Accepted paper:

Marxism, postmodernism and the cultural turn


James G Carrier (Indiana University)

Paper short abstract:

Interest in Marxist anthropology has been stimulated by the recent economic crisis, but it also reflects the limitations of important disciplinary orientations over the past few decades. This paper identifies those orientations and their limitations, and relates Marxist approaches to them.

Paper long abstract:

The recent economic crisis has stimulated many to think again about the nature of social life and of the ways that we approach it. This rethinking has an ethical dimension, as the crisis makes the question of justice especially insistent. It also has a more purely academic dimension, as it has raised questions about how we can understand the nature of the crisis and its consequences. This paper seeks to locate this re-thinking in terms of the recent intellectual history of important parts of anthropology, particularly postmodernism and the cultural turn. It argues that these marked a fundamental shift in the ways that many anthropologists saw the world and the processes that exist within it, and the sorts of questions that they could ask about that world, including questions about topics that conventionally come within the purview of Marxist thought, especially the topic of class. The paper argues that the crisis has not only encouraged doubts about important institutions in the world, such as those in the financial system and national governments. In addition, it has encouraged doubts about those older anthropological orientations. This paper suggests that one of the reasons why Marxist orientations have become more popular recently is that they help overcome some of the important ethical and academic limitations of postmodernism and culturalism.

panel PE39
Capitalism and global anthropology: Marxism resurgent