Historical contexts, internal debates, and ethical practice

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Sherry B. Ortner. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.007


Historical contexts, internal debates, and ethical practice

Sherry B. ORTNER, University of California, Los Angeles

Response to HAU Debate on Ortner, Sherry. 2016. “Dark anthropology and its others: Theory since the eighties.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (1): 47–73.

I want to begin by thanking this extraordinarily distinguished group of scholars—Arjun Appadurai, David Graeber, Carol Greenhouse, James Laidlaw, and Danilyn Rutherford—for generously devoting their attention to my article “Dark anthropology and its others: Theory since the eighties” (2016). I am truly grateful for their interest, their willingness to engage with the ideas of the article, and most of all for the high level of critique at which they have, individually and collectively, engaged.1

Although their comments are all interestingly different, there are also some common threads. I will pull these together under three headings. The first, which I call “Anthropology and the world,” concerns the question of historical context, the time and place of our research and writing. The second, “Anthropology and its inner life,” addresses theoretical debates within the field, both across generations and at a given point in time. The third, “Anthropology as ethical practice,” considers the ethical problems we face as a field, and some of the ways in which we are dealing with them.

Before I get to these discussions, however, it might be useful if I provide a very brief summary of a related earlier article, “Theory in anthropology since the sixties” (Ortner 1984), and an also very brief sketch of what I see as the relationship between that and the current article. “Theory in anthropology since the sixties” was an overview of theoretical developments in the field between the 1960s, when I was [30]in graduate school, and the early 1980s, when I wrote the article. While there were occasional references to the larger historical context in which all that was unfolding, in general the article was focused very internally, on the often intense debates of that era between the so-called “materialists” (especially political economy, but also including the sixties version of cultural ecology) and “idealists” or “culturalists” (including varieties of “symbolic anthropology” and structuralism). In the final section of the article I argued that a synthesis between the two was emerging in the form of practice-oriented approaches, with practice being understood as an indissoluble mix of the material and the cultural, and as the medium of reproduction and/or transformation of both.

As David Graeber points out, “Dark anthropology and its others” does not directly follow up on those discussions. It is an article about the theoretical landscape that has developed since the 1980s, and it addresses these recent developments primarily in terms of their relationship to changes in the larger economic, political, and cultural nexus shorthanded as “neoliberalism.” While there is a theoretical debate implicit in the article (and made explicit in James Laidlaw’s comments), between “dark anthropologies” and “anthropologies of the good,” I do not structure the discussion primarily in terms of a debate between two theoretical positions, but rather approach both trends as different responses to the darkening conditions of the wider world. It seems obvious now, though I was only half-conscious of the point when I was writing, that this shift of focus between the first and second articles captures a certain reality about anthropology’s orientation in the course of this time period, from a more inward-focused to a more outward-focused and engaged relationship with the larger world.

Anthropology and the world

No one disagrees that academic work in general, and anthropology in particular, is conditioned (and I leave that word purposely vague) by the historical circumstances in which it is practiced. But several of the commentators raise interesting questions about the conjunctions at different points in time. Thus Danilyn Rutherford, in an email that accompanied her comments (June 21, 16), raises the interesting question of parallels between today’s dark anthropology and anthropology during the Great Depression: she muses about “other pessimistic moments—the Depression, say. . . . Do the same kinds of connections between scholarship and the darkness of the world hold true for these moments, too?” This is a wonderful question, and I certainly don’t know the answer, but one thing is clear: the answer would be interesting either way.

Moving next to the fifties, both David Graeber and Carol Greenhouse bring up the question of anthropology in the era of the Cold War. Graeber asks: “How did the earlier split between idealists and materialists relate to the larger political economy of the time? . . . The easy answer would be to say that the materialism/culturalism split was simply a reflection of the Cold War, with establishment figures like Geertz or Mead as classic Cold War liberals” (p. 5–6). Similarly, Greenhouse, also gesturing to Geertz, says that “interpretivism emerged directly from the knowledge demands of the Cold War” (p. 13). Substantial research has been done on this period [31](e.g., Chomsky et al. 1997; Silverman 2007), and here I will add a bit of relevant history from my own experience. When I was in graduate school at the University of Chicago (1963–70), Clifford Geertz (who became my advisor) was involved in the creation of a new “committee” (what would be called a “center” at most universities now) called “The Committee on New Nations,” which was organized to promote and support scholarship on the ways in which “new nations” and “new states” were struggling to modernize (see Geertz 1963). It is fascinating to think about the trope of “new nations” in an institutional context in which, as I said in “Dark anthropology,” the word “colonialism” was hardly uttered. The colonial past is almost entirely occluded by the phrase, and the postcoloniality of “new nations” is submerged in the promising word “new.” And while all this was clearly ideological, I do not think it was only that; it was at the same time an expression (like the darkness today) of the mood of the times. There was a strong sense of optimism in the United States in that period, bolstered by victory in World War II, and especially by a booming postwar economy, despite the dark shadow of the Cold War and its chilling political effects.

