By CLIFFORD GEERTZ
Of all the human sciences, anthropology is perhaps the most given to questioning itself as to what it is and coming up with answers that sound more like overall worldviews or declarations of faith than they do like descriptions of a branch of knowledge. With the changes in scholarly life in recent years that have scrambled together much that was formerly reasonably well separated -- history, philosophy, science, the arts -- the difficulty of giving a straightforward, matter-of-fact account of what, if you say you are an anthropologist, you ought to be doing has only increased. The first index entry nowadays in books surveying the field is often: "anthropology, crisis of . . ."
Yet the "crisis" may be an optical illusion -- the result of trying to define "anthropology" as one would define "English," or "linguistics," or "entomology," as the study of something or other, rather than as a loose collection of intellectual careers. Inside this indisciplined discipline there may be but so many vocations trying to define themselves. In my case, anyway, that is the case. It is in the trajectory of my professional life, neither regular nor representative, very fitfully planned, very unspecifically aimed, that the anthropologist is to be found. Here, too, the matter is ad hoc and ex post. You see what you have been doing (if you see it at all) after you have been doing it.
The question is the more difficult because over time "anthropology," however conceived, is a far from stable enterprise. What it was in 1950, when, stumbling out of an undergraduate major in English and philosophy and looking for something rather more connected to the world as it was, I first wandered into it; in 1960, when, properly licensed, I first began to contribute to "the literature"; in 1970, when, a professor in an institution commonly referred to as illustrious, I found those contributions starting to be discussed and evaluated; in 1980, when, cited all over the place, they were dissected, resisted, corrected, distorted, celebrated, decried, or built upon -- these are hardly the same thing. Other fields change as well of course, some of them more rapidly or fundamentally; but few do so in so hard to locate a way as anthropology. It alters like a mood, an attitude, or a climate of opinion.
In trying to say, nonetheless, what anthropology "is" -- not from an all-over, bird's-eye view, a stratagem that may be left to textbooks, which play a minor role in either the formation or the consolidation of anthropological thought, but from the perspective of the progress of one of its more determined pilgrims (but determined upon what?) making his way through its promises and discouragements -- two approaches seem workable: (1) an account of the shifts in intellectual outlook in the discipline, as one found oneself caught up in them; (2) a similar description of similar shifts in the conditions of work, what some would call, but I will not, the modes of anthropological production. As the two are intricately linked (though not in the way the modes-of-production conception imagines) they must, however, be discussed together. Theory and practice are not, as idealists suppose, cause and outcome. Nor are they, as materialists do, outcome and cause. They are pursuits in a calling.
* * *
The Harvard Social Relations Department in 1950 was nothing if not characteristic of its time: a period, contrary to its reputation, of a great deal of intellectual ferment and innovation, and above all, so far as the social sciences were concerned, of a sense that things were at last coming firmly together. "The Sociology is About to Begin said the Man with the Loudspeaker," Talcott Parsons, in his presidential address to the American Sociological Association no less, reported his two young children marching importantly about the house proclaiming. And indeed for a while it really seemed so.
For the most part, the feeling that a new era was dawning was a reflex of an end-of-the-war reanimation much more powerful than, after a half-century of receding horizons, is now remembered. The subsidized students of the GI Bill generation (of which I was one), older, less uniformed, more anxious to put diversion aside and get on with things than undergraduates had typically been, began to arrive at the graduate schools, infusing them with a new seriousness. The professoriate, many of whose members had spent the war in some sort of planning, intelligence, or propaganda work, was exhilarated by the prospect of pursuing its own agendas again, armed with the real-world experience it had gained serving the nation. The emergence of the United States as a world power, indeed the world power, reviving Europe, containing the Soviet Union, setting the Third World on its developmental course, seemed to suggest that the headquarters of learning and research had moved here as well. And of course we were rich then; richer than anybody else by far. If you could think of anything at all plausible to do, you could get the money someplace -- from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, or the National Institutes of Mental Health, from Ford or Rockefeller or Rand or the Social Science Research Council -- to do it.
The Social Relations Department had been formed, not without opposition, in 1946 by a handful of nationally prominent professors, mostly in their forties, dissatisfied with their own fields as then defined and anxious to rearrange things so as to produce a more broadly integrative approach in the social sciences. There were four subfields, sociology, social psychology, clinical psychology, and social anthropology. Students were admitted into one of these sub-fields and expected to pursue careers within it, but they were obligated to take courses and pass examinations in each of the others as well. Driven forward by a resounding call to arms the insurgents had put together, "Toward a Common Language for the Areas of Social Sciences" (why not English?, some unreconstructed wit inquired), it was nothing if not interdisciplinary. It lasted twenty-five years, about fifteen of them genuinely innovative. After that things went, as they normally do, back to normal.
It was, in any case, social science in full cry; headier and more confident than before or since. There was the project for a grandly architectonic "general theory of social action" that Parsons, the chairman of the department and its presiding spirit, had put in motion -- a great assemblage of boxes and arrows that he sometimes spoke of as the sociological equivalent of the Newtonian system, sometimes as an effort to split the social atom. There was the Psychological Clinic, under the somewhat Jungian, somewhat Freudian, altogether eclectic Henry Murray, dedicated to systematizing and testing psychoanalytical insights in a properly scientific manner. There was the Russian Research Center, directed by the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, employing social scientific techniques (refugee interviewing, content analysis) in an effort to penetrate, and foil, Soviet intentions. There was the Laboratory of Social Relations, led by the methodologist Samuel Stouffer, perfecting statistical measures and survey techniques. There was the Ramah Project, also under Kluckhohn, engaged in a long-term comparative study of values in five adjacent cultures in the American Southwest. A group around the social psychologist Jerome Bruner was just beginning to develop what eventually turned out to be cognitive psychology, another around the sociologist George Homans was working on small-group studies, another around the aging poly-math Pitirim Sorokin was trying to put his sweeping and rather theatrical ideas on historical evolution into more researchable form.
For someone whose previous acquaintance with the social sciences had been limited to some courses in fiscal policy, an undergraduate thesis trying to marry Freud to Spinoza, and a literary exposure to Ruth Benedicts Patterns of Culture, it was all a bit much. Finding one's way through this maze of grand possibilities, only loosely related, and some even in fairly serious tension with one another, was, however exciting (and it was enormously exciting), a perilous business. With so many ways to turn, so few tracks laid down, and so little experience of one's own to go by, even small decisions, to take this seminar, attack that subject, work with this professor, seemed enormously consequential -- a reverseless commitment to something immense, portentous, splendid, and unclear.
In this maze or maelstrom, or vanity fair, the anthropologist had one thing going for him in keeping himself reasonably on course: the realization, immediately instilled in him (or -- there were a few women -- in her) and continuously reinforced, that he was going to have to do fieldwork. Unlike the others, mere academicians, we had a testing ahead, a place we had to go to and a rite we had to go through. The prospect of this moment of truth (though in my case it turned out to be two and a half years) wonderfully concentrated our minds, gave us a powerful sense of moving toward something, or anyway somewhere. The problem was where, and it filled our consciousness -- at least it filled mine -- almost all the time. Where was our Trobriands, our Nuerland, our Tepoztian to be? A much more important question, actually, than what we would do (one could always think of something, so much was unstudied) when we got there.
But here too the progress was more accidental than purposive. The very day I arrived in Cambridge a professor, trying to be kind but failing, asked me where I was going to work. As I was barely aware at that point that this was a consideration I said, dissembling madly, well maybe Latin America. Fortunately, he did not pursue the matter, which would have been uncomfortable for both of us. But I did, as a result, spend the next year or so thinking vaguely of Brazil, which I understood to have some Indians in it, and giving that as an answer whenever the question came up, as it did with great regularity, particularly among students.
