farther propose that Levi-Strauss, Geertz and Writing Culture should be considered as a sequence in the context of the literary bend.

What the Writing Culture writers claim, such as the diverseness of representations, possibilities of readings, at a glimpse, are wholly different from Levi-Strauss 's pure integrity, reduced theoretical accounts and deep civilization grammar. At the same clip, Levi-Strauss 's strong sense of symbol and significance within a symbolic linguistic communication system and his lingual analogy attack ( Barrett 1996 ) are valuable bequests to Geertz and Writing Culture. Furthermore, his research on mythology threw fresh visible radiation on the interdisciplinary surveies across anthropology and literature. Then, Geertz, who is deeply influenced by Levi-Strauss and Weber, has a more of import and complex influence on Writing Culture. First, his concern of anthropological readings and `` thick descriptions '' , fieldwork and station fieldwork, ( Geertz 1975 & A ; 1983 ) provided the footing for Writing Culture geographic expeditions. Second, Geertz 's `` local cognition '' , native 's point of position ( Geertz 1975 & A ; 1983 ) and averment of an good-humored and apprehensible manner inspired Writing Culture writers to portray fieldwork as a dialogical attack, and accordingly take the interactions of ethnographers/the autochthonal people ( Barrett 1996 ) and ethnographers/readers in to account. Third, Geertz 's descriptive anthropologies became of import stuffs of Writing Culture.

2. Postcolonial brush and Cultural Representation


I used to govern the universe

aˆˆ Seas would lift when I gave the wordA

Now in the forenoon I sweep aloneA

Brush the streets I used to ownA

One minute I held the keyA

Next the walls were closed on meA

And I discovered that my palaces standA

Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sandA

Lyrics of Viva la Vidaaˆˆ ( Coldplay 2009 )

The birth of this book is non narrowly concerned with the heritage and development of theory and methodological analysis within the subject, but instead profoundly rooted in the historical background and the Reconstruction among the full academic community.

As an academic subject, anthropology is developed in the context of imperialism and colonialism. The long-time contact between European vanquishers and the settlers shaped signifiers of power and cognition, and anthropologists at that clip entered into non-European Aboriginal communities as perceivers and describers ( Asad 2002 ) . Anthropology narrated power dealingss ; at the same clip it was besides `` potentially counter-hegemonic '' ( Clifford 1986:9 ) . In 1980s, which was the postcolonial and postwar epoch without the umbrella of the colonial power, anthropology started to confront a more complex link of power dealingss. The postcolonial state of affairs affected the chief involvements of anthropology and challenged the authorization of descriptive anthropology. Furthermore, anthropology from so on, was non merely carried out by Europeans and Americans, but besides by those from the alleged Third World who were analyzing their ain civilizations ; and neither Western civilization nor the non-Western civilizations remained the same in the ever-changing universe ( Clifford 1986, Layton 1997 ) . In Writing Culture, the analyses of ethnographic discourses- inquiring `` who speaks? who writes? when and where? with or to whom? under what institutional and historical constrains? `` ( Clifford 1986 ) -is a reverberation of the postcolonial brush.

Another of import characteristic of the 1980s is the increasing flow of alleged postmodernism in academia-grand narration was abandoned and inside informations of mundane life took their topographic point. Consequently, remarkable `` civilization '' was replaced by the plural one, and civilizations were understood as representations and cognition ; and adult male with a little `` m '' took topographic point of Man with variableness. More significantly, the procedure of rethinking cultural representation once more called into inquiry the genuineness of representation itself and Writing Culture elegantly captured the chief subjects in this treatment.

Three Main Themes of the Book

In general, Writing Culture is an self-contemplation, which attempts to analyze anthropology traditions ( particularly the traditional descriptive anthropology ) every bit good as anthropologists themselves. I will research three chief subjects in the contemplations.

Partial truth

Knowledge is poweri??and that one must ne'er uncover all of what one knows.

