Anthropology and Social Theory

Culture, Power, and the Acting Subject

Anthropology and Social Theory

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: November 2006

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality, Sociology > Social Theory

In Anthropology and Social Theory the award-winning anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner draws on her longstanding interest in theories of cultural practice to rethink key concepts of culture, agency, and subjectivity for the social sciences of the twenty-first century. The seven theoretical and interpretive essays in this volume each advocate reconfiguring, rather than abandoning, the concept of culture. Similarly, they all suggest that a theory which depends on the interested action of social beings—specifically practice theory, associated especially with the work of Pierre Bourdieu—requires a more developed notion of human agency and a richer conception of human subjectivity. Ortner shows how social theory must both build upon and move beyond classic practice theory in order to understand the contemporary world.

Some of the essays reflect explicitly on theoretical concerns: the relationship between agency and power, the problematic quality of ethnographic studies of resistance, and the possibility of producing an anthropology of subjectivity. Others are ethnographic studies that apply Ortner’s theoretical framework. In these, she investigates aspects of social class, looking at the relationship between race and middle-class identity in the United States, the often invisible nature of class as a cultural identity and as an analytical category in social inquiry, and the role that public culture and media play in the creation of the class anxieties of Generation X. Written with Ortner’s characteristic lucidity, these essays constitute a major statement about the future of social theory from one of the leading anthropologists of our time.


“[Ortner’s] book is a compelling and original combination of Geertz’s literary flair, Bourdieu’s reflexivity, and Sahlins’s comprehensiveness, together with a capacity for synthetic thought that is very much her own.” — Mervyn Horgan, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“[T]his collection of essays is easily accessible to non-anthropologists. . . . [T]he latest work from Ortner would be a valuable addition to one's collection.” — Jenna Dell, International Social Science Review

“[T]his volume presents a strand of Ortner’s own intellectual history while simultaneously engaging recent questions of power, history, the problem of agency, and how to incorporate subjectivity into analyses of culture. . . . Ortner is a master at making complex issues accessible to readers at all levels. — Katherine Pratt Ewing, American Anthropologist

“This is a fascinating set of essays. . . . [A] delightful and challenging intellectual foray into [Ortner’s]theoretical reasoning.” — Chandra Mukerji, American Journal of Sociology

Ortner writes about agency and subjectivity with eloquence and clarity. . . . [T}his is a highly accessible book that should find a home in many people’s libraries (and on several course reading lists), whether they belong to professional anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, or interested members of the public.” — Kostas Retsikas, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“An important and especially usable collection by one of the most influential essayists in anthropology, introduced by a lucid and original review of key concepts as they have been applied to the remarkable range of Sherry Ortner’s research achievements. Her response to recent challenges to the idea of culture is alone worth the price of the book.” — George Marcus, University of California, Irvine

“At once challenging and admirably accessible, these essays trace the thinking of one of anthropology’s most notable practitioners as she—and her discipline—wrestles with key conundrums facing the late-modern social sciences.” — Jean Comaroff, University of Chicago

“This is vintage Ortner. No one else writes anthropological theory so clear, so down-to-earth, or so accessible to non-anthropologists.” — William H. Sewell Jr., author of Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sherry B. Ortner is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is author of New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of '58, also published by Duke University Press; Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering; Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture; and High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. She has received numerous awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the J. I. Staley Prize.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Updating Practice Theory 1

Chapter One: Reading America: Preliminary Notes on Class and Culture 19

Chapter Two: Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal 42

Chapter Three: Identities: The Hidden Life of Class 63

Chapter Four: Generation X: Anthropology in a Media-Saturated World 80

Chapter Five: Subjectivity and Cultural Critique 107

Chapter Six: Power and Projects: Reflections on Agency 129

Notes 155

References Cited 167

Index 181
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3864-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3811-6
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