November 16, 2018
UNE Vice President for Global Affairs Anouar Majid, Ph.D., has authored the foreword to the latest book by prominent anthropologist and historian Daniel Martin Varisco. Majid’s foreword, titled “Sorts of Culture,” appears in the just-released Culture Still Matters: Notes from the Field.
Majid introduces the book as one that “deals with the contested concept of culture, as it migrated from the careful (but far from perfect) hands of Western anthropologists to the fluid and slippery precincts of English departments and Cultural Studies programs.” He reminds readers of the now almost forgotten experience of travel, when ethnographers had to go to remote locations and live with natives without the help of any of the technologies now available to us. As Majid explains, the accounts resulted from these ventures may have been biased, but “the long-term effect of travel narratives is to humanize the so-called 'Other' and equalize the condition of humans across the globe.” Putting the matter in historic perspective, Majid recounts, “Edward Tylor’s Primitive Culture, published in 1871, at a time when Charles Darwin was reminding his readers of their animal pedigree, was not out to dominate or annihilate the natives.”
Majid also takes to task those who single out European domination as the all-time, universal culprit in such encounters, as if wrongdoing is a singularly European trait. “The high moral ground literary and postcolonial critics claimed in recent decades,” writes Majid, “is an unfair distortion of the heroic work many anthropologists have done since the groundbreaking work of Tylor.” Majid concludes by hoping that Varisco’s journeys and reflections may lead us to ponder the future of these vexed questions in the high-tech world we now inhabit.
Culture Still Matters focuses on the relationship between ethnographic fieldwork and the culture concept in the ongoing debate over the future of anthropology, drawing on the history of both concepts. Despite being the major social science that offers a methodology and tools to understand diverse cultures worldwide, scholars within and outside anthropology have attacked this field for all manner of sins, including fostering colonialism and essentializing others. Varisco’s book revitalizes constructive debate of this vibrant field’s history, methods and contributions, drawing on the author’s ethnographic experience in Yemen. It covers complicated theoretical concepts about culture and their critiques in readable prose that is highly accessible to students and interested social scientists in other fields.