The Other in anthropology and cultural studies
INTRODUCTION: DISCOVERING THE OTHER
One of the most common definitions of anthropology is that it is a discipline (or a conglomerate of disciplines) that deals with the other. In presenting, describing, analyzing and evaluating the other(s), anthropology constructs its own field of study and defines itself. Thus, anthropology owes its very existence to the existence (real or imagined, we shall deal with that later) of alterity. For the purpose of this lecture, and following George Marcus (1998), I will take the vast area of cultural studies to be the example of the “postmodern” or “text-centered” approaches in anthropology, so I shall actually deal with just one particular segment of the cultural studies.
There are numerous problems with this definition of anthropology (which I find the best that exists so far for the discipline), but I would like to draw attention to the one in particular: the notion of place or position from which one postulates itself as “the authority” to judge others and to determine them as others. This authority always involves a notion of universalism or universal values, and is to a large extent dependent on the actual enforcing of one’s (dominant) values or ideologies as the “proper ones.” In my case, I claim no authority — I am just presenting this as my voice, my statement, or my narrative (with all the connotations of these descriptions). When venturing into the origins or explanations I am interested in the way(s) in which anthropology was (re)presenting the others. However, apart from the concept of alterity (which in itself is a very complex one, and includes gender, race, ethnicity, age, etc.) it is important to note when is it that the other gains prominence in the construction of “our,” “civilized,” or “non-other” cultures. There exists a point in time and a point in history when the question of the other (the concept isd probably as old as the language itself) becomes important. The others existed and were recognized as such before, but never before was their existence determining broad cultural and historical constructs such as “civilization” or “race.” This is the main reason why I will draw an (arbitrary, to be sure) line somewhere around Cristóbal Colón (or Columbus) reaching the Antilles (1492), Vasco da Gama’s sailing around Africa to India (1498), and Cabral’s “discovery” of Brazil (1500). Some forms of evaluation of the others are as old as the human history (starting from The Histories of Herodotus in the 5th century BCE, if not earlier), and they were present in various dominant discourses (primarily in determining the others as “non-human” or “sub-human,” barbarians, savages, Hyperboreans). However, the actual consequences of all these evaluating discourses were never as globalizing and universalizing as their creators wished or hoped for (this goes for the ancient Greeks and Alexander the Great, as well as for the Roman Empire, or the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, or even Christianity and Islam as they emerged on the world stage). For the “real” trends towards universalization, one should look at the time after the epoch of the “great discoveries.”
Numerous anthropologists, such as my former advisor at Tulane University (New Orleans, USA), Munro S. Edmonson, draw a connection between the first “great discoveries” (the period of Western colonial expansion) and the origins of anthropology. While anthropology as a discipline can be dated only to the 19th century (and to Sir Edward Burnett Tylor as the first Professor of Anthropology in particular), the idea of description and evaluation of others goes back at least to the 15th century. The “discovery” of the New World, as well as the debates that followed on the issue of slavery permanently changed the Western world. The encounter with “the other” brought shock and amazement along with large scale ethnocide and at the same time ecocide, and it also altered intellectual horizons.
On a practical level, the “discovery” of other people (“Indians”) posed some serious intellectual and cognitive problems: since there was nothing abouth them written in the most authoritative texts of the time (like the Bible), who were they? There was no point of reference for them, no point of comparison. They looked human, but were they human at all? Another issue that soon arose was the issue of their origin, so in 1590 a Jesuit, José de Acosta, tried to prove that they actually came from Mongolia – an interesting point of view taking into account the most popular theory that the Americas were inhabited via the Bering strait, and a couple of centuries before the Western world “discovered” the Beringia. This would have put them in the context of ideas, cultural concepts and histories that existed so far, but things got more complicated.
The debates that arose immediately after the Spanish conquest of America are primarily associated with the name and life of Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), traditionally regarded as a symbol (or at least, a figure of immense importance) of the struggle for dignity of the American Indians (or, in the current politically correct usage, Native Americans). Actually, Las Casas can be seen (in a historical context) as a continuation of the efforts of his fellow Dominicans, Antonio de Montesinos and Pedro de Córdoba, who were already refusing to hear the confessions of the Spanish settlers at Santo Domingo (Haiti), based on what they have considered to be inhuman treatment of the native population. Las Casas went a little further in asking for the abolition of encomiendas and repartimientos, as something in itself evil and immoral. In a letter to the King Carlos V in 1516, he wrote that “it is better to lose all the lands overseas, than to allow that such horrible injustices be done in the name of the king”. With the support of the Dominican theologians from the University of Salamanca, Las Casas eventually succeeded (with great help of the Spanish royalty!) in arguing for laws that abolish encomiendas and that grant (at least formally, if not in practice) freedom to the native population, in 1542.
