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Anthropology and the predicaments of holism

By Nils Bubandt and Ton Otto

Abstract

[Extract] We remember seeing a T-shirt inscription once; "Anthropologists Do It in Context." It was part of a string of T-shirt inscriptions - perhaps inspired by the 1990s "Just Do It" advertising campaign by Nike - that used double entendres to describe professions: "Photographers Do It in the Dark" and "Landscape Gardeners Do It\ud Horizontally." For most anthropologists, it is probably obvious what "doing it in context" means. Context is about locating descriptions of particular phenomena within a wider setting that throws light on these phenomena. It is about making sense of observations by connecting them to larger experiential, meaningful, cultural, functional,\ud or social wholes. Context is about grounding data; about methodological, literary, and political circumspection; and about parts and wholes. Context, in short, is about holism, one of the hallmarks - along with ethnographic fieldwork and intercultural comparison - of social and cultural anthropology.\ud As hallmarks go, however, holism is an odd one. For one thing, it is not given that it means the same thing to all anthropologists - in fact, it is pretty clear that there is\ud no easy consensus. Second, holism is a highly problematic concept, and has been so for several decades. The likely gut reaction of many contemporary anthropologists to\ud a volume on holism is therefore that holism is a fraught term that is best avoided. Nevertheless, we will argue that in spite of its ambivalence and lack of consensus, holism is still at the heart of the anthropological endeavor and that contemporary qualms about the concept are in fact symptomatic of a new emergence and experimental\ud approach to the anthropological tradition of holism. The contributions to this volume demonstrate the variety and critical depth of current attempts to engage and rethink anthropological holism

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:researchonline.jcu.edu.au:15839
Provided by: ResearchOnline@JCU
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