Consuming Culture (Genuine and Spurious) as Style

Essay Excerpt

During the last two centuries, as human experience has come to be objectified by Westerners in terms of the concepts "society" and "culture," others' worlds have been symbolically appropriated, fragmented, and repackaged as variable features of mass-produced consumer goods: in brief, as style. Each of the three cultural histories reviewed here is concerned with some aspect of the marketing of history and culture as consumable styles. John Sears examines the development and consumption of tourist attractions in the United States in the 19th century. Karal Ann Marling describes the commodification of George Washington imagery and the colonial style from 1876 to the present. Miles Orvell's concern is not a particular symbol or type of symbol, but the cultural conceptions of "imitation" and "authenticity" by which Americans evaluated various symbols and styles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All three works will interest anthropologists studying the ongoing commodification and consumption of culture in America. (Handler, 346)

About the Author

Richard Handler is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. 

"I am a cultural anthropologist who studies modern western societies. My initial fieldwork was in Quebec (1976-1984) where I studied the Québécois nationalist movement. This has led to an enduring interest in nationalism, ethnicity, and the politics of culture. My second major field project was an ethnographic study of Colonial Williamsburg, which is both an outdoor museum and a mid-sized nonprofit corporation. This has led me to an interest in tourism and cultural development around the world. Finally, I have had an enduring interest in the work of anthropologists as critics of modernity and development. My most recent book is Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Observers of Mass Society. A different interest is the intersection of anthropology and literature. I have written on Jane Austen's novels, on the literary bent of such noted anthropologists as Ruth Benedict and Edward Sapir, and on the difficulties of writing the ethnography of nationalist movements. Finally, I have had an ongoing interest in the history of American anthropology - in particular, in anthropologists as critics of modernity, and the relationship of our discipline's critical discourse to other intellectual trends. I am the editor of the journal-series History of Anthropology. I am also completing a collection of essays entitled Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Visions of Mass Society. Specializations: Sociocultural anthropology; nationalism, ethnicity and multi-culturalism; museum studies; cultural criticism; symbolic anthropology; history of anthropology; anthropology and literature; culture theory; modern societies; contemporary North America."

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