In the summer after my first year, Kluckhohn gave me a research job on the five cultures project, studying differential reactions of the cultures (one talked in those days of cultures as agents) to what were taken to be problems common to them all -- drought, death, and alcoholism. (I did not actually go to the Southwest but merely worked from reports and fieldnotes stored in Cambridge.) This raised a more concrete possibility, but one about which I was quite wary because of the industrial social science aspects of it all: dozens of researchers, from all sorts of fields, working in a grand variety of ways on a grand variety of topics, all of it rather too closely managed from corporate headquarters at Harvard. Those days anyway, the ideal of alone among the unknown, what has been called the "my people" syndrome, was still very much alive, and there were depreciative murmurs to be heard about "gas station anthropology" and "meadow work rather than fieldwork." In any case, the question became moot when at the end of the summer yet another professor walked into the office in the Peabody Museum where I was blithely sorting Navajo ways of mourning from Zuni and both from Mormon, Texan, and Spanish American, never having myself so much as been to a funeral. He said (he was a man of few words, mostly abrupt): "We are forming a team to go to Indonesia. We need someone on religion and someone on kinship. Do you and your wife want to go?" I said, hardly knowing more than where Indonesia was, and that inexactly, "Yes, we would." I went home to tell my wife what had happened, and we set out to discover what I had gotten us into.
What I had gotten us into was the very stamp and image of the Social Relations Idea: a well-financed, multidisciplinary, long-term, team field project directed toward the study not of an isolated tribal culture but of a two-thousand-year-old civilization fully in the throes of revolutionary change. Of the nine members of the team, six, a sociologist, three anthropologists, a social psychologist, and a clinical psychologist, were from the Social Relations Department as such; of the other three, two were anthropologists from the established Anthropology Department, from which the Social Relations program was in some sense a breakaway, and one was an historian of China, seconded in from Far Eastern Studies. The collective aim of the group, though it was generally assumed that it was supposed to have one, was unclear. So was how it was, on the ground, going to operate, how it was to be organized, what it was going to focus upon. We were to go to Java, descend upon a location apparently already chosen, and, paired with Javanese counterparts from Gadjah Mada, the revolutionary university set up only a few years earlier in Jogjakarta, study assorted aspects of "the culture" -- family, religion, village life, social stratification, the market, the Chinese. Then, talking to one another all the while, and perhaps even sharing fieldnotes (though that never occurred), we were to return and write doctoral theses.
But if there were no aims, or at least no readily stateable ones, there were assumptions. There was the idea that the time had come for anthropology to turn away from its nearly exclusive focus on "primitives" and begin to investigate large-scale societies directly in the stream of contemporary history. There was the idea that it should also turn away from intellectual isolation, cultural particular-ism, mindless empiricism, and the lone ranger approach to research and begin to work together with other, more conceptualized disciplines (psychology, economics, sociology, political science) in a big-push effort to construct a unified, generalizing science of society from which could emerge a practical technology for the management of human affairs. And there was the idea that the groundwork for such a science had already been laid by the great social theorists of the "long nineteenth century," the one that ended with the First World War -- Marx, Freud, Weber, Pareto, Simmel, Durkheim, somewhat latterly, Malinowski. All that was needed was systematization, funding, and the perfection of method. With that, and resolution, we would have, reasonably soon, something worth being compared if not to physics at least to physiology.
That, of course, never happened, has still not happened, and, in my opinion anyway, is no nearer to happening now than it was then. The project as it unfolded undermined in its very success (for it was, again in my opinion, and by my standards, quite successful) any expectation that "science" here could mean what it apparently meant for Harvey or Pasteur -- the depiction of machinery and the concoction of remedies. What it might mean instead, what other conceptions of knowledge, of knowing, and of the uses of knowledge could be brought into play, was, however, obscure. Making it a bit less obscure became, in the actual course of my work, under the actual conditions in which I pursued it, my governing purpose; and it has remained so since.
* * *
After a year of collective, speaking-and-hearing study of the Indonesian language, which had the side effect of allowing us to get to know one another well enough to decide not to try to coordinate our individual research activities into the sort of unified enterprise the project's designers had in mind but to be a "team" in only the loosest and most collegiate sense, we set off via Botterdam for the three-week sea voyage to Jakarta. When we got to Jogjakarta, another day's train ride inland, to meet our Indonesian collaborators, we had something of a surprise waiting for us: they were dubious indeed about both us and the project -- skeptical of our capacities, opposed to our plans, suspicious of our intentions.
The immediate problem was that the director of the project, the professor who had so laconically invited me into it, had announced on the very eve of our departure that he would not be accompanying us; he was withdrawing from the enterprise for reasons of health. He had traveled to Jogjakarta the year before to make the arrangements for the research with the three senior professors -- a customary law scholar, an agricultural economist, and a linguist -- who had been appointed to be his codirectors on the Indonesian side, but he had told us virtually nothing of what had transpired. We therefore arrived not only leaderless, without the established figure with whom the professors had dealt and whom they had apparently trusted, but as a motley band of obscure and inexperienced graduate students, who had, moreover, the presumptuousness to find the arrangements that had supposedly been agreed to not to their liking.
Indeed, we found them unworkable. The plan was that we would go up to a mountainous area north of Jogjakarta where there was an old Dutch resort hotel, now unoccupied. We would live there, in comfort and safety, together with the, it now turned out, not five or six but something like fifteen or twenty, twenty or thirty (it never became very clear) Indonesian students whom the professors would select. Under the general surveillance of the professors, who were apparently going to commute from Jogjakarta on the weekends, we would summon people in from the countryside round and about -- or, more exactly, local officials, who would know who was appropriate, would summon them for us. Working from a prepared schedule of topics, we would interview these people in groups (so they could correct one another, and come to a consensual view) about this or that matter. Then we would prepare a report of our findings and depart. This was how Dutch scholars of Volkenkunde and their native assistants now become our mentors had worked. Standing where, perhaps twenty years earlier, those mentors had stood, subaltern apprentices there to be useful, we too, therefore, would work that way.
It would be hard to conceive an image of social research more entirely opposed to our notions, and those of our own mentors, the people who had sent us to Java in the first place, than this extraordinary reincarnation of the pith-helmet procedures of colonial ethnology. We were caught between academic mentalities, one ambitious, confident, and ultramodern, one nostalgic, defensive, and obsolescent; stranded between paradigms in an epistemie break that, this being Indonesia in 1951 and we being Americans, was a moral and political break as well. Making our way across that break, which, at length, with difficulty, and at the cost of injured feelings all around, we managed to do, was an instructive experience: an introduction to "the field" that made it clear that, like theories, methods, projects, and researchers, research sites are not found, they are made, and it is these things that make them.
What separated the Indonesians and ourselves was less where to go (though one of the few parts of central Java where it was too cold to grow much rice, where an armed gang of leftist rebels controlled much of the countryside, and which was dominated by a famous relic of late colonialism, didn't entirely attract), but what the "going" was going to consist in. Given their determination not to be subordinates any longer in their own country, their wish to bring their students up to speed, their hierarchical conception of scholarship, their questions about our real intentions (we were never able to convince them that we were not government sponsored), and, not least, their desire that we get in and out of the country without untoward incident, indeed without anyone much even knowing we had been there, the Indonesians naturally wanted a maximally controlled situation -- an anthropological white room. Given our view of ourselves as paladins of an improved, "cutting edge" social science, our assumption that our work would benefit not just ourselves but our subjects, our doubts about the qualifications (and the real function) of the Indonesian students so peremptorily assigned to us, and, not least, our conviction that what we wanted to do demanded free, intimate, and long-term relations with those we were studying, isolated from external oversight and the attentions of the state, we naturally wanted a maximally uncontrolled situation -- the Trobriands in Java.
Looking back at this intercultural drama, the willful West meets the put-upon East, what is striking is how vividly it reflects, in its unselfconscious, almost parodical way, what has widely come to be seen in the decades since to be the moral crux of ethnographical inquiry. This crux has been set forth in varying ways, with varying degrees of angst and self-righteousness: What gives us the right to study them? When we speak of others in our voice do we not displace and appropriate theirs? Is a representation of others free of the play of power and domination in any way possible? Does it all come down to who writes whom? Is colonialism dead? Is it even mortal?
