Main Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference

Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference

0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
In Un/common Cultures, Kamala Visweswaran develops an incisive critique of the idea of culture at the heart of anthropology, describing how it lends itself to culturalist assumptions. She holds that the new culturalism—the idea that cultural differences are definitive, and thus divisive—produces a view of “uncommon cultures” defined by relations of conflict rather than forms of collaboration. The essays in Un/common Cultures straddle the line between an analysis of how racism works to form the idea of “uncommon cultures” and a reaffirmation of the possibilities of “common cultures,” those that enact new forms of solidarity in seeking common cause. Such “cultures in common” or “cultures of the common” also produce new intellectual formations that demand different analytic frames for understanding their emergence. By tracking the emergence and circulation of the culture concept in American anthropology and Indian and French sociology, Visweswaran offers an alternative to strictly disciplinary histories. She uses critical race theory to locate the intersection between ethnic/diaspora studies and area studies as a generative site for addressing the formation of culturalist discourses. In so doing, she interprets the work of social scientists and intellectuals such as Elsie Clews Parsons, Alice Fletcher, Franz Boas, Louis Dumont, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz, W. E. B. Du Bois, and B. R. Ambedkar.
Year:
2010
Publisher:
Duke University Press
Language:
english
Pages:
358
ISBN 10:
0822391635
ISBN 13:
9780822391630
File:
PDF, 1.28 MB
Download (pdf, 1.28 MB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
0 comments
 

You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
un/common cultures

kamal a visweswaran

¡

Un/common Cultures
racism and the rearticulation
of cultural difference
Duke University Press
Durham and London
2010

∫ 2010 Duke University Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper !
Typeset in Carter and Cone Galliard with
Magma Compact display type by Keystone Typesetting, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
and republication acknowledgments appear on the
last printed page of this book.

¡
d e d i c at i o n
For my mother, Carol Ruth Visweswaran (1938–72)
my father, G. Visweswaran
my aunt, Judith Ellen Lumbert
and my uncles:
Pranab Chatterjee
Ken Vallis (1929–97)
Porfirio Miranda (1932–92)

¡

¡
We live in the era of the common man.
When he takes an uncommon stand,
the era is compelled to change.
—baba amte, December 1990
(on satyagraha to halt construction of
the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Gujarat)

¡

¡
Contents

acknowledgments

ix

introduction Un/common Cultures: Racism and the
Rearticulation of Cultural Di√erence 1
1. Wild West Anthropology and the Disciplining of

Gender 18
2. Race and the Culture of Anthropology

52

3. The Interventions of Culture: Claude Lévi-Strauss

and the Internationalization of the Modern Concept of
Race 74
4. Is There A Structural Analysis of Racism?

Louis Dumont and the Caste School of Race Relations 103
5. India in South Africa: Counter-genealogies for a Subal-

tern Sociology 131
6. Legacies of Culture, Languages of the State

164

7. Gendered States: Rethinking Culture as a Site of South

Asian Human-Rights Work 189

epilogue The Tra≈c in Social Movements: Narmada,
Bhopal, Texas 213
notes 227
bibliography 283
index 319

¡
Acknowledgments

chic ago, circ a 1960
Books, like any form of labor, emerge from personal histories and
relationships. I moved in and out of worlds at an early age because
multiple worlds were somehow always present in our home. Perhaps
the only way I can explain the particular set of personal conjunctures
and intellectual orientations this ; collection of essays represents is
by saying a little about the worlds left to me as legacy of my growing years.
Hull House, one of the settlement houses set up by Jane Addams in
the nineteenth century, was in its last years when my parents arrived
in Chicago, in 1960, to become two of its social workers. My mother
didn’t have far to travel, as her hometown was only a three-hour drive
from the big city. My father had a harder time of it; fresh from India,
he hated the cold weather and the food, but liked the people and the
work. One of his first assignments was to work with a group of
teenage Puerto Rican boys. My father tried to convince them to call
him by his nickname, Vishu, but the kids mischievously or defiantly
called him ‘‘Pichu’’ instead. Much later he discovered, with some
amusement, the meaning of pichu in Puerto Rican Spanish.
My father’s mentor was Kenneth Vallis, a big, tall Chicago native
who was going to show him the ropes. Ken used to stop by the settlement house every day to drink up the orange juice that my father
made with devotion and a bit of desperation. My father had been
raised a vegetarian and was just learning to navigate non-vegetarian
food and bland American cuisine. He didn’t eat much in those early
years, and orange juice must have been a major part of his diet. It
wasn’t something you could get easily in South India, oranges being
scarce and expensive. Perhaps, too, the texture and color of Minute
Maid coming out of a frozen can reminded my father a little of
Madras and the freshly pulped mangos that couldn’t be had in the
United States. So he was irked when Ken, day after day, consumed all

acknowledgments

¡

the orange juice. He tried waiting until Ken left for his rounds to
make it. He tried hiding it. But Ken was an OJ fiend and always
managed to find the juice wherever it was stashed in the fridge. My
father finally worked up the nerve to confront Ken, who glowered
and picked him up by his shirt collar. Then he laughed and said, ‘‘I
wondered when you were going to say something about it.’’ Ken laid
o√ the orange juice (for a while), and he and my father became fast
friends. Uncle Ken, as we called him, wound up doing lots of things,
and for many years was a political consultant on African American
issues in Washington, D.C., where he settled with his wife and daughters. When I left for college he counseled me not to believe most of
anything I read in the newspapers.
Porfirio Miranda, another of my father’s friends, had grown up in
Hull House as the son of Mexican immigrants. He later became one
of the settlement-house organizers who worked with troubled youth
in the area. ‘‘Perry,’’ as he was known, was older and liked to say that
he had ‘‘raised’’ my father, had given him a real education. Perry and
my father stayed close when both of them eventually moved to California. Uncle Perry lived in Malibu Beach, and we went to visit him
there a couple of times. But more often he’d come to see us. Once, in
the mid-1970s, Uncle Perry was on TV—he had exposed a scandal concerning the Greater Los Angeles Community Action Agency
(glacaa) and had been interviewed on 60 Minutes. Soon after the
program aired, glacaa was shut down, and Uncle Perry himself
was fired from the Chicano Studies Department at the University of
California–Los Angeles (ucla). Although Uncle Perry was convinced that his firing was political, that people in his department
were unhappy about his appearance on 60 Minutes, he did admit that
he’d had several extensions on his dissertation and had been late in
submitting it. Despite Uncle Perry’s woes, there were always parties
in the house when he came to visit; he was a gourmet and liked to
cook. I usually hung out in the kitchen to help him. When I was ten,
and it was long past my bedtime, he taught me how to make ceviche
by marinating fish and onion in salt and lemon juice. After he left
ucla, Uncle Perry put in several years working for the United States
Agency for International Development (usaid) in Egypt and Syria.
Pranab Chatterjee was one of my father’s first roommates at the
settlement house. He and my father both came from modest Brahmin families, familiar with both aspiration and penury. Pranab, a
poet at heart, also liked to cook, and was a little less into revolution
than his friends. Weekends, Ken would host parties for the Hull
x

House crowd at his mother’s house, on the South Side. There, a
fuddled Pranab might be escorted to the tub to sober up; he might
emerge hours later reciting poetry, sometimes his own, and sometimes in Bengali. When I was two, Uncle Pranab gave me a book of
Salvador Dali paintings, and when I was twelve, he presented me
with two slim volumes of his published poems. Having won a prestigious poetry award as a young man, he regretted that he hadn’t
pursued a literary career in Bengali. But he went on to write a monograph on Cleveland, titled Local Leadership in Black Communities,
which was always on the bookshelf at home, and, more recently, a
critique of the social welfare system, titled Repackaging the Welfare
State. Over the years, he and I have gone a few rounds on the Chicago School of Sociology, and he usually prevails, having received his
doctorate from that institution.
When my parents married in 1961, they were an interracial couple
and Chicago was still a segregated city. They decided to look for
housing in Hyde Park, thinking it would be more open-minded
because the University of Chicago was there. (My aunt tells me that
this was the time the university was buying up all the land in the area,
though the community still had the reputation of being a mixed
one.) My parents, however, discovered that Hyde Park was no more
open to them than were other parts of the city. They filled out one
apartment application after another, and everything would proceed
normally until they arrived to see the place; then the landlords would
invent excuses, saying that the apartment was no longer available
or had just been rented. The tenth time it happened, at a building on Dorchester Street, my mother had had enough. She worked
with teenage girls on the South Side; people in the local branches
of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) knew and liked her. At the building on Dorchester
Street my mother told the apartment manager that if he didn’t rent
them the apartment, she would have the naacp sue him for racial
discrimination.
They got the apartment.

xi

acknowledgments

Another map for reading these essays can be located in the pedagogical imperatives to rethink the history of anthropology in light of the
critiques of decolonization and the emergence of critical race theory.
Chapters 1 and 2 originated in the graduate core course on ‘‘American Anthropological Traditions’’ I taught at the New School for Social Research in 1993 and 1994, and parts of chapters 3 and 6 emerged

¡

acknowledgments

from discussions in the required ‘‘Introduction to Social Anthropology’’ graduate seminar I co-taught with Charlie Hale at the University of Texas–Austin, in 1999 and 2000. Fellowships at the Chicago
Humanities Institute (1996–97) and the Radcli√e Institute for Advanced Study (2001–2002) allowed me to complete several of the
essays in the book.
I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and Ken Wissoker,
of Duke University Press, for their critical advice and suggestions. I
am particularly indebted to Nahum Chandler for his readings of
chapters 4 and 5; his deep knowledge of W. E. B. Du Bois’s work not
only directed me to the correspondence between Du Bois and Gunnar Myrdal, but helped me to clarify my argument (even if I haven’t
always had the sense to follow his advice). I am also grateful to the
late Claude Lévi-Strauss for agreeing to an interview in December
1997, and to (the late) Bernard Cohn, McKim Marriot, and Lloyd
and Suzanne Rudolph for sharing with me their thoughts on the
New Nations project at the University of Chicago, which I discuss in
chapter 6. I thank Michaeline Crichlow for her comments on the
introduction, and Raj Patel, Lynn Stephens, Paul Amar, Bishnupriya
Ghosh, Bhaskar Sarkar, and Swati Chattopadhyay for helpful feedback on the epilogue, a version of which I presented at the International Subaltern-Popular Conference in Cairo, April 2008.