Moving to the 1980s, James Laidlaw raises the question of a different kind of connection, one of an apparent contradiction between the fall of the Soviet Union and yet the rise of academic Marxism, or, as he put it, between “the incomparably larger and more important defining event of the period covered by Ortner’s essay . . . the systemic failure and collapse of Soviet communism,” on the one hand, and, on the other, “the fact that . . . the framework of Marxist political economy became so dominant in anthropology from the 1980s” (p. 19). Perhaps the first thing to say is that my use of the term “Marxism” may have been counterproductive, as many anthropologists today who seek to critically understand the workings of capitalism, including neoliberalism as its most recent incarnation, would no longer call themselves “Marxists.” As for the connection Laidlaw points to, and in line with what I just said, it would be fascinating to trace the evolution of what once would have been called Marxist anthropology, into the many varieties of work that share a loose commitment to some kind of political-economic approach, but also go in many different directions. One might perhaps say that, if there is a connection with the collapse of communism in the 1980s, that event/period in a sense liberated the critical study of capitalism from its nineteenth-century beginnings in Marx’s work, and has allowed a much wider range of scholarship on the subject to flourish.

Which brings us then to neoliberalism itself, as the historical context that frames the “Dark anthropology” article. Both Arjun Appadurai and James Laidlaw note that the term is so broad as to sometimes seem virtually meaningless. Appadurai says, “The trouble with this category is that it has become too loose, something of a catchall for such a varied body of phenomena that it runs the risk of dulling our critical senses” (p. 1). And Laidlaw says, “‘Neoliberalism’ . . . appears in so many anthropological texts . . . as a designation not for a specific set of ideas or policies but for everything the author doesn’t like” (p. 20). At one level, I take the point. In a discussion after I had presented a paper involving, among other things, the concept of “agency,” someone raised their hand and commented rather disdainfully that agency was a “such a neoliberal concept.” I thought that was ridiculous at the time, precisely one of those loose extensions of neoliberalism to “everything the [questioner] doesn’t like.” But again this opens an interesting question. At one level [32]it is silly to say that agency is a neoliberal concept, as it refers to a broad dimension or capacity of humanity in general. At the same time one suddenly realizes that the structure/agency problematic came to the fore in the eighties, when neoliberalism, with its emphasis on (among other things) free markets and entrepreneurial subjects, was in full flower. So perhaps the relative looseness of neoliberalism as a “catchall term” can be productive, although in my own usage I try (and tried in “Dark anthropology”) to be very precise.

Beyond this, however, a few points need to be made. With respect to the reality of neoliberalism and its effects, I simply respectfully disagree with Laidlaw. The worst of neoliberalism as pure economic theory and policy may well be over. Some who recognized the destructive force of neoliberal policies at one time are quick to point out that modifications and adjustments have now been put in place, that the Obama administration has made a difference, and so forth. My point, however, is that neoliberal economic policies, in conjunction with conservative political regimes that had the power to institute them, have brought about very deep and systemic changes in the United States and many other parts of the world—especially the astronomical increase in inequality, and the concomitant undermining of democratic institutions—that are very hard to reverse, and that will long outlast the trendiness of the economic theory itself. Perhaps Laidlaw is right in his list of improvements in the human condition in the period covered in “Dark anthropology,” including the idea that “global levels of absolute poverty, illiteracy, child malnutrition, and child labor [have fallen] at what are in all probability the fastest rates in human history” (p. 18), but I would have to see a lot of data to be convinced.