Though we were intensely aware of these issues (even if we formulated them, in those less pensive days, more in methodological than in ethical terms -- as questions of rapport) and of the destructive tensions they were inducing in our relations with our hosts, we decided to cut the knot in the Gordian way. Four of us, the three anthropologists from Social Relations together with the sociologist, piled into the chauffeured automobile Ford had provided the project and, asking nobody's leave, headed east, looking for a new site. After canvassing four or five possibilities, we settled on Pare. It was about the right size, had a diverse population and a variegated economy, and, most critically, the district officer in charge of the place was an extraordinary figure, energetic, knowledgeable, supremely self-confident. A local man who, starting as a village policeman, had worked his way up the native wing of the colonial civil service while becoming, at the same time, a strong and active Sukarno nationalist, he very much wanted us to come there. It was also about two hundred kilometers from Jogjakarta: much too far for anyone to commute, much too rustic for anyone to want to.
A declaration of independence, then, almost designed to insult and infuriate. But when we returned to Jogjakarta, full of anxiety over what we had done, and informed the professors that we thought the project should be carried out in the heat and dust of distant Pare rather than the cool greenness of the nearby hill station, their reaction was not only not outrage, but, at least so it seemed, relief. Apparently, they were by then (this whole episode took seven months to unfold, and this was just about halfway along) as anxious to be free of us, and of responsibility for us, as we were of them; sorry that they had allowed themselves to become involved in so complicated an enterprise in the first place. Their official role in the project became virtually nonexistent, their personal interaction with us grew markedly more relaxed, even warm, and the notion of student counterparts, collective interviewing, and joint reporting simply evaporated. The problem had hardly been solved nor the wounds of confrontation wholly healed. I doubt they ever were. But at least we had moved from active stalemate, taut and ill-tempered, to something rather more resembling limbo.
Just where we now stood, whether the enterprise was off or on, was unclear. We were waiting for the man who had been appointed to replace our lost leader, a young linguist from Yale who had been one of our teachers of Indonesian, to arrive and see whether, as hardly seemed likely, the situation might somehow still be saved. In the meantime we studied Javanese, got to know a great many Jogjanese, and began our inquiries into Javanese culture, hoping that if we were asked to leave, as I at least expected we soon would be, we would be able to patch together some sort of acceptable thesis. It was a difficult time -- a world opening up before our eyes and falling from our hands at the same time. But in the end it all proved fortunate; a gift, in fact, and a godsend. By the time we got to Pare, for of course we finally did get there (the Minister of Culture in Jakarta subjected our hapless new director to a three-hour harangue about arrogance, faithlessness, and the fact that the world was changing and whites had damn better realize it, but ended with, "all right, go to Pare, and the hell with you"), we were already a very long way, over our heads almost, "into the culture."
More than that, we had managed, only half-consciously and without much sense of what it was we really wanted, to shake ourselves free of both the expansive expectations that had sent us to Indonesia and the contracted ones we encountered when we got there. The booming loudspeaker of Harvard seemed a long way off and the preposterous pith-helmet of Gadjah Mada hardly closer. The district officer -- he deserves a name (and to my mind a statue): Raden Mas Soemomihardjo -- was as good as his word. He found us local families to live with. He introduced us to anyone we wanted to meet and to many people we hadn't the wit to know that we wanted to meet. He announced to everyone that we had come there because, now that Indonesia was at last independent, Americans needed to know, free of colonial distortions, what its people were really like, and there was, of course, no better place in the entire country to find that out. (A week after I had settled with the family of a railroad worker, a neighbor asked me, "How many of you are coming? I hear there will be two thousand.") And, most important of all, having done this, he left us alone. The rest, some two years or so, was, if not exactly history, anyway anthropology. Here, finally, was "the field."
* * *
Historicizing yourself, dividing your past into periods, is an uncomfortable sort of thing to do. It is uncomfortable not just for the obvious reason that the further you move from the beginning the closer you come to the end, but because there are so many ways to do it; any particular one seems arbitrary, rooted in very little else but narrative convenience. If you are concerned merely to relate what you've seen and been through that doesn't matter so much. Nobody's under oath in autobiography, whose purpose is normally to keep an illusion in place. But if you are concerned with tracing the movement of a discipline by packaging your experiences into emblematical units it is rather more troubling. You are expected, at least, to justify the units, say what it is the emblems emblematize.
This becomes particularly acute as one approaches the 1960s. For the one thing that seems generally agreed (which doesn't, of course, in itself make it true) is that, at least in the United States, the sixties were totally different from the fifties -- a whole other thing. The fifties were complacent, the sixties torn; the fifties tailored, the sixties scruffy; the fifties well-mannered, the sixties confrontational; the fifties silent, the sixties shrill. Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the counterculture were the American kairos: the point at which the future changed.
If this story, a product itself of the times it celebrates, is taken at face value, the temptation to see everything in its terms as one moves from considering the Eisenhower era to considering the Kennedy-Johnson one is especially strong. But so far as anthropology is concerned, and indeed the social sciences in general, that doesn't work out very well. Things changed, all right, and significantly. But they changed in ways that were connected more with what was learned, and what unlearned, in the years immediately after the war than with the ambient excitements of the society at large. There was less a fragmentation and a surrender to immediacies (that came later) than a rethinking and a consolidation, the settling in of a general direction.
I spent the sixties at the University of Chicago, arriving as an unformed assistant professor in the fall of 1960, departing as an all-too-formed professor in the spring of 1970: an exact ten years. It was hardly a place remote from the upheavals of the time. There were teach-ins, marches, strikes; the administration building was occupied, professors were physically attacked. Off-campus, the Black Panthers were shot up, the Chicago Seven were tried, the yippies attempted to levitate the Merchandise Mart, and the Democratic convention exploded. Some places, Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, Kent State, may have had more harrowing moments, and other events, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Watts riots, the fall of Lyndon Johnson, were surely of more lasting significance. But the pervasiveness of the disorder, and its variousness, were hardly anywhere any more thoroughly displayed. If in fact the whole world was watching, it was a very good place to look.
All of this was, of course, much on the minds of the university population. People debated, demonstrated, gave speeches, formed groups, wrote letters to newspapers, or departed for Canada, and there can hardly have been anyone who did not sign a petition. The antiwar protest, to some degree the civil rights movement, rather less the counterculture, engaged much of the energies of faculty and students alike. But they were for the most part, even when on occasion they disrupted the normal flow of things and threw the structures of civility into disarray, rather extracurricular. The intellectual tone of the university, highly distinctive and rather deep set, haft an Arnoldian ideology, half a Burkean morality, really did not alter much. The "sixties" surrounded the place and colored its mood; but only sporadically, and then evanescently, did they invade the workings of its interior life.
That life, as I say, was well established. At least since Robert Maynard Hutchins had agitated the place with his peculiar combination of seriousness and self-promotion in the thirties and forties, and possibly since its first president, William Rainey Harper, had introduced the German idea of the sovereign scholar at the turn of the century, the university had a density and a centeredness not otherwise much found in American academia. For better or worse, it was earnest, purposeful, self-regarding, and intense.
And adventurous. I came to the university as part once more of a wildly multidisciplinary experiment in the social sciences: The Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations. The Chicago "committee system," by means of which scholarly work could be pursued outside the confines of established departments, especially those Hutchins wished to constrain, circumvent, or even just generally annoy, was already famous, in some quarters infamous. The best-known examples were the Committee on Social Thought, which had been set up, apparently to some degree with his own money, by the economic historian John Nef, and the Ideas and Methods program, which had been organized by the philosopher Richard McKeon, but there were instances scattered throughout the university. The New Nations Committee was conceived by two Chicago professors, the sociologist Edward Shils (who had also been peripherally involved in the Social Relations project at Harvard) and the political scientist David Apter (who had studied at Princeton with one of its more vehement products), in 1958-59 while they were on leave to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto -- also a recently formed multi-disciplinary enterprise. As I, too, was there that year, having just returned from fieldwork in Bali, they asked me to join them in putting their idea in motion, which, after a year of teaching at Berkeley, I did.