¡

xii

introduction

¡
Un/common Cultures
Racism and the Rearticulation
of Cultural Di√erence

disciplines and punishment
Feed me/Eat me: Anthropology
Help me/Hurt me: Sociology
—bruce nauman, ‘‘Anthro-Socio,’’ 1992

In a space like the Tate Modern in London, Bruce Nauman’s video
installation ‘‘Anthro-Socio’’ plays across several televisions, distributed through di√erent rooms that project color or black-and-white
versions of Man’s appeals to feed or eat him, help or hurt him. The
e√ect is to imbed the viewer in a structure of address that is at once
intimate and ubiquitous, disturbing yet seductive. Nauman forces
the viewer to enter the installation as a participant-observer, then
literally turns that experience on its head as he confronts the viewer,
as an alienated spectator, with upside-down images of the opera
singer Rinde Eckert’s revolving head (‘‘Rinde Spinning’’ or ‘‘Rinde
Facing Camera’’) sonorously exhorting ‘‘Feed me/Eat me: Anthropology’’ . . . ‘‘Help me/Hurt me: Sociology.’’ The multiply positioned televisions and projection surfaces, all playing the same thing,
but in di√erent tonalities, speeds, and chronometric loops, produce
an e√ect that is at once poetic, arrhythmic, and cacophonic—as if one
is listening to a broken-down choir or a Gregorian dirge. And indeed, it is di≈cult, moving through the space, to distinguish the
varied visual and aural forms of enunciation from the overall ‘‘mass
e√ect’’ the installation is designed to produce. It seems impossible to
imagine even disciplinary knowledge without the intercession of the
media form.∞ For Nauman stages a reflection not only on the mass-

un/common cultures

¡

mediated forms of culture, but also on the mass-mediated explanations of culture that announce themselves as anthropology and sociology. Nauman’s deft use of parody reduces disciplinary organicisms
like ‘‘culture’’ or ‘‘society’’ to Durkheimian or Lévi-Straussian functions: feed:eat :: help:hurt. It is as if the disciplines, as a paradoxical
success of their mass mediation, had doubled back on themselves, yielding productive and populist displacements of their central concepts. It is
with these forms of production and displacement of un/common culture that these essays are concerned.
The possibilities for writing any kind of intellectual history have
changed dramatically since Foucault first propounded the idea of a
‘‘history of the present,’’ more than thirty years ago, in Discipline and
Punish.≤ While psychoanalysis and ethnology have been the touchstone ‘‘counter-sciences’’ of Foucault’s critique of History, his understanding of a kind of ‘‘anthropology’’ as both foundational to the
human sciences and disintegrating within it may help us to understand the present moment. For ‘‘anthropology constitutes the fundamental arrangement that governed and controlled the path of philosophic thought . . . but it is disintegrating before our eyes, since we
are beginning to recognize and denounce in it, in a critical mode,
both the forgetfulness of the opening that made it possible and a
stubborn obstacle standing obstinately in the way of an imminent
form of thought.’’≥ How then, should we understand the task of writing intellectual history when ‘‘historical descriptions are necessarily
ordered by the present state of knowledge,’’ when ‘‘they increase with
every transformation and never cease, in turn, to break with themselves,’’ when ‘‘the great problem presented by such historical analyses is . . . one of transformations that serve as new foundations, the
rebuilding of foundations’’?∂
In Un/common Cultures I attempt a ‘‘history of the present that
is an attempt to uncover the structure of knowledge at the brink
of another structure of transformation.’’ It is an attempt to write
through disciplinary historicisms of culture, and thus ‘‘to write of a
present aperture which is almost history; less an e√ort to write beyond than to signal a possible becoming.’’∑ Un/common Cultures lies
at the cusp of disciplinary breakage and transformation overtaking
not just anthropology, but all of the human sciences.
Although I engage the disciplines of anthropology and sociology
through the practices of close reading, I am not seeking to write a
truer disciplinary history of the culture concept. Rather, I understand
a history of the present to be self-consciously located in the field of
2

3

introduction

power relations and political struggle. I begin with the social fact and
continuing existence of racism, not with its disappearance. I am thus
attentive to shifts in the framing of the culture concept as the definitional base of relativism and antidote to racism. I seek to apply the
genealogical method to race and culture as analytic objects as they
travel though and are lodged against political fields. My attempt is to
track points of their emergence as a result of substitutions, transpositions, displacements, and reversals.∏ I examine the ways in which
‘‘culture’’ often substitutes or stands in for race, and seek to track the
displacements in fields of knowledge and power that occur when race
decenters or dislodges culture. I examine what happens when race is
moved to the center of social theory and when culture performs the
work of racial di√erence. The tension between these two processes
scores this book.
My work in this volume is thus more invested in ‘‘anti-positivities’’
than in positivities. I am less concerned with understanding ‘‘culture
as a set of ideas,’’ with the work of forming cultural descriptions, than
with how ‘‘ideas and descriptions about cultures’’ circulate; that is,
with understanding the kinds of racializing work that ideas about
culture perform. Culture is increasingly produced as an e√ect of the
circulation of its descriptions. Such ‘‘cultural e√ects’’ mark a primary
sense in which we might understand the production of un/common
cultures. Therefore, our task is not to understand how culture operates, but to understand how explanations of culture function. These
are not completely separable tasks; indeed, the latter is always constitutive of the former. Yet it is the former that has been taken as the
normative object and work of the discipline.
My objective is to understand how culture is staged as a performative or as an ‘‘e√ect’’ wherein disciplinary debates about culture are as
much a discursive point of articulation for processes of globalization
(like the ‘‘New States’’ theory of cultural modernization, which I
describe in chapter 6) as are popular cultural (or populist cultural)
notions (about, for example, Islam and human rights, as discussed in
chapter 7). This necessitates a strategy for following the points of
application through the substitutions, transpositions, displacements,
and reversals in debates as varied as the attempts of Indian Dalits to
have casteism understood as a form of racism in Durban (see chapter
5) or the use of relativist notions of culture to justify liberal humanrights intervention (see chapter 7). These essays about Elsie Clews
Parsons, Alice Fletcher, Franz Boas, W. E. B. Du Bois, B. R. Ambedkar, Cli√ord Geertz, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Dumont, and

¡

un/common cultures

¡

M. N. Srinivas enact a genealogical grid for making sense of the flow
of ideas about culture in a history of the present.
The provocation for most of the essays in this volume emerged
from two decades of graduate teaching in which I sought to tie the
history of anthropology and the generation of its central concepts to
the legacies of American and European imperialism. As I moved race
and racism to the center of analysis, ‘‘culture’’ appeared to be less a
solution to racism than a synonym for race, in contrapuntal relation
with it. In one sense, these essays perform the simple act of asking what we make of the history of the discipline when its central
defining concept, culture, is bracketed, and race is foregrounded.
Yet an important argument I make in these essays is that the latenineteenth-century consolidation of the culture concept in anthropology was ultimately a recidivist one, producing multiple ‘‘culture
e√ects’’ which continue to perform the work of race, circulating at
local, national, and transnational levels. A revitalized anthropological
analysis lies not in the attempt to hone a better ‘‘culture concept’’ or
even in laudable calls for ‘‘public anthropology,’’ but in recognizing
that the recidivist nature of culture (or what some have called ‘‘the
death’’ of culture) requires a genealogical method that can identify
the ways in which racism is rearticulated through the enunciation of
cultural di√erence.π In my view, the dislocation and relocation of
disciplinary objects such as gender, sexuality, race, culture, caste, and
class can best be mapped through forms of what I will call ‘‘a≈liative
interdisciplinarity.’’ As Scott Michaelson and David Johnson suggest, such interdisciplinarity would not be possible without ‘‘anthropology’’ in its broadest sense, and yet interdisciplinarity ultimately
makes no di√erence to disciplinary thinking, because anthropology
exists.∫
These essays on Indian sociology and American and French anthropology, the disciplinary formations that have most shaped my
intellectual orientation, were written over the course of the last decade, a time of transition in the economic and political order of
things, and in the forms of social theory developed to describe the
changing political order, at once both created by and enabling of the
emergence of globalization. They aim to dislodge ‘‘culture’’ from its
received meanings in disciplinary formations so that the histories of
how culture emerges as flashpoints of political mobilization and intellectual debate can be apprehended across time and space.
However, my commitment lies not in narrating truer disciplinary histories, but in tracking how analytic objects such as ‘‘culture,’’
4

5

introduction

‘‘caste,’’ or ‘‘race’’ circulate across and through disciplines, places, and
political formations. What interests me is how ‘‘race’’ and theories
about it travel, and how gender and sexuality change our understanding of disciplinary objects like ‘‘society’’ or ‘‘culture.’’ Globalization
not only produces a shift in what we take to be an analytic object, but
also enables the displacement and relocation of apparently stable
analytic objects like ‘‘caste’’ or ‘‘race’’ to new contexts. For example,
the attempts by India’s Dalits at the 2001 World Conference on Racism to form analytic analogies between distinct forms of oppression
to assert that casteism is like racism, or attempts by Palestinians at the
same venue to assert that the Israeli state and its occupied territories
represent a form of apartheid, illustrate how accounts of race and
racism travel, and how the processes of dislocation and transposition
have helped to reshape new political alliances and possibilities.
Un/common Cultures begins and ends with a critique of feminist
universalism, the assumption that gendering cultural analysis inevitably worked toward relativist rather than racist or culturalist stereotypes. The framing chapters address what might be called the ‘‘gender
question’’ of culturalism. Although they cannot resolve the question
of why gender relations are so frequently the site of culturalist formulations, they do follow the production of racialized ‘‘woman questions’’ in the history of Americanist anthropology, and the way this
strain of particularly feminist anthropology is imbedded in feminist
legal practice and human rights discourses. While the first essay scrutinizes the imbedding of racialized forms of gender in a relativist
notion of culture, the last essay, in a quite di√erent tenor, describes
how immigration and legal studies lay claim to this notion of culture,
describing circuits of culturalism in interpenetrating levels of juridicality through the roles expert witnesses and anthropologists play in
marking cultural practices detrimental to women in human-rights
activism.
There is no doubt that histories of imperialism are imbedded in the
very processes through which intellectual concepts emerged to make
sense of society. Thus, while chapter 1 explores how the conquest of
the Americas played out through an ‘‘Indian question’’ imbricated in
the emergence of cultural relativism, chapters 2, 4, and 5 explore how
the ‘‘Negro question’’ plays out in disciplinary discussions of culture.
Taken together these essays enact a tracking of displacements between the ‘‘Woman question,’’ the ‘‘Indian question,’’ and the ‘‘Negro
question’’ across national and disciplinary fields.
These essays thus interrogate the ways in which the modern an-

¡

thropological notion of culture and an internationalized notion of
race were inevitably linked. They describe how race works its way
through the national disciplinary traditions of American anthropology, French anthropology, and Indian sociology, as well as international institutions such as unesco or the unhcr. Chapters 2
and 3 explore the role unesco played in the internationalization of
the modern concept of race. Chapters 3 through 7 pose India as the
site for the working through of debates about race and culture. India
is a rhizomatic node for the circulation of debates about culture and
culturalist discourses. Whether it is Claude Lévi-Strauss’s travels in
India and Pakistan refracted in his melancholic view of cultural loss
and decline (chapter 3); Louis Dumont’s use of India to reflect more
deeply on the character of Western democracy (chapter 4); Boas’s
views on race recycling themselves sixty years later in a debate between Indian sociologists on whether caste should be considered a
form of racism (chapter 5); Cli√ord Geertz’s misunderstanding of
the Dalit intellectual and statesman B. R. Ambedkar’s work to frame
a primordialist explanation of Indian politics (chapter 6); or humanrights reportage fixing culture rather than polity as the source of
violence against South Asian women (chapter 7), India is but one
circuit through which forms of culturalist explanation flow.