Saramaka folk tale, in Price ( 1983:14 ) cited in Clifford ( 1986:7 )

The most indispensable and cardinal point in Writing Culture is the inquiring of ethnographic genuineness. In the 1920s, descriptive anthropology was defined and established non merely as a genre of cultural description depending on intensive participant observation ( Clifford 1983 ) , but besides a chief research method internalised as a academic standard in the field of anthropology ( Gao 2006 ) . This new manner of ethnographyi??scientific descriptive anthropology, built by Malinowski, investigated the entirety of civilization with a holistic position and documented different beds of ethnographic world ( Kuper 1996 ) . About 50 old ages subsequently, the theorizing of ethnographic pragmatism sprung up. In 1977, Paul Rabinow, who is a subscriber of Writing Culture, published his book Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. His provocative descriptions of the fieldwork itself and his ain feelings in the field reveal that `` fieldwork is a procedure of intersubjective building of liminal manners of communicating '' ( 1977:155 ) which invariably involves rating, and the ethnographer is non a nonsubjective perceiver but a existent individual with self-consciousness and certain cultural background who makes and remakes facts. Unlike the disclosures of Malinowski 's fieldwork dairy and the Mead-Freeman contention, anthropologists started to look at themselves consciously and ponderedi??what is the ethnographic truth.

This issue has been argued throughout the book. Take for illustration Vincent Crapanzano 's Hermes 's Dilemma: The Masking of Subversion in Ethnographic Description ( 1986 ) ; he analyses three ethnographic texts by George Catlin, Wolfgang von Goethe and Clifford Geertz to examine how does the ethnographer make his/her work convincing. The three writers use typical figures, viz. `` hypotyposis '' , `` external theatrical narrativity '' and `` interpretative virtuosity '' , to convert the readers of the descriptions in their texts. He argues that, as a affair of fact, their rhetoric tools make the described events devoiced from the original scenes, and eventually, it is the ethnographer 's authorization which covers the corruption up. However, the ethnographer 's authority-his/her `` presence '' , `` perceptual ability '' , `` disinterested position '' , `` objectiveness '' and `` earnestness '' ( 1986:53 ) , is questionable. Does being there average witnessing everything? Is the perceptual ability trained in a certain civilization adequate and dependable? Is `` disinterested position '' or `` objectiveness '' even possible? If non, how can one make the whole truth by selected fragmental information? The underlying institutional system and power dealingss work through all these issues and enmesh in the anthropological cognition, non to advert the cultural filtering, the information is non completed at the beginning. Crapanzano 's essay reminds us that the ethnographer, like Hermes who decodes and interprets messages, `` promised to state no prevarications but did non assure to state the whole truth '' ( 1986:76 ) . From this position, ethnographic truth no longer pursues the true position of the whole universe, as Clifford and Rabinow point out in the book, ethnographic truths are `` partial, committed and uncomplete '' ( Clifford 1986:7 ) and in bondage to cultural scenes.

Literary devices

All constructed truths are made possible by powerful `` prevarications '' of exclusion and rhetoric.

( Friedrich Nietzche )

As I have mentioned before, Writing Culture is related to the literary bend of anthropology with the foundation of seeing descriptive anthropologies as texts. It is easy to indicate out that another major subject of the book is the literary devices employed in descriptive anthropologies, and in which the rhetoric issue has been largely discussed. For case, Renato Rosaldo 's From the Door of His Tent: The Fieldworker and the Inquisitor ( 1986 ) , by comparing The Nure written by Evens Pritchard with Montaillou written by Gallic societal historian Ladurie, demonstrates how ethnographic rhetoric could help in edifice authorization and objectiveness. Needless to reiterate, The Nure is a ethnographic chef-d'oeuvre, and for Montaillou, it is celebrated for supplying an ethnographic analysis of a Gallic community in 14th century by utilizing Inquisition record.

Rosaldo provinces that, in the first topographic point, in the introductory subdivision, by honestly admiting the inequality between the interrogator / his topics, the fieldworker/ the Nuer, the writers both indicate the `` unagitated presence of head '' ( 1986:89 ) ; so, they manner themselves as honorable work forces through kicking about the troubles in deriving information in uneasy tensenesss between research workers and sources. After that, they claim their information is bit by bit collected in `` atoms '' in order to build the dependability ; meanwhile, `` distanced normalizing manner of discourse '' , rhetorical absences, correspondences, etc. are used to heighten the sense of objectiveness. In amount, the rhetorical work in introductory parts of the two books by agencies of dividing `` the context of colonial domination '' from `` the production of ethnographic cognition '' ( 1986:93 ) set up the writers ' artlessness and the ethnographic authorization every bit good. Furthermore, in both writers, the `` pastoral manner '' is invoked. The literary manner of idyll is, foremost a symbol of the religious autonomy, secondly a nomadic place of speech production, and thirdly a label of courtesy and regard. Rosaldo 's essay interestingly illustrates that, although the power and cognition dealingss have non been wholly kicked off, to a great extent, they are concealed by the rhetoric tools. Ethnographic rhetoric has a strong impact on the apprehensions of the ethnographic texts ( Scholte 1987 ) .