In its own way, of course, the Committee was very much a creature of the times. But, focused on understanding the changes consequent upon the collapse of European imperialism after 1945, it was directed outward toward the world in general, not inward toward the domestic malaise. The formation of nearly fifty new states by the early 1960s, with another fifty promised, virtually all of them in Asia and Africa, virtually all of them weak, instable, poor, and ambitious, seemed to provide a whole new field of inquiry -- one in which comparative study could tease out similarities and differences and provide, thereby, guides to intelligent policy. "Realistic, sympathetic studies of the new states," Shils, the Committee's first chairman, wrote in a foundational essay that catches its spirit with an accuracy that now, when benevolence is suspect and confidence hard to come by, seems more than a bit embarrassing.
Realistic, sympathetic studies of the new states can help to make our policies toward them more understanding, more discriminating, and more helpful. There are benevolent errors to dispel as well as malevolent errors to overcome. We wish to secure the benevolence while dispelling the mythology with which so many well-intentioned persons confront the new states. The differentiated portrayal of the situation of the new states and the subjective and environmental determinants of action might make us, and those who must make policy, more imaginative about the possible lines of development as well as about the obstacles to such development. By a greater realism, coupled with a vivid disclosure of the range of possibilities permitted by the "givens" of life in the new states, and of the capacities of their rulers, we hope also -- at least, to some extent -- to disarm ill will.
The kind of social research we are practicing is a disciplined extension of experience. The categories we employ are the same as the ones we employ in our studies of our own societies, and they postulate the fundamental affinities of all human beings. Their persistent application in research and the diffusion of the results of research into the circles of influential opinion will, it is hoped, further the process through which that sense of affinity, necessary for constructive policy, is nurtured.
Our undertaking does not, however, intend to attain these moral effects through preaching, exhortation, or manipulation. We seek to do it through enlightenment. Our chosen instrument of enlightenment is systematic research, conducted under the auspices of the best traditions of contemporary social science.
The Committee that was to carry out this formidable enterprise consisted of some thirteen members. (The membership shifted a bit over time.) Two of them were sociologists, three political scientists, five anthropologists, and there were an economist, a lawyer, and a professor of education. Virtually all had carried out field researches in one or another region of the world, most especially West and East Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Committee had its own offices and administrative staff, held weekly seminars, organized conferences, supported dissertation write-ups, invited external research fellows, and produced, in the course of time, a fair number of publications. Perhaps Shils's hopes for turning American policy vis-a-vis the Third World toward realism, enlightenment, and sympathetic imagination were somewhat less than completely fulfilled. (This was, again, after all, the time of Katanga, the Tonkin Gulf, Kashmir, and Biafra.) But a scholarly community with a style and a standpoint, something less than a school but more than a talking shop, was nonetheless formed.
So far as my own work was concerned, the task was to develop a research program that could connect both to the Committee's expansive intentions and to my own more circumscribed ones. And this involved the second locus of my Chicago existence, a block away, two stories up, and intellectually enclosed in a quite different world -- the Department of Anthropology.
For the first five years at the University I was wholly on the Committee budget; for the last five, independently supported by a Senior Research Career Fellowship from the National Institutes of Mental Health, free to do more or less whatever I wished, if only I could figure out what that might be. But over the whole period I had, as well, an appointment in the anthropology department, and became, almost immediately, deeply engaged, entangled is perhaps a better word, with the more restless of my colleagues there in what turned out, after a while, to be an extremely influential (and extremely controversial) effort to redefine the ethnographical enterprise whole and entire. Known most generally as "symbolic anthropology" (a name bestowed upon it by others elsewhere, and with which I myself have never been entirely happy, if only because it suggests that, like "economic anthropology," "political anthropology," or "the anthropology of religion," it is a specialty or a sub-discipline rather than a foundational critique of the field as such), this redefinition consisted in placing the systematic study of meaning, the vehicles of meaning, and the understanding of meaning at the very center of research and analysis: to make of anthropology, or anyway cultural anthropology, a hermeneutical discipline.
We would not, of course, have called it that, for the term, and the movement, was largely unknown in the United States, and when known, suspected as European, literary, or worse, philosophical. But that is what it was. In the course of a thoroughgoing overhaul of the curriculum and the institution of a new set of required introductory courses in the graduate program, courses designed to convey to doctoral candidates what we expected of them, the faculty found itself driven beyond the boundaries of the received traditions in anthropology to a consideration of more general intellectual trends -- trends which in the following decades would, under such rubrics as the linguistic, the interpretive, the social constructionist, the new historicist, the rhetorical, or the semiotic "turn," become increasingly powerful in all the human sciences. Doubtless, much of our thought was fumbling and undeveloped. Certainly, hardly any of it was unmarked by quarrel. But "the move toward meaning" has proved a proper revolution: sweeping, durable, turbulent, and consequential.
* * *
However that may be, I was, for my part, projected by all of this into an all-consuming, but after Harvard not unfamiliar, preoccupation: how to arrange these various elements -- the Committees version of a new field of study, the ethnographers' reconceptualization of their professional task, and my own concern, brought along with me vaguely from my liberal arts past, with the role of thought in history -- into a practicable program of empirical research. Once again, only the pressures of fieldwork seemed capable of sorting out a scramble of ideas. By going someplace, different and distant, and staying there awhile, one could make up one's mind. Or, perhaps more exactly, have it made up for one.
There were, however, some problems rather more immediate. The sixties in Indonesia were even more explosive than in America or Europe, and in the middle of them the massacres erupted. With two children, both under five, returning there seemed a dubious proposition. Even had I risked it, or gone alone (I have never worked in the field alone for more than a month or so, and doubt very much that I could have managed it), it seems unlikely that the government, that is, the army, would have allowed me to move about with the requisite freedom, or, even if it had, that anyone would have been comfortable talking to me. I was reduced, as I had been in those first flustered years at Harvard, to that most pitiable of conditions: an anthropologist without a people.
And, as in those years, I floundered about for some time trying to imagine where I might go, never mind what I might do were I in fact actually to get there. I considered Bengal for a while. Perhaps I could find a Hindu town with a Muslim minority on the Indian side of the border and a Muslim one with a Hindu minority on the, as it was then, East Pakistan side; a balanced contrast for a reciprocal comparison -- by this time an almost instinctive way of going at things for me. But, though I went so far as to study Bengali for a couple of months, that tense, fever-ridden region, moving toward an explosion of its own, was hardly more plausible an idea just then than was collapsing Java, and I soon gave it up. For an uneasy, uncertain period, I continued to drift, writing retrospectively about Indonesia, thinking prospectively, and not very exactly, of all sorts of elsewheres: the Philippines, Uganda, Suriname, Bosnia, Madagascar.
All this indefiniteness and indecision were, once again, resolved suddenly, in a way wholly unexpected, by a possibility wholly unforseen. In the summer of 1963, a sort of summit conference, designed to reduce what was felt to be a marked difference in approach between what the British called "Social Anthropology" and the Americans called "Cultural Anthropology," a difference the appearance of "symbolic anthropology" (again, not another branch of anthropology, but another notion of what anthropology was) seemed, if anything, to be deepening, was held at Cambridge University. The nature of this Anglo-American mismeeting of minds, having to do at base with a stress on concrete, "real as a seashell" social relationships and institutions on the empiricist Anglo side as against "shreds and patches' agglomerations of customs and thought-ways on the historicist American one, is no longer of any particular relevance, now that these matters are (in most places) less simplistically conceived. Nor, to my mind, was the debate as important then as the champions of either party, decided, dug in, and overly articulate, imagined it to be. But it was, nonetheless, noticeably heated, obstructive in the way only academic opinion-peddling, especially when large reputations are involved, can be, and the conference was planned as an attempt to get beyond it.
