Article

Literary Anthropology

Nigel Rapport

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0067
Literary Anthropology

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The field of “literary anthropology” actually covers two fields of study. The first is an exploration of the role that literature plays in social life and individual experience, in particular social, cultural, and historical settings. Included in this study is the question of what “literature” is. Literary anthropology can be understood here as an exploration of different kinds of genre of expression, and how these genres can be said to have a historical specificity, a cultural evaluation, and a social institutionalism attached to them. The anthropologist might examine literature as the oral recounting and exchange of myth among 20th-century Amazonian hunter-gatherers, or the focus might be on the establishment of printed daily newspapers in Hungary and its links to the 19th-century rise of Hungarian nationalism. Secondly, literary anthropology is a study of the nature of anthropology itself as a discipline. What role does writing play in the processes of accruing anthropological knowledge? What is the history of the relationship between anthropology and particular kinds of writing? Should exponents be happy to proceed with this historical tradition or is it appropriate that anthropology now reimagine itself in terms of different kinds of expression—visual, audible, sensory—or different kinds of literary genre: fictional or poetic or dialogic? It can be seen that these two fields of study—the first, more traditional approach and the latter “literary turn” to the very nature of knowing and representation—are not discrete. In asking what kinds of expression it should adopt for getting to know its research subject and for disseminating the results of its research, anthropology is also considering the role of literary and other forms of expression to do work—to make sense—at particular historical, social-structural, political, and personal moments. Literary anthropology has thus been a focus of growing anthropological concern for the way in which it throws light on the entire complex of the human social condition, including the role of narrative in consciousness, the nature of creativity in social life, and the way in which anthropology might do justice to evidencing the subjectivity of experience.

Article.  13717 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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