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UBC Theses and Dissertations

'The pleasures of merely circulation' : the interpretive anthropology of Clifford Geerts and the 'postmodern' anthropology of James Clifford : a deconstructive reading Richardson, Joanne


In this dissertation I attempt to explicate Jacques Derrida's strategy of deconstruction and, through a deconstructive reading of Clifford Geertz's interpretive anthropology and James Clifford's 'postmodern' anthropology respectively, to show its relevance to the discipline of anthropology in general. The following is a skeletal outline of how I set about this endeavour. In my Introductory chapter, I attempt to indicate the way in which the notion of logos or presence has dominated Western philosophy from its inception in ancient Greece up to and including the present day. As Derrlda utilizes it, the term •presence' has to do with the assumption of and desire for the existence of a self-certain and self-identical basis for all extant phenomena and is manifested in such notions as truth, meaning, God, self, concept and so on. Because it is always defined as self-sufficient and self-identical, wherever it operates, presence entails the suppression of difference and otherness. In Chapter Two, I offer an explication of Derrida's strategy for exposing and delimiting presence as it manifests itself through and throughout Western conceptuality, paying particular attention to his work on undecidability. Briefly, this has to do with arguing that concepts, as such, are always already originarlly doubled and hence, Aristotelian logic notwithstanding, are both possible (as effects of undecidabllity) and Impossible (as self-sufficient and self-identical ideas). This calls radically into question our assumptions about the nature of conceptuality and indicates the way in which these assumptions ensure the repression of difference and otherness. In Chapter Three, I look at the phenomenological (Husserl) and hermeneutic (esp. Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur) background of contemporary interpretive and •postmodern' anthropology and, in so doing, attempt to show that it is premised upon an assumption of presence. In Chapter Four, I offer a deconstructive reading of certain works by Clifford Geertz and by James Clifford respectively, and attempt to show that their unrecognized dedication to an assumed notion of presence prevents them from seeing the repressive/oppressive nature of their chosen conceptuality. And, finally, in my concluding chapter, I argue that Geertzian interpretive anthropology and Cliffordian 'postmodern' anthropology are two sides of the same old coin and that, with respect to the latter's work, the term 'postmodern' is a misnomer. I further argue that Western conceptuality is, by definition and in principle, both repressive and oppressive and that, this being the case, anthropology must either reexamine and re-evaluate its most basic assumptions or, failing that, resign itself to perpetuating the inherited legacy of a ruthless metaphysics.

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