“These Are the Stories That the Dogs Tell”: Discourses of Identity and Difference in Ethnography and Science Fiction

Essay Excerpt

In this article, I propose to explore some of the tropes of identity and difference, naturalization and denaturalization, that similarly inform and mark both ethnography and science fiction, linking them as ways of writing. In recent years, anthropology has witnessed an important and revealing autocritical examination of the poetics and politics of ethnographic practice. By critiquing the position of the anthropological researcher, the points of juncture between anthropological inquiry and various colonialist and neocolonialist enterprises have been explored (Asad 1973), with the consequent critical deconstruction of the ethnographer as traveler or voyager (Pratt 1986), and the complementary view, developed extensively in literary criticism, that the position of the traveler or voyager provides a critical stance towardthe West by presenting alternative worlds(VanDen Abbeele 1992). A numberof authors have also contributed important critical evaluations of thepoetics and politics inherent in the textual construction of ethnographic narratives (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Geertz 1988; Marcus and Cushman 1982). These inquiries have compellingly traced the confluence of ethnographic writing and various high literary projects of the modernist era (Clifford 1988; Handler 1986, 1989; Manganaro 1990), as well as more popular fictions of primitivism from that period (Cheyfitz 1991; Torgovnick 1990). (Samuels, 88-89)

About the Author

David Samuels has worked broadly on issues of music, language, and expressive culture. His research includes topics in poetics and semiotics, history and memory, technology, and Native American and popular culture. He is the author of Putting a Song On Top of It: Expression & Identity on the San Carlos Apache Reservation (University of Arizona Press 2004), and his articles on music, language, and sound have appeared in such journals as American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Journal of American Folklore, Semiotica, and Language & Society. More recently, his research interests have turned to issues of cultural and linguistic revitalization, the multiple legacies of missionary activity among Native American communities, and the intertwined histories of musical and linguistic philosophies.

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