Early on in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century
, James Clifford describes his new approach to studying cultures: "Where professional anthropology has erected a border, I portray a borderland, a zone of contacts--blocked and permitted, policed and transgressive." In the not-too-distant past, anthropologists traveled to remote areas and observed cultures that they assumed were not influenced much by the outside world. Clifford points out that since there is no such thing as an isolated culture today, the tools and assumptions of anthropology must change to suit the hybrid and fluid cultures that currently populate the world. In this book, Clifford examines a series of places where culture is in transition--places he calls "borderlands." He visits a few art museums, some Mayan ruins, and the New York subway. Everywhere he goes, he finds cultures colliding and changing. That's not terribly surprising, but his interpretation of these otherwise banal places is thought-provoking.
This book is a grab bag: a collection of academic lectures, travel-journal entries, meditations on history, and impressionistic recollections. In the chapter entitled "White Ethnicity," Clifford interweaves his memories of a subway ride across New York City several decades ago with paragraphs from an Audre Lourde essay on identity politics and paragraphs from John Wesley Powell's account of his exploration of the Colorado River. In less capable hands, this format could be quite muddled and confusing, but Clifford pulls it off nicely. Clifford uses these three "travel" narratives to explore the major concerns of this collection. Routes is an accessible, innovative guide to one of the major issues anthropologists are grappling with today. --Jill Marquis
From Library Journal
In this series of essays, Clifford (The Predicament of Culture, Harvard Univ., 1988) explores culture further, viewing it in motion and where anthropology stands in relation to it. The author focuses on a "concrete mediation" of the cultural figure "native" and the intercultural "traveler." He discusses anthropological work, especially ethnography, tracing its development using famous anthropologists, including Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas, as milestones. Clifford asserts that "intensive participant-observation is probably anthropology's most enduring contribution to humanistic study," but he finds it "deeply problematic" and "urges its reform and dissemination." Viewing museums as "continuations of indigenous traditions of storytelling, collection, and display," he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Recommended for academic and anthropology collections.?Mary J. Nickum, Bozeman, Mont.
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