Baudrillard passes. Do anthropologists care?

As I am sure we all know by now, “Jean Baudrillard has passed away”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/07/books/07baudrillard.html, and this has lead to a (for me) surprisingly large number of obituaries and notices in the media. Personally, I think of Baurdillard less as a theorist whose ideas can be used in my professional writings then as someone who spans the realm of avant-cafe-pop culture that I grew up with — the sort of social field that includes Ultraman, Guy Debord, and the Loompanics catalog. In this regard I think he really ought to be remembered as the guy who inspired The Matrix.

What sort of impact will Baudrillard be remembered as having in the long turn? And what do anthropologists think of his work? My impression is: not much. Maybe this means the 80s really are over?

Rex

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

6 thoughts on “Baudrillard passes. Do anthropologists care?

  1. The only real link is the fact that they were roughly age mates and both have passed in the same season, but Smithsonian anthropologist William C. Sturtevant has also just died. He had a very significant impact on several areas of research (linguistic anthropology, museum anthropology, ethnohistory, history of anthropology, ethnobotany, Native American studies etc.) and he played a remarkable role as a leader in the field, including service as AAA president, American Ethnological Society president, American Society for Ethnohistory president, and Council for Museum Anthropology president. I have posted an obituary for him on the Museum Anthropology blog (museumanthropology.blogspot.com) and a detailed biographical essay by William Merrill is now posted at http://www.sturtevant.com. I hope that it is o.k. that I took this opportunity to note his passing here in this context.

  2. “What sort of impact will Baudrillard be remembered as having in the long turn? And what do anthropologists think of his work? My impression is: not much.”

    Which anthropologists are you talking about?

    “Maybe this means the 80s really are over?”

    The 80s “being over” seems–at least–as hard to argue as the 19th century “being over”. Perhaps you could make some of your implications explicit..?

    “.. he really ought to be remembered as the guy who inspired The Matrix.”

    From my non-representative point of view this honour is due to Lem.

  3. The question with baudrillard is less ‘what effect will he have?’ than ‘why aren’t you footnoting him, as those are clearly his ideas?’ his work is so expansive in critical anthropology that people don’t even cite it any more, they just assume his insights into sign systems, consumer society, design, etc. are common knowledge as they have been parsed through his respondents and interpreters since the late 60’s. Yes, many people dismiss baudrillard’s later works, but few can help realizing, after reading his early works where certain corrections of mauss originated, where the attacks on binary signs and the politics of binarities in western culture arose, and there are other insights, but people tend to only read them in the third or fourth generation now.

  4. But Baudrillard borrowed liberally from his contemporaries: his critique of consumer society is in many ways a simplified version of Guy Debord. And Derrida produced a critique of binary semiotics around the same time, drawing on Peirce’s much earlier work.

    For a typical desultory reference to Baudrillard in a work of serious cultural anthropology see Simon Harrison’s excellent “The Politics of Resemblance” (J. Royal Anth Inst, 2002) p. 216.

  5. hmm, actually his critique of consumer society is grounded in something entirely different than debords, though they do overlap and have the same conclusions. baudrillard’s critique is primarily semiological, based on the critique of binarity and its relation to capital.

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