Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology
Orin Starn is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal and Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes, and the coeditor of The Peru Reader, all also published by Duke University Press.
This chapter argues for a kinky empiricism that builds on the singular power of anthropological ways of knowing the world. Kinky empiricism takes established forms to an extreme and turns back to reflect on its own conditions of possibility. At the same time, it deploys methods that create obligations, obligations that compel those who seek knowledge to put themselves on the line by making truth claims that they know will matter for the people they describe. The chapter begins with a rereading of Writing Culture; it turns to Hume’s writings on empiricism, and concludes by juxtaposing the author’s research in Dutch New Guinea with Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg’s groundbreaking Righteous Dopefiend. The chapter finds ingredients of a more affirmative stance toward anthropology than usually associated with Writing Culture, one based on what Michel-Rolph Trouillot calls “an epistemology and semiology of all anthropologists have done and can do.”