As the spring semester approaches my fellow hemisphere mates and I, I am putting the final touches on my ‘theory’ syllabus. I’ll share it with SM soon (the initial draft is not very appetizing), but I thought it would be interesting here to blog about something I will not be teaching — the long historical essay. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, anthropologists have come, for some reason, to ‘do theory’ in the form of the disciplinary history. This includes monograph-length studies, of course, but one particular genre that seems particularly anthropological is the long essay in which anthropologists describe ‘their theory’ or a more general ‘world view’ by constructing a genealogy whose telos they are. So in honor of Christmas — which involves its own teleological understanding of my own tradition — I thought I’d try to make a list here of classic ‘long essays’ in anthropological theory. Let me know if you can think of any more:
Blurred Genres, Clifford Geertz
Theory in Anthropology Since The 60s, Sherry Ortner
“As People Express Their Lives, So They Are…” in the Symbolic Anthropology Reader
Culture and Cultural Analysis as Experimental Systems, Michael Fischer
Anthropos, Edmund Leach
The Use of Anthropology: Critical, Personal, Politics, Dell Hymes
The genre is pretty fuzzy, but I hope this gives readers of these works some sense of what I’m talking about.
I’m not actually assigning any of these essays to my students (they can read them on their own if they want). They are very tricky. Often presentist and self-serving they require very sensitive antenna to read through to get some actual sense of the literature they cover. At the same time working through the motivations of their orchestration of the literature is in itself a good way to get some sense of the scene when the author was writing. But at any rate I think given the limitations of class time it is better to get students to actually read the material rather than read about it. What do you think?