However, the theoretical question of the use of force in converting the native population to the “true faith” and “true God” had already been raised by the lawyer from Córdoba, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, in his treatise “Democrates alter sive de iustis belli causis” (Rome, 1535). Sepúlveda stressed the fact that the Indians were, in his opinion, “infidels, barbarians, and slaves by their very nature” — and all this led to the famous discussion between him and Las Casas in 1548 at Valladolid in Spain. In this discussion, Las Casas claimed that the differentiation of the civilized peoples and the barbarians could not be based on ethnic, cultural and religious differences, but on the fact that there were people who respected freedom and the natural rights of others and people that do not respect these rights. Although the royal auditors never officially declared the outcome of this debate, the fact that shortly after the debate (in 1552) Las Casas published his Brevísima relación... , while Ginés de Sepúlveda never received permission to publish any of his subsequent polemical works, speaks for itself. However, this was one of the last instances that voices and concerns of the other were so publicly respected in the West European cultural and political discourse. Another tradition, another way of obtaining knowledge was about to impose itself as a master narrative (or metanarrative) of the time. The burden of dealing (and answering to the challenges of) the other had become too heavy.
The other that was introduced to the Western world in the late 15th and early 16th century were other worlds. Of course, the contacts and the interchange between Western and non-Western cultures had a long history, but it was always limited by sheer distance or in some cases simple cultural incompatibility (mostly based on the premises of different religions or different ideological systems). In the case of the Western European expansion that started in late 15th and early 16th century, the West put itself in a position of absolute domination and control, its master narrative was to become a master narrative of the whole world that it wanted to subjugate; it had appropriated (“discovered”) new worlds, and something had to be done about it.
What was done was essentially a rationalist revolution, initiated by René Descartes in philosophy and Sir Isaac Newton in science. This revolution claimed the separation between the mind and the body, it started to treat different systems as always incompatible, different systems of values as mutually exclusive, and also it set up a standard (of the Western colonial powers in expansion — although, to be clear, neither Descartes or Newton were particularly involved or interested in the colonial expansion) that was to become the standard for judging and evaluating all other (different) cultures. This stood in sharp contrast to the humanist ideals of the Renaissance (in fact, Toulmin calls this revolution “Retreat from the Renaissance” [1990: 30]), and it has made several important breaks with the earlier tradition.
First of all, the emphasis shifts from the oral to the written, rhetoric losing its position as a legitimate field of study, and the stress is put on the rational presentation of arguments, in the sense of producing proofs. Who presents the arguments, in which context, to what audience, becomes totally irrelevant. Decontextualization enters the West European science and humanities. Secondly, there is a shift from the particular to the universal; in the world that was becoming (colonially) globalized, particular cases and situations lost their importance, the laws are set with universalist claims (primarily in the context of raging religious wars in Europe).
If respecting the other was implicit in the moral and philosophical theories of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from the 17th century onwards, this respect became irreconcilable with the strategies of domination, where the other had to be subsumed under the General Law of Reason. There is an important shift from the timely to the timeless, closely associated with the new strategies. While in previous centuries scholars paid much more attention to the context of specific situations (following the advice from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics), this interest is lost in the rationalist revolution. Finally, the shift in all the major theoretical debates (both in the sciences and in the humanities) changes from the local to the general, all in accordance with the new universalist claims.
