Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle: Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology / Edition 1

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Lively, forceful, and impassioned, Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle is a major intervention in debates about the configuration of the discipline of anthropology. In the essays brought together in this provocative collection, prominent anthropologists consider the effects of and alternatives to the standard definition of the discipline as a “holistic” study of humanity based on the integration of the four fields of archaeology, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Editors Daniel A. Segal and Sylvia J. Yanagisako provide a powerful introduction to the volume. Unabashed in their criticism of the four-field structure, they argue that North American anthropology is tainted by its roots in nineteenth-century social evolutionary thought.

The essayists consider the complex state of anthropology, its relation to other disciplines and the public sphere beyond academia, the significance of the convergence of linguistic and cultural anthropology, and whether or not anthropology is the best home for archaeology. While the contributors are not in full agreement with one another, they all critique “official” definitions of anthropology as having a fixed, four-field core. The editors are keenly aware that anthropology is too protean to be remade along the lines of any master plan, and this volume does not offer one. It does open discussions of anthropology’s institutional structure to all possible outcomes, including the refashioning of the discipline as it now exists.

Contributors. James Clifford, Ian Hodder, Rena Lederman, Daniel A. Segal, Michael Silverstein, Sylvia J. Yanagisako

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A provocative and problematizing look at the history and present state of anthropology in the United States, a century after the ‘sacred bundle’ was first questioned by its patron saint and uniquely preeminent practitioner, Franz Boas. Revolutionary in editorial intent, diversely dialogical in the essays themselves, this volume should be read and pondered by all those interested in the future of anthropology and its role in general intellectual discourse.”—George W. Stocking Jr., Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago

“Anthropology is perhaps the last of the great nineteenth-century conglomerate disciplines still for the most part organizationally intact. Long after natural history, moral philosophy, philology, and political economy have dissolved into their specialized successors, it has remained a diffuse assemblage of ethnology, human biology, comparative linguistics, and prehistory, held together mainly by the vested interests, sunk costs, and administrative habits of academia, and by a romantic image of comprehensive scholarship. In this intense, precise, and sharply written book, six leading anthropologists from a variety of subfields question both the logic and the effectiveness of such sentimental ‘holism’ and produce a powerful critique of their profession's mythology.”—Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822334743
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel A. Segal is Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Historical Studies at Pitzer College. He is a coauthor of Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture: An Essay on the Narration of Social Realities and editor of Crossing Cultures: Essays in the Displacement of Western Civilization. He is a former editor of the journal Cultural Anthropology (1995–2001).

Sylvia J. Yanagisako is Professor and former Chair of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. She is the author of Producing Culture and Capital: Family Firms in Italy and coeditor of Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis.

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Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle

Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology


Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3462-0

Chapter One

Rearticulating Anthropology JAMES CLIFFORD

In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault argues that the modern disciplines, including anthropology, took shape during the nineteenth century in a discursive context where the figure of "man" had emerged as a complex subject and object of knowledge, simultaneously transcendent and empirical. I take this moment as a rough starting point for a discussion of how sociocultural anthropology makes and remakes itself in changing intellectual and institutional contexts. I write at a time of serious disagreement about whether we are at the end of the episteme Foucault identified-a set of assumptions under which "cultural" and "social" diversity across time and space can be construed as a describable and theorizable "human" inheritance. My approach, agnostic and metahistorical, leaves this and similar important disagreements unresolved while arguing that such disputes are constitutive of anthropology's shifting borders and intellectual alliances. I hope to describe a process of "disciplining" that is less about creating consensus than about managing dissent, less about sustaining a core tradition than about negotiating borders and constructingcoalitions.

Invoking Foucault also recalls the embodied and institutional aspects of disciplinary formation. "Disciplining," as I understand it, is not only a matter of defining scholarly territories, research topics, and analytic methods-the "content" of a discipline. The term evokes older traditions of normative training and ascetic practice that take modern form in pastoral and governmental institutions, including the university. Disciplining is a process unfolding within these changing contexts. Anthropology is an academic practice unusually exposed to the post-1960s changes in perspective and political location associated with the linked phenomena of "decolonization" and "globalization." Modern anthropology, a comparative science of human diversity, was for its first century a "Western" science. This has begun, irreversibly, to change, along with the gendered, raced, and culturally conditioned bodies of its practitioners.

