Rice Circle Debates: Two Voices

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Essay Excerpt

The Rice Circle, a forum for the discussion of themes of intellectual interest to its participants, consists of faculty members at Rice University and is sponsored by the social and cultural anthropologistst here. We meet biweekly to discuss texts and also host visitors during the year. In our first year (1983-84), we focused on therapeutic discourse and its analogical implication for questions about rhetoric and representation in different academic disciplines including, for example, ethnography in anthropology and critical discourse in literary theory. During these discussions, we repeatedly felt compelled to reflect upon the problematic contemporary conditions of knowledge in our own work as well as in the disciplines we addressed. These conditions are being generally discussed under the admittedly elusive and vague rubric of postmodernism. Consequently, in our second year (1984-85; see Gillman's commentary below), we attempted to distil something from the current debates about postmodernism that would be relevant for the various research projects being pursued by Circle participants. In the current year (1985-86), the Circle is dealing with how the notion of "reason" is central to the constitution of concepts such as "self" and "society" within various Western social theories, particularly in their intention to serve as cultural critiques of specific historical conditions.

The Rice Circle is not infected by an image of itself as an avant-garde or intellectual elite. Rather it is more like an informal group of working scholars, who are curious, and often perplexed, about the contemporary rich diversity and fragmentation of ideas that define the intellectual atmosphere in which they individually and collectively do their research. The disquietude brought about by postmodernity arises from a realization that academic discourse may have been forwarding the cause of rhetoric rather than that of knowledge, in the guise of our privileged discourses of science and politics. This postmodernist shock accompanies the collapse of well establishede difices, such as our understanding of the scholarly enterprise as one based on discovery and progress.(Maranhão and Gillman, 328)

About the Author

Susan Gillman is a Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research interests are Nineteenth-century American literature and culture; theories of culture, race, and gender; world literature and cultural studies.

Tullio Maranhão was a cultural anthropologist who looked at one of the biggest problems in anthropological history, the challange of intercultural understandings. He wrote a book about it called, "Translation and Ethnography." The late Tullio Maranhão was a Professor of Anthropology and Education at the University of St. Thomas. 

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