Joana Breidenbach and Pál Nyíri have just published a book, Seeing Culture Everywhere: From Genocide to Consumer Habits
, (Washington University Presss, 2009).
In an excerpt from a note on the book
, they write:
>In his book Foreign News
, anthropologist Ulf Hannerz lamented the inability of anthropologists – the professional students of human cultures – to respond adequately to "one-big-thing" books such as Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations
by presenting alternative visions that were clear and accessible. “Leaving an intellectual vacuum behind is not much of a public service,” he wrote. In fact, Hannerz may have been charitable: alas, anthropologists rarely make as much as a dent in the armour of grand simplifiers like Huntington, much less leave behind a vacuum. A growing number recognize this as an urgent problem. In a recent debate on the subject, Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson wrote that “we need vigorous translation work” from the language of anthropology into a publicly accessible one “to explain that Islam is malleable and diverse, that Egyptian peasants are part of a globalized economy, and that ethnicity is always in historical flux”.
We felt that the bandying about of the word “culture” by well-meaning but clueless officials and corporate executives was an opportunity to do just that. After decades during which decision makers listened to political scientists and psychologists, wasn’t this a chance for anthropologists to talk about the subject they knew best? As a first step, we began working on a course, entitled “How Does Culture Matter?”, intended to help government and corporate managers without a background in anthropology to make critical judgements in debates involving cultural claims. The course became a core unit of the applied anthropology curriculum at Macquarie University in Sydney and spun off a popular blog, Culture Matters
It seems that culture may not matter so much after all, except for anthropologists and a growing segment of the publicity industry who, by harping on about culture, succeed only in confusing themselves and the rest of us.