The invention of culture -roy wagner

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Roy Wagner

The Invention of Culture
Revised and Expanded Edition

The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

© 1975, 1981 by Roy Wagner All rights reserved. Published 1975 Revised and expanded edition 1981 Printed in the United States of America 93 92 765

Library of CongressCataloging in Publication Data

Wagner, Roy. The invention of culture. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Culture. 2. Anthropology. 2. Symbolism. I. Title. GN357.W33 1981 306 80-25482 ISBN 0-226-86934-2 (pbk.)



Preface Introduction Chapter 1 The Assumption of Culture The idea of culture, 12 Making culture visible, 14 The invention of culture, 17

5 6 12

Chapter2 Culture as Creativity Fieldwork is work in the field, 22 The ambiguity of "culture," 24 The wax museum, 28 "Road belong culture," 30


Chapter 3 The Power of Invention Invention is culture, 34 Control, 37 The necessity of invention, 43 The magic of advertising, 49


Chapter 4 The Invention of Self An important message for you about the makers of time, 56 Learning personality, 60 On"doing your own thing": The world of immanent humanity, 65 Learning humanity, 70


Chapter 5 The Invention of Society Cultural "change": Social convention as inventive flow, 76 The invention of language, 77 The invention of society, 83 The rise of civilizations, 90


Chapter 6 The Invention of Anthropology The allegory of man, 95



Controlling culture, 99 Controllingnature, 102 The end of synthetic anthropology, 106





The idea that man invents his own realities is not a new one; it is found in such diverse philosophies as the Muta'zilla of Islam and the teachings of Buddhism, as well as in many much less formal systems of thought. Perhaps it has always been known to man. Nevertheless, the prospect of introducing this idea to ananthropology and a culture that wants very much to control its own realities (as all cultures do) is a difficult one. An undertaking such as this one therefore requires far more encouragement than the more staid projects of ethnography, and I can safely say that without the strong and interested encouragement of David M. Schneider this book would not have been written. Its theoreticalinspiration, moreover, owes much to his work, much that is too germinal to be easily acknowledged, as well as his very explicit insights into modern American culture, which are basic to what has become a consuming interest of my discourse. Friends at Northwestern University and the University of Western Ontario have added the considerable support of their ideas and interest. In particular, I would like toacknowledge my gratitude to the members of my E70 seminar in the spring of 1972, Helen Beale, Barbara Jones, Marcene Marcoux, and Robert Welsch, and to John Schwartzman, Alan Darrah, and John Farella for the benefit of their counsel and conversation. John Gehman, Stephen Tobias, Lee Guemple, and Sandie Shamis provided a lively counterpoint of ideation during a strategically formative stage in thewriting. A part of Chapter 2 was read in April 1972, at a Monday afternoon seminar of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, and received the benefit of the inspired criticism and commentary that are so much a part of those occasions. A version of Chapter 3 was read at Northern Illinois University in April 1973, and I would like to thank particularly M. Jamil Hanifi and CecilH. Brown for their helpful comments and insights expressed there. Terse but invaluable commentary and criticism was proferred by my colleague Johannes Fabian while casting (unsuccessfully) for fish at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, in June 1972. My wife, Sue, displayed considerable forbearance during the writing of the book, and my daughter, Erika, proved a most valuable instructor for her daddy in her...