Although Toulmin looks at this break primarily from the perspective of the actual political and historical context of the 17th century Europe (which led to the savage war that from 1618 until 1648 raged in Germany and Bohemia), his arguments deal with the characteristics of Modernity itself, its emphasis on rationalization, the pursuit of Truth, and the quest for certainty that eventually became self-fulfilling. It is against this background of universalist claims and the belief in “objectively” existing knowledge (usually associated with the idea and concept of Modernity [cf. Toulmin 1990, Bauman 1993, etc.]) that some contemporary (“postmodern” or from the perspective of the “cultural studies”) social scientists, humanists, and philosophers react. This kind of reaction might be understood in terms of Rorty’s (1980, 1989) reference to the “edifying” procedure of gaining knowledge; one that distrusts the notion of essential rightness and single and universal logic, one that is open to relativism and scepticism, one that is situationalist and subjective, one that constantly doubts even its own premises. This enters into the polemics modernism/postmodernism, since, according to Zygmunt Bauman,
Modernity, by comparison, seems never to have entertained similar doubts as to the universal grounding of its status. The hierarchy of values imposed upon the world administered by the north-western tip of the European peninsula was so firm, and supported by powers so enormously overwhelming, that for a couple of centuries it remained the baseline of the world vision, rather than an overtly debated problem. Seldom brought to the level of consciousness, it remained the all-powerful ‘taken-for-granted’ of the era. It was evident to everybody except the blind and the ignorant that the West was superior to the East, white to black, civilized to crude, cultured to uneducated, sane to insane, healthy to sick, man to woman, normal to criminal, more to less, riches to austerity, high productivity to low productivity, high culture to low culture. All these ‘evidences’ are now gone. Not a single one remains unchallenged. What is more, we can see now that they did not hold in separation from each other; they made sense together, as manifestations of the same power complex, the same power structure of the world, which retained credibility as long as the structure remained intact, but were unlikely to survive its demise.
(Bauman 1993: 135-136)
The extent of this break with the earlier tradition is becoming clear when the others are also able to voice their concerns. In the second half of the 16th century, Montaigne’s Essais discuss customs and rites of other peoples (including cannibalism), different ethical and moral questions of the time, as well as the pleasures of everyday life (including sex). Only a century later such writings would have been unimaginable.
From the 17th century onwards, the prevalent belief was that there can be such a thing as universal knowledge (or a universal way of achieving it). This belief was for the most part prevalent in the French Enlightenment, and it tended to influence all aspects of Western European civilization as it spread in attempt to appropriate and understand the other worlds. Knowledge became a magical catchword. What could be known and by what means came to be the objective that the most brilliant minds went after. The problem of the unknown, as well as the problem of objective limitations and relativism of any knowledge was for the most part denied. As much as the defining narrative before the “discovery” of other worlds has been the recognition of the differences between different cultures and emphasis on the specific context, the dominating narrative since the rationalist revolution has become a decontextualizing quest for certainty. This can be understood as a form of “Enlightenment rationalist fundamentalism” or Enlightenment rationalism, with all of its neopositivistic overtones.
Anthropologists are engaged in some form of a post-colonial discourse whenever they step (professionally, of course) into the world of a “strange” or “exotic” culture (the fact that it might be their own culture does not affect this). “Step into” might not be the correct expression, since one of the most important conditions for the understanding of another culture (and the whole different set of values, norms, representations, etc.) is being aware of the differences. Except in the cases where the anthropologist/ethnographer is himself/herself a member of a certain community (and sometimes even in those cases, but on a different plane), there is a fundamental difference. Two worlds meet. Or, alternatively, two (or more) cultures, worlds (sometimes literally centuries) apart. This “stepping into” should not be taken only in a literal sense, since it presupposes any form of communication about or with a culture or a society (or group, individual, etc.) that is being studied. Another thing that it presupposes is that there will be elements which the anthropologist will find impossible to classify or explain (cf. Bourdieu 1977, 1990, 1991), so he/she should not try to force her/his preconceptions on the culture, but to accept the potential unintelligibility of certain elements of the studied culture as a fact, culture as a specific set of values for each individual and distinctive community or group.
Of course, the question arises of the objective (if there is such thing) validity of doing any research. It was as far as in 1881, when one of the founding fathers of anthropology, Adolf Bastian, remarked that
For us, primitive societies (Naturvölker) are ephemeral, that is, as regards our knowledge of, and our relations with them, in fact, inasmuch as they exist for us at all. At the very instance they become known to us they are doomed.
(quoted in Fabian 1991: 194)
The image of other worlds is constantly being distorted and remodeled, based on Western media assumptions, and it is mostly presented through the Western media. In the globalized world, these distorted images then sift back even to the ones that they are (were) supposed to represent (for examples related to misrepresentations of Islam, see Ahmed 1992).
