Theory 1 and Theory 2 are core courses for the major, designed to elucidate historical influences on contemporary anthropological theory. While precise topics may vary from year to year, the overarching goal of the courses remains the same: to familiarize students with the main traditions from which the discipline of anthropology emerged and to explore the diverse ways in which contemporary anthropological practice defines itself both with and against its antecedents. This semester, our topic is anthropology and the person.
Anthropology has long been haunted by the problem of the person. On the one hand, classical theories posited society and culture as structural totalities that transcended particular members and could be abstracted from them; on the other hand, society and culture were held to mediate individual experience and to constitute diverse conceptions and values of personhood. While constructivist approaches to personhood identified (and arguably exaggerated) differences between societies/cultures with regard to personhood, they discouraged attention to the diversity of personal experiences within them. In the extreme, the person was reduced to a reflex of society/culture, and the private, inner self was seen as an invention of Western societies. Among the casualties of such reductionism were questions of agency, creativity, reflexivity, power, contestation, and transformation. In this course we will first read classic works from the French, British, and American anthropological traditions, with a focus on their approach to the category of the person; we will go on to review and assess selected tendencies in cultural theory and ethnographic writing that return to issues of personhood. An overarching question will be, What are the implications for anthropology of a concern with particular selves, including the ethnographer as well as her subjects?