Intervening

Essay Excerpt

First, to identify with the characters in the book, for unlike the author they consistently adopt an expository style, explaining themselves to the outside world in recounting their experiences. Second, to set up one's own perspective outside the enterprise and expound its virtues less in terms of substance than in terms of form. The object becomes no longer the way the material is structured but the work as itself, in the regard of others (its reviewer/reader) an artifact. But, although explicit elsewhere, here by and large the author himself is reticent about form. So the reviewer must to some extent be the extractor of meaning. Consequently, I approach the author's intentions through a systematizing endeavor with which he might have little sympathy. [...] 

This is not the place to dwell on the idiosyncratic form that postmodernism takes in anthropology as opposed to other disciplines or fields (cf. Tyler 1984; Ardener 1985; and the references in Crick 1985). It is in becoming conscious of "modernism" that anthropologists now talk of "postmodernism," and the kinds of experiments in ethnography to which Waiting belongs could be called by either term. If we see them as turning away from realist conventions, they appear modernist experimentations (Marcus 1986:190); if we see them as rejecting the ideology of an observer-observed relationship, they appear postmodernist (Tyler 1986:126). It is this second distinction I wish to capture in the use of terms here. For anthropologists as writers, such a postmodernist stance is at once a moral and literary one. It is moral insofar as its polyphonic premise allows the rendering of multiple voices (Clifford 1980; 1983), and Crapanzano himself is known foremost as a pioneer of writing that attempts to reintroduce into the authored work the authorship of others. The study of culture, in the words Hill (1986) uses of language, is centered in the study of the individual voice. This, in turn, has a double purpose: to dislodge the authority of the all-seeing ethnographer, whose analysis is thereby rendered in juxtaposition with, rather than as an umbrella over, the viewpoints of others; and to reveal the constituted nature of the ethnographic text, recalling the joint enterprise that created an object produced through inter-action between informant and ethnographer. They collude, but the "reality" of the object they create belongs to neither (Crapanzano 1980:ix). It is this reality that requires representation. Certainly Waiting contains little "observation" of local events or behavior not recalled or enacted in explicit reference to the ethnographer. (Strathern, 259)

About the Author

Marilyn Strathern, is a Professor Anthropology and has, from 1998 to 2009 been Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. She was an undergraduate and then a research student at Girton, holding posts in Canberra (ANU), Port Moresby and UC Berkeley (visiting) before returning to the UK in the 1970s. She moved to her first departmental appointment in 1985 as chair and head of the Social Anthropology Department at Manchester University. She subsequently held the William Wyse Professorship of Social Anthropology at Cambridge from 1993-2008. A Presidential Chair of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, former Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, and an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, she was created DBE in 2001 (the first such honour in the subject for nearly thirty years). She became life President of the Association of Social Anthropologist of the UK and Commonwealth in 2008. Under ‘applied anthropology' are her contributions to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Government's working party on the repatriation of human remains.

Marilyn Strathern describes herself as a conventional social anthropologist. A product of the Cambridge School of Social Anthropology at its heyday, her texts reflect issues largely within the discipline than outside it (Mary Douglas once called her -- not altogether flatteringly -- ‘an anthropologist's anthropologist'). These days, however, she has an interdisciplinary audience.

Professor Strathern's interests have been divided between Melanesian and British ethnography: Papua New Guinea has been a principal area of fieldwork, from 1964 to most recently in 2006, although she is also intrigued by developments in knowledge practices in the UK and Europe. Initial work on gender relations led in two directions: feminist scholarship and the new reproductive technologies (1980s-1990s), and legal systems and intellectual and cultural property (1970s, 1990-00s). She is most well known for The gender of the gift (1988), a critique of anthropological theories of society and gender relations applied to Melanesia, which she pairs with After nature: English kinship in the late twentieth century (1992), a comment on the cultural revolution at home. Her most experimental work is an exercise on the comparative method called Partial connections (1991). Over the last twenty years she has published on reproductive technologies, intellectual and cultural property rights and interdisciplinarity, although it is her brief work on regimes of audit and accountability that has attracted most widespread attention. Some of these themes are brought together in Kinship, law and the unexpected (2005). Melanesia is never far from her concerns; in 2009 the University of Papua New Guinea bestowed an Honorary Degree on her, following Copenhagen, Durham, Edinburgh, Oxford, and others.

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