Writing of Self

Continued from the predating paragraph, the mobility in ethnographers ' places is demonstrated cumulatively in other chapters of Writing Culture every bit good. Fieldwork in Common Places by Mary Louis Pratt ( 1986 ) provides an illustration.

Her essay focuses on the important history of the relationship `` between personal narrative and impersonal description '' ( 1986:27 ) in descriptive anthropologies and travel Hagiographas. Pratt starts with a contention that anthropology alumnus Florinda Donner 's work Shabobo: A True Adventure in the Remote and Magical Heart of the South American Jungle is confronting accusals of plagiarism, because there are some events in her book which are the same as others. Here, Pratt asks a really inspiring inquiry: as descriptive anthropology demands accurate descriptions, for depicting the same events at the same topographic point, how could Donner 's work non resemble others? Pratt argues that the authorization of descriptive anthropology, in some sense, is based on the unique and original `` personal experience in the field '' non the `` factual truth '' ( 1986:29 ) of a certain descriptive anthropology.

From this position, personal narrations can non be eliminated from descriptive anthropology, and it besides explains why the `` subgenre '' of `` formal descriptive anthropology '' , such as Malinowski 's journals, has non been `` killed by scientific discipline '' ( 1986:31 ) , but turned into a drawn-out tradition of anthropology. Even in formal descriptive anthropologies, personal narration is an built-in portion. It marks the relationship among the fieldworker, autochthonal people, and the audience. It besides serves as a regulator, accommodating the incompatibility between the subjective battle in fieldwork, and the withdrawal ; the `` self-effacement '' in formal ethnographic authorship. Furthermore, her analysis shows that, even in the clip of alleged scientific descriptive anthropology, ethnographers were composing from `` multiple, invariably switching places '' , and `` ego '' is ne'er a `` scientist-observer '' ( 1986:39 ) .

To see farther from this point, we could identity a difference between classical descriptive anthropology and experimental descriptive anthropology. For Malinowski, and his pupils Firth and Evens-Prichard, the authorship of `` ego '' is a scheme functioning for constructing the authorization of scientific descriptive anthropology ; nevertheless, for Rabinow and his modern-day anthropologists, the consciously self-fulfillment in ethnographic composing successfully opens up a dimension for brooding thought. The `` ego '' , therefore, is public, and mediates in different civilizations. The visual aspect of the new sort of ego authorship is really provocative: epistemologically, in position of the production and account of the knowledgei??it penetrates into the relationship between cognition of ego and cognition of the Other and how cognition is hermeneutically represented ( Rapport, and Overing 2000 ) ; methodologically, it seeks for the diverseness of ethnographic authorship, more specifically, the look of the subjectiveness, the use of rhetoric, or, I would state, the authorship manner.

4. AA sum-up of the three subjects: one Centre and two basic relationships

Throughout all three themes-ethnographic truth, rhetoric in descriptive anthropology, and the authorship of ego, there is a cardinal point-the building of ethnographic authorization, which can non be comprehended without mention to the power dealingss. The power dealingss derive from the Foucaultian intertwining of cognition and power in the academic subject every bit good as the fluctuant historical and political association.

Here, I will non reiterate these issues which I have argued in the first portion, instead, I would propose two relationships bing in the chief subjects of Writing Culture: a ) ethnographers and the indigens they studied, and B ) anthropologists and their readers.

Having inherited the tradition of Geertz 's interpretative anthropology, Writing Culture highlights the Reconstruction of the ethnographer/informant dealingss ( Wang Gao ) . Autochthonal people and their civilization are no longer viewed as silent and unvarying objects. Ethnographic cognition, as suggested by Rabinow ( 1977 ) , is built on a bilateral apprehension in certain cultural contexts.