The degree to which it was successful in this can be judged by others; historians, perhaps, absorbed in the passions of ancient quarrels. I found it, as I suppose most summiteers do once the excitement of sensing oneself to be at the center of things passes, somehow both a portentous, transforming event, a sea change in something, and one curiously unproductive of observable movement. However that may be, the meeting's effect on me was to accentuate my desperation to get away from lecture halls and meeting rooms, and the sort of people one found there, and into the field. During the course of it, at some intermission in some pub or other, I poured out my "where next?" anxieties to one of the younger and less over-socialized British participants -- I can, alas, no longer remember who it was -- and he said, "You should go to Morocco: it is safe, it is dry, it is open, it is beautiful, there are French schools, the food is good, and it is Islamic." The logical force of this argument, bereft as it was of scientific argumentation, was so overwhelming that, immediately after the conference ended, I flew to Morocco rather than returning to Chicago. I drove about the country talking to various sorts of officials and looking at various sorts of walls, gates, minarets, and alleyways for several weeks, and decided on the spot and with almost nothing in the way of either plan or rationale -- it was beautiful and it was Islamic -- to organize a long-term, multi-researcher study there. The Java Project, II.
Sequels have a way, however, of wandering off course and more mocking their originals than replicating them, particularly when they are constructed at other times, by other people, to , other ends. Not only had the apres guerre elation of the fifties pretty well evaporated by 1963 when I took my flying trip through Morocco's countryside (itself not unreminiscent of that desperate journey through east central Java), but what had looked, at the earlier period, to be a slow but inevitable convergence of theories and techniques began to look, by the latter one, to be an equally slow but equally inevitable differentiation of them. This had, at least for me, an exhilaration of its own, for I have always thought that understanding social life entails not an advance toward an omega point, "Truth," "Reality," "Being," or "the World," but the restless making and unmaking of facts and ideas. But it did mean that research planning was hardly any longer a straightforward matter -- set the goal, outline the procedure, mobilize the resources. On s'engage, puis on voit, plunge in and see what happens, seemed much more in order.
Two critical changes from the Java format seemed dictated by the very nature of things; those famous "material conditions of anthropological production." First, in the absence of the sort of large-scale funding and developed administrative context that had been available to the Java project, and indeed imposed upon it, a simultaneous, multipronged attack by nine or ten people seemed out of the question, particularly if I did not want, as I emphatically did not want, to become a full-time project administrator, fund-raiser, and research planner, rather than, once again, a researcher among researchers. Building houses for other people to live in simply didn't attract. I wanted to get something going, but I wanted it then to run by itself.
Second, I was not at this point part of a multidisciplinary department, as I had been before and would be subsequently; I would have to draw my colleagues from among anthropology doctoral students looking, as I had been a decade earlier, for a thesis and for a field site in which to produce one. (The Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations was interdisciplinary in terms of its members, all of whom had regular faculty appointments in standard departments as their main locus of work, and of course in outlook, but it had no students, no research program, and no resources to sponsor field expeditions.) The confinement of whatever group I formed to anthropologists was not in itself so great a departure from the Java project, in that, of those originally involved, all, save for a single sociologist who was really an anthropologist in disguise, who finally made it to Pare were in fact anthropologists -- the clinical psychologist, social psychologist, historian, and so on peeling off at various points, for various reasons. But it did mean that if the study of Sefrou, the site I chose to be, in my mind anyway, Pare's counterpart, was to escape the established agendas of anthropology and become something rather less parochial, multidisciplinary in mind-set if not in professional identity, I would have to contrive somehow or other to see that it did.
Given, then, that a simultaneous descent upon the field site by several hands was contraindicated for both practical and intellectual considerations (looking back, the Pare study seemed, even after a good deal of the original apparatus had been sheered away in our break with Gadjah Mada, a bit too concentrated, too intense -- a lower profile had certain advantages), I decided to try a chain-link approach. My wife and I would go to Sefrou for a year or so, a doctoral student, with whom we would overlap only for a month or two in the field for orientation purposes, would then come for a year or so, we would return for another year a month or so before the student left to return to Chicago, and so on. In general, this plan was put into effect and, in general, it worked quite well. My wife and I, together with three doctoral candidates succeeding one another in time, our stays interspersed between theirs and bracketing them, kept Sefrou more or less "covered" between 1965 and 1971.
In the end, I don't know that, for all the contrasts in academic tone between Harvard and Chicago (The Sociology is About to Begin; Meaning Matters) and in general mood between the fifties and the sixties (The American Century; Where Have All the Young Men Gone?), the two projects, one an attempt to rationalize social research along industrial lines, the other a more patched-together handicraft affair, worked out so very differently in practice. "The Field" itself is, or at least it was in these two cases, a powerful disciplinary force: assertive, demanding, even coercive. Like any such force, it can be underestimated or otherwise occluded, and by some individuals in either case it was. But it cannot, at least if one is not going to disengage altogether, as in both cases some individuals did, be simply evaded. It is too insistent for that.
* * *
The difficulty, as every anthropologist who has tried to do it knows, is that it is virtually impossible to convey what precisely the nature of this discipline is, or even where exactly it comes from. Some of us try analogies. (My own favorite, though I don't think it has ever worked, is a chess game, with the traditionalized positional moves of the opening game as one gets settled, finds people to work with, and so on; the complex, harder-to-standardize combinations of the middle game when one launches probes in all sorts of directions and tries, once they are out there and probing, to relate them to one another; and the sterner, more formalized mopping up procedures of the minimalist end game.) Others try lengthy, boring, and wholly inadequate desriptions of how they lived, what they ate, how they kept field notes, whom they interviewed; appending, perhaps, inventories, schedules, lists of questions. More recently there have been some attempts to depict fieldwork experience in autobiographical terms (one of them emerged from the Morocco project), and they have had their interest. But somehow they lead more to rumination and self-inspection, and to a curious interiorization of what is in fact an intensely public activity, than they do to an ordered account of what field research comes to as a mode of inquiry. Like psychoanalysts mumbling about "working through," we lack the language to articulate what takes place when we are in fact at work. There seems to be a genre missing.
What emerges, in my account as in others, reminds me of an old Red Skelton movie, whose title I no longer remember. Skelton is a hack writer of adventure stories for boys. Pacing up and down, he is dictating to an amanuensis. "Wonder Boy was trapped in the tent. All around him were circling Indians. The prairie had been set on fire. He had no more bullets. All his food was gone. Night was coming. How would Wonder Boy get out of the tent? End of Chapter 22." A pause, while Skelton collects his thoughts. Then: "Chapter 23. After Wonder Boy got out of the tent . . ."
* * *
After I left Chicago, the Moroccan project established and functioning, I found myself in the most unstandard, and the most difficult, academic environment yet: the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. The Institute, which was founded in 1930 on the basis of an endowment from a New Jersey department store family, was intended by its projector and first director, the philanthropical entrepreneur and all-around fixer of things Abraham Flexner, to be America's answer to Oxford's All Souls and Paris's College de France, as well as a haven for eminent scholars and scientists fleeing fascist Europe. Flexner, who was by then in his midsixties, with a trail of triumphs and resignations stretched out behind him, was not given to shaded views and small thoughts:
Progress might be greatly assisted [he wrote a year or so before launching the Institute] by the outright creation of a school or institute of higher learning. . . . It should be a free society of scholars -- free, because mature persons, animated by intellectual purposes, must be left to pursue their own ends in their own way. Administration should be slight and inexpensive. Scholars and scientists should participate in its government; the president should come down from his pedestal. The term "organization" should be banned. The institution should be open to all persons, competent and cultivated, who do not need and would abhor spoon feeding. . . . It should furnish simple surroundings -- books, laboratories, and above all tranquility -- absence of distraction either by worldly concerns or by parental responsibility for an immature student body. Provision should be made for the amenities of life in the institution and in the private life of the staff. It need not be complete or symmetrical: if a chair could not be admirably filled, it should be left vacant. There exists in America no university in this sense -- no institution, no seat of learning devoted to higher teaching and research. Everywhere the pressure of undergraduate and vocational activities hampers the serious objects for which universities exist . . . science and scholarship suffer; money is wasted. . . .
