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Culture: The Anthropologists' Account Hardcover – May 15, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0674179578 ISBN-10: 0674179579 Edition: y First edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; y First edition edition (May 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674179579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674179578
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #979,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Adam Kuper argues in Culture: The Anthropologists' Account that his discipline's turn toward cultural explanation over the past few decades has reduced contemporary social theory to a politically dangerous idealism. Just as Marx accused Hegelian philosophers of believing that a drowning man could save himself by abandoning the idea of gravity, Kuper contends that contemporary anthropologists have attempted to "wish away ... political and economic forces, social institutions, and biological processes." In other words, these academics explain culture on its own terms without reference to other, more material, aspects of life. Kuper's work is a rehearsal of the big question: Are the forces that animate our lives better understood as ideas or material forces? Marx answered this question in order to change things; Kuper in order to rebuke his fellow academics.

Kuper appraises the most important anthropologists of the latter half of the 20th century, treating them as the heirs of Talcott Parsons's program of explaining social and cultural life as a set of interacting systems. Clifford Geertz's attempt to collapse social systems within systems of culture emerges as the work of a traditional connoisseur of religion and high art. David Schneider appears as a father-haunted academic who deconstructed biology and kinship relationships because he had not come to terms with his own family. Marshall Sahlins's work is counted as a failed, if brave, experiment in combining materialist and cultural explanations. James Clifford and Renato Rosaldo become obscurantist academic survivors in the struggle for tenure.

So what is Kuper's answer to the big question? Anthropologists, he concludes, must explain culture with reference to material forces, and the heirs to Talcott Parsons have botched the job. In fact, they have contributed to the creation of a world in which idealistic relativism destroys attempts at good communication between people. Kuper further argues that this state of academic affairs is consistent with the way racists and corporate boards like to keep things. However, he does not actually show how the academic ideas are systematically related to those structures of domination to which he alludes. Marx showed how ideas were related to their material conditions--that is why he continues to be counted as a revolutionary and a great thinker, and why Kuper will be counted only as an academic. --James Highfill

From Library Journal

Kuper (social anthropology, Brunel Univ., U.K.) takes a penetrating look at the concept of culture, moving from antecedents in 18th- and 19th-century thought to focus on its meaning within post-World War II social sciences in America under the leadership of Talcott Parsons. Kuper examines the mid-century ethnographic work of Clifford Geertz, David Schneider, and Marshall Sahlins to determine how they applied theories of culture in the field and concludes with observations on the generation of anthropologists who were graduate students in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Kuper concludes that "the more one considers the best modern work on culture by anthropologists, the more advisable it must appear to avoid the hyper-referential word altogether, and to talk more precisely of knowledge, or belief, or art, or technology, or tradition, or even of ideology." Written with verve and fascinating insight into the ins and outs of modern cultural anthropology, Kuper's book will appeal to students of anthropology and intellectual history.AJoan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Edward Danison on March 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Kuper traces the history of the word culture along the line of fissure between universalists and relativists, cognitivists and culturalists, assimilationists and determinists, etc. Kuper doesn't dichotomize these "-ists," but concisely delineates gradations and exceptions. He states at the outset where he stands in the matter, and he finishes, after making a solid case, asserting "there is a moral objection to culture theory. It tends to draw attention away from what we have in common instead of encouraging us to communicate across national, ethnic, and religious boundaries, and to venture beyond them."

This book should be required reading for all college courses in which students are dazzled with the first fervor of discovering "alterity," and never fully sober up, graduating into a world where venturing beyond differences is what is wanted most.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By helen MciKeever on February 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a very imporant book for American anthropology, particularly at this point in time when departments in this field are in the United States split, divided, heavily polemical, and people mutually intolerant of other positions. Kuper's book reflects a modern British and Continental orientation and will not be liked by some, but will be much valued by others as a breath of fresh air. Criticisms of this book by Kuper in this dimension have to be understood in terms of a current polarization in the field itself.

Kuper is a fine thinker and writer and a very central figure in European anthropology.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Manuel Ortega on January 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The book is superb.
Is it biased? you bet. (It's called 'opinion'). So what
you should do is what you should do: read several books
on the subject!
Even though the book is probably better suited to persons
with some knowledge of anthopological theory, beginners
can benefit from it too, provided they complement the
reading with other (more pro Geertz) texts.
Even though I do not agree with the author's standing at
every point, I have to admit that the book is written with
fairness and dedication. Will make you think.
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