The Tasaday, Which and Whose? Toward the Political Economy of an Ethnographic Sign

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Essay Excerpt

Anthropology, in its design, is nothing but a discourse on humankind; but it is not just any discourse nor, for that matter, does it treat just any humankind.

In its bone-dry form, when even in its metaphors, positivistic and scientistic, anthropology takes itself seriously. It postures within a genre, "le genre serieux," to use Diderot's expression, recently resurrected by Clifford Geertz (1983). But here, as elsewhere, all is in flux, and the most serious risk of this seriousness is that it might degenerate all too quickly into the ridiculousness of an austere and pedantictone, into boredom and obsolescence-in other words, into the pretense of having reached the truth of Tasadayity.

The Tasaday arrive and depart, and others come to take their place, who in turn take their leave and return again. At the end of the anthropological field glasses, even if the edges remain sometimes fuzzy, what appears is the anthropos dujour. In pronouncing its discourse, anthropology performs two contradictory tasks. On the one hand, it reveals a partial reality, partial in both senses of the word. On the other hand, it constitutes itself as an ideology. (Dumont, 273) 

About the Author

Jean-Paul Dumont has devoted his career to examining how meaning is constructed. Originally trained in anthropology in France under Lévi-Strauss, Dumont later earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh. His publications include: Under the Rainbow, a structural analysis of the symbolic system of the Panare Indians in Venezuela; The Headman and I, an exploration of the importance of the anthropologist in the ethnographic experience; and Visayan Vignettes: Ethnographic Traces of a Philippine Island (1992). Dumont's current research centers on the peasant cultures of the Philippine lowlands. He joined George Mason University in 1988 and develops further his interest in ethnographic representation and interpretation with his ethnographic research in the central Philippines. 

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