Raymond Williams, George Stocking, and Fin-de-Siècle U.S. Anthropology

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

As a step toward such a reconsideration, this article initiates a comparison of the works of Raymond Williams and George Stocking, two scholars who have done much, in the past four decades, to shape culture theory in anthropology and cultural studies respectively. In teaching culture theory to a mixed audience of graduate students of anthropology and literature, I usually begin with Williams's Culture and Society (1983, originally published in 1958) and Stocking's Race, Culture, and Evolution (1968). Both books present (among other things) revisionist histories of the culture concept, and both can be considered (after the fact) to be foundational texts in the disciplines that sprung up in their wake, cultural studies and the history of anthropology. The comparative reading proposed here is intended, then, to facilitate thinking about the uses of the culture concept in both anthropology and cultural studies and, more generally, about the intellectual positioning of the two disciplines vis-a-vis each other.

The comparison proceeds in two "moments." The first concerns the role that Matthew Arnold plays in Culture and Society and Race, Culture, and Evolution. Using the figure of Arnold as an entry into these two works will allow me to sketch, comparatively, the quite different historical narratives that each author constructs to contextualize his analysis of the culture concept. The second moment of comparison concerns the degree to which each author may be considered to have used (however unintentionally) historical analysis to contribute to ongoing debates in culture theory. Considering the transformation of history into theory will allow me to return in the end to the question of anthropology vis-a-vis cultural studies. I do this by comparing the uses of culture theory in the two disciplines-in cultural studies, to critique classism, racism, and sexism; in anthropology, to interpret global human diversity.  (Handler, 447)

About the Author 

Handler is a Professor ar the University of Virginia. 

"I am a cultural anthropologist who studies modern western societies. My initial fieldwork was in Quebec (1976-1984) where I studied the Québécois nationalist movement. This has led to an enduring interest in nationalism, ethnicity, and the politics of culture. My second major field project was an ethnographic study of Colonial Williamsburg, which is both an outdoor museum and a mid-sized nonprofit corporation. This has led me to an interest in tourism and cultural development around the world. Finally, I have had an enduring interest in the work of anthropologists as critics of modernity and development. My most recent book is Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Observers of Mass Society. A different interest is the intersection of anthropology and literature. I have written on Jane Austen's novels, on the literary bent of such noted anthropologists as Ruth Benedict and Edward Sapir, and on the difficulties of writing the ethnography of nationalist movements. Finally, I have had an ongoing interest in the history of American anthropology - in particular, in anthropologists as critics of modernity, and the relationship of our discipline's critical discourse to other intellectual trends. I am the editor of the journal-series History of Anthropology. I am also completing a collection of essays entitled Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Visions of Mass Society. Specializations: Sociocultural anthropology; nationalism, ethnicity and multi-culturalism; museum studies; cultural criticism; symbolic anthropology; history of anthropology; anthropology and literature; culture theory; modern societies; contemporary North America."

Post a Comment

Please log in or register to comment