Elsewhere I have written about one aspect of this work-in-process, the normative function and professional habitus of "fieldwork," seen as a disputed, defended, and changing cluster of embodied practices (Clifford 1997b: 52-91). That discussion ends, like the current essay, with the prospect, but not yet the achievement, of "postcolonial" decentering. My concern is with institutional contexts of disciplining, especially zones of relationality, borderlands in which academic imagined communities routinely, creatively, and sometimes agonistically make and remake themselves. This approach extends what was postulated in the essay on fieldwork: a discipline most actively defines itself at its edges, in relation to what it says it is not. It does this by selectively appropriating and excluding elements that impinge, influences that must be managed, translated, incorporated. The process of incorporation also involves exclusion. A line is drawn in the interdisciplinary sand to mark a frontier. Something is taken in and something held at a distance, made "other." Over time, the line's position-contingent, policed, and transgressed-shifts tactically. This becomes apparent when one tracks anthropology's changing relations with history, with sociology, with literary studies, and with biology and evolutionary theories, to mention only some of the more well-traveled borderlands.

In an acute recent discussion, Virginia Dominguez explores the fraught and productive relationship of sociocultural anthropology with a new disciplinary alter ego, "cultural studies." Dominguez cites ten fundamental attitudes shared by anthropological and cultural studies work. She then demonstrates these overlaps in practice through an analysis of editorial board composition and articles published in two influential journals, Cultural Anthropology and American Ethnologist (both of which have abandoned "four-fields" coverage in favor of intensified links to social history, literary studies, Marxist analysis, race and gender studies, etc.). She then shows various tactics of disciplining that agonistically reestablish a sharp identity and sustain "a common presumption that Cultural Studies is 'other' to Anthropology" (1996, 46). At the current moment one can, in fact, observe a range of border attitudes, ranging from embattled "disciplinary patriotism" (Appadurai 1996, 29) to tactical, selective engagement to something close to a merging of horizons.

Sociocultural anthropology's self-image has long featured synthetic opportunism and openness to other disciplines. But too much engagement undermines a sense of integrity. Border crossing without policing erases the boundary. Thus even the most generous anthropological commentators on cultural studies are at pains to sustain at least a few key distinctions. For example, Richard Handler's review essay on the swiftly canonized and attacked collection Cultural Studies (edited by Grossberg, Nelson, and Treichler), cited by Dominguez (1996, 57), does not fail to argue for anthropology's more broad-ranging and analytically complex concept of "culture," as well as for its "trump card," ethnography. The significance of these two elements as distinguishing features of the discipline will appear below.

As Dominguez observes, the border work follows patterns analyzed by Fredrik Barth in his seminal volume, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1969). Disciplines, like ethnic groups, are subcultures of a wider polity-in this case, the university. They have no natural or autochthonous origin and must be articulated in situations of contact, overlap, and similarity. Populations, ideas, and practices routinely cross their borders and combine syncretically. For Barth, the sense of a group's distinction, its tradition or common culture, is always a secondary creation, not a primary cause or origin. Groups select certain traits with which they mark an identity, while trafficking among the many customs and practices they share with neighbors. In the community of sociocultural anthropologists, a fetishized practice of fieldwork has been used to sustain a professional distinction from qualitative sociology or cultural studies, marking off ideas and methods that might otherwise be indistinguishable. In other contexts, anthropology's purportedly unique local "contextualism," its "comparativism," or its "holism" have performed similar distinguishing work.

Barth observes that groups often show quite dramatic internal variety in their "ecological" adaptations while nonetheless sustaining a sense of common group identification through a selective marking of culture traits. Analogous niches in the interdisciplinary landscape are institutionalized by the sections of the American Anthropological Association, with their very different objects, languages, and research practices. What partial overlaps and tokens of recognition make them all "anthropologists," members of a group, as Barth puts it, who believe they are "playing the same game"? Rena Lederman (this volume) suggests that the American four fields, and until recently the requirement that graduate students take courses in at least three, contributed to a sense of solidarity. Indeed, the experience of a shared training may have been more important than any substantive ability to combine methodologies or fuse intellectual traditions.

