Is Language a Prisonhouse?

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

Clearly, like the language form which is its precondition, habitual thought is poised between the extremes of the vast communicative arc that is our evolutionary endowment. This arc guaruntees that language will forever be our prison, just as it promises that language will provide us, when necessary, with the key to the most articulate liberation that we can know. (Shore, 132)

Author Information

Dr. Bradd Shore is a Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. His early research in Western Samoa focused on the study of conflict and conflict solution.  His approach was interpretive anthropology, the attempt to understand Samoan practices in relation to Samoan cultural models of person, and action.  The result (as described in his 1982 monograph SALA'ILUA: A SAMOAN MYSTERY) was one of the early studies of ethnopsychology-- an ingenious framework of models underlying beliefs and practices.  The notion of person and self was understood as a cultural construct.  More recently, his work has turned to the very notion of cultural models itself as a significant way to reconceptualize the concept of culture in anthropology.  In his 1996 monograph CULTURE IN MIND: COGNITION, CULTURE AND THE PROBLEM OF MEANING, he outlined using detailed ethnographic case studies a theory of culture that links the anthropologist's concern with social action and institutions with the psychologist's concept of mental models.  This view of culture as models has been developed largely in cognitive anthropology, but in his recent work has been repositioned to respond to many of the recent critiques of traditional notions of culture and reformulate in a powerful way a conception of culture that will bridge anthropology and cognitive science.

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