un/common cultures

culture lines: the ‘‘new culturalisms’’

¡

We are constantly reminded, as a matter of routine scientific and
political consensus, that we live in a ‘‘postracial’’ world. Yet, as Paul
Gilroy notes in After Empire, with the apparent defeat of racist ideologies in the postwar era, the problem of the twenty-first century is
no longer the color line, but the culture line. If the relativist notion of
culture seemed to triumph over an absolutist notion of culture at the
beginning of the twentieth century, its nature was irresolute by the
beginning of the twenty-first century, in some ways as tied to the
distribution and legitimation of power as was its nineteenth-century
predecessor. As Ashis Nandy observes: ‘‘The concept of cultural relativism, expressed in the popular anthropological view that each culture must be studied in terms of its own categories, is limited because
it stops short of insisting that every culture must recognize the way it
is construed by other cultures. It is easy to leave other cultures to
their own devices in the name of cultural relativism, especially if the

6

7

introduction

visions of the future of these other cultures have already been cannibalized by the world view of one’s own.’’Ω
The contemporary use of relativist notions of culture or community as a catch-all explanation for a variety of phenomena that used to
be explained by race, biology, or genetics has been remarked on by a
wide range of critics. There is by now an unfortunate canon, from
intelligence studies to studies of primate mothering, which purportedly proves the influence of nature over nurture. Thus, the growing
dissatisfaction with the so-called limits of social-constructivism explanation coincides with a reemergence of biological explanation.∞≠
While it is unsurprising that ethological and sociobiological models
of culture correspond to aggressive neoliberalism, there has not been
a straightforward shift from sociological to biological signifiers of
di√erence.∞∞ Rather it would seem that what I term the ‘‘new culturalism’’ has emerged alongside the resurgence of organic or genetic
explanation to both describe and justify racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.
In a sense, the ‘‘new culturalism’’ is not new at all. One can locate
its roots in eighteenth-century philosophy or in the nineteenth century’s obsession with civilizational ranking; one can date it to the era
of decolonization, or to the end of the Cold War, or to the emergence
of globalization.∞≤ Thus, I am less concerned with a purely historicist
reading that would attempt to fix its origins to a particular era, than
with seeing culturalism as a form of circulation which, while temporally specific, is not unique to any one historical epoch. My objective is to formulate a means of tracking, through political fields and
national disciplinarities, the shifting ways in which culture has stood
in for race or as a form of negative ideology. The essays in this collection weave across and through di√erent discourses of what produces culture as an analytic object and form of social description:
American anthropology, Indian and French sociology, and international institutions like the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (unesco) or the United Nations High
Commission on Refugees (unhcr).
Culturalism, according to Aijaz Ahmad, is simply, ‘‘an ideology
which treats culture not only as an integral element in social practices
but as the determining element.’’∞≥ Yet, in perhaps the most persuasive account of the new culturalism, or ‘‘neoracism,’’ Etienne Balibar
argues that it is tied to the ascendance of postwar international institutions that defined and denounced biological racism, so that ‘‘its

¡

un/common cultures

¡

dominant theme is not heredity but the insurmountability of cultural
di√erences, a racism which, at first sight, does not postulate the
superiority of certain groups or peoples in relation to others, but only
the harmfulness of abolishing frontiers, the incompatibility of lifestyles and traditions.’’∞∂ This ‘‘racism without races’’ is what PierreAndre Taguie√ calls ‘‘di√erentialist racism’’—the result of a turnabout e√ect that actually absorbs antiracist discourses, such that
‘‘races do not constitute visible biological units because in reality
there are no human races.’’∞∑ This di√erentialist racism insists that
cultures can neither be composite, shared, nor held in common; it
rather articulates uncommon cultures as forms of alterity and incomprehensibility, positing that adverse outcomes arise from such cultural di√erence. Anthropology has been implicated in such di√erentialism, because it has taken its normative work to be the description
of cultural di√erence, rather than the mapping of cultural commons
or a≈nities. The line demarcating di√erence from commonality in
un/common cultures is meant to emphasize that what is uncommon, singular, or distinct about cultures can only be understood in
relation to the work of finding a≈nity or of making common cause—
what Claude Lévi-Strauss might have meant when he spoke of a
‘‘coalition of cultures.’’
The extent to which globalization (regardless of whether its historic origins are located in the sixteenth century or late twentieth)
both produces and is produced by culturalist explanation is far from
clear. Yet my understanding of how ideas of culture both frame and
instantiate neoliberal economies through processes of circulation differs from world-systems theorists’ insistence on the production of a
uniform ‘‘geoculture’’ or even a highly di√erentiated global culture.∞∏
It is also distinct from the idea that globalization produces the professionalized and mediating ‘‘third cultures’’ of large cosmopolitan
cities—‘‘practices, bodies of knowledge, conventions and lifestyles
which have developed in ways that have become increasingly independent of nation-states.’’∞π Such work, while valuable, tends to focus
on culture as a set of positivities and processes, rather than as forms of
circulation.∞∫ Culture is thus not something merely acted on by globalization, nor is it primarily a bounded set of social interactions constituting social space. Culture, as it travels through, but also shapes
the world system, is about tracking shifting logics of culturalist explanation across and within multiple sites of circulation that destabilize
the distinction between life world and analytic system.∞Ω

8

un / common globalizations

9

introduction

The last half of the twentieth century can be seen to have ushered in
a transition or shift in modes of knowing; that this shift—labeled
‘‘poststructuralism’’ or, in Jamesonian terms, ‘‘postmodernism: the
cultural logic of late capitalism’’—was experienced as a crisis by a
number of disciplines has already been well-remarked. And yet the
decades of the 1980s and 1990s in particular—what some analysts
have referred to as the era of ‘‘high globalization’’—seem to have
corresponded to a particularly intense period of crisis, not just for
anthropology, but for the human sciences in general. Intensified, but
also dispersed forms of political struggle produced a plethora of analytic objects that were no longer theoretically recognizable, or whose
forms had been emptied of agreed-upon meanings within the human
sciences. The primary response of anthropology to this crisis was to
reify its understanding of culture, insisting that its understanding of
cultural relativism was an antidote to racism, instead of recognizing
how both popular and disciplinary explanations of culture or ‘‘culturalism’’ were increasingly deployed to perform the work of racism. This is perhaps clearest when culture enters the courtroom, and
forms of culturalism as ‘‘cultural rights’’ come to mark zones of expanding juridicality and shrinking community (see chapter 7).
Aside from the critiques of national character studies conducted
during the Second World War, or of Oscar Lewis’s ‘‘culture of
poverty’’ ethnography (which came most powerfully from a√ected
groups outside anthropology), the production of culturalist explanation within anthropology is one the discipline has been slow to confront. This may be in part due to the fact that ‘‘anthropological culturalism had provided humanist and cosmopolitan anti-racism of the
post-war period with most of its arguments.’’≤≠ Thus, anthropologists, in particular, have tended to see the modern, relativist notion of
culture itself as a corrective not only to racism (see chapter 2), but
also to culturalism. This is why what Holmes and Marcus refer to as
‘‘para-ethnography,’’ the production of meta-level cultural explanations by political or other social actors, may be valuable as a diagnostic, but is ultimately unsatisfying.≤∞ It holds that the popular forms of
culturalism (or in Taguie√ ’s words, ‘‘di√erentialist racism’’) of a JeanMarie Le Pen can eventually be countered by a truer ethnographic
account of culture (the para-ethnographer is to the ethnographer

¡

un/common cultures

¡

what the paramedic is to the doctor, or the paralegal is to the lawyer);
it also assumes that anthropology as a discipline is not also a producer of culturalist forms of knowing.
Anthropological ‘‘culturalism’’ also tends to insist on culture as the
residuum or limit point for understanding communities, rather than
as a site of multiple determinations working to produce the ‘‘e√ects’’
of culture or community. The economic processes of globalization
often literally fracture communities by producing labor or conflict
diasporas. Yet state policies and corporate practices also work to
produce the e√ect of an operating community, or ‘‘community effects,’’ which become the points of articulation for immigration panics on the one hand, and mass mobilizations for immigrant rights on
the other. Such an understanding of immigration as one where culture or community is situated as e√ects that produce mobilizational
sites of contestation and solidarity constitutes another sense in which
we might speak of the production of un/common cultures.
The essays of this book were produced within and through specific
histories of the neoliberal Indian state and neoliberal U.S. state. These
forms of neoliberalism are conjunctive, as in 1991, when the culmination of structural adjustment policies in India produced new polarities of labor migration to the United States—highly paid holders of
h-1b (non-immigrant) visas on the one hand, and taxi-drivers and
domestic workers on the other. At the same time, they are disjunctive,
as with neoliberalism in the United States, which tends to produce a
racialized state in which racial conflict is muted by pluralist or multiculturalist ideology, while in India, it produces a weakening of secular pluralism and a heightened sense of ethnic or communal conflict. Although there are important di√erences between them, both
the Indian and U.S. nation-states produce displacements of contestations over experiences of sexuality, ‘‘caste,’’ and ‘‘race,’’ which in turn
yield new transnational relationships as analytics and as forms of
identity.
Nowhere is a≈rming the existence of common culture more important than in the two poles of multiculturalist failure: the demise of
the secular Indian state’s guiding ethos, ‘‘unity in diversity,’’ at the
hands of an increasingly virulent Hindu nationalism; and the conservative attack on curricular multiculturalism in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. In the former case, Indian secularists have
had to roll back Hindu nationalist changes to textbooks identifying ‘‘foreign’’ populations and have called for the recognition of
‘‘composite’’ culture as a practice of lived a≈nities (reminiscent of
10

Robin Kelly’s notion of ‘‘polyculturalism’’), while in the latter case,
secular multiculturalists have seen their demands for work across and
within diverse intellectual traditions absorbed by calls for ‘‘inclusive
curricula,’’ resulting in faith-based representation in primary- and
secondary-school curricula. While state forms of multiculturalism
have been explored as part of an emerging anthropology of neoliberalism, the extent to which cultural di√erence structures neoliberalism or to which neoliberalism requires certain articulations of
culture for its working is not well understood.≤≤

new intellectual formations:
affiliative interdisciplinarity

11

introduction

What, then, are the intellectual fields of inquiry that can help map
the conjunctures and disjunctures between communities and social
movements in India and the United States, between histories of racism and histories of casteism, between the neoliberal Indian state and
the ‘‘liberal-democratic’’ U.S. state? Scholarship on caste tends to
remain entrenched within area studies, becoming di≈cult to track
within African or South Asian diaspora studies, while scholarship
on race also tends to be nation-bound, producing a Brazilian racial
paradigm, an American or British racial paradigm, even within African diaspora studies. As an example, we might consider W. E. B.
Du Bois’s thinking on caste (see chapter 4). Though ‘‘caste’’ is frequently a marker for race as both a descriptive idiom and an analytic
device throughout Du Bois’s writings, neither African diaspora studies nor South Asian area studies has sought to understand its presence in Du Bois’s work, falling as it does between the national spaces
through which their ordering concepts are framed: race on the one
hand, caste on the other. Similarly, we might examine how the Dalit
intellectual B. R. Ambedkar’s understanding of ‘‘caste’’ was influenced by his comparative study of slavery, and the ways in which a
particular understanding of the history of race and racism in the
American South animated Ambedkar’s call for ‘‘The Annihilation of
Caste’’ and casteism (see chapter 5).≤≥ Reading the interventions of
such thinkers away from their foundational places in black politics on
the one hand, and Dalit politics on the other, stages an interpellation
of these figures as ‘‘trans-status subjects,’’ opening ways for understanding new forms of solidarity.≤∂ These essays thus map the genealogical dislocation and relocation of disciplinary objects from di√er-

