The Culture Problem in Anthropology


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One of my ongoing projects involves understanding the history of this term “culture” and its reception into ASL studies in the late 1970s as a way of talking about Deaf social groups. In other words, where did we get this idea that Deaf people could be described as “Deaf culture”?

Nicholas de Genova, one of the leading anthropologist today, describes his rejection of the term “culture” as analytic category in his book Working the Boundaries (p.27). Here’s the relevant excerpt to ponder.

“For my own purposes in this book, in light of the accumulated and ossified connotations of “culture” as a fetishized analytic category within anthropology as well as popular discourse, I reject the usefulness of the concept of “culture” altogether. Likewise, I regard with general suspicion all social theories or descriptions that rely on notions of self-enclosed, bounded, thinglike “cultural” realities posited as separate, distinct, and relatively autonomous spheres of sociopolitical life. I characterize such approaches as culturalist.”

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