That being said, I am more than open to considering how to think about all this in new ways. For example, Appadurai raises the question of whether the neoliberal problematic may have “erase[d] the memory of colonialism and empire in favor of more contemporary modes of governmentality” (p. 2). He also notes some of his current work on Weberian-inspired cultural approaches to finance, involving new and contradictory forms of subjectivity. Going in a different direction, Greenhouse urges us to pay more ethnographic attention to states, transnational bodies, and other high-level sites/modes of regulation. She proposes that such work not only would pay off in terms of a more complex understanding/critique of neoliberalism itself, but also would show the ways in which states and similar arenas can be “key sites of contestation and active resistance” (p. 14) to neoliberalism’s social effects. In addition to these suggestions I note again the range of recent work on “rethinking capitalism” discussed in the “resistance” section of “Dark anthropology.”

Anthropology and its inner life

The more immediate context conditioning shifts in anthropological theory is the field itself. Anthropologists are in dialogue with theoretical ancestors, with the previous generation of anthropologists, and with other contemporary trends within the field. I’ll start with the ancestors.

I observed in “Dark anthropology” that, in keeping with the dark turn, there had been a shift in the relative influence of the ancestral theorists, with Marx becoming more influential, with Foucault newly joining the ancestral group, and [33]with Durkheim and Weber fading to some degree. Several of the commentators had different takes on the issue which I found quite interesting. Thus Danilyn Rutherford points out the potentially illuminating intersections between Durkheim and Foucault, between Marx and Mauss, and between Mauss and Foucault. Carol Greenhouse concludes her essay with a strong defense of the relevance of Durkheim to the understanding of neoliberalism: “Division of labor was fundamentally Durkheim’s critique of contract as the basis of the social, and Elementary forms of religious life was his essay on the creative openness of social time” (p. 15). And James Laidlaw has an extensive discussion of the ways in which Foucault must not be seen as a Marxist, and indeed points out that Foucault had explicitly repudiated “Marxist historical materialism” (p. 20). (Just to clarify here, I was in no way suggesting that Foucault was a Marxist, only that Marx and Foucault, in fairly different ways, have become the dominant theorists within the dark turn.) More generally, however, I fully agree with the spirit of all of these comments. This kind of theoretical reshuffling and rereading is an ongoing process (after all, Marx himself only came into the canon, via Giddens, in the 1970s), and is both a source and an index of changes in the field.

Moving further toward the present, the field is also of necessity in dialogue with its own past. This is partly a matter of debates over theory in preceding generations, as discussed especially in “Theory in anthropology since the sixties.” But it has also, and more prominently, become a debate over the ethical and political past of anthropology, and I will save that for the next section.

And then there are current debates: if anthropology is always in dialogue with its ancestors, and with its own past, it is always at the same time engaged in dialogue with its own other selves in a given period of time. Although the debates today might not be quite so bitter as in the sixties (I still remember someone coming up to a table full of Chicago graduate students at the bar during the American Anthropological Association meetings and making quite angry comments about “fluffy-headed culturalists”; I remember thinking academia was turning out to be more of a blood sport than I had anticipated), nonetheless there are certainly ongoing and occasionally intense debates. One question that arises, then, is whether current debates are in a sense the same debates all over again, old wine in new bottles. The big issue in the sixties was materialism vs. idealism; the big issue in the seventies was perhaps structure vs. agency. As for the present, however, Graeber notes in passing that the materialism/idealism split seems to have “disappeared” (p. 6–7), and Greenhouse suggests that structure vs. agency has become a kind of nonissue: “agency and practice are givens” (p. 12).

I would say that these points are both true and not true. I think it is true that these oppositions are no longer explicitly animating debate and provoking people to take sides. Yet I think at the same time these oppositions are in some structuralist sense “deep” within the discipline and within the social sciences more generally, and will never really go away. Thus, for example, one could ask whether dark vs. bright anthropology lines up with the old materialism/idealism split, and I think the answer is “sort of.” But the alignment is not perfect, and it seems reasonable to say that, while materialism/idealism is still lurking beneath the surface, it, like structure/agency, is not operating much as a “structuring structure” at this time.[34]