¡

un/common cultures

¡

ent parts of the world: caste used to explain American race relations,
or the Dalit movement’s attempt to claim casteism as a form of racism. In chapters 4 and 5 I seek to surface the submerged influence of
W. E. B. Du Bois and B. R. Ambedkar on political and disciplinary
formations between India and the United States. Though both were
contemporaries, one receiving a doctorate at Harvard, the other at
Columbia, they did not know each other. Yet the parallels in their
lives as intellectuals and the conjunctural intersection of their politics
broaches what Nahum Chandler has called, in another context, ‘‘the
possible form of an interlocution,’’ potentially transforming our understanding not only of the history of American anthropology and
Indian sociology, but also of the relationship between area studies
and ethnic studies.≤∑
This means that anthropology (and ethnic studies) must move
away from a tendency to frame communities as organic entities and
to see cultures primarily as exemplars of (national or racial) di√erence. The historical strength of ethnic studies has been its focus on
community, while area studies has typified a proccessual view of a
cultural region or area. This collection of essays argues for taking the
intersection between area studies and ethnic studies seriously as these
two interdisciplinary formations learn to track the displacements and
relocations of their central organizing concepts. It asks area studies to
revise its formative core idea of an area geography to better conceptualize how processes of globalization are changing our understanding of what constitutes a place or area of the world, particularly in
terms of social movements’ sense of shared history across regions.≤∏
It asks ethnic studies to address more centrally the globalizing processes that work to create the e√ect of operating communities, and to
engage more deeply with the geographic areas and languages of region that mark not just a pre-history but ongoing history of diasporic
migrations in the world.
The emergent nexus between ethnic studies and area studies allows
for a form of a≈liative interdisciplinarity with the potential to read
cultural displacements, transpositions, and reversals between community and the state, and between disciplines. It di√ers from other
ways of thinking about interdisciplinarity, which presume either a
free borrowing and transfer of methods and ideas across disciplines
or a congenial amalgamation of disciplinary traditions.≤π What I am
calling ‘‘a≈liative interdisciplinarity’’ identifies tensions between intellectual traditions such as area studies and ethnic studies—the first
a product of the Cold War, the second a product of its critique—but
12

13

introduction

allies these traditions in pursuit of a conjunctural analytic that can
track the emergence and circulation of culturalist argument through
local, regional, and national registers. Doing so enables us to study
transnational circuits and regional processes comparatively, where
the United States and India are linked circuits for understanding
refugee and conflict diaspora flows, state minoritization and racialization strategies, and subaltern forms of resistance and citizenship.
For example, although states like the United States or India might
share a convergent definition of a ‘‘Muslim problem,’’ in India the
demarcation of Muslims lies within an implicit (and often explicit)
communalism at the heart of the democratic process of ‘‘reform,’’
while in the United States the racialization of Muslims points to an
allegory of reform in the ‘‘democratization’’ projects of the past administration.≤∫ Even as Muslim communities are constituted by the
Indian and U.S. states in ways that yield distinct histories, our understanding of the place of Muslims in American racial formations is
enhanced by looking at the pre- and post-Partition experiences of
South Asian Muslims in the context of overlapping forms of antiterrorism legislation in India and the United States which mark a
juridical break with the experiences of other communities of color
subjected primarily to the violence of U.S. immigration law. Culturalism flows unevenly through systems of juridicality, representing
particular communities as concentration points for the application of
state power such that Muslims in the United States are subject to
exceptional practices of special registration and extraordinary rendition apart from normative but harsh immigration laws which nevertheless entail (at least the expectation of) due process.
Di√erentialist racism, or the complaint of ‘‘uncommon culture,’’
increasingly targets Muslim societies in the resurgence of civilizationalist argumentation, not only in the United States, but throughout Western Europe.≤Ω Yet the problem with culturalist explanations
of Islam is not just that they result in stereotypic or flattened representations of culture, but that they are produced by the ruling institutions of society, the government, and elite academic institutions.≥≠
The task of some recent criticism has thus been either to expose the
ways in which ‘‘culture talk’’ ‘‘assumes that every culture has an essence that defines it, and then explains politics as a consequence of
that essence,’’ to show the deep derivation of culturalist assumptions
from political argumentation, or to explain the ways in which Islam
becomes both a product and agent of globalization.≥∞ Unsurprisingly, culturalist representations of Islam frequently place the status

¡

or condition of women at the center of such reform agendas, often as
a justification for political intervention.≥≤ Thus, each of the above
critiques of culturalist descriptions of Islam—written by a political
scientist, a philosopher, a historian, and anthropologist—speak to
the need to develop a≈liative strategies for dealing with culturalist
arguments as they emerge through di√erent disciplinary and political
formations. Such critiques of culturalism also reveal di√erent conjunctural formations of culture as politics, or cultural politics, showing that the task at some moments is to disaggregate the cultural
from the political, as in Mahmood Mamdani’s analysis of civilizationist argument, while at others it is to show how they are inextricably
linked, as in Akeel Bilgrami’s critique of ‘‘Occidentalism.’’ The emergence of culture as politics, however, need not always signal the hegemonic exercise of power, but can also point to a counter-hegemonic
cultural politics of resistance. As I suggest in chapter 7, these are
complementary forms of deconstructive and reconstructive analysis;
they can work unevenly and at multiple registers; our task is to maintain a productive tension between them. Learning to inhabit this
tension can be seen as a method for reading across these essays as
well. Some perform essentially deconstructive work on disciplinary
formations (chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6); others enact the recombinant or
reconstructive work of a≈liative interdisciplinarity to undertake connective ‘‘histories of the present’’ (chapters 4, 5); while the concluding essay engages both strategies (chapter 7).

un/common cultures

toward cultures of the common

¡

One response to the ‘‘new culturalism,’’ especially in its nationalist
guises, has been the attempt to define something like a cosmopolitics
that would articulate an ethical, but ultimately non-hegemonic form
of universalism—either a rooted or vernacular cosmopolitanism, a
plural and discrepant cosmopolitanism, a critical and dialogic cosmopolitanism, or a ‘‘minority cosmopolitanism.’’≥≥ In the persuasive
tone of the advocates of minority cosmopolitanism,
cosmpolitans today are often the victims of modernity, failed by
capitalism’s upward mobility, and bereft of those comforts and customs of national belonging. Refugees, peoples of the diaspora, and
migrants and exiles represent the spirit of the cosmopolitan community. Too often, in the West, these peoples are grouped together in a

14

vocabulary of victimage and come to be recognized as constituting
the ‘problem’ of multiculturalism to which late liberalism extends its
generous promise of a pluralist existence. Cultural pluralism recognizes di√erence so long as the general category of the people is still
fundamentally understood within a national frame. Such benevolence is often well-intentioned, but it fails to acknowledge the critique of modernity that minority cosmopolitans embody in their
history witness to the twentieth century.≥∂

Minority cosmopolitanism thus seems poised as an ethical response
to the di√erentialist racism of ‘‘uncommon cultures,’’ but in holding
that ‘‘cosmopolitanism is infinite ways of being,’’≥∑ the assumption is
that minority cosmopolitans passively embody a critique of modernity, rather than actively shape practices of opposition and critique
through something like a ‘‘common culture.’’
Critics have also worried that globalization produces not so much
di√ering forms of cosmopolitanism or hybrid and diverse forms of
identity, as a homogenization of cultures. Even in Anthony Appiah’s
optimistic account,
in the global system of cultural exchanges there are, indeed, somewhat asymmetrical processes of homogenization going on, and
there are forms of human life disappearing. Neither of these phenomena is particularly new, but their range and speed probably is.
Nevertheless, as forms of culture disappear, new forms are created,
and they are created locally, which means they have exactly the regional inflections that the cosmopolitan celebrates. The disappearance of old cultural forms is consistent with a rich variety of forms of
human life, just because new cultural forms, which di√er from each
other, are being created as well.≥∏

15

introduction

Appiah e√ects a benign substitution of cultural forms while noting that some are disappearing under the guise of what Paul Gilroy
would call an ‘‘armoured cosmopolitanism.’’≥π In contrast, then, to
those who would see cosmopolitanism as opposed to di√erentialist
racism, there is a way in which racism can be driven by cosmopolitanism, particularly in its instantiation as a universal ethical form. As I
discuss in chapter 7, nowhere is this clearer than in the instance of
human rights as a set of apparently cosmopolitan values being leveraged for (neo)imperial projects.≥∫ An adequate response to such
universalizing ethics may not be contained within the history of anthropology, either in the kind of salvage ethnography Alice Fletcher,

