Anthropology and Social Theory: Culture, Power, and the Acting Subject

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Duke University Press, Nov 30, 2006 - Philosophy - 188 pages
In Anthropology and Social Theory the award-winning anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner draws on her longstanding interest in theories of cultural practice to rethink key concepts of culture, agency, and subjectivity for the social sciences of the twenty-first century. The seven theoretical and interpretive essays in this volume each advocate reconfiguring, rather than abandoning, the concept of culture. Similarly, they all suggest that a theory which depends on the interested action of social beings—specifically practice theory, associated especially with the work of Pierre Bourdieu—requires a more developed notion of human agency and a richer conception of human subjectivity. Ortner shows how social theory must both build upon and move beyond classic practice theory in order to understand the contemporary world.

Some of the essays reflect explicitly on theoretical concerns: the relationship between agency and power, the problematic quality of ethnographic studies of resistance, and the possibility of producing an anthropology of subjectivity. Others are ethnographic studies that apply Ortner’s theoretical framework. In these, she investigates aspects of social class, looking at the relationship between race and middle-class identity in the United States, the often invisible nature of class as a cultural identity and as an analytical category in social inquiry, and the role that public culture and media play in the creation of the class anxieties of Generation X. Written with Ortner’s characteristic lucidity, these essays constitute a major statement about the future of social theory from one of the leading anthropologists of our time.

 

Contents

Reading America Preliminary Notes on Class and Culture
19
Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal
42
Identities The Hidden Life of Class
63
Generation X Anthropology in a MediaSaturated World
80
Subjectivity and Cultural Critique
107
Power and Projects Reflections on Agency
129
NOTES
155
REFERENCES CITED
165
INDEX
179
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About the author (2006)

Sherry B. Ortner is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is author of New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of '58, also published by Duke University Press; Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering; Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture; and High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. She has received numerous awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the J. I. Staley Prize.