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Toward a Marxian anthropology? Bare, abstract, mobile, global

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Apr 2016


King's Authors


Anthropology has conventionally taken as some of its most cherished foundational categories the precise opposites of the key concepts that animate this inquiry: rather than “bare life,” anthropology has tended always to emphasize the fullness and complexity of social and political life; instead of labor in the abstract, which we recognize in its commodified form as “labor-power,” anthropology has produced exquisite inventories of concrete laboring activities and the “cultural” content of productive work; against the impermanence and mutability of lives characterized by their mobility, the ethnographic enterprise has been deeply attached to the sedentarist presuppositions of lasting settlement, dwelling, and “community”; and contrary to the task of apprehending space on a global scale, ethnographic study has been overwhelmingly localized and place-bound. Rethinking these elementary premises of the ethnographic endeavor and situating these critical concepts at the center of our epistemological frameworks are crucial theoretical and practical tasks for any meaningful social inquiry today. In this regard, the Marxian theoretical arsenal is simply indispensable. But, in the derisive words of so many disciplinary forebears and overseers, is this properly “anthropological”? The prospective convergence of genuinely critical sociopolitical inquiry with the techniques and insights of anthropology must remain for us the locus of an urgent problem—an open question on an open horizon.

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