¡

un/common cultures

¡

Mathilda Stevenson, or Franz Boas undertook (discussed in chapters 1 and 2), or in the self-reflexive structuralism of Lévi-Strauss’s
Tristes Tropiques, or Louis Dumont’s Homo Hierachicus (discussed in
chapters 3 and 4). Rather, it seems to me that we are, at this moment
in history, called to analyze and sometimes a≈rm, less the relativist
project of culture than its constructivist and conjunctural capacities
to catalyze new forms of political alliance—both hegemonic and
resistive. Our task is to understand the ways in which culture appears
as a site of debate or contestation—a mark not of cultures under
disappearance, but of cultures engaged in definitional and political
struggle, as when Indian Dalits insist that the cultural experience of
caste oppression approximates what they understand to be the social
experience of racism (discussed in chapter 5). An analogical imperative works through distinct cultural experiences of oppression and
resistance to translate them into other social idioms so that new
forms of political a≈nity can be enacted which enable the possibility
of ‘‘cultures in common.’’
In this volume I thus track the ways in which uncommon cultures
have been articulated through forms of di√erentialist racism or culturalist explanation. At the same time, I seek to surface the possibilities of culture in common through the enactment of new forms of
political alliance. Anthropological or sociological frames often miss
the solidarities of lived experience of plural cultures and societies.
While some anthropologists have seen culturalism to be constitutive
of social movements, particularly as forms of ‘‘identity politics mobilized at the level of the nation-state’’ or as ‘‘the mobilization of cultural di√erences in the service of larger national or transnational
politics,’’ in the epilogue I suggest that transnational social movements enact not culturalism, but forms of common culture shaped by
making ‘‘common cause.’’≥Ω
In closing I lay out other forms of a≈liative and interdisciplinary
scholarship that allow a better understanding of the politics of emerging common cultures. While there is a rather substantial literature in
economics (and increasingly in anthropology) on ‘‘common pool resources,’’ my contention is that dominant forms of social and political
theory have often been inadequate for the task of understanding the
emergence of common cultures.∂≠ In part this is because not only does
the literature of the social sciences take nationalism to be its primary
object, but its central view of culture was itself the product of nationalism. Insofar as political theory has also been called on to do the work
of neoliberal economics, and neoliberalism advocates privatization,
16

ostensibly to protect against the ‘‘tragedy of the commons,’’ the forms
of anthropological theory produced through globalization often fail
to apprehend the emergence of cultures in common.
The prospect of a common culture raised in this book is not so much
one of a hybridized, cosmopolitan, or universalized relativism, as one
that rejects hegemonic versions of culture in favor of a politics of
a≈liation or solidarity, sometimes enabled by the appropriation and
relocation of conceptual categories emergent from radically di√erent
histories of oppression. Leela Gandhi, for one, has seen in the making
of such histories, the construction of ‘‘a√ective communities.’’∂∞

introduction
17

¡

chapter 1

¡
‘‘Wild West’’ Anthropology
and the Disciplining of Gender
While we were in Boston in 1879, a lady told me that after studying
ethnology for years in books and museums she now wished to visit
Indian tribes in their own lodges, living as they lived and observing
their daily customs herself—especially the women’s and children’s
ways. ‘‘Did you ever camp out?’’ I asked. ‘‘No, never.’’
I found it hard to take her plan seriously. She, a thorough product
of city life, was evidently nearing her forties. I could not imagine her
leaving all her home comforts to go out to the far frontier and live
among the Indians in an Indian lodge. Still, she was so earnest that I
reluctantly agreed to take her someday with our group for the trip
she wished.
But I gave her fair warning: ‘‘You can’t stand such a trip. You’ll
have to sleep on the cold ground. The food will be strange to you.
You’ll meet storms on the open prairies and be wet to the skin.
Burning sun and wind will blister your face and hands. Long days of
travelling will exhaust you. You’ll have no privacy night or day. I’m
sure you can never endure it.’’ ‘‘Yes I can!’’ she insisted.∞

The image of tender womanhood scourged by the wilderness of the
western frontier was perhaps one of the most potent underlying the
ideological structure of ‘‘manifest destiny.’’ Stereotypes of the courageous frontier woman notwithstanding, the idea that the West was
‘‘no place for a woman’’ defined the skepticism ‘‘pioneer’’ anthropologists like Alice Fletcher faced from more experienced field companions like Henry Tibbles, as illustrated in his account above.
Yet the first generation of women anthropologists contributed
much to destabilizing the trope of ‘‘white woman in peril,’’ even as
its persistence enabled the popularization of their writing and established their reputations as professionals. If strands of progressivist feminism promulgated by the Women’s Christian Temperance
Union (wctu) were defined by the mission of ‘‘taming’’ unruly

19

wild west anthropology

frontier masculinity through appeals to Christian notions of domesticity and familial responsibility, early women anthropologists also
participated in the ideology of the western frontier by characterizing
native cultures as ‘‘wild’’ and ‘‘untamed’’ by civilization—a kind of
feminine counterpart to Rooseveltian ‘‘rough-riderism.’’≤
Anthropology has been called ‘‘the welcoming science’’ because of
the numbers of women in its early ranks.≥ Yet while the presence of
women like Erminnie Platt Smith (1836–86), Alice Fletcher (1838–
1923), Sara Yorke Stevenson (1847–1921), Matilda Cox Stevenson
(1849–1915), Zelia Nuttal (1857–1933), Frances Densmore (1867–
1957), and Elsie Clews Parsons (1874–1941) in anthropology has
often been remarked, their significance for the emergence of the discipline has been less well understood.∂
Platt Smith, Fletcher, Yorke Stevenson, Parsons, and Densmore
were all known as engaging and popular public speakers.∑ Platt
Smith’s parlor lectures on geology and on literary and aesthetic topics
led to the founding of the Daughters of Aesthetics in Jersey City in
1879, and she served as its president from 1879 to 1886. The New York
Times of 29 August 1880, reporting on one of her Iroquois lectures,
noted, ‘‘Mrs. Smith is not only a good writer, well-known in literary
and scientific circles in New York, Boston, and other cities[,] but also
an eloquent speaker . . . and is deeply interested in the results of
scientific investigation.’’ Fletcher’s work with the Omaha began in
1879, when she met long-term collaborator Francis La Flesche at a
meeting of the Boston Literary Society. After years of philanthropical
work, Fletcher began her professional career as an independent lecturer in order to earn money, speaking on such popular topics as
‘‘the lost peoples of America.’’ By 1879 she had received attention as
the ‘‘noted lecturess of New York City’’ who ‘‘tells a wonderful story
and tells it well’’ with a ‘‘pleasing voice and attractive manner.’’∏ She
drew the attention of Frederick Putnam, and by1880 he was inviting
her audiences to tour the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.
Women, then, were instrumental in bringing anthropology into the
public sphere.π
The 1880s thus also witnessed marked redefinition of avenues of
public participation for women, of which anthropology was but
one.∫ The liberal evolutionist Edward Tylor, addressing the Anthropological Society of Washington in 1884, had similarly argued that
‘‘the man of the house, though he can do a great deal, cannot do it all.
If his wife sympathizes with his work, and is able to do it, really half
the work of investigation seems to me to fall to her, so much is to be

¡

un/common cultures

¡

learned through the women of the tribe, which the men will not
readily disclose.’’ Speaking in particular of Matilda Cox Stevenson’s
collaboration with her husband, Tylor concluded that it was a lesson
‘‘not to sound the ‘bullroarer,’ and warn the ladies o√ from their
proceedings, but rather to avail themselves thankfully of their help.’’Ω
Tylor’s advice to the Anthropological Society of Washington was
not immediately heeded, however. Thus, in 1885 Cox Stevenson
established the Women’s Anthropological Society, with Fletcher and
Zelia Nuttal among its first members. The Women’s Anthropological
Society concerned itself with social-reform issues such as slum sanitation and the ‘‘Negro problem.’’∞≠ Fletcher served as the society’s vice
president in 1885, and as its president from 1893 to 1898. The Anthropological Society of Washington finally admitted women to its
membership in 1899, and after that date women seem to have been
fully integrated into anthropological organizations, for there is no
further mention of the Women’s Anthropological Society.∞∞ Fletcher
became president of the Anthropological Society of Washington in
1903, a year after she had been the only woman among the forty
founding members of the American Anthropological Association.
Despite an early record of exclusion from organizations like the
Anthropological Society of Washington, women like Fletcher were
also prominent members and o≈cers of the leading scientific organizations of the era, and central to institution building within the discipline.∞≤ Platt Smith, Nuttal, Yorke Stevenson, and Parsons were independently wealthy and able to fund their own work, but they were
also major patrons of early anthropological research.∞≥ Although only
two of these women possessed doctorates, and none were formally
trained as anthropologists in an era still dominated by amateurs, all
were prominent women and advanced the professionalization of the
discipline in important ways.∞∂ Fletcher, Nuttal, and Yorke Stevenson
founded archaeological institutes that still exist today, while Platt
Smith, Fletcher, and Cox Stevenson established participant observation as anthropological method contemporaneously with Franz
Boas’s and Frank Cushing’s own interventions on the subject.∞∑
In rehearsing such details, I hope to dispel a common set of assumptions about the marginality of this group of women in the
discipline. Anthropology as a discipline is properly the child of Progressive Era politics. To the extent that women were empowered by
this set of politics as clubwomen or su√ragists, they were also influential in defining what came to be known as the ‘‘reformer’s science.’’
Women for many years afterward were not to have as much say in the
20

21

wild west anthropology

actual founding and funding of anthropological institutions as they
had between 1880 and 1920.
It is commonly advanced that Franz Boas was responsible for
bringing women into anthropology; however, Frederick Putnam
also mentored a number of women.∞∏ Yet to reduce the question of
women’s participation in the field to either Putnam’s goodwill or
Boas’s experience of antisemitism∞π is to lose sight of the transformative e√ects of feminism in the nineteenth century. Equally problematic is the assumption that the early participation of women in the
discipline led inevitably to the emergence of gender as an analytical
category within anthropology; this is to lose sight of the limitations
of feminism at this historical moment. Although Progressive Era
women in anthropology formed close professional and personal ties
to one another, the structure of male patronage meant that they did
not usually advance theoretical perspectives distinct from those of
their mentors, with the result that they remained complicit with
dominant discourses of civilization.∞∫
Though some feminist scholars understand ‘‘gender’’ to be a latetwentieth-century category of analysis, the terms by which one understands its modern usage were emergent during the Progressive
Era. In referring to the ‘‘disciplining of gender,’’ then, I point both to
the ways in which gender has been schooled out of the discipline’s
telling of its own history, and to the ways gender shaped Progressive
Era anthropology. A particular late-nineteenth-century gender politics strongly influenced the production of the central defining feature
of a professionalizing anthropology: the relativist notion of culture. I
therefore attempt to understand the submergence of gender as central to the disciplinization of anthropology, and as paradoxically coeval with its emergence as a generative (rather than additive) category of analysis within the discipline. I suggest that an account of the
emergence of gender as a category of analysis within the discipline
has important consequences for how one understands the rise of
cultural relativism in anthropology.
The emergence of gender as a category of analysis within anthropology is marked by two broad propositions, which, while linked,
are not reducible to one another. Gender indicates, first, the cultural
construction of sex roles, or the ‘‘social creation of ideas about appropriate roles for men and women,’’ and, second, the ‘‘description of
social relations between the sexes,’’ or the marking of asymmetrical
power relations between the sexes.∞Ω
Gender consciousness, understood as awareness of inequality be-

