The Culture Concept: Writing and Difference in the Age of Realismby Michael A. Elliott
"Culture" is a term we commonly use to explain the differences in our ways of living. In this book Michael A. Elliott returns to the moment this usage was first articulated, tracing the concept of culture to the writings-folktales, dialect literature, local color sketches, and ethnographies-that provided its intellectual underpinnings in turn-of-the-century America.
The Culture Concept explains how this now-familiar definition of "culture" emerged during the late nineteenth century through the intersection of two separate endeavors that shared a commitment to recording group-based difference-American literary realism and scientific ethnography. Elliott looks at early works of cultural studies as diverse as the conjure tales of Charles Chesnutt, the Ghost-Dance ethnography of James Mooney, and the prose narrative of the Omaha anthropologist-turned-author Francis La Flesche. His reading of these works-which struggle to find appropriate theoretical and textual tools for articulating a less chauvinistic understanding of human difference-is at once a recovery of a lost connection between American literary realism and ethnography and a productive inquiry into the usefulness of the culture concept as a critical tool in our time and times to come.
Michael A. Elliott is assistant professor of English at Emory University.
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