Does Abu-Lughod entirely reject the notion of 'culture'?

This is more of something that I'd like to propose or ruminate on because it's an issue that I raised recently after reading some of her work. In Writing Against Culture, she does, albeit briefly, mention that she feels as if the 'culture' idea is useful for some things. She states, "The most important of culture's advantages, however, is that it removes difference from the realm of the natural and the innate. Whether conceived as a set of behaviors, customs, traditions, rules, plans, recipes, instructions, or programs, culture is learned and can change" (1991:144). Does this represent her way of conceding to some Geertzian notions of culture? Although her project is far from an interpretivist one, aren't the ideas of 'feminist' or 'halfie' essentially cultural constructions in and of themselves? She speaks of the 'self' as a cultural construction, but what one conceives of as being 'feminist' or 'halfie' are contigent upon one's cultural experiences. I feel as if she further supports Geertzian notions in her The Interpretation of Cultures After Television, in which she supports the reapplication of thick description in studying global media. Despite this, she emphasizes an 'anthropology of the particular,' and the notion of 'discourses' as replacing the culture concept advanced by Geertz.

So, what is it? Does she endorse culture in a modified paradigm? Are 'discourses' just another word for a micro-analysis of culture as opposed to Geertz's macro approach? (Just macro per se, because it isn't TRULY macro, in my opinion)

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Comment by John McCreery on June 4, 2012 at 8:24am

Not having read Abu-Lughod, I can only speculate. It seems to me from your description that Abu-Lughod is acknowledging that the concept of culture has played an important role in combatting racism and other forms of discrimination based on the notion that differences are inbred. That said, substituting cultural stereotypes isn't all that much better, so long as it continues to allow discrimination based on "our" notions of who "they" are. The shift from "culture" to "discourse" is, in effect, a shift from something inescapably given to something constructed and constantly changing through on-going dialogue. Does this make sense to you?


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