¡

un/common cultures

¡

tween the sexes, was indicated both by the contradictions that evolutionary theory posed to Victorian society and by nineteenth-century
feminism’s engagement with Victorian social anthropology over ‘‘the
woman question,’’ which indexed a series of debates about the nature
of women’s role in society. During this era, biological sex was seen to
determine the social roles of men and women. As Elizabeth Fee has
demonstrated, however, the evolutionist debates on the question of
matriarchal and matrilineal societies provided a challenge to the notion that men’s and women’s roles were ‘‘natural.’’≤≠ In response to
this challenge, progressive evolutionary theory reconfirmed the high
status of Victorian society; however, it did so by suggesting that its
sex roles were not natural but rather the achievement of civilization.
At the same time, as Gail Bederman has shown, the notion of civilization itself was increasingly challenged by various forms of feminist
and African American activism, leading to its reconsolidation as the
exclusive achievement of white manhood.≤∞ Women could contribute
to civilization only as wives and mothers, and civilization could advance only if the doctrine of separate spheres was maintained. But if
the elevated status of women had been seen as the e√ect of civilization, some women sought to show that they were also its cause: they
were its agents not only as wives and mothers in the domestic sphere,
but variously as the reformers of savage peoples or inventors of technology. On the other hand, the prominent feminist Charlotte Perkins
Gilman (inspired by the work of Edward Tylor and John Lubbock)
sought to reverse the equation of civilizational advancement with
extreme sex di√erentiation by arguing that women and men alike
were partners in the racial advancement of civilization.≤≤
Thus, while the revisionist idea that Victorian sex roles emerged
with ‘‘civilization’’ pointed to a notion of gender as culturally constructed, it did not necessarily entail a feminist refusal of evolutionary
racism. Rather, the racial identity of early women anthropologists
could not be separated from their positioning in the field (something they themselves frequently evoked), which alternately gendered them as maternal or masculine (or, more accurately, as brokers
of the masculine). White women’s unchallenged racial positioning
and their participation in late American settler ideology thus worked
against the identification of white women with native women and
therefore against an understanding of women’s oppression as being
singly or multiply derived from a transcultural patriarchy.
Here, the lack of something like ‘‘gender identification’’ qualifies
the emergence of ‘‘woman’’ as a universal category.≤≥ For the more
22

civilized a society, the more highly sex di√erentiated it was. ‘‘Primitive’’ societies were thus seen to lack sex di√erentiation altogether, or
to possess it in mere rudimentary form, prohibiting the admission of
Native American and African American women into the very category of womanhood. As a result, the second proposition of gender—
as an analysis of unequal relations between the sexes, shared across
cultures—does not fully emerge as an epistemological category in
Progressive Era anthropology. Its seeds are found in the work of
Victorian women anthropologists, but it is most present in the early
writings of Elsie Clews Parsons, which she characterized as ‘‘propaganda by the ethnographic method,’’ but which actually predate her
entry into empirical anthropology, around 1915.≤∂

23

wild west anthropology

Nineteenth-century popular anthropology is frequently portrayed as
the result of amateur participation, from which natural scientists like
Franz Boas sought to distance themselves in order to professionalize
the discipline.≤∑ A more careful look at the emergence of the discipline in the late nineteenth century shows that popularization and
professionalization were two sides of the same coin, not a case of the
former existing as a stage to be superseded by the latter. Ethnological
pamphlets produced at the world’s fairs and articles written for the
popular press were normative rather than unique, and analysis of the
writings of early women anthropologists proves it di≈cult to distinguish the articles that appeared in the American Anthropologist or
the Journal of American Folklore from those appearing in more popular fora. I therefore want to explore how the nineteenth-century
‘‘woman question’’ and women’s participation at the fairs might illumine the importance of popular anthropology in ways obscured by
conventional disciplinary history, which portrays the participation of
Putnam, Boas, and others in the world’s fairs as a necessary evil,
rather than as symptomatic of the period.≤∏ For this reason, I also
explore the overlapping zones of popular and scientific influence for
the production of Progressive Era anthropology.
I first examine the gendering of the fieldwork ethic as a means of
describing the importance of a particular kind of Wild West ethic to
Progressive Era feminism and its relationship to ‘‘evangelical ethnology.’’ I next explore feminist participation in the ‘‘midway ethnology’’
of the world’s fairs. If the world’s fairs earned mass exposure for the
su√ragist cause, they also rea≈rmed feminist participation in the
imperial subtext of the expositions. The elaboration of the ‘‘woman
question’’ in the context of the world’s fairs also set the stage for

¡

feminist engagement with the ‘‘matrilineal conundrum of evolutionary theory.’’ I conclude with some observations about Elsie Clews
Parsons’s break from this milieu, which underscores her contribution
to the emergence of gender as an analytical category in the discipline.

un/common cultures

turning the century:
the emergence of popul ar ethnography

¡

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, newspapers
and journals like the Southern Workman or Century magazine provided a mass medium whereby emerging ethnography was popularized by women anthropologists in the context of westward expansion and white settler ideology. Beginning in 1882, the Century ran a
series of articles on the ‘‘New Northwest’’ and ‘‘Indian Country,’’ reports on various expositions, and writings of anthropologists such as
Frank Cushing, Frederick Putnam, and Alice Fletcher.≤π Sara Yorke
Stevenson’s series of five articles on the French Intervention in Mexico also appeared in the Century, in 1897, and was the basis of her
book-length memoir, Maximillian in Mexico (1899).
Cushing’s three-part Century serial, ‘‘My Adventures in Zuni,’’ and
Fletcher’s series of articles under the heading ‘‘Personal Studies of
Indian Life,’’ which ran over a period of four years, are arguably some
of the first documents that establish participant observation as anthropological method and are contemporaneous with Boas’s own
writings on the subject. Indeed, it is perhaps Cushing’s escapades
that Boas had in mind when he began his 1887 article ‘‘A Year among
the Eskimo’’ with the disclaimer ‘‘If I undertake to describe some of
my arctic experiences, I cannot entertain you with exciting adventures, such as shipwrecks and narrow escapes, for such were not my
share. My narrative must be that of the daily life of the inhabitants of
these ice-bound coasts, the Eskimo.’’≤∫ Boas’s insistence on sticking
to descriptions of daily life was not lost on Fletcher, who excelled in
the ethnographic particular, even as her first accounts seem sensationalized in retrospect. And yet her narrative of the fieldwork scene
that established the grounding of modern ethnographic consciousness is arguably the most classic account of transforming savage images into human ones, working to establish cultural relativism as
humanist credo for anthropology.≤Ω Describing her first encounter
with Indian ceremonial performance, she wrote,

24

As I entered [the tent] I was startled by a sudden, mighty beating of
the drum, with such deafening yells and shouts that I feared my ears
would burst; but following the dictates of Indian etiquette, I took
no notice of this extraordinary welcome, and passed as calmly as I
could to the back of the tent, where I sat down in the middle of an
unoccupied space, close to the edge of the covering.
As I looked about me, I felt a foreignness that grew into a sense of
isolation. On each side were lines of silent, motionless figures, their
robes so closely wrapped about them that, in the fading light, I
could scarcely realize that they were living beings. There was not a
touch of color within the tent, except upon the few women who sat
near the drum. Their glossy black braids fell in heavy loops upon
their red and green tunics, the russet hue of their faces was heightened by touches of vermillion on their cheeks, their ear-ornaments
of white shell hung nearly to their waists, and their arms were encircled with shining brass bangles. These glints of brightness only
added to the weirdness of the place, and my eyes gladly looked
beyond, where, framed by the opening of the tent against the pale
primrose of the twilight sky, I saw the contrasting picture of gaily
dressed and painted men and women, chatting or laughing, and
showing their small, white, teeth.

As the passage continues, Fletcher’s sense of ‘‘foreignness’’ and
‘‘strangeness’’ precludes any ‘‘starting point of sympathy.’’ Fletcher
presents herself as ‘‘distressed’’ and ‘‘distraught,’’ a white woman imperiled as much by the ‘‘wild movements of advancing and retreating
forms,’’ ‘‘violently shaken feathers,’’ and ‘‘arms brandishing war clubs’’
as by the accounts of Indian atrocities ‘‘crowding upon her memory.’’

wild west anthropology

The whole scene was utterly unlike any I had ever beheld. I was
oppressed by its strangeness, and before I could find any starting
point of sympathy with my surroundings, there was a slight stir in
the vicinity of the drum, and suddenly half a dozen arms rose and fell
upon the drum with such force as to make it rebound upon its
fastenings; a solitary voice, pitched high and shrill, uttered a few
wavering notes, followed on the next drum beat by the whole company of singers, each one apparently striving to outsing all the rest.
It was nothing but tumult and din to me; the sharply accented drum
set my heart to beating painfully and jarred every nerve. I was distressed and perplexed, my head was ringing, and I was fast becoming mentally distraught, when, as if by magic, a dozen of the silent,

25

¡

mysterious figures sprang high into the air, their robes falling into a
heap, as with bended arms and knees they leaped toward the center
of the tent, each man in full undress, save for the breech-cloth, paint,
and feathers. The sudden appearance, the wild movements of the
advancing and retreating forms, the outlines of the violently shaken
head feathers, the out-stretched arms brandishing the war clubs, and
the thud of the bare feet upon the ground, called up before me every
picture of savages I had ever seen; while every account of Indian
atrocities I had ever heard crowded upon my memory, and gave a
horrible interpretation to the scene before me.

As the passage builds to a climax, Fletcher e√ectively plays upon
images of Indian savagery and the trope of the ‘‘white woman in
peril’’ in order to dismiss them as the result of popular misconceptions conquered by scientific temperament.
I would have escaped if I could, but between me and the opening were these terrible creatures, and even if it were possible to
elude their grasp, it would only be to fall into the hands of hundreds more outside; those ‘‘treacherous,’’ gaily dressed, and laughing
people were ‘‘Indians’’ who even now might be transforming into
similar fiends. The ground was cold and solid beneath me, and the
tent was pegged tight to it, with no crack to crawl through. My
su√ering grew intense in the few moments before I was able to come
to myself, and to remember that I was there present by my own
deliberate purpose to study this very performance then going on
around me.

Here, Fletcher’s reflection on her su√ering and desperation establishes the emotional contrast necessary to enable her to arrive at scientific rationality, transforming her desire for escape into escapade.

un/common cultures

I have since had many a laugh with my red friends over this my first
and only fright, caused, as I now know, by the unconscious influence of the popular idea of ‘‘Injuns’’; but it was long after this initiation before my ears were able to hear in Indian music little besides a
screaming downward movement that was gashed and torn by the
vehemently beaten drum. However, as the weeks wore on, and I
observed the pleasure the Indians took in their own singing, I was
convinced that there existed something which was eluding my ears.
I therefore began to listen below this noise, much as one must listen
to the phonograph, ignoring the sound of the machinery in order to
catch the registered tones of the voice.≥≠

¡

26

Though Fletcher was not the first to reflect on the transformational nature of ‘‘fieldwork,’’ her writing in the Century helped expose anthropology to a larger audience. Significantly, the phrase
‘‘listening below the noise’’ recurred in di√erent forms throughout
Fletcher’s lifelong study of Native-American music.≥∞ ‘‘Listening
below the noise’’ not only exemplified the credo of an emerging
form of cultural relativism and its peculiar gendering, but also provided Fletcher’s solution to the ‘‘Indian problem’’: through patience
and proper understanding, Native Americans could be brought to
civilization.≥≤

engendering the west in
the colonial encounter
The first generation of women ethnographers all worked in (or had
personal experience of) areas marked by recent and ongoing colonial
intervention. Nuttal, Yorke Stevenson, and later Parsons wrote extensively on the impact of Spanish conquest on Mexico. Yorke Stevenson also produced the popularly written Maximillian in Mexico,
which o√ered ‘‘a woman’s reminiscences of the French intervention
in Mexico between 1862 and 1867.≥≥
Yet, while Yorke Stevenson sympathized with the ‘‘ill-fated’’ intervention and recounted the ‘‘last heroic hours of the Empire’’ by reproducing stereotypes of Mexican banditry, Nuttal argued forcefully
against stereotypes of Mexico’s native peoples. In 1897, the same year
Yorke Stevenson’s work was serialized in the Century, Nuttal appealed to an audience of folklorists to guard against ‘‘unscrupulous
exhibitions’’ by showmen who claimed to feature ‘‘the last living
representatives of the Aztec race.’’

