Memory against Culture

Arguments and Reminders

Memory against Culture

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: November 2007

Author: Johannes Fabian

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Sociology > Social Theory

In Memory against Culture, the renowned anthropologist Johannes Fabian assesses the contemporary practice of anthropology and its emerging shape as a global discipline. In twelve essays ranging from theoretical reflections to re-examinations of past ethnographic work, Fabian addresses central theoretical debates within the discipline and throughout the social sciences—about language and time, history and memory, and ethnography and recognition. Together the essays illuminate Fabian’s pluralist vision of an anthropology that always makes the other present by opening itself to conversational and transnational practices, refusing epistemological claims that privilege any one voice, language, or point of view.

Fabian returns to his landmark book Time and the Other to consider how the role of the other in anthropological inquiry has been transformed over the past two decades. He explores the place of linguistics in contemporary language-centered anthropology, and he ponders how studies of material culture imbue objects with “otherness.” Meditating on the place of memory and forgetting in ethnography, he draws from his own ethnographic work in the Congo to ask why Africa, the site of so much early anthropological study, continues to be forgotten in the wake of colonization. Arguing for the importance of remembering Africa, Fabian focuses on the relationship between thought and memory in the Swahili language. In so doing, he suggests new methods for investigating memory practices across cultures. Turning to the practice of ethnography, he examines the role of the Internet and the place of field notes and other memoranda in ethnographic writing. At once wide-ranging and incisive, Memory against Culture is a significant reflection on the state of the field by one of its most thoughtful and engaged practitioners.


Memory against Culture is a book worth reading; in fact, it probably requires at least two readings, since many of the themes in the first few chapters convey their full import only after the reader has seen what comes later. To anthropologists trained since the late 1980s, much of Fabian's thought will seem natural, almost obvious, but that only testifies to his influence in the discipline. While anthropologists were probably never as unaware of the problems of presence, memory, and representation as Fabian sometimes implies, anthropology is certainly a better and more profound field of inquiry thanks to the contribution of Fabian and others with his perspective.” — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

Memory against Culture is in many ways an act of memory, rather than one of publishing, and it is worthwhile to reflect on this in a Fabianesque manner: to take seriously, theoretically and methodologically, every layer of this onion of knowledge production in which we engage as contributing to the shaping of that very knowledge we desire to produce.” — Christopher Kelty, American Anthropologist

“Fabian’s work continues to invite the direction of critical thought towards aspects of ethnographic inquiry, to the co-production of knowledge, and to broader theoretical concerns in anthropology. This collection simultaneously serves to remind us of his intellectual contributions to anthropology, and to see these contributions as continuing and growing.” — Katie Glaskin, Anthropological Forum

“Johannes Fabian has been one of the most original and important thinkers in anthropology since the 1970s. . . . [T]hese chapters are, in my view, indispensible reading for those of us who have learned so very much from this engaged and creative anthropological thinker.” — Daniel A. Segal, American Ethnologist

“The sometimes provocative potential of Fabian’s thinking is stimulating, refreshing and timely in its relevance to current research into what could be called an anthropology of mind. . . . [T]he book will also be found very useful and thought provoking in contexts outside of the discipline of anthropology, such as in cultural studies or the social sciences where recently a wealth of studies and publications engage with a rather dynamic understanding of memories in diverse cultural contexts.” — Martha Blassnigg, Leonardo Reviews

“In these easy-reading conversational essays, studded with jewels of ethnographic provocation, Johannes Fabian continues his language-centered anