Anthropology must avoid theorising cultural differences as if they were separate from global processes. Instead our task should be to ethnographically explore the ways in which radical differences emerge and are transformed in the context of such interconnections.
In the 1960s, Mary Douglas famously warned that anthropology as a discipline faced a crisis of credibility if all it did was counter claims to general tendencies in human life with the objection that that does not apply to the 'Bongo Bongo'. Douglas' challenge to the discipline remains pertinent half a century on: pointing out differences between people and exceptions to general trends remains vitally important. But if anthropology is to make a contribution it has to be by virtue of nuancing our understanding of how difference is created within wider patterns of interconnection rather than presenting it as the result of artificially constructed images of total cultural quarantine and separation. Our aim is to explore, through a variety of ethnographic case studies, the ways in which perceptions of radical differences between peoples can often be understood as being in large part constituted by virtue of their different positions within and experiences of global political economic relationships. Across the world, the people that we work with often share a commitment both to seeing themselves as radically culturally different from certain others, with seeing their lives as inextricably interlinked with those other peoples and with global processes. An anthropology of the 21st century, we argue, has to take seriously the task of theorising cultural differences within the context of such interconnections rather than juxtaposing radical differences and awareness of interconnection as if an acknowledgment of one precluded an acknowledgment of the other.