At the same clip, more significantly, the book pays close attending to the relationship between anthropologists and the readers. Same as the literary end products, descriptive anthropologies shape the dealingss with the audiences through texts ( Xu 2001 ) . Both the completed texts and reading activities are surely influenced by the literary procedures ( Clifford 1986 ) . By scanning how descriptive anthropologies communicate with their readers, the automatic essaysportray descriptive anthropology as a sort of duologue, and the colloquial readership allows, or I could state, encourages the readers to take portion in the probe of ethnographic composing. In add-on, the treatments sing the ethnographers ' distinguished places in depicting others and showing Self, permit the readers to obtain the different positions which the ethnographers have themselves. As Spencer indicated ( 1989 ) , the correspondence to multiple places provided by a maestro manus is a characteristic of a good descriptive anthropology. Why is it of import to take the readership of descriptive anthropology into consideration? I think it depends mostly on the unique and various character of this readership. Marcus and Cushman ( 1982 ) present six classs of readerships of descriptive anthropology. The classs differ in intent, places, and some of them may unify with another ( the first and 2nd one in peculiar ) or others: ( 1 ) `` the specializer readership '' , ( 2 ) `` the general anthropological readership '' , ( 3 ) `` readerships from the other societal scientific disciplines '' ( 4 ) `` the pupil readership '' , ( 5 ) `` the action oriented readership '' i??i??6i?‰ '' the popular readership '' i??1982:51-52i?‰ . Ethnography, foremost, as a genre and a method every bit good, interposes itself between humanistic disciplines ( associating to category 1 and 2 ) and societal scientific disciplines ( associating to category 3 ) ; secondly, serves as a pubescence rite for professional anthropologists ( associating to category 4 ) ; thirdly, emerges into societal and political decision-making for certain historical and institutional grounds ( associating to category 5 ) ; and eventually, attracts common readers thanks to its literary characteristic and alien nature ( associating to category 6 ) . It is obvious that the readerships of descriptive anthropology are highly complicated and should be carefully identified. Both ethnographers and readers must be self-aware ( Rapport 2000 ) . Hence, the ethnographer/reader relation issue raised by Writing Culture authors, from this angle, is exciting from the 1980s boulder clay today.

The ethnographer/reader relation, together with the ethnographer/informant relation, is located in the power discourse and cognition discourse. Once once more, the two relationships echo the cardinal thought of Writing Culture-the authorization and power. In a word, although the three subjects I proposed are non a really complete sum-up of the book, the one Centre and two basic relationships they conveyed, in my sentiment, have demonstrated the most insight and invention of Writing Culture.

Writing Culture: the Chinese Experience

In the preliminary study of the Writing Culture seminar and documents, Clifford and Marcus province that Writing Culture is missing the feminist point of position every bit good as `` Third World '' or non-European attack ( Clifford and Marcus 1985 ) . For the former skip, I agree with Schotle ( 1987 ) that, some feminist positions is inconspicuously harbored in Pratts ' essay. However, for certain, there is non a alleged Third World point of view in Writing Culture, which I think is a important sarcasm for its analysis of power drama in the post-colonial clip.

In `` Third World '' states, anthropology is in a really different context. Their people and civilizations have for a long clip been discovered, ascertained, described, and represented by Westerners. Non-Western anthropologists and their ethnographic plants are the symbols of the reconfiguration within the subject, and most of them of course locate their fieldwork sites in their ain civilizations to analyze their ain people. By and large talking, anthropologyof the `` Third World '' witnesses a fruitful period in the postwar epoch, which is besides the aureate age of experimental descriptive anthropology, and to some extent, it could be taken as anthropology at place which employs the self-reflexive attack mentioned in Writing Culture. I will so, taking China as an illustration, expression at some ethnographic instances conducted by Chinese anthropologists associating to Writing Culture. I assume it a good position to research the influential power of Writing Culture and its reverberations.

The first instance is Huang Shumin 's descriptive anthropology The Spiral Roadi?sChange In A Chinese Village Through The Eyes Of A Communist Party Leader ( 1998 ) . Depending on his annual fieldwork ( first 10 chapters ) and a revisit ( chapter 11 & A ; 12 ) in a small town in Fujian state, China, Huang provides a image of the immense political and economic alteration and development in a Chinese small town from the initiation of People 's Republic of China to the ninetiess every bit good as the impact on the personal and pubic life of a provincial, who is the a political leader in the community. The political battles, the adversity of raising a household, and the provincial 's life wisdom are vividly described through a first-person narrative life history attack. Although his novel-like descriptive anthropology is foremost published in English, Huang is regarded as one of the best Chinese anthropologists for his proficient composing accomplishments and great success in narrating the complexness of historical events in rural China in a lighter tone.

The 2nd instance is drawn from Li Chunxia 's PhD thesis Television and the Life of Yi People in China ( 2005 ) . As a Yianthropologist, her descriptive anthropology explores how telecasting deeply `` incorporated into the cloth '' ( 2005: 5 ) of local people 's day-to-day life. In the text, Li 's fieldwork notes collected during her three-year fieldwork at her ain small town give look to her close emotional ties with native people, and present her concerns and concerns of the cultural minorities ' life fortunes in modern-day China. Meanwhile, as a bookman, she keenly captures the metaphorical significance of modernisation, development and prosperity by `` telecasting '' . Her analysis penetrates into the dealingss of Yi people/Han people, and pre-modern/modern. The reflexiveness about the periphery/centre dealingss is a chief steam in modern-day anthropology of China.

