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ANT 6103




Historical and critical in‐depth analysis of the contributions and limitations of the notion of ‘culture’ in anthropology revolving around major issues in the discipline: identity transformations; decolonization; socio‐economic upheavals and migration; global dynamics and problems of pluralism; multiculturalism and interculturalism.




If the term ‘culture’ puzzles anthropologists, it is arguably because the reality it refers to is in itself troubling. Definitions of the term vary from a systematic sharing of traits to a more or less random agencements of anthropogenic practices. Which makes the concept of culture problematic not only in terms of its semiology but also in regards to its (teleological?) performativness. In fact, if people make cultures and if cultures make people in return, how can we envision not only certain people and their cultures, but the simultaneous making of both cultures and people?


Instead of looking at cultural activities from the point of view of pre-ordinated cultures, this seminar will explore the term culture (and the complex relational processes it suggests) from the perspective of cultural events - meaning activities of collective becomings (some ordinary, others extraordinary).


Throughout the semester, we will move across the histories of the meanings of the word with some of the classics (Tylor, Boas, Mauss, Lévi‐Strauss) as well as with current approaches inviting to expand its boundaries to all social arrangements (Lock & Nguyen, Lock & Faquhar), make it multiple (Geertz, Ortner, Leslie), experimental (Fischer) or to move beyond the notion of culture in its ontological opposition to nature (Descola, Ingold, Mol, Viveiros de Castro).


In order to grasp some of the implications of applying particular notions of culture during research (in written accounts, as well as during fieldwork), discussions will be anchored in case studies borrowed from synthetic biology tissue culture, Zen Buddhism gardening and American artisanal cheesemaking. The seminar will examine different traditional aspects of ‘cultures’ (like emerging popular sub-cultures and other complex social relational entanglements), but also of actual cultivation practices (like cell cultures and other kinds of growing activities). Asking questions like what grows and what is grown, but also what could be grown or what would probably never be grown - or cultivated -, students will then be invited to articulate and deepen their understanding of some of the notions of culture within their own work and discuss them at length during the class.





Discussion based on attentive reading of the required texts will be the main pedagogical method used in this seminar. Videos will also be used. Students will be invited to animate two of the seminars around texts they will select in line with their interests during the introductory class of January 8th.

The 'Culture' question in Anthropology
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