wild west anthropology

The erroneous idea that the Aztec race was a hideous one and is now
extinct, has been widely disseminated, and become deeply rooted in
the public mind, where it flourishes with the remarkable persistency
that has long been recognized as the special characteristic of scientific errors. Thus, it is not surprising to find in George du Maurier’s
last novel, ‘‘The Martian,’’ an individual being spoken of as being, as
‘‘hideous as an Esquimaux or Aztec,’’ and this combination of ideas
is likely to linger on indefinitely in European countries although the
fraudulency of the showman’s announcement has been exposed by
leading anthropologists.≥∂

27

¡

un/common cultures

¡

But in Nuttal’s view, it was ultimately Spanish-conquest narratives
about human sacrifice that were responsible for stereotypes about
Aztecs as ‘‘ugly, dwarfish, and bloodthirsty savages, having nothing
in common with civilized humanity.’’ She argued that ‘‘to the extent it
was practiced, it has long been recognized by students of ancient
Mexico that the current accounts, based on the reports of certain
Spanish writers, are grossly exaggerated, some say purposely, in order to justify, in the eyes of the civilized world, the cruel extermination of the native civilization.’’≥∑
Unfortunately, Nuttal’s consciousness about the relationship between conquest and ethnic stereotype, along with her criticism of
‘‘unscrupulous exhibitions,’’ is almost singular among early anthropologists.≥∏ Too often their ethnographies were silent about the effects of conquest and westward expansion on the people they studied, and when they did note such e√ects, they were concerned more
with the salvage of custom than with the disappearance of its bearers.
For example, Cox Stevenson began her monograph on the Sia by
noting, ‘‘All that remains of the once populous pueblo of Sia is a small
group of houses and a mere handful of people in the midst of one of
the most extensive ruins of the Southwest, the living relic of an
almost extinct people and a pathetic tale of the ravages of warfare
and pestilence. This picture is even more touching than the infant’s
cradle or the tiny sandal found buried in the cli√ in the canyon walls.
The Sia of today is in much the same condition as that of the ancient
cave and cli√-dweller as we restore their villages in the imagination.’’≥π Implied here is a nostalgic evolutionary view of the Sia as
near extinct, unchanged relics of a distant past—an example of what
Fletcher called the ‘‘fossil bed’’ of human society and its institutions.≥∫ ‘‘Thus the railroad, the merchant, and the cowboy, without
this purpose in view, are e√ecting a change which is slowly closing,
leaf by leaf, the record of the religious beliefs of the pueblo Indian.
With the Sia this record book is being more rapidly closed,’’ leading
Cox Stevenson to conclude dispassionately, ‘‘Each shadow on the
dial brings nearer to a close the lives of those upon whose minds are
graven the traditions, mythology, and folklore as indelibly as are the
pictographs and monochromes upon the rocky walls.’’≥Ω The view
that the ‘‘past life of the Indian was a closed book’’ was echoed by
Alice Fletcher, bringing reform projects designed to ‘‘civilize’’ Native
Americans in line with Boasian salvage ethnography.∂≠
Fletcher was, in fact, a key architect of Bureau of Indian A√airs
(bia) land distribution policy: when the Omaha Severalty Act was
28

29

wild west anthropology

passed in 1882, she was sent to implement it. Her work for the
Omaha reallotment scheme was so meticulous that she was hired to
complete a nationwide survey of all reservations and the history of
treaties between Indian nations and U.S. government with the aim of
helping Indians move toward ‘‘civilization.’’ Fletcher’s early report
titled Indian Education and Civilization, prepared in ‘‘Answer to Senate Resolution of February 23, 1885,’’ established her as one of the
foremost authorities on Native Americans in the United States, while
her participation in the Lake Mohonk Conferences of the Friends of
the Indian also resulted in passage of the Dawes Act of 1887, which
extended allotment and the breaking up of Indian reservations to
other tribes.∂∞ It was thus that she came to do allotment work among
the Winnebago from 1887 to 1889, and among the Nez Perce from
1890 to 1893.∂≤
By 1897, Fletcher apparently realized the debilitating, irreversible
e√ects of allotment on Native American life, but one would not
know that from reading her 1905 coauthored monograph, where she
rea≈rms allotment’s benefits for the Omaha, mystifying the colonial
processes that had alienated Native Americans from their land and
former ways of life by noting only that ‘‘contact with the white race
was increasing daily and beginning to press on the people. The environment was changing rapidly, and the changes brought confusion
of mind to the people as well as to many in mature life.’’∂≥ Describing
the ‘‘great unrest and anxiety’’ that had come to the Omahas through
‘‘force of a power’’ they could not understand, she sympathized,
‘‘The trouble of mind everywhere manifest in the tribe can hardly be
pictured, nor can the relief that came to the people when, in 1882,
their lands were assured to them by an act of Congress.’’∂∂ Thus not
only did Fletcher portray Native Americans as subjects of her own
rescue narrative, but she represented an act that would actually reduce their lands as a form of relief, evidence of her inability to break
from or criticize U.S. policy on Indians.
The identification of early women anthropologists with the U.S.
government meant that they were sometimes racially positioned as
brokers of Indian masculinity. For example, in Fletcher’s first meeting with the Nez Perce, her companion Jane Gay recounted resistance to Fletcher’s e√orts to propound allotment and the meaning
of citizenship: ‘‘A little stir arose among the people, two or three
whispered together, and at length one man stood up, a tall broadshouldered fellow with a deep voice, and an air of authority about
him. . . . He said, ‘We do not want our land cut up in little pieces, we

¡

un/common cultures

¡

have not told you to do it.’ ’’∂∑ Gay commented, sardonically, ‘‘They
could scarcely be blamed for their incredulity; that reasonable human
beings, thought worthy of having citizenship thrust upon them,
should have no voice what ever in matters which so exclusively concerned themselves, was an idea too di≈cult for the untutored mind
to grasp.’’∂∏ But Fletcher carried on, telling the Indians that ‘‘she
[had] come to bring them manhood, that they [might] stand up
beside the white man in equality before the law.’’∂π In this formulation, white women reformers sought to bestow citizenship on Native
American men, but the act of identification that might have envisioned su√rage for white women and Native American women was
never made.
Other evidence similarly suggests the inseparability of gender from
racial positioning, which prevented identification across cultures
as ‘‘women.’’ Writing of her e√orts to collect Mide’wiwin mystical
knowledge among the Chippewa, Frances Densmore reported pursuing a reluctant woman until she agreed to sing a ‘‘love-charm song’’
in a secluded place where no one could hear her. ‘‘She was a woman
of about 60 years of age, and the most dirty and unattractive woman
with whom the writer has come in contact. In a thin nasal tone
she sang the song. . . . With coy shyness she said the song meant
she was as beautiful as the roses.’’∂∫ Densmore’s incredulity that the
song’s performance could ever transform the ‘‘dirty and unattractive
woman’’ before her suggests that gender as a category of analysis
which marked women’s shared oppression across cultures could not
emerge when even sympathy of women reformers for their female
subjects was lacking.
In a later article, Densmore recounted a fieldwork incident that
similarly underscored not her gender status but her racial membership: ‘‘The Papago were dancing by the light of a full moon, on
Christmas eve in 1920. My sister and I were the only white persons present, and we watched them until midnight. Later I was told
that only a few women could sing this drone, which was considered
an embellishment to the music. A few weeks later I attended the
Morning Star ceremony of the Pawnee. It was said that only one
other white person had ever entered the tent during this ceremony.’’∂Ω
Although Densmore might have argued, like Tylor or Parsons, that
the fact of her being a woman gave her an access to Papago and
Pawnee performances that male ethnographers did not have, she was
instead at pains to claim status as one of the first whites to have
viewed them.
30

The idea that the first women anthropologists, in rea≈rming their
racial membership, might be seen either literally or symbolically to
occupy male roles is illustrated in an incident wherein Fletcher faced
o√ with white ranchers and farmers who saw allotment as a way to
increase their own land holdings. Jane Gay, Fletcher’s traveling companion for the Nez Perce allotment party, recorded Fletcher’s first
meeting with this interest group in her popular, tongue-in-cheek
letters.
Her Majesty read her instructions to the delegation and explained
that it was her sworn duty to place the Indians upon their best lands
and in the localities where they must rapidly become self-supporting
and valuable citizens, not so to dispose of them that they must
be paupers and a charge upon the white population of the territory. The men are evidently non-plussed, for, as they mounted their
horses, the Photographer heard one mutter, ‘‘Why in Thunder did
the Government send a woman to do this work? We could’ve got a
holt on a man.’’ They ‘‘sound’’ the Surveyor before they ride away
and he tells them he does not yet know anything of their prospects,
but he rather thinks ‘‘from looks of the Allotting Agent’s eye, that
everything will have to be done on the square.’’ The introduction
of the square idea has a depressing e√ect, for hitherto they have
worked only in rings, but I dare say they really have no faith in
anybody being able to square their circle.∑≠

31

wild west anthropology

Here, a situation in which Fletcher’s authority might have been challenged because she was a woman is deflected by her claim to a superior morality as a woman, by the assumption that things would therefore be done ‘‘on the square.’’
However, racial membership and gender positioning could also be
transmuted into a womanist frontier machismo, where white women
were seen to neutralize not only white men, but Indian men as well.
In 1886, newspaper coverage of an incident in which Matilda Cox
Stevenson and her husband were held prisoner for intruding on a
Hopi Kiva ceremony portrayed Matilda as the hero of the story.
Although they were both later rescued by a trader, the newspaper
headline crowed, ‘‘cowed by a woman. a craven red devil
weakens in the face of a white heroine — exciting adventure in an indian village in arizona.’’∑∞
Cox Stevenson also had legendary fights with Major John Wesley
Powell, over (among other things) itemizing expenses. On one occasion, asking reimbursement for informant expenses, she wrote in a

¡

decidedly provocative manner: ‘‘One man, one night, one dollar.’’ On
still another occasion: ‘‘She included a case of Scotch in her expense
account, which of course was turned down. She insisted that it was
necessary in her work, since nothing else would induce the Indians to
give out their more secret information. It was pointed out to her that
it was illegal to give whiskey to the Indians. She replied that it was
only illegal to sell it to them. The item became a matter of pride and
principle to her, and she insisted she would fight it through.’’∑≤ This
stands in marked contrast to Cox Stevenson’s description of the devastating e√ects of alcohol on the Zuni Sha’lako festival. In her 1904
monograph she wrote, with little sympathy, of ‘‘lawbreaking’’ Indians: ‘‘Every man in Zuni spends what money he can obtain on
whiskey, not only for his own use and that of his friends, but to
dispose to the Navahos, who come in large numbers to the dances.’’∑≥
Cox Stevenson reported that in 1879 whiskey was rarely used by the
Zunis, ‘‘but with the advance of civilization, intoxicants [were] producing demoralizing e√ects,’’ and though there was a law forbidding
the sale of liquor to Indians, it had not been enforced up to 1896. She
observed harshly,

un/common cultures

The Navaho is a close trader, but the Zuni is closer. . . . The writer
has observed many trades in which the Zunis come out the better.
One Navaho, crazy for liquor, trades a fine pony for a gill of liquor. . . . While the younger men of Zuni drink as much as the
Navahos, the older men and more clever traders keep their heads
clear enough to get the best of the bargain. This trading of liquor
goes on in inner rooms, which are supposed, as has been stated, to
be for the use of the elect; but the Zunis, being no exception to those
who are demoralized by the liquor tra≈c, indulge their love of gain
at any cost.∑∂