The 3rd instance is Zhuang Kongshao 's ethnographic research on a hot subject in Chinese civilization and society: the household instruction ( Zhuang and Feng 2006 ) . He describes the communications and struggles between a female parent and her seven old ages old girl and the dealingss among school instruction, household instruction and societal instruction. Zhuang is a innovator in anthropology of China, non merely because he introduces a new attack called educational anthropology, most significantly, the concluding production of Zhuang 's fieldwork is an ethnographic movie named `` My Wife, My Daughter '' . It is really beyond the range of Writing Culture, because it is no longer about the `` authorship '' and the `` text '' . I adopt this instance here, seeking to reason that, Writing Culture highlights the diverseness of descriptive anthropology, and now, confronting the extremist signifier of descriptive anthropology, can the statements in Writing Culture on ethnographic texts tantrum in ethnographic movies? What is the same and the difference between the grammars of ethnographic authorship and visual perception? Are pictures more worthy than words in building ethnographic authorization? Can texts and movies be combined in ethnographic endeavor? Why and how? The book it self is an unfastened ended text, and invariably simulates new inquiries for anthropologists in the station Writing Culture epoch, and that besides explains why Writing Culture, after more than twenty old ages, is still being quoted and debated all over the universe. It is true, as Schotle harshly points out ( 1987 ) , that tonss of inquiries in this book remains ill-defined and unsettled. However, I appreciate the original inquiries it raised and the entreaty to duologue.

Rethinking Writing Culture

Following the automatic way, I have three points to do on rethinking the book. Before that, I present a brief scheme of the three-stage ethnographic research as follows.


being here

disciplinary preparation

in the field

being there

participant observation


coming back

ethnographic authorship

There is nil new, nevertheless, my inquiries are based on it. First, with the text-orientation, has the importance of composing been stressed over that of making descriptive anthropology in the book? The possible hazard in the textualism emphasized in Writing Culture is that fieldwork retires from the taking place, it has provided a context for replacing the empirical research. As we can see from the scheme, fieldwork is the Centre of ethnographic research in clip and infinite, and it is besides the foundation of anthropology. In this experimental minute, we should non merely look at the result of fieldwork, but besides reflect upon the restrictions and new features in fieldwork procedures in this Writing Culture or station Writing Culture epoch.

Second, traveling back to the really first phase, I would reason, different backgrounds of Western and non-Western ethnographers shape two distinguished forms of automatic thought. First, the Western form could be called `` approaching place '' , after analyzing the Other, from outside in, anthropologists return to the Self, their automatic thought is about their ain tradition in their ain cultural establishments. Second, the non-Western form could be named as `` being place '' , they do non hold a `` return '' position, their automatic thought is still profoundly in relation to the West. I fear, in automatic anthropology, which is greatly established by Writing Culture, anthropologists in the `` Third World '' would be more marginalized through their opposition in this centre-periphery discourse.

My concluding idea is on rhetoric issue, which is still an inexplicable inquiry to me. If rhetoric is an built-in constituent of ethnographic authorship, as Rosaldo ( 1986 ) argued, there are utilizing and mistreating of descriptive rhetoric, so, the following obvious inquiry is: what is the boundary between usage and maltreatment of rhetoric? It seems to me that, usage, is a sort of maltreatment in itself, if so, how can one command it?


In the concluding portion of my essay, I would wish to make an experiment. I will compose about my reading experience alternatively of the decision of the whole transition.

I originally read this book in Chinese in my junior twelvemonth at college. As a literature pupil, I found the book interesting and inspiring, and it positively influenced me in the choosing of anthropology for alumnus survey. Later, I reread the book both in English and Chinese, and accessed some related articles written by Writing Culture authors. Surprisingly, I found several articles written in coaction with Clifford and Marcus. Other than this landmark book, Marcus, together with Cushman, wrote Ethnographies as Texts ( 1982 ) , which is a forerunner of Writing Culture ; and he, subsequently, with Fischer, produced the comrade volume of Writing Culture-Anthropology as Cultural Critique ( 1986 ) . Behind these coactions, I can conceive of the interactions of scintillating ideas every bit good as apprehensions and communications. They are liquors of academic research, and besides the anthropological enterprise.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Writing Culture In And Beyond Anthropology English Literature Essay essay
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