In its normal functioning, a discipline does not actually need consensus on core assumptions. Rather like a hegemonic alliance, in Gramscian perspective, it requires consent, some significant overlapping interests, and a spirit of live-and-let-live across the differences. At times of crisis, such as the recent Tierney/Chagnon fracas (outlined below by Rena Lederman), a strong antagonism (of a "culture wars"/"science wars" variety) may divide the field. Divisions of this sort can lead to permanent splits in departments but seldom in the larger coalitional space of the discipline. Anthropology has, at least so far, managed to construct and reconstruct a hegemony from its contradictory elements. This is not to say that the elements remain the same. There is a constant coming and going, a realignment of interests and affiliations across changing interdisciplinary, institutional, and geopolitical terrains. In this perspective, the focus shifts away from identities to processes of identification. All disciplines, scientific and humanist, are diverse, actively self-defining communities. Thomas Kuhn (1996 [1962]) famously brought sociological consensus making, historicity, and the reinvention of traditions into the very heart of scientific practice (Phillips forthcoming). And recently Peter Galison (1997) has shown the discipline "physics" to be a trading zone of discrete subcultures (cited by Hodder in this volume). Indeed, Galison's theoretical and historical perspective may offer some useful insights to those who worry about anthropology's lack of a unified aim and method. Even the so-called "hard sciences" turn out to be rather loosely articulated. Building on these perspectives and on much other work in the historical sociology and ethnography of science, we can free ourselves from any assumption that "anthropology," always a confederation of traditions and practices, must strive for a unified identity modeled on a mistaken, ahistorical model of science.

Thinking about historical processes of identity formation, we focus on shifting domains of interdisciplinarity borderlands through which sharp borders are drawn and redrawn. Knowledge does not, of course, naturally sort itself out in professional segments, and institutionalized domains of academic practice are necessarily dynamic and relational. Thus I will be considering not only anthropology, but also some of its neighbors, trying to sketch a processual approach to disciplinary formation and change. My account is a partial one, focused largely on sociocultural anthropology in the United States and skewed toward the borderlands I know best, in the humanities and hermeneutic/historical social sciences. But I see no reason why the general approach should not apply to different national configurations of anthropology/ethnology or to other disciplinary boundaries-for example, those actively being renegotiated with biology, ecology, and the evolutionary and cognitive sciences.

Histories of institutionalization lean toward a functionalist analytic, constraining the innovative, productive dimensions of power Foucault always stressed. Thus I insist on processes of disciplining-the gerund evoking an ongoing, unfinished aspect. And I will be supplementing (not replacing) the Foucauldian account of governmentality with a more historically contingent and pragmatically political perspective signaled by the term articulation. My overview of anthropology and some of its neighbors is meant to be provocative, an incitation to step outside current polemics and reformist projects, attempts to recapture or redefine anthropology. My aim is to get a fresh perspective on interdisciplinarity, seen not as located between the disciplines-a misleading spatialization-but as inherent in the processes of connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting organized domains of knowledge. Disciplining is always also interdisciplining.

"Articulation" suggests immediately the expressive, selective, and constructive process of speech. But most saliently here, it also refers to joints, connections, components of complex discursive/social bodies that can, with changing circumstances, be disarticulated. Stuart Hall explains:

Articulation is a linkage which is not necessary, determined, absolute and essential for all time. You have to ask, under what circumstances can a connection be forged or made? So the so-called "unity" of a discourse is really the articulation of different, distinct elements which can be re-articulated in different ways because they have no necessary "belongingness." The "unity" which matters is a linkage between that articulated discourse and the social forces with which it can, under certain historical conditions, but need not necessarily, be connected (1996; 141).

Articulation theory, which Hall derives from Gramsci and Laclau, makes politically contingent the supposed necessity, determinism, or naturalness of social formations like "classes," "races," and "ethnicities." While the approach does not apply equally well to all sociocultural phenomena (some of which have deep local, historically sedimented roots), it certainly applies to those often fractious, recently formed communities, the academic disciplines.

During the early and mid-twentieth century, North American anthropology's distinctive "four fields" formed a persistent, if often unstable, historical bloc. The ensemble of overlaps and alliances sustaining this cultural, biological, archaeological, and linguistic academic tradition were, from the outset, recognized to be contingent and temporary by Franz Boas. The tradition's founder and exemplary practitioner had no illusions about any enduring unity of method or object, and indeed, he anticipated fissures and realignments in the immediate future (Boas 1904; discussed by Yanagisako this volume). He would have been astonished by the alliance's longevity (persisting rather like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland-a body of shifting, differently copresent parts). If the four fields matrix has survived for a century after Boas's prediction, it is, George Stocking suggests (1988), because it has served at key times, such as the 1950s social science expansion, to characterize a healthy, capacious, scientific discipline for powerful university or governmental audiences. A kind of noble lie, perhaps. In fact, after Boas, no one has actually worked creatively in more than two of the four fields. And even Boas's exemplary contribution to all four fields is something of a myth, sliding rapidly over archaeology.


Excerpted from Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Rearticulating anthropology 24
Unchosen grounds : cultivating cross-subfield accents for a public voice 49
Flexible disciplinarity : beyond the Americanist tradition 78
Languages/cultures are dead! : long live the linguistic-cultural! 99
An archaeology of the four-field approach in anthropology in the United States 126
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