Anthropology and Colonial Discourse: Aspects of the Demonological Construction of Sinhala Cultural Practice

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Essay Excerpt

This article forms part of a larger investigation in which I explore aspects of the discursive relation between anthropology and colonial discourse.[1] Stated broadly, my concern is that this relation, although often enough recognized or asserted in a general sort of way, has not been adequately interrogated, indeed has not been adequately formulated. The question, precisely how an identifiably colonial discourse continues to exercise a specifiably discursive hegemony[2] in the contemporary construction of anthropological objects, has, it seems to me, received far less analytical attention than it properly deserves.

No one would wish to deny, I don't think, that anthropology today is an enterprise increasingly self-conscious about its colonial legacy, and as a consequence is less and less naive about the language of representation it employs. I wish to suggest in the course of this article, however, that, although it is indeed arguable that a humanism of nonpejorative terminology and an impressive level of theoretical sophistication have come to characterize the construction of anthropological objects, what bears more systematic investigation is really whether the colonial problematic [3] itself-that is to say, the interrelated set of distinctive ideological or discursive presuppositions that established the contours of visibility of native practices and thus the possibility in the first place for their constitution as objects of Western discourse - has been effectively displaced. It is at this, as it were, internal and more fundamental level, the level of the problematic, that I wish to think about the connection between colonial and anthropological discourses. For colonial problematics, I will argue, can and do travel-in a variety of updated conceptual languages-in contemporary anthropology.

Specifically, my concern in this article focuses on the anthropology of a group of Sinhala practices performed in the south and southwest of the island of Sri Lanka. (Scott, 301)

About the Author

David Scott is a Professor of Anthropology and a Research Fellow of African-American Studies at Columbia University. He earned his Ph.D., at New School for Social Research. Professor Scott’s interests include: the problem of the postcolonial politics, diaspora, cultural history. The Caribbean and South Asia are his historical and geographical areas of preoccupation. He is the author ofFormations of Ritual (Minnesota 1994),Refashioning Futures (Princeton 1999) andConscripts of Modernity (Duke 2004), and is the co-editor of Powers of the Secular Modern(Stanford 2006). He is also the founder and editor the journal of Caribbean criticism, Small Axe.

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