Leaving aside these somewhat formal issues, I need to more substantively address the dark/light contrast in the article, that is, the contrast between anthropologies reflecting/addressing the destructive social effects of neoliberal capitalism, on the one hand, and anthropologies of “the good,” of morality, ethics, and well-being, on the other. In the article I tried not to construct this as a “debate,” but Laidlaw takes a stronger position in his comments, representing anthropologies of ethics and morality as “a direct challenge to some of the fundamental premises of dark anthropology,” and also “not . . . a complement or counterpoint to a Marxist political economy . . . but a comprehensive alternative to [it]” (p. 22, 23). At the risk of being seen as a wishy-washy centrist, I need to restate the position taken in the article. There is currently a wide range of work being done by anthropologists in a zone that straddles the two arenas. At one end there are no doubt studies that are very “macro,” with little attention to people as thinking, feeling, or, in Laidlaw’s terms, “ethical” persons. (Actually I suspect most work that fits that description is not actually done by anthropologists, but let us leave that aside.) At the other end there are studies that are extremely “micro,” with little attention to the larger political, economic, and cultural formations that shape and constrain people’s lives. Polemics aside, however, we can nonetheless find a great deal of excellent work in the broad area in between, as indicated by both my and Laidlaw’s examples. In this intellectual space, political/economic/cultural formations (like neoliberalism) are examined for their effects on real people, and people are studied in terms of their struggles to live lives within the powerful hegemonies of their time. It seems to me both unlikely and undesirable that either side could or should work as a “comprehensive alternative” to the other.

Anthropology as ethical practice

In this section we turn to the question of anthropology as an ethical project in itself. Graeber asks, “Does the very project of understanding social and cultural difference imply certain moral or political commitments?” (p. 7). Greenhouse similarly refers to “anthropologists’ efforts over time to provide an account of difference that is intellectually, ethically, and politically sustainable” (p. 13).

These questions were partly brought into focus by the publication of Writing culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986), but I would actually place the beginnings of them much earlier with, as I said in “Dark anthropology,” the publication of Asad’s Anthropology and the colonial encounter (1973) and other critiques in the 1970s. In that spirit, Rutherford, invoking the work of Michel-Rolph Truoillot, reminds us “to take seriously the histories— of American racism, of Western imperialism—that gave the discipline its privileged objects of inquiry” (p. 27). Once the field was subjected to critiques grounded in the colonial past, as well as in issues of sexism, racism, Cold War and anti-insurgency politics, and more, the whole ethical foundation of the field was called into question. As Greenhouse comments, within a slightly different chronology, “[A]nthropologists began to worry seriously about the scientific and ethical integrity of their discipline” (p. 12).

Where to go next? One part of the answer is provided by everything discussed in “Dark anthropology”—the turn to the critical study of power and inequality, of [35]capitalism and neoliberalism, race and gender, the colonial past. At the same time we see the revival of studies of resistance, including in some cases direct participation by the anthropologist in resistance movements. All of this has added up to a broad-front effort to distance the field from any association or identification with systems of oppression, and to align it, as Graeber notes, with those on the underside of all forms of domination and exploitation.

This realignment, however, has been primarily in terms of what to study, and not in how to study it and write about it. Here, then, I want to introduce an axis of contrast and division that has not [36]yet been discussed: the distinction between emic and etic approaches, and the ways this is playing out in the newly politicized anthropology. Emic/etic was part of some heated debates in the sixties and seventies, lining up on the emic side with the interpretive culturalist approach of Clifford Geertz, in opposition to would-be “scientific” (etic) approaches in some other parts of the field (cultural ecology, cognitive anthropology, etc.). Nowadays, however, this contrast has become tied less to questions of interpretivism/positivism, and more to some of the political issues that have come to animate the field. The question has become, in effect, whether it is more ethically appropriate to develop a critique based on forms of power that are external to the people in question (e.g., the impact of neoliberalism), or whether it is more ethically appropriate not to import alien categories, but rather to seek a deep understanding of the group’s own internal logic and values. In other words, which is ethically “better,” an emic or an etic approach? There is, of course, no right answer; both have their benefits and shortcomings. But I think the opposition underlies and makes sense of some of the sometimes confusing political arguments that we find in the field today, without ever being recognized and named. Let me give some examples.

