On the Emic Gesture: Difference and Ethnography in Roy Wagner, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

On the Emic Gesture

Difference and Ethnography in Roy Wagner, 1st Edition

By Iracema H. Dulley


158 pages

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pub: 2019-03-28
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Roy Wagner’s work deals with two fundamental issues in anthropology: how to describe difference, and where to place it in anthropological discourse. His discussion and displacement of anthropological concepts such as ‘group’ and ‘culture’ in the 1970s and 1980s have arguably encouraged a deconstructive undertaking in the discipline. Yet Wagner’s work, although part of the radicalizing move of the 1970s and 1980s in anthropology, was until some years ago not a central reference for anthropological theory.

The question Dulley asks throughout her engagement with Wagner’s main essays is whether it is possible for the emic gesture to account for difference within difference without falling into the closure of totalization. Wagner’s work contains this potentiality but is hindered by its very foundation: the emic gesture, in which difference is circumscribed through a name that others. If this gesture is one of the pillars of anthropology, and one that allows for the inscription of difference, the reflection proposed in this book concerns anthropology as a whole: How can one inscribe difference within difference? Dulley argues that this can only be accomplished through an erasure of the emic.

Offering a comprehensive discussion of Wagner’s concepts and a detailed reading of his most important work, this book will be of interest to anyone who wishes to reflect on the relationship between ethnography and difference, and especially those who in various ways engage with the ‘ontological turn’. As the book reflects on how Derridean différance can be appropriated by anthropology in its search for subtler and more critical ethnographic accounts, anthropologists interested in post-structuralist theory and methodology will also find it useful.


"How might anthropologists embrace the intellectual potentials of their encounter with ethnographic difference – its powerful spur to think differently – without the tired cliché of ‘us’ versus ‘them’? A Derridean deconstruction of Roy Wagner’s works, Dulley shows, can get us there. The upshot is a tour de force of intellectual exegesis."

- Martin Holbraad, University College London

Table of Contents


1. Introduction: Difference and Ethnography in Roy Wagner

2. Deconstruction, Alterity, Différance

3. Inventing Culture

4. Groups and Others

5. The Names of Others

6. On Metaphor

7. Final Remarks: Beyond the Emic Gesture

8. A Short Note, Under the Guide of Post-Script

About the Author

Iracema Dulley is Research Affiliate and Affiliate Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Social Sciences of the Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil. Prior to this, she held a post-doctoral visiting fellow position at the London School of Economics, UK, a researcher position at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning, and a visiting professor position at the State University of Campinas, Brazil.

About the Series

Theorizing Ethnography

Concept, Context, Critique

The Theorizing Ethnography book series seeks to reorient ethnographic engagements across disciplines, methods and ways of knowing. By focusing on ethnography as a point of tension between abstract thinking and situated life-worlds, the series promotes ethnographic method and writing as an analytical form that is always partial, open-ended and epistemologically querying.

Theorizing Ethnography employs 'concept', 'context' and 'critique' as devices to stimulate creative ethnographic thinking that transects lines of analysis and location. We publish work that reaches beyond academic, political and life-world divisions, and as such the series fosters contributions from across socially and critically engaged fields of practice. We welcome proposals for single-authored and multi-authored full-length monographs, as well as high quality edited volumes of disciplinary and trans-disciplinary resonance.

Possible themes include:
• The politics of knowledge, cultures of classification and borders of being
• Traffic in situated forms of knowledge and meta-theory
• Nature-cultures, emergent ecologies, and interspecies thinking
• Subjectivities, desires, and aspirations
• Materiality, infrastructures, futures
• Relations, sedimentation, emergence
• Queer, feminist, decolonial and otherwise critical ethnographies


Elisabeth L. Engebretsen: [email protected]
E.J. Gonzalez-Polledo: [email protected]
Silvia Posocco: [email protected]

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General