What could be expected, if a modern American university were thus established? The ablest scholars and scientists would be attracted to its faculty; the most earnest students would be attracted to its laboratories and seminars. It would be small . . . but its propulsive power would be momentous out of all proportion to its size. It would, like a lens, focus rays that now scatter. . . .
This sort of talk appears less often in public discourse these days, when the charge of elitism is so powerful a delegitimizing force. One does not speak so airily, and certainly not so frankly, of faculty amenities and the world-avoiding life. But it not only expresses the outlook that launched the Institute in the first place; it expresses the spirit, or the ideology, that, stated and restated by faculty, directors, and trustees alike, from that day to this, continues to animate it.
Or at least, supposedly so. From the very beginning, the idealized nature of such a picture of the ultimate academy, a place where mind met mind and passion, self, and ignorance were absent, came under a certain amount of question. When Flexner wrote to one of his early advisors, Felix Frankfurter, that the Institute was "a paradise for scholars," Frankfurter, who, whatever else he may have been, was rather fully in the world, responded:
[I do not] think it is very helpful to take too seriously the exuberant rhetoric of thinking of the Institute as a "paradise for scholars." For one thing, the natural history of paradise is none too encouraging a precedent. Apparently it was an excellent place for one person, but it was fatal even for two -- or at least for two when the snake entered, and the snake seems to be an early and congenial companion of man. . . . Let's try to aim at something human, for we are dealing with humans and not with angels.
It did not take long to make Frankfurter a prophet (and an ex-advisor). Alongside Flexner's transcendent scholars tranquilly conversing in simple surroundings, an image reinforced by some notable early appointments, Hermann Weyl, John von Neumann, Erwin Panofsky, Kurt Godel, and of course most famously, Albert Einstein (whose own view of Princeton seems to have been- as he wrote in a letter to the Queen of Belgium -- that it was "a quaint and ceremonious village of puny demigods on stilts"), there developed the sort of highly personalized academic politics such a collection of luminaries set free from real-world constraints to rub up against one another might be expected to produce.
Flexner soon found out, as he should already have known, that, when it comes to immaturity, students are scarcely a patch on professors. He not only had to come down from his pedestal but, in a fit of faculty opposition, he was driven from the garden altogether, forced to resign. A series of bitter, what's mine is mine, what's yours is negotiable quarrels led to chronic discord -- quarrels over appointments, quarrels over the formation of schools within the Institute (one in Political Economy was disbanded altogether; the "sciences" split, not without pain, into Mathematics and Natural Sciences; the school of Humanistic Studies evolved, if that's the word for what seems to have been a tortuous change of mind, into the school of Historical Studies), and, of course, quarrels over salaries, then as now too small for demigods, too large for publication. Tensions between faculty and directors, directors and trustees, and trustees and faculty, as well as between all of them and the philanthropist who had endowed the institution in the first place and had begun to wonder whether he and his sister should have rounded instead the medical school Flexner had talked them out of, developed and spread. The national, cold war controversies in which the third Director, Robert Oppenheimer, found himself caught up during the 1950s, especially since his chief antagonist, Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was on the Institute Board of Trustees and had invited him to be Director in the first place, made something of a mockery of the far-from-the-madding-crowd view of intellectual life. Et in arcadia ego: the rays that Flexner wanted focused got more than a little interferential.
All this internal warfare was, as far as I was concerned, so much prehistory when I arrived in 1970, innocent of any knowledge of it and unacquainted with any of my instant colleagues, to be the first professor in yet another new school in the Institute -- Social Sciences. But it rather soon became clear that if past is prologue anywhere, it is at the Institute, which less transcends its crises than, reproducing its culture with a fidelity that would make the Tibetans envious, reenacts them. The Director then, and the originator of the proposal for such a school, was the economist Carl Kaysen, who had himself been appointed only a few years before, and his efforts met with what can only be called unbuttoned hostility from a good part of the faculty and buttoned hostility from much of the rest. "Social Science will be your Vietnam," a particularly enrage mathematician told Kaysen. "Yours will be a Pyrrhic victory," he told me, who was taken aback to hear that I had, accidentally, enlisted in a war. (He also quoted Abbe Sieyes about the tiers etat. I didn't quite get the force of this; don't to this day. But he was clearly up on his martial imagery.) It was not exactly a comfortable beginning.
But it was nothing in comparison with what was to come: "The Bellah Affair." When I was appointed, via an external ad hoc committee of social scientists, there was, as yet, no school, but a preliminary "program" of five or six one-year visitors, run essentially out of Kaysen's office. For the first two years I struggled to find my feet in what I soon discovered was an extremely tense and increasingly obsessive community -- skeptical of the social sciences, suspicious of me, and outright paranoid about Kaysen. In order to get things moving toward permanent institutionalization, which I understood I had been brought there to do, in the fall of 1972 I nominated, with Kaysen's support, a leading sociologist, Robert Bellah, to be the second professor. Bellah, Ford Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, was a specialist on Japan, on comparative religion, and on large-scale social change. He had been a student in the Social Relations Department at Harvard when I was there in the fifties, and, though we had never actually worked together and had not seen much of one another in the interim, I had long been impressed with his breadth of learning and, something not entirely common in the social sciences, his moral seriousness.
With his nomination, however, all hell broke loose. For nearly two years the Institute was convulsed in a struggle so bitter that it became, with the assistance of some professors with a developed gift for malignant eloquence, a defective sense of decency, and underground connections to the press, a cause celebre of, at least for academia, major proportions -- an "Affaire" indeed. The "paradise" image, apparently indestructible, returned to haunt us, and -- the wages of privilege are Schadenfreude -- we found ourselves faced with a series of mocking headlines: "Trouble in Paradise," "Ivory Tower Tempest," "Thunderbolts on Olympus," "The Garden of Lonely Wise," "In the Groves Where Einstein Toiled . . . the Dialog Isn't Socratic," "Infighting in the Ivory Tower," "Einstein Is a Hard Act to Follow," and "Bad Days on Mt. Olympus." ("The posse was made up of geniuses, mostly," the story under the last one began. "Tried to run the sheriff out of town. Didn't do it but they sure shot up the old Intellectual Hotel.") As the furor mounted, what had started out as a straightforward matter exploded, dignity be damned, justice though the heavens fall, into sheer unreason. Comity, such as it was, collapsed altogether; and the whole institution came perilously close to collapsing with it.
The gory details of the happenings that followed, which seemed to me more of a collective temper tantrum than a responsible effort to determine the worth of Bellah, the value of his appointment, or the future of the Institute, need not again be recounted. The press at the time is there for those attracted to academic pathologies, and I am hardly a neutral witness. Suffice it to say that the outcome of the agony -- Bellah's most acutely, for he was treated with a cruelty of particular exquisiteness; Kaysen's most deeply, for the internal attacks on him were loutish, loud, and above all relentless; and mine, derivatively, for having inadvertently brought all this to pass and, reasonably enough I suppose, being left somehow to cope with it -- was that Bellah was appointed over the opposition of a majority of the faculty but, partly as a result of a personal tragedy, returned to his position at Berkeley, the School of Social Sciences was formally constituted by the Board of Trustees, and Kaysen, wearied of being harassed, left the Institute. It wasn't exactly the Pyrrhic victory my learned colleague had promised me, for all was, as it turned out, far from lost. But I did feel a bit under siege.