The first example of a more politicized emic/etic debate (although again the terms are never used) is the debate between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyeskere about the “divinity” of Captain Cook (Sahlins 1981, 1995; Obeyeskere 1992). Sahlins wrote that the eighteenth-century Hawaiians saw Captain Cook as a god. Obeyeskere criticized this as a “European myth,” grounded in colonial thinking. Sahlins criticized Obeyesekere for failing to take seriously Hawaiian culture, and instead reducing it to twentieth-century Western logic. Both scholars clearly felt they had the moral high ground, yet it is not clear that either approach was morally/ethically/politically superior. A second example may be found in recent feminist anthropology. In earlier work in this area, there was an effort to critique patriarchal structures both at home and in other societies. This seemed like the appropriate ethical/political thing to do, in recognition of some of the shared conditions of many women around the world. But there was a backlash, as this approach was seen as imposing Western categories of power and agency on other groups, and failing to appreciate/respect their distinctive cultural logics. An example here is Saba Mahmood’s controversial work Politics of piety (2005), in which she criticizes feminist anthropologists for imposing alien categories, and argues for understanding the Egyptian women she studied as choosing to submit themselves to a patriarchal system, exercising what she calls “docile agency.” Most recently, and closest to the immediate context occupied by these commentaries, I suggest/suspect this opposition underlies the mission of this journal, HAU, in the concept of “ethnographic theory” (da Col and Graeber 2011). Although the concept has not yet been fully fleshed out, in terms of either theoretical explication or ethnographic illustration, it seems to be about this new kind of politicized or ethicized “emic.” Its “other” is not any particular kind of theory (political economy, for example) but rather alien theory in general, theory that does not grow out of deep ethnographic engagement.

It is relevant in this context to revisit the subject of resistance, and this brings us back to the “Dark anthropology” text and its commentaries. I noted in the article that there is a history in anthropology of alternately embracing and rejecting the category of resistance. I’m thinking now that this is at least in part an issue of emics and etics, that is, that past studies of resistance movements are seen as having been too etic, as not taking adequate account of the internal cultural logics of the movements and/or their cultural contexts. We see this in the comments from both Graeber and Appadurai. Graeber (as part of a somewhat different point) talks at some length about needing to recognize the “values” implicit in social movements, and in anthropologists’ approaches to these movements. And Appadurai calls for anthropologists to study “the variety of forms that resistance might take, [to study] resistance as a cultural fact” rather than seeing it as “just a matter of refusal” (p. 3). In fact I would respectfully say that it is not true that past resistance studies did not adequately explore the cultural values and aspirations embedded in acts or movements of resistance. But I think there may be an emic/etic problem in that the very idea of “resistance” (perhaps like “agency”) grows out of certain Western traditions of thought, and is thus implicitly placed in the etic box no matter how culturally rich the study might be.


There are no real conclusions to an essay of this sort. I have attempted to respond to the commentaries in a coherent way, but as a result may have failed to engage with some of their central ideas. One could perhaps say that I imposed something of an etic grid on the commentaries, and thus lost some of the richness of their discussions. Nonetheless, I hope there was enough here to productively continue the discussions that they have launched, individually and collectively.

In place of a conclusion, however, I would like to reflect on some of the things that were missing in “Dark anthropology,” either as noted by the commentators, or as reflecting my own sense of missing pieces. One group of items has to do with other dark phenomena in the world that are not adequately captured by the “neoliberalism” framework: racial oppression and violence, gender oppression and violence, ethnic violence, religious fundamentalism, warfare and terrorism, and more. All of these are extraordinarily important issues and could easily have been part of the article; while they fall to varying degrees outside the theoretical grasp of neoliberalism, they certainly would have been encompassed within the shift to dark anthropology. Nor is this simply a matter of dark subject matter. Many of these topics have been approached in the past in terms of relatively nonthreatening issues, at least on the surface: “civil rights,” “equal pay,” “ethnic difference.” Now they are much more likely to be approached in terms of their darkest manifestations: rape, murder, genocide.

[37]I want to say a few words in particular about the virtual absence of gender issues and feminist anthropology in “Dark anthropology,” not because this is more problematic than any of the other omissions, but simply because it is a subject area in which I have both personal investment and scholarly expertise. Not only is feminist anthropology missing from the article under discussion, it was also missing from “Theory in anthropology since the sixties,” for which I was quite reasonably criticized (Lutz 1990). In both cases the easiest explanation is that unfortunately feminist issues are not, and mostly have not been, central to what might be thought of as the mainstream or dominant debates in the field. But even given that point, these issues may have become even less central today than in an earlier period. There are many possible reasons for this, including the widespread emergence of “post-feminism” (see Ortner 2014), as well as the point already noted, that gender inequality is in many ways outside the logic of neoliberalism (though, of course, never outside of its effects).

