Issue 1.1, February 1986



A Beginning  

George E. Marcus   

"Without at least a sense of a beginning, nothing can really be done, much less ended. This is as true for the literary critic as it is for the philosopher, the scientist, or novelist. And the more crowded and confused a field appears, the more a beginning, fictional or not, seems imperative. A beginning gives us the chance to do work that compensates us for the tumbling disorder of brute reality that will not settle down."  

Edward Said, Beginnings  

Choosing a way to inaugurate this journal would be a daunting task, amid the array of existing journals  and in financially precarious times, if it were not such an interesting moment in the history of anthropology, both in the United States and abroad. In this country we have witnessed during the past two decades compelling intellectual challenges  to ideas and methods,  dominant at least since World War II, about how we conduct and think about research. Formalism, pos­itivism, and an idealized natural science model of method and progress are the most prominent targets of critiques,  fueled by concerns with language, symbols, and meaning. These challenges, originating largely in European philosophy and social theory, and their implications for the social sciences have been well ex­ plained in works such as Richard Bernstein's The Restructuring of Social and Po­litical Theory and Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Practice;  Anthony Giddens's The Central  Problems of Social Theory;  and Alvin Gouldner's The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology. Having thus absorbed a thorough critique and revision of our practices,  we now face a problem of un­ certain direction, or rather, directions. Systematic ideas and theory are not lack­ing--to the contrary, the challenges to a more behaviorally oriented anthropology have been developed through a surfeit of very complex and fully elaborated theoretical systems. Rather, a particular model of theory and practice has been dis­rupted--that of the paradigm, described by Thomas Kuhn, in which research pro­ceeds under a regime of a recognized set of problems and methods.

At the moment, it is unclear whether the diverse responses to these challenges mark a profound watershed, or whether they are fashions in a cyclical (or more accurately, spiral) movement of intellectual history between more disci­plined efforts at inquiry and more fragmentary, if not experimental, efforts. For anthropology, some are content with the diversity of direction and influence that now shape careers and intellectual styles; others are anxious for a return to a more coherent  paradigm of theory and research,  which would reestablish a semblance of an authoritative center to the discipline. In the many varieties of anthropology that are being practiced today, this comfort or disquiet with present fragmentation is a salient concern, and it will be one major function of the journal for years to come to examine  and monitor  the current diversity  of anthropological  practice from all available angles.

In this diversity, the treatment of the key concept of culture, we believe,  is an index and expression of the debates occasioned by the above noted challenges. Many embrace  culture as the symbolic capital of anthropology  and as the most fertile ground for the exercise of theoretical imagination; others acknowledge cul­ ture in a mundane way, as one factor among many in research; while for others, culture is distinctive by its absence, a concept that has lost its utility and has dis­ solved into other frameworks. By constituting  a forum for all contemporary  and emerging  perspectives  on culture, this journal intends to expose the broader in­ tellectual currents  affecting anthropology  and other related disciplines at an un­ certain but exciting time. Consequently, contributions are encouraged from all subfields of anthropology  as well as other disciplines for which cultural analysis has been relevant. We hope that in time Cultural Anthropology will regularly cut across present conventions  that bound disciplines and, while tied to the intellec­ tual evolution of anthropology, will be thoroughly multidisciplinary both in its concerns and the range of its contributions.

We will attempt to establish ourselves as both a traditional academic journal (in anthropology, on the model, for  example, of Ethos, American  Ethnolo­ gist, and Man) and a journal of debate, commentary, and general interest essays (on the model, for example, of October, Raritan, The American Scholar, and The Yale Review). Firmly committed  to the empirical research traditions of anthro­ pology, we are also very interested  in innovative works from other traditions of cultural studies that anthropology has rather neglected in the past (for example, marxist theories of culture, folklore, the study of popular culture, and the treat­ ment of culture in literary theory generally). On the other side, the journal should be a medium for the critical essay, the occasional piece of experimental writing, interviews, and commentary.

The following paragraphs briefly describe the feature categories we have es­ tablished for this and future regular issues of the journal:

Articles will vary greatly in length,  format,  and range of topic. Long, am­ bitious pieces are welcome (such as the Meeker, Barlow, and Lipset contribution in the present issue) as are shorter essays (such as Kondo's  paper).

Review essays may be quite lengthy and are a vehicle for some of the more imaginative writing in the journal. As a rule, we will do no regular short review­ing. One purpose of the review essay is to discuss explicitly  works from other fields that have influenced, or might interest, cultural and social anthropologists, but which are not usually reviewed in anthropology journals (for example,  Hill's review of Bakhtin in this issue).  Another purpose of the review essay is to set up, by the imaginative  juxtaposition of works, a problem or topic for discussion that is most easily addressed in reaction to other texts. For example,  novel readings of older works may be developed by their juxtaposition to newer works. We will be actively commissioning  such review essays, but we also strongly encourage pro­ posals from potential contributors.

Interviews as well as discussions and commentaries meet a number of journal aims. The Bourdieu interview with the commentary by Foster is perhaps a model of this sort of contribution.  The report by Bruner, of ongoing discussion groups at particular universities, fulfills a special purpose for which we would especially like to encourage contributions.  Substantive accounts of the proceedings of not only continuing informal groups but also of special events, seminars, and meet­ ings take the pulse of the vitality of cultural studies wherever they are pursued. In this way, the journal will register the diverse influences, shifts, and connections being made across anthropology and other disciplines at a level that is rarely articulated other than at that of corridor talk. Such contributions should be brief, but by no means merely a list of topics, participants, and summaries; rather, they should give an ethnographic sense of discussions.

Editorials, by members of the editorial board or guest writers, will be a pe riodic feature of the journal. These may comment on a topic of general interest in cultural studies,  or occasionally, they may be an internal review and reflection upon the contents of the particular issues in which they appear.

Letters will not normally be published in the journal, but letters to the editors are very welcome. In cases where items in the journal generate unusual interest or controversy, we will consider devoting special theme issues to the topics at stake. Special theme issues will ideally alternate on a regular basis with regular issues. However, whether we publish two theme issues annually will depend on the efforts of guest editors, who will organize each such issue. The commission­ ing of original contributions for a theme issue, according to the design of the ed­ itors, is preferred to the publication of a set of session or symposium papers from a professional meeting (however, the idea for a special issue and a meeting session might be coordinated in advance). Theme issues such as "Toward an Oral Hermeneutics," "Constructive Exchanges In Cultural and Biological Research," "Ethnography and Photography," "Ethnographic Perspectives on Scientific Re­search and Experimentation," among others, have been proposed. We would be pleased to discuss other ideas for theme issues with prospective guest editors.

George Marcus is Chancellor's Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine