Apparitions of difference: essays on the vocation of reflexive anthropology
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When the author sets out to use anthropology to understand his physical blindness, he discovers a dialectical tension between empirical observation versus heuristics that is held in common by both ethnography and disability. Ensuing discussions synthesize personal experience with the history of anthropology and the philosophy of science in order to construct a critical dialogue in which blindness can be understood anthropologically, while the individuality of the experience of blindness ultimately pushes ethnography past its generic limits. The essays argue that the study of cultural differences cannot apprehend disability processually. Disability is instead properly understood as an unshared individual difference dissociated from communicative practice and learned practices of embodiment, dissociated as well by ethnographic accounts of collective practices. Individual difference is disabling; meanwhile, ideologically, the visible products of disability are driven into the individual body, qualifying it as disabled, without reference to the generative process. This exploration becomes an application of "reflexive anthropology," which departs qualitatively from the conventional project of ethnography by centering critical attention on the interlocutory field that includes the anthropologist as a fully invested participant. It remediates the situated cultural production of one's own knowledge and experience, which opens the possibility to become attentive to the individual differences that constitute the present. The essays historicize three advents in interpretive anthropology: the repulsion of the study of mind by the study of interpretation, the flirtation with and rapid domestication of the self within the representation of the other, and the divorce between the critical study of texts versus the empirical study of language. The approach incorporates discourse pragmatics and practice theory, but also post-objectivist sensibilities. However, the discourse of affirmation associated with poststructuralism is here replaced with one stemming from suffering and disability. Collectively, the essays argue that the ethical practice of "thinking anthropologically" outside ethnography, by students and anthropologists as students, warrants programmatic attention.