On the Emic Gesture Difference and Ethnography in Roy Wagner
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.
Preface 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 postscript
"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
"What Derrida did for Lévi-Strauss, Dulley does for Wagner: providing a transformative reading of anthropological texts that unsettles their assumptions and gently leads them beyond their spoken and unspoken desires. Dulley lays out particularly helpful pathways into Wagner’s complex conceptual writing that will be of great use for those interested in his work. She thereby asks key epistemological and methodological questions that are of central importance to the future of ethnography and to the politics of anthropology as a discipline deeply invested in the invention of ‘others’ to heal itself. This engaging, thoughtful and thought-provoking book opens up the closure of alterity and calls for an engagement with the never-ending and unforeseeable proliferation of difference-within-difference. As such, it makes space for Wagner’s anthropology to disseminate beyond its founding gesture. A timely in(ter)vention."
- Thomas Hendriks, University of Oxford