WOMEN AS OTHERS
In a sense, women are the ultimate “others.” (I will present here just a few general remarks – more about genderedness of the concept of the other in Lecture 4.) They are an integral part of the world and at the same time have been throughout history excluded (partially or completely) from full participation in it (Riley 1988). Observed and studied in “primitive” societies, they have only recently become active participants in “mainstream” sciences and humanities, adding a specific (or should I say: gender specific) point of view. This opens numerous possibilities, as summed up by Toni Flores:
What is interesting, I think, is that because male culture is officially the valued and powerful one, women come with some determination to grasp what we have been denied — and from this realization come the various women’s movements. On the other hand, because female culture, along with the feminine possibilities it carries, is both devalued and disempowered, it is hard for men to recognize or accept that they lack something, much less attempt actively to grasp what they hardly know they want.
(Flores 1991: 143)
Of course, I would not agree with phrases such as “male culture” or “female culture” — they both seem to be too general and too universalizing and totalizing, trying to subsume a great variety of different discourses under a common denominator. However, based on my research in Macedonia and Slovenia, as well as on the relevant ethnographic literature, it seem to me that in everyday life there exists a sense of polarity and ambivalence when it comes to the issues dealing with gender. Anthropology is no exception to this (Quinn 1977). The picture has been distorted, people realize that and begin to wander what the “real” image look like.
The extent to which anthropology can (or even should) reshape this distorted picture remains unclear, but anthropology as something standing outside the contemporary world, in the realm of the “pure” science is a fiction. It is my belief that anthropologists have a duty and an obligation (both as human beings and as critical intellectuals) to at least try to present “the others” in an acceptable way (acceptable for the others in the first place!). Since they depend on their existence (that is to say, the very existence of others is a prerequisite for their profession), it is in their (existential) interest to assure that the others are represented in an acceptable way and that the “natives” are able both to represent and to express themselves in a ways that they find most appropriate. Whether one will call this expression representation (Fabian 1990), evocation (Tyler 1986), invocation, or something else (cf. Marcus and Clifford 1985; Geertz 1983 and 1988; Marcus 1989; Strathern 1987a, 1987b, 1991; Haraway 1991), depends on the context-specific cultural frame where the interaction is taking place. It also depends on whether one believes that any kind of representation/evocation/invocation/etc. is possible when one operates with different (culture-specific, context-bound, experience-influenced, etc.) sets of categories.
I do not intend to fully develop here Asad’s (1979) thesis that what really matters in terms of social change today is the movement of world capital and the globalization of world economic processes (although I do believe that terms like “market economy” are nonsense invented by the people in power in order to retain and globalize this power), but this thesis reflects a part of the problem. If anthropology is to incorporate such a thesis, then anthropologists should be actively involved in the processes of social change. The experience of the reality “lived” can be more helpful than the experience of the reality “theorized.” However, as academics, they usually claim (publicly, at least) no allegiance to a particular political system or ideology. As scientists, they are supposed to be “neutral.” Again, the idea that “neutrality” in a great post-romantic sense is simply impossible in any science (including anthropology) is nothing new or original. While most authors will claim that their interpretation of the data (and their field notes) are reasonably (if not absolutely) “objective,” they are well aware that others are not quite that “neutral” or “objective.” Anthropologists need others (cf. Fabian 1990; Mason 1990, 1995), both in ethnography and in theory, even when others are actually their fellow anthropologists (cf. Clifford 1988; Rapport 1994).
An interesting situation also occurs when feminist authors (as “others”) write on women (as “others” as well): are they “feminist” or radical enough (cf. Moore 1994b)? Where does feminism end and “pure” or “disengaged” research start? Is it possible to be a feminist and do this kind of research on feminist discourses or practices? Since others are “there” (and we are “here”) — and there is no way to find out whether they have always been, or were just constructed by ourselves — then, the main question for me is how to approach this fact. What to do with the others?
