Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century


Returns explores homecomings--the ways people recover and renew their roots. Engaging with indigenous histories of survival and transformation, James Clifford opens fundamental questions about where we are going, separately and together, in a globalizing, but not homogenizing, world.

It was once widely assumed that native, or tribal, societies were destined to disappear. Sooner or later, irresistible economic and political forces would complete the work of destruction set in ...

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Returns explores homecomings--the ways people recover and renew their roots. Engaging with indigenous histories of survival and transformation, James Clifford opens fundamental questions about where we are going, separately and together, in a globalizing, but not homogenizing, world.

It was once widely assumed that native, or tribal, societies were destined to disappear. Sooner or later, irresistible economic and political forces would complete the work of destruction set in motion by culture contact and colonialism. But many aboriginal groups persist, a reality that complicates familiar narratives of modernization and progress. History, Clifford invites us to observe, is a multidirectional process, and the word "indigenous," long associated with primitivism and localism, is taking on new, unexpected meanings.

In these probing and evocative essays, native people in California, Alaska, and Oceania are understood to be participants in a still-unfolding process of transformation. This involves ambivalent struggle, acting within and against dominant forms of cultural identity and economic power. Returns to ancestral land, performances of heritage, and maintenance of diasporic ties are strategies for moving forward, ways to articulate what can paradoxically be called "traditional futures." With inventiveness and pragmatism, often against the odds, indigenous people today are forging original pathways in a tangled, open-ended modernity. The third in a series that includes The Predicament of Culture (1988) and Routes (1997), this volume continues Clifford's signature exploration of late-twentieth-century intercultural representations, travels, and now returns.

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Editorial Reviews

LSE Review of Books - Sarah Burton
Returns tracks the multiple and numerous narratives involved in this reconceptualization of what it means to be ‘indigenous’ or ‘native’ in the cosmopolitan twenty-first century…Returns brings new forms of analysis and perspectives to these debates owing to its fresh consideration of cosmopolitanism and (post)modernity and the impact of these upon indigeneity…Returns is of potential interest to a range of readers--both those interested in the anthropology of social movements but also scholars of knowledge and intellectual history…Thoughtful and fascinating.
Choice - O. Pi-Sunyer
Clifford brings together processes and phenomena that are commonly regarded as antithetical--specifically, modernity and native peoples. His is a detailed analysis of the connections and multidimensional cultural relationships linking places and people far and near…While native societies have indeed suffered, many flourished in an increasingly interconnected world, a culturally and demographically positive trend. Global in scope and covering much ground, the book celebrates and explains the resurgence of subordinated societies ranging from Pacific Islanders to Native Americans, and discusses cultural renewal among the Maya as well as the cultural and political aspirations of Catalonia.
Times Literary Supplement - Mark Abley
In writing about aboriginal peoples, Clifford aims to challenge the apparently simple, exposing proofs of persistence and resilience where others might resort to elegy.
Nicholas Thomas
Over the last forty years, indigenous peoples have gained unprecedented global visibility. Too often, the academic response has lurched between facile romanticism and disingenuous critique. In contrast, James Clifford's writings on these challenging movements are insightful, balanced, and lucid. Returns is an indispensable guide to a vital dimension of the present and the future.
Rey Chow
Homecomings as becomings: in this visionary book, Clifford shows us what it means to listen for the entangled agencies of indigènitude in various 'primitive' populations' practices of survival and self-renewal in the contemporary world. Rather than subsuming these agencies under the unidirectional biopolitics of capitalist modernity and Euro-American colonialism, he brings to them the patience, dedication, and capaciousness of an ethnographic realism, one that challenges our entrenched habits of teleological historical thinking at every turn.
Pauline Strong
Like Clifford's previous books, Returnsis written for a broad audience and demonstrates the range, generosity, and acuity of his thinking. Using extended examples ranging from the Pacific to California to Alaska, Clifford reflects provocatively on the meaning of belonging to a place, reclaiming one's heritage, and forging indigenous futures. This book is destined to become as significant for anthropology and cultural studies as its predecessors.
Library Journal
Clifford (history of consciousness, emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) has crafted a series of essays that complement and expand upon some of the cultural theories he developed in the two earlier books in this "trilogy," The Predicament of Culture (1988) and Routes (1999). The pieces in Returns explore indigenous roots and take an in-depth look at how native people in the 21st century are rediscovering their heritage and identity in their own unique ways. Clifford deftly examines two major themes—globalization and decolonization—and their complex impact on native lives. Some essays are largely theoretical in nature, while others deal with more specific cultural situations, such as the case of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq cultural revival on Kodiak Island, AK, which had its beginnings in the later decades of the 20th century. The author makes it clear that his writings originated at different times and in different contexts and do not represent a linear view of indigenous renewal. VERDICT Clifford successfully interweaves ideas from multiple disciplines including anthropology, sociology, history, and political science to create a fascinating cultural exploration. This scholarly work, with its extensive bibliography and copious references throughout, will be of interest mostly to graduate students and faculty members in the various disciplines mentioned.—Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674724921
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 11/4/2013
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 996,651
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James Clifford is Professor Emeritus in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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