Eric R. Wolf

in Pathways of Power

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780520223332
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924871 | DOI:

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  • Theory and Practice of Anthropology


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This chapter explicates ethnographic or historical case material and reconsiders anthropology's basic notions, central among which is the concept of culture. It discusses issues of how cultures were assumed to be integrated and to persist over time, seemingly immune to the turmoils of history and unaffected by the implications of power. The chapter also analyzes the split between materialists and mentalists, and suggests that the proliferation and severance of specializations within the discipline calls into question the old culture concept, both as the unique possession of humankind and as the distinctive, internally coherent, and transgenerational repertoire of artifacts and customs characteristic of any given society or culture-bearing population. Anthropologists, while unraveling symbolic systems, also show that each separable culture constitutes a symbolic universe unto itself. Cultural construction, reconstruction, and destruction are ongoing processes, but they always take place within larger historical fields or arenas.

Keywords: culture; anthropologists; old culture concept; cultural construction; materialists

Chapter.  5070 words. 

Subjects: Theory and Practice of Anthropology

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