The answer is not as obvious as it seems. Obviously, one does not ignore others, although it is relatively easy to pretend that they do not exist (since this is only pretending, one is still aware of them and just makes a conscious effort to avoid them). But this attempt at avoiding does not deny their existence! Even if we bypass something, we implicitly acknowledge the fact that there is something out there (to be avoided). Others can be studied, but then the question might arise from whose perspective and why. What gives the right (any right) to anthropologists to go around and study various ethnic groups, and then subsequently publish the most intimate details of their lives? From another perspective, the dependence of anthropologists on their “informants” (the word has a slightly Orwellian sound for me) is almost complete, and very rarely do anthropologists question the data that they have obtained in the field. Very rarely they assume that they might have been told something simply because the “natives” wanted to please them or to avoid probing into the more intimate aspects of their lives. Questions relating to the privacy and the actual wishes of the others (the “observed ones”) are increasingly becoming paramount in any serious research project. Although the situation seems to be most tricky with regard to the field work (positioning of oneself with his/her “objects of study,” questions regarding even ethics of disclosure of certain details, anthropologists’ personal life “in the field,” etc.), it is even worse when one actually studies texts. The holy scriptures of anthropology reveal more about their authors than about the actual people(s) studied (cf. Geertz 1988; Rapport 1994). The writings are irreparably tainted by the assumed objectivity of the “facts,” and in most cases, the only author of these “facts” is an anthropologist himself or herself. In the world of the academic discipline where questions multiply and dilemmas abound, one can opt for a way out by acknowledging that anthropology as an academic discipline (the way it was concieved in the 19th and early 20th century) is simply impossible. The study of man? The study of culture? The study of social change and the related processes? Or all of the above, or something else?
Of course, admitting that I am engaged in something that is impossible places me in a somewhat precarious position; I would be something like a double-agent working from the inside on the destruction of something which would also bring my own destruction (at least where most of my work and possible career is concerned).
There is another way of looking at this, the way outlined in 1973 by Clifford Geertz, who espoused the “semiotic concept of culture,” taking as a starting point a view that anthropology (as “the analysis of culture”) should be “not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (1973: 5). Anthropology can be attempted as a quest for meanings, hidden, distorted, forgotten, or simply deconstructed.
This is where the “post-structuralist,” “postmodern,” “literary,” or “text-centered” approaches comes into play. These approaches (Fabian 1990, 1991 outlines them as a single approach — which I find a bit too simplistic) are potentially limited by the fact that (apart from some sharp disagreements on the approaches themselves) studying culture as a text (or a set of texts) brings a potential danger of reducing anthropology to ethnography (in the original ancient Greek sense of the word, meaning simply written description of other cultures) and literary criticism, and practically excluding the fieldwork. For when one can finish his/her work without ever going to the strange and exotic places where “the others” dwell, why do it at all? (Except, of course, in the cases of people that are naturally inclined towards travelling.)
Of course, the relationship between these approaches and the study of gender is in no way simple or straightforward, as noted by Marilyn Strathern:
[T]he constant rediscovery that women are the Other in men’s accounts reminds women that they must see men as the Other in relation to themselves. Creating a space for women becomes creating a space for the self, an experience becomes an instrument for knowing the self. Necessary to the construction of the feminist self, then, is a nonfeminist Other. The Other is most generally conceived as “patriarchy,” the institutions and persons who represent male domination, often simply concretized as “men.”[Cf. Toni Flores, above.] Because the goal is to restore to subjectivity a self dominated by the Other, there can be no shared experience with persons who stand for the Other.
(Strathern 1987a: 288)
However, the questions relating to otherness and identity lead to the ones on difference(s). The other is recognized as other because it is different. But the others are also different among themselves — and this is a particular aspect of contemporary approaches (characteristic for what Marcus  labels as “cultural studies”) where feminism can offer its insights for anthropology. Several most prominent feminist authors in disciplines ranging from philosophy (Bigwood 1991; Flax 1990) and cultural criticism (Butler 1990, 1993; De Lauretis 1994) to anthropology (Haraway 1991; Moore 1994a, 1994b) and sociology (McRobbie 1994) have given the concept of difference(s) a very prominent place in their recent work. The notions of multiplicity and heterogeneity that come along with the one of difference(s) are most obvious signs of the recognition of approaches characteristic for the cultural studies in contemporary anthropology.