The siege has never really lifted in the decades since. (Almost twenty years to the day, the Bellah affair was virtually reenacted, this time mercifully without the attentions of the press, in connection with another proposed appointment to the school.) Eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty; the expectant optimism of Harvard in the fifties and the searching earnestness of Chicago in the sixties are, by now, but memories of a different existence. But, partly as a result of a mere refusal to go away and leave the stilt-walkers in peace, partly as a result of support from a few sympathetic and fair-minded figures among the faculty and a few more among the Board of Trustees, and most of all, I think, because the Institute as such had, like Nietzsche, looked into the abyss and the abyss had looked back, the School, now that it was officially founded, grew and, in spite of it all, prospered. In 1974 Albert Hirschman, an economist, was appointed as the second professor; in 1980 Michael Walzer, a political theorist, was appointed as the third; and in 1985 Joan Scott, a social historian, was appointed as the fourth.
There is more, however, to forming a school than making appointments. The rationale, insofar as there is one, for a permanent faculty in a place such as the Institute is less in giving twenty or twenty-five supposedly gifted people the opportunity to work as they will at whatever they will than in establishing and sustaining an intellectual environment in which mathematics or physics or history . . . or social science . . . can flourish and advance. The hundred and fifty or so research fellows (fifteen to twenty in the social sciences) who come to the Institute each year to work on a project of some sort or other are, in my view anyway, the heart of the matter. If Flexner's magnification of propulsive power, his focusing of dispersed rays, is to come about, it is through them that it will for the most part happen. The permanent faculty can develop initiatives. It can set courses and encourage talents. It can explore directions. It can hardly in itself bring them to fruition.
With such a view of the job those of us who have been called permanently to the Institute are, beyond the pursuit of our separate obsessions, there to perform, there are a number of matters that need to be decided. Of these, by far the most important is how to relate a very small, not especially representative, modestly funded operation to the magnificent hodgepodge of ideas and activities -- International Social Science -- it is supposed to enrich. It is impossible to replicate the large in the little, to reflect all the disciplines in all their currents, or even the bulk of them. There is just too much out there. It is necessary to establish a particular domain, angle, style, standpoint -- I'm not sure what, precisely, it ought to be called: an attitude, maybe, a vision, perhaps -- within the collection of fields, studies, projects, and the like which present themselves to the world as social science, and see what one can do with that. Yet it is necessary, too, if the enterprise is not to become a parochial sideshow, wandering off in some vagrant direction, isolated, irrelevant, and self-admiring, to connect its work to what's happening -- to general movements, general problems, general achievements. It is this dilemma, how to lay a course distinct enough to come to something and connected enough to have an impact beyond itself, how, however slightly, to move the hodgepodge, that has animated the school and determined its form. It has been constructed, like anything that didn't exist before, in the middle of things that for a long while have.
The overall direction that has been taken is again a generally "interpretive" one -- the sort of thing I encountered in various stages of development at Harvard and Chicago and have pursued since, and that the other members of the school faculty encountered in other forms, in other disciplines, with other implications, in other contexts. We are hardly of one mind on everything and we have different interests and different problems before us; but we are all suspicious of casting the social sciences in the image of the natural sciences, and of general schemes which explain too much. We have sought, rather, to advance a conception of research centered on the analysis of the significance of social actions for those who carry them out and of the beliefs and institutions that lend to those actions that significance. Human beings, gifted with language and living in history, are, for better or worse, possessed of intentions, visions, memories, hopes, and moods, as well as of passions and judgments, and these have more than a little to do with what they do and why they do it. An attempt to understand their social and cultural life in terms of forces, mechanisms, and drives alone, objectivized variables set in systems of closed causality, seems unlikely of success.
That, in any case, is the course we have worked out in the school over the years. It has placed us not so much in direct opposition to mainstream social science, which remains fairly well bound to received ideas as to what counts as evidence, knowledge, explanation, and proof. It places us at some oblique and questioning angle to it: wary, restless, and unconforming. The proper stance, perhaps, for so anomalous an undertaking in so peculiar a place.
* * *
The problem of relating our beleaguered storefront venture to the grand march of the social sciences was made all the more severe by the fact that the philosophical disquietudes that had been gathering within those sciences during the previous two decades grew so powerful in the seventies and eighties as to disarrange their sense of what it was they were all about; where it was the march was going. It was not just that the enterprise lost cohesion. It had never been -- Durkheim, Weber, Marshall, Simmel -- that well-integrated. Nor was it that it was suddenly beset by the clash of discordant voices. The polemical stance -- Marx, Freud, Malinowski, Pareto -- had always been prominent. It was that the foundations upon which the social science idea had rested since anyway the time of Comte shifted, weakened, wobbled, slipped away. The moral and epistemological vertigo that struck the culture generally in the poststructuralist, postmodernist, posthumanist age, the age of turns and texts, of the evaporated subject and the constructed fact, struck the social sciences with particular force.
The story of all this, told in different ways with different morals, and dropping a particular selection of the famous names, Nietzsche or Benjamin to Kuhn or Derrida, has been traced already too many times and is far too intricate for capsule summary, and it is anyway still very much in motion. But its expression within anthropology, where, once again, I happened onto it, or it onto me, has taken by now a reasonably determinate form focused about a handful of radical anxieties so intimately interconnected as to be but restatements of one another: a worry about the legitimacy of speaking for others, a worry about the distorting effects of Western assumptions on the perception of others, and a worry about the ambiguous involvements of language and authority in the depiction of others. Taken together they have seemed to some -- but not to me, still working away at my instructive odd couple, Morocco and Indonesia -- to undermine the very idea of comparative ethnography trained upon difference.
The nervousness about speaking for others grows out of the introspections induced in anthropologists by the massive decolonization after the Second World War. That most of the classic field studies were carried out in colonial or semicolonial settings, settings in which being white and Western conferred in itself a certain privilege and involved, willy-nilly, a certain complicity, has raised questions of the right of the politically dominant to articulate the beliefs and desires of those they dominate. The history of ethnography, or so anyway it has come to be argued, is one of the appropriation of the voices of the weak by those of the strong, much as their labor or their natural resources were appropriated by more straightforward imperialists; and this, so also it is argued, ill-fits it to play its self-assigned (and self-congratulatory) role of the tribune of such voices in the contemporary world. Compromised in its origins, it is compromised in its acts -- ventriloquizing others, making off with their words.
The second concern, that about the inability of anthropologists, most of them American, British, German, or French, and virtually all of them Western trained, to free themselves from views derived from their own culture so as to see other peoples "in their own terms," is but the worry about occluding other voices expressed in an epistemological key. If the frames of meaning upon which we depend to find our own way about in life are so deeply ingrained in us as to color our every perception, it is difficult to see how our accounts of what others feel or think or do, to say nothing of our theories about them, can be anything but sheer imposition. Imposition and systematic distortion: "oriental-ism," "cultural hegemony," "symbolic domination" -- the ethno-graphic claim to knowledge is everywhere put into a moral shadow, redescribed as an impress of power.
All this doubt and met adoubt is completed and made seemingly inescapable by the viewing of social science discourse, anthropological or any other, as politically charged, shot through with implicit claims to mastery and control. The capacity of language to construct, if not reality "as such" (whatever that is), at least reality as everyone engages it in actual practice -- named, pictured, catalogued, and measured -- makes of the question of who describes whom, and in what terms, a far from indifferent business. If there is no access to the world unmediated by language (or anyway by sign systems) it rather matters what sort of language that is. Depiction is power. The representation of others is not easily separable from the manipulation of them.