A second group of missing items includes topics that have come to the fore strongly in recent anthropology but are not discussed in the article. Among these, perhaps the most glaring omission is the broad turn to “nature.” Danilyn Rutherford calls attention, for example, to the recent study by Anna Tsing, The mushroom at the end of the world (2015), an outstanding work within the so-called “ontological turn,” committed to “multispecies” ethnography. A rather different body of work within this turn to “nature” addresses the “politics of nature” (e.g., Cattelino 2015), the ways in which “nature,” prominently including issues of environmental degradation, plays into the social and political life of human communities. Much of the work in this area, including Tsing’s book, would articulate well with the literatures on “rethinking capitalism” discussed in the last part of “Dark anthropology.” Indeed the subtitle of Tsing’s book is “On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins.”

Finally in this “what’s missing” compendium, I regret the absence of a discussion of the importance of history to the anthropological endeavor. In my view, much of the work we do could benefit greatly by some kind of historicization. There are many ways in which this can be done, including viewing the present as a historical phenomenon and not just an inert backdrop for ethnography, and viewing ethnography itself as a moment within a historical process. While there has, of course, been a lot of excellent work in historical anthropology and “anthrohistory,” most recently in a special section of the same issue of HAU as “Dark anthropology” (see Palmié and Stewart 2016 and associated articles), nonetheless, historical anthropology remains a kind of niche subfield, rather than provoking a broader rethinking of anthropological practice.

And now, in real conclusion, I want to again thank the commentators for their generous attention to my work, and for their extremely interesting, thoughtful, and thought-provoking comments. In addition, I would like to thank Giovanni da Col, Editor of HAU, for conceiving of and facilitating this discussion and many like it; debate is the lifeblood of our work.2[38]


Asad, Talal, ed. 1973. Anthropology and the colonial encounter. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Cattelino, Jessica. 2015. “The cultural politics of water in the Everglades and beyond.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (3): 235–50.

Chomsky, Noam, Ira Katznelson, Richard C. Lewontin, David Montgomery, Laura Nader, Richard Ohmann, Ray Siever, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Howard Zinn. 1997. The Cold War and the university: Toward an intellectual history of the postwar years. New York: The New Press.

Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

da Col, Giovanni, and David Graeber. 2011. “Foreword: The return of ethnographic theory.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1 (1): vi–xxxv.

Geertz, Clifford, ed. 1963. Old societies and new states. New York: Free Press.

Lutz, Catherine. 1990. “The erasure of women’s writing in sociocultural anthropology.” American Ethnologist 17 (4): 611–27.

Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath. 1992. The apotheosis of Captain Cook: European mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ortner, Sherry B. 1984. “Theory in anthropology since the sixties.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26 (1): 126–66.

———. 2014. “Too soon for post-feminism: The ongoing life of patriarchy in neoliberal America.” History and Anthropology 25 (4): 530–49.

———. 2016. “Dark anthropology and its others: Theory since the eighties.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (1): 47–73.

Palmié, Stephan, and Charles Stewart. 2016. “Introduction: For an anthropology of history.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory: 207–36.

Sahlins, Marshall. 1981. Historical metaphors and mythical realities: Structure in the early history of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

———. 1995. How “natives” think: About Captain Cook, for example. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Silverman, Sydel. 2007. “American anthropology in the middle decades: A view from Hollywood.” American Anthropologist 109 (3): 519–28.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.[39]


Sherry B. ORTNER is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is a long-time contributor to anthropological and feminist theory. In addition she has done extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Nepal and the United States. Her most recent book is Not Hollywood: Independent film at the twilight of the American Dream (Duke University Press, 2013).

Sherry B. Ortner
Department of Anthropology
341 Haines Hall
Box 951553
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553


1. I also wish to thank Jonathan Parry for writing extensive and valuable comments on the article, although he did not wish to have them published.

2. I would like to thank Michael Lambek, acting editor of HAU, for following through with this effort. Thanks as well to Michael, as well as Timothy D. Taylor, for thoughtful and helpful comments.