To conclude, while anthropology owes its very existence to the concept (and we might even say the image) of the other, the other has assumed a life of its own and sprouted in a variety of directions. If anthropology is to retain the image that it has carefully been developing for itself in the last century or so, it must cross into other disciplines (like gender studies) or take some pointers from yet others (like what I refer to as the cultural studies). The situation is far from clear and the choices might look very tough indeed. But I believe that a wealth of information that new areas of research are opening to us, as well as the mere amount of complexities of the contemporary world, justify some radical decisions. For what are we all if not others for some other observers, in other situations, under other points of view, in other circumstances and other perspectives?
 It is a well known fact that before the 16th century, race was simply not an issue in the Western European art — and, although infrequently, representatives of other races were represented in sculpture or painting.
 I am not implying that this ethnocide and ecocide was a necessary or in any way justifiable price to be paid for thisaltering of intellectual horizons — I am just stating this as a fact.
 This brief account is based primarily on Boskovic 1990: 15-16; but cf. also Hanke 1959; Boskovic 1997 and (in a slightly “postmodern” context) Todorov 1984.
 Without getting into the detailed explanation of these important institutions, I will only say that they refer to a series of regulations that basically connected (tied) native inhabitants to the lands that were purchased by settlers or given away as gifts, thus keeping the native population practically as slaves.
 Among the most notable ones were Bartolomé de Carranza, Melchior Cano, and Domingo de Soto. They were trying to prove that Pope Alexander VI’s bull “Inter cætera” from 1494 was valid only in the spiritual sense — giving to the Spanish and the Portuguese the right to christianize native population in the territories that they discover, but not to treat these territories and their inhabitants as their own property. The Dominican General, Thomas de Caeta, wrote in his commentary to the edition of the Summa theologica of Thomas Aquinas that there are actually three kinds of infidels: 1/ the ones that are legally and factually subjects of the Christians and live in the Christian kingdoms (Moors, Jews); 2/ the ones that are legally but not factually Christian subjects because they seize Christian territories (Turks); and 3/ the ones that are neither legally nor factually Christian subjects (Indians). He concluded that the second kind (Turks) should be treated like enemies, but the third kind (Indians) are legal owners of their own lands, and cannot be subjected to force. These and similar statements were recognized in the bull of the Pope Paul III, “Sublimus Deus” of June 2, 1537: “Indians and all the peoples that are yet to be met by Christians, even if they live with no faith in Christ, should not be deprived of their freedom or their worldly possessions... They cannot be forced into slavery, and to the faith of Christ they should be introduced by the preaching of the Divine Word and the example of the decent life.”
 Of course, one should not forget that Las Casas on the theoretically similar grounds justified the slavery (and slave trade, which was becoming a profitable business venture) in Africa!
 For an excellent account of the Western “discovery” of the other related to America, see Mason 1990.
 In this section of the lecture, I am closely following Stephen Toulmin’s account, so I am not giving specific page references.
 Montaigne has been associated with the origins of feminism (Insdorf 1977).
 Cf. Kant’s “Was ist Aufklärung?,” as well as Foucault’s answer to it.
 Of course, there are differences within specific cultures as well as differences between anthropologists/ethnographers and cultures they come from — I am just using these universal concepts here to illustrate my point.
 Another excellent example of how one great world tradition and culture, China, has been misrepresented and its image distorted beyond recognition (caricatured, even satiricized, in the writings that had most serious objectives) even in critical Western scholarship, and even by authors like Foucault (and probably also Derrida), is given in Longxi 1988.
 At least as much as the very concept that any science can be “pure,” “objective,” “disinterested,” or politically “neutral.”
 Of course, the question then arises (and I do not claim to know the answer to it): who decides what is an adequate representation of the other in a specific context and based on what criteria?
 To claim that any Third World country can just step into the “world economy” and there successfully compete with developed countries (much of whose development and stability was achieved at the expense of the Third World) is simply perverse.
 For the discussion of otherness that is very relevant for my research, cf. Herzfeld 1987: 13-16.
 Several years ago, a delegation from a South Pacific ethnic group came for a farewell visit to an anthropologist who did his field work there and was getting ready to leave with his wife. The delegation expressed their gratitude for the anthropologist’s stay in their village, because that presented them with an opportunity to observe the life of a white family! Participant observation at its best.
 However, see Baudrillard 1996 for the critique of this perception of Otherness.