If one is not simply to surrender to these anxieties and declare anthropology impossible or, worse, oppressive (and some, indeed, have done just that), it is insufficient just to press on regardless. The view, favored among "back to real anthropology" traditionalists, that the absorption with such matters is but the product of fashion and will soon dissolve, is quite wrong -- itself a fashion, worn and outmoded. It is simply the condition of things that anthropology, like social science in general, is a far more difficult line of work, difficult and uncomfortable, now that the "we define, they are defined" assumptions that sustained and guided it in its forming phases have been brought into question. There is a need for extensive revisions of our notions as to what anthropology is, what its aims should be, what it can reasonably hope to accomplish; why it is anyone should pursue it. If the relation of what we write to what we write about, Morocco, say, or Indonesia, can no longer be credibly compared with that of a map to a distant territory hitherto uncharted or to that of a sketch to an exotic animal recently come upon, what can it be compared with? Telling a believable story? Building a workable model? Translating an alien language? Construing an enigmatical text? Conducting an intelligible dialogue? Excavating a buried site? Advancing a moral cause? Restructuring a political debate? Staging an instructive illusion? All these possibilities and more have been suggested and counter suggested; but the only thing that seems certain is that the game has changed.
Once again, however, these transformations in outlook and attitude, in anthropologists' sense of what they are up to and what they should expect to gain from it, are not mere conceptual changes, driven on by the pure dialectic of theoretical debate, which doesn't play that great a role in anthropology in any case. They are changes in the way in which anthropology is practiced, driven on by alterations in the concrete circumstances under which research is conducted. It is not just ideas that are no longer what they were. The world isn't either.
The end of colonialism, or anyway the formal end of it whatever after shadows remain in the minds of both former masters and former subjects, has produced more than the realization that classical ethnographical accounts were affected by the privileged position of the ethnographer in the larger scheme of things. It has produced, now that the scheme has altered and the privilege departed (that sort of privilege, anyway), an extensive change in everything from our access to field sites and our standing vis-a-vis those we work with within them to our relationships with other fields of inquiry and our overall schedule of interests. We work now neither in sheltered settings nor in set-apart ones, enclaves and outliers left -- subject to considerations of "reason and morality" and whatever they might contribute to imperial trade -- to their own devices. We work in intensely contested ones among all sorts of constrictions, demands, suspicions, and competitors.
Changes in the readiness of access are the most directly felt of the alterations in the circumstances of research. Under the Shah field study boomed; under Khomeini it virtually disappeared. Indonesia has been a yes, a no, and then again a yes proposition; Morocco has become a haven for ethnographers shut out of much of the rest of the Arab world. Tanzania and Thailand are, for the moment, crowded with researchers; Ethiopia and Burma are largely absent of them. Papua is dangerous; Sri Lanka is worse. But even when access is relatively speaking easy (it is not absolutely speaking easy anywhere, now that Governors General and Native Affairs Officers are a thing of the past), the relations with those one is studying become touchier and more difficult to navigate. When you are there as a petitioning visitor in a sovereign country dealing with people whose country it is and when, though I myself have never experienced it, you are there under the administrative aegis and political shield of an imperial power, personal relations work out rather differently. There may be new asymmetries, stemming from everything from economic disparity to the international balance of military force, but the old ones, arbitrary, fixed, and rigidly unilateral, are pretty well gone.
And beyond these more immediate matters there are a number of other alterations in the conditions of ethnographic work. First, such work is now almost never undertaken in places where other sorts of scholars are not present, or at least nearby: historians, economists, philologists, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, art fanciers, filmmakers, musicologists, even now and then a philosopher or two. And journalists, of course, are everywhere. The day when ethnographers were intellectual masters of all they surveyed from child raising and trade to cosmology and housebuilding, if only because they were about the only people who went to such places to study things, are long gone. We work now under the critical gaze of, and sometimes in harness with, a very wide range of other sorts of specialists. (Indeed, an increasing number of us work on Western societies, and even our own; a move which simplifies some matters and complicates others.)
Second, not all ethnographers, by far, now are Western. Not only is there usually a significant contingent of local anthropologists, some of them of international standing -- as is the ease for both Indonesia and Morocco -- but even in the West the profession is no longer a monopoly of Americans and Europeans. Individuals from African, Asian, and Latin American backgrounds, as well as by now Native American, have joined its ranks. The critical gaze from neighboring disciplines is supplemented by a similar gaze, even more searching, from within our own.
And finally, our sheer numbers have burgeoned. When I entered graduate school in 1950, there were about two thousand members of the American Anthropological Association; by 1992 there were well over ten thousand, and the end is not in sight. If one were to measure, as I have not the heart to do, the rate of publication and the subjects covered, the contrast would be even more alarming. Once a guild occupation, comparing itself alternately to a tribe, a craft, or a social club, anthropology has become a sprawling consortium of dissimilar scholars held together largely by will and convenience.
* * *
The two decades I have spent at the Institute have been, thus, less a matter of tooling up to go somewhere or finding something comparative to do (I already had my sites, and my projects were ongoing, a pendulum cycle of seeming eternal return), than of trying to locate my abiding interests -- in meaning, in understanding, and in forms of life -- within an increasingly unsettled intellectual field. The unsettledness is hardly limited to anthropology, of course, but, in one form or another, is perfectly general in the human sciences. (Even economics has begun to squirm; even art history.) With nearly four hundred people having come, fifteen or twenty at a time, through it for a year, our irregular school has proved an excellent place to observe the commotion and try out ways of staying upright within it. Learning to exist in a world quite different from that which formed you is the condition, these days, of pursuing research you can on balance believe in and writing sentences you can more or less live with. Settling in at a crossroads of controversy, artfully designed to make contentment difficult, is, it turns out, a very good way of doing that.
* * *
I learn by going, the poet Theodore Roethke once wrote, though he was talking about something else, where I have to go. Becoming an anthropologist is not, or anyway has not been for me, an induction into an established profession, like law, medicine, or the flying of airplanes, already there, graded and subdivided, waiting to hammer one into slot-ready shape. My wandering among programs, projects, committees, and institutes, with only the odd stop-off at anthropology departments, is admittedly a bit unstandard; not a recipe everyone will find attractive. But the picture of a career less followed than assembled, put together in the course of effecting it, is not now so altogether unusual.
The sequence of settings into which you are projected as you go if not forward at least onward, thoroughly uncertain of what awaits, does far more to shape the pattern of your work, to discipline it and give it form, than do theoretical arguments, methodological pronouncements, canonized texts, or even, as are these days too much with us, left and right, iron commitments to intellectual creeds. These things matter (perhaps more to some people than they do to me), but it is what you find before you -- an eclectic collection of let's-get-on-with-it enthusiasts at apres guerre Harvard; a tense, ideology-ridden society, hurtling toward violence, in post-Independence Indonesia; an equanimous company of long-distance reasoners amid the political tumult of sixties Chicago; an ancient community beset with sociological blur and cultural self-questioning in reemerged Morocco; a carefully defended island of specialistic research in manicured Princeton -- that most powerfully directs your intellectual trajectory. You move less between thoughts than between the occasions and predicaments that bring them to mind.
This is not so say that the whole thing is but a chapter of accidents. Such a view of what purports, after all, to be a scientific career devoted to finding out things thought to be so and persuading others that at least they might be, involves distortions of its own not unself-serving. For surely it can't be the case -- can it? -- that the merest stumbling about, passively noting what strikes one as notable, is sufficient to accomplish so exacting a task. In the course of all this coming and going and knocking about surely there emerge some governing aims continuously worked toward, some practiced skills habitually exercised, some determinate standards repeatedly applied, some settled judgments as to what is knowable and what isn't, what will work and what won't, what matters and what doesn't. Representing what one has been doing as the result of just about everything in the world except one's beliefs and intentions -- "it just happened" -- is hardly plausible, a way of removing oneself from the picture in the guise of putting oneself into it.
Since the decline, in most quarters, of belief in a single and sovereign scientific method and the associated notion that truth is to be had by radically objectivizing the procedures of inquiry, it has become harder and harder to separate what comes into science from the side of the investigator from what comes into it from the side of the investigated. In anthropology, in any case, and in my case anyway, assuming either has anything to do with science, the indivisible experience of trying to find my feet in all sorts of places and of the places themselves pressing themselves upon me seems to have produced whatever has appeared under my professional signature. Indeed, it has produced that signature itself.
Disciplines, in: Raritan. A Quarterly Review, vol. 14 no. 3 (1995), pp. 65-102
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