Issue 27.3, August 2012


FROM ORIN STARN'S EDITOR INTRODUCTION - We present this special issue of Cultural Anthropology to mark the 25th anniversary of Writing Culture’s publication. As a start, we asked James Clifford and George Marcus for their thoughts on the occasion. Clifford, always the brilliant historicizer (and, it is sometimes forgotten, a historian and not an anthropologist by training), takes us back in time. His essay reflects on Writing Culture’s place in the intertwined stories of his own personal biography; the larger arc of late- 20th-century anthropology; and the changing global geography that he calls the “decentering of the West.” For his part, George Marcus, ever the astute and some- times visionary trend-spotter, casts an eye forward. His article focuses on emerging disciplinary developments—new collaborative projects, digital media experimentation, and the accompanying growth of what Michael M. J. Fischer has termed “third spaces” like studios, archives, and installations. Clifford writes here in a more uncertain, personal, and sometimes wistful register by contrast to the more confident, programmatic Marcus piece. The two Writing Culture editors brought quite different and yet complementary sensibilities to the project in the first place. Their own distinctive angles of approach remain on display in these two essays 25 years later.

We also invited six of today’s leading anthropologists to contribute essays for this Writing Culture anniversary. Each contributor takes the book as a launching point for probing matters of concern in their own thinking about anthropology and the world. Their essays underscore Writing Culture’s role in catalyzing debate, reflection, and fresh disciplinary directions; they share Jackson’s feeling that it “licensed” various kinds of experimentation. The pieces, taken together, suggest that anthropology continues to struggle within and against many of the same desires, tensions, and possibilities that Writing Culture pried open for examination a quarter-century ago, albeit in sometimes unexpected ways.