This essay, published originally in 2002, is reprinted in “Contextualism—The Next Generation: Symposium on the Future of a Methodology,” because of its impact on the thinking that informs and has led to this new symposium. Burke's argument is that the term context has become “an intellectual slogan or shibboleth” and that “there is a price to pay” for its “more and more frequent use . . . in a number of disciplines—among them, anthropology, archaeology, art history, geography, intellectual history, law, linguistics, literary criticism, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, and theology.” A brief history of the uses of the term and its cognates in these disciplines is provided, along with an examination of “recent interest in the phenomenology of recontextualism or ‘reframing,’” which “depends on agency, creativity, and the power to adapt” and which, indeed, almost defines what is meant by “originality, innovation, invention, or creativity.” The essay concludes that context ought to be used mainly in the plural to indicate that no topic is properly interpretable in any single framework.

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