The Landscape of Enchantment: Redaction in a Theory of Ethnicity

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Essay Excerpt

My object in this article is to examine an "ethnic mobility" notion that became prominent in sociological and historical literature clustering around Beyond the Melting Pot in 1963. In that book Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who were to become the deans of the sociology of American ethnic groups, first tentatively pursued a theoretical argument that ethnic groups (in New York City, at least) had by the 1960s become "interest groups" that assert distinctive claims against American institutions. "Interests," "mobility," and, importantly, "success" are terms in which sociologists, historians, and anthropologists have posed related notions of ethnicity. All, however, are part of an analytical problem, not its solution, because such scholarly conceptions of ethnicity bear complex, but un-noted, relationships to indigenous ethnic discourses. Our work on ethnicity in the 1980s is still shaped by our arguments for and against such models, and analysts who lose sight of a cultural perspective that an anthropology of ethnicity affords stay on a treadmill of debate using terms not our own.

My strategy is to treat the terms of these theoretical debates not as arguments to be joined but as data for a cultural analysis. It is such ethnic discourses that I wish to be able to representin their cultural "realities" as they are constructed from different perspectives. My theory focuses on communication, a social, intersubjective and intertextual, culturally constituted process. To recover an anthropology of ethnicity in the United States, we need to encompass all its forms and their relations; the analytical move required is to locate scholarly discourses on ethnicity in their relations with indigenous discourses. These discourses can then be seen as above all moral and not the morally neutral but authoritative calculations with which scholarly rhetorics seek to encompass them. Scholarly tales are drawn, I will argue, from "the natives' " tales and in part derive their power from resonances with them. Like indigenous tales, social theories set critical terms of social life. But their authority rests primarily on their alterations of the natives' stories and their removal of the stories to new institutional quarters. (Chock, 163)

About the Author

Phyllis Pease Chock is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in American ethnicity and discourses of cultural identity, "ethnicity," and gender, particularly about "citizenship."  Her work has focused especially on Greek-Americans and the symbols and meanings in which they explore their identities as "Greek" and as "American" and the play of gender in discourses about such identities.Recently she has published studies of Congressional testimony and other official discourses on what it means to be American.   Among her publications are: 

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