¡

Cox Stevenson’s contradictory position on alcohol, her simultaneously arguing its necessity for work with the Indians and against its
abuse among the Zuni and Navaho, may also indicate the conflictual
gender positionings she and Fletcher occupied: pressure to deal ‘‘like
a man’’ on the one hand, and to reform like a woman on the other.∑∑

evangelic al ethnography
Victorian ideas of feminine purity enabled nineteenth-century
women anthropologists to work independently of men on the fron32

33

wild west anthropology

tier because they were considered morally superior and thus desexualized. As Ann Ardis put it, ‘‘So long as women were assumed to be
without sexual appetite, they could be recognized as autonomous
moral agents in middle class Victorian culture . . . credited with
having minds that were not controlled by their animal passions.’’∑∏
The social work orientation of the Women’s Anthropological Society, for example, was informed by the assumption that ‘‘the highly
organized religious nature of woman gives her special adaptation
for the study of the sublime di√erentia, by reason of which man
alone sins, sacrifices, worships.’’∑π This orientation supports Ardis’s
claim that the development of women’s philanthropological organizations and new categories of women’s work did not threaten established male professions or institutions, because in entering the public
sphere they were supplementing existing services and ‘‘mothering
the public.’’∑∫
The existing photos of Platt Smith, Fletcher, Densmore, and Cox
Stevenson show somber-faced, darkly clad, proper Victorian women,
often incongruously appearing against scenes of tranquil wilderness.
Victorian maternalism was also literally mapped onto Fletcher’s physiognomy, prompting her friends to compare her with Queen Victoria
and to address her as ‘‘Her Majesty.’’∑Ω When Fletcher was elected
vice-president of Section H (Anthropology) of the aaas, in 1895,
her friends in the Association for the Advancement of Woman toasted
her by singing ‘‘God Save the Queen.’’∏≠
Historians have suggested that the social-reform influence of Victorian evangelicalism resulted in both the ‘‘feminization of religion’’
and the emergence of ‘‘evangelical ethnology’’ in the late nineteenth
century.∏∞ Missionary work attracted women because it combined a
gender-specific, Christian way of life with degrees of freedom denied
to women in traditional urban spheres. While Victorian ideology
stressed domesticity, it paradoxically also encouraged women to move
away from the home, for woman’s moral superiority or spirituality,
the very qualities that made her custodian of the home, also qualified
her as a social and religious reformer.∏≤ Thus, while the ‘‘field’’ afforded some escape from urban gender roles for early women anthropologists, they entered the field enabled by those very gender roles.
Whether unmarried or freed from household duties by technological change and increasing aΔuence, women like Jane Addams
and her Hull House volunteers redefined the public sphere of latenineteenth-century North America.∏≥ For this reason, it was the settlement house women who were seen to be the heroines of reform

¡

in the early twentieth century, not the women, like Alice Fletcher
or Matilda Cox Stevenson, who had applied themselves to the ‘‘Indian question.’’∏∂
While there is some evidence that Alice Fletcher’s early participation in the clubwomen’s movement led her to anthropology where
she ‘‘hope[d] to add to the historical solution of the woman question,’’ she devoted herself to the resolution of the ‘‘Indian question’’
through a form of evangelical ethnology.∏∑ Jane Gay provides a troubling account of how missionization and government work were tied
together in Fletcher’s use of local churches to hold informational
sessions on allotment: ‘‘She stood looking straight before her a few
minutes until there was absolute silence in the room, and then she
said, ‘My friends, this is God’s house and what we are to talk about is
a serious matter, a√ecting the lives and happiness of all. . . . It is right
to ask God’s blessing here in this house, that all we do may please
Him.’ ’’∏∏ Yet it is also true that the conversion scenes rendered in
the ethnographies written by the discipline’s first women carried
parodic undertones when Indian men had to school white women in
their chores. One such scene occurred when, as Cox Stevenson acknowledged, her own ineptitude in introducing ‘‘sanitary measures’’
among the Zuni ultimately led to her success.

un/common cultures

Soap was introduced in 1879 in the hope that the Zuni would wash
their cotton clothes, and the writer undertook the task of instruction. She selected as a pupil a man who had adopted a woman’s dress
and who was known to be the strongest, most active, and most
progressive Indian in the tribe; but he was averse to the work, and at
first refused to wash. He looked on in silence for a while as the writer
worked. Never having had any experience in that work herself, she
soon had most of the water from the tub on the floor and was
drenched to the skin. The pupil exclaimed: ‘‘You do not understand
that which you would teach. You do not understand as much as the
missionary’s wife; she keeps the water in the tub, and does not make
a river on the floor. Let me take your place.’’∏π

¡

The Zuni’s reference to the missionary’s wife, and Cox Stevenson’s
and Fletcher’s own Christian views, lend support to the idea that
their ‘‘evangelical ethnography’’ was enabled by a form of ‘‘Victorian maternalism,’’ even as they were often structurally positioned as
males, that is, as whites with power over their subjects.∏∫ Fletcher’s
biographer refers to her as ‘‘Mother of the Indians,’’ and although
Cox Stevenson often incurred the wrath of the Zuni for intruding
34

Long ago, when the world was new, a little Brown Brother of Mankind strayed away and was forgotten. The animals welcomed the
child, leading him far up the mountains, where they hid him in the
deep of the canyons and the quiet of the pine forest. There they

35

wild west anthropology

upon ritual performances, they also called her ‘‘Washington Mother,’’
while she, in turn, described them as children.∏Ω After a typical expedition to remove and photograph Zuni sacred objects, Cox Stevenson observed, ‘‘The party was discovered when descending the
mountain, and the information was carried to the village, so that
upon the return of the writer and her companions there was great
excitement. Had the people in general known of the removal of
the images of Pa’yatamu their wrath would have known no bounds;
but these children of nature are like civilized beings of tender years,
and can be controlled through kindness or firmness, as occasion requires, by those for whom they entertain profound respect.’’π≠ She
concluded, ‘‘Primitive man must be approached according to his
understanding; thus the prime requisite for improving the conditions of the Indian is familiarity with Indian thought and customs.
Those possessing superior intelligence and a love for humanity, and
only such may lead our Indians from darkness to light.’’π∞
Fletcher, on the other hand, did not immediately see Native Americans as children; rather, in their ‘‘old life’’ they were adults teaching
the ways of their vanishing cultures to concerned whites. But as she
became more involved in allotment and urged Native Americans to
take on white ways, she increasingly perceived them as children.π≤
Thus, ‘‘Fletcher was to pride herself on doing science like a man. But
she did her philanthropy with the special claims of a woman, one
who had su√ered for, and who knew what was best for her children.’’π≥
The view that Indians were wild children seeking tenderness and
understanding was echoed by Frances Densmore in a two-page popular pamphlet she wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century,
The Plea of Our Brown Brother. Commissioner of Indian A√airs Francis Leupp, contributing the pamphlet’s preface, averred that the ‘‘Indian problem is, after all, less a race problem than a human problem,’’
the solution to which was sympathy.π∂
In Densmore’s pamphlet, Indian life as the childhood of the white
race was portrayed in mythological terms that recalled Rousseau’s
‘‘noble savage’’ and rea≈rmed the inseparability of Native Americans
from nature.

¡

told him strange stories of the winds and the clouds; there too, he
learned the history of every beast and bird.
Soon he forgot his ancestry and believed that he descended from
an animal. When he played at war he cried, ‘‘I am from the bears,’’ or
‘‘I am of the turtles.’’ For this reason he never killed an animal except
for necessary food. On the walls of the canyons he drew strange
pictures, and when he roamed the prairie he drew pictures on the
skins that framed his dwelling. He knew the meaning of his pictures
and his magic. He loved the sound of his own singing, though it
often sounded like the cry of his wolf-friends.
Time passed, and the White Race in the pride of manhood came
face to face with its Brown Brother. It saw the pictures and they
brought a memory of its own half-forgotten childhood, but when it
heard the wild songs, mingled with shrill whistles and pounding
drums, it turned aside. Too many centuries had passed since, by the
shore of the forgotten sea, it played with bits of broken shell and
whispering reed, calling it music.
The Mowgli of North America was still a child and with the trustfulness of childhood he welcomed the stranger, calling him Brother.
He o√ered him freely of the spoils of the chase, told of his visions,
sang his songs and exhibited his magic, but there was no answer of
understanding on the face of his Brother, who mocked and cheated
him. Then the child grew suddenly to be a man. Wrapping himself
in his robe of bu√alo-skin he hid his heart in a grim silence, but
under the bu√alo robe he held the poisoned arrow, and beneath the
silence lay a deadly treachery. So the Indian became the problem of
the New World.π∑

Densmore continues her parable, compressing time and entire histories of conquest and genocide.

un/common cultures

For five centuries there has been a struggle. Spanish adventurers,
French priests, English soldiers and American civilization tried
to bring the American Mowgli back to man and he defied them.
Cheated and deceived, he kept the haughty dignity that is his by
right of inheritance; beaten back step by step he flung out his defiance, and bore his defeat with proud stoicism.
But a chance has come. Today he returns to his white brother led
by something within himself that he does not understand. He no
longer teaches his children the weird jungle songs, but he sings them
to himself when the night is full of the witchery that the wild creatures know. He comes at last—ignorant of the ethics of clothes,

¡

36

with the pitiful childish decorations in his hair, but in his heart the
strength of Nature’s noblemen.
He comes at last of his own accord to us who do not understand
him, and the tragedy of the past, the sadness of the present and the
hope of the future are in his plea that his children be given an
education and taught the White Man’s Way.
He comes:—What shall be his Welcome?π∏

In sum, Densmore, like Cox Stevenson and Fletcher before her,
romanticized Native American life in a field of discourse that displaced questions of genocide and survival into talk of ‘‘change’’ and
‘‘passing ways of life.’’ In this discursive field, Native Americans were
noble but ‘‘vanishing,’’ a case study of failed assimilation scored by
dignity, defiance, and defeat—‘‘the problem of the New World.’’ Densmore’s recourse to the civilizing mission of Kipling’s Jungle Book,
along with her description of the ‘‘American Mowgli’’ who emerges
from the jungle, functions as a cross-validation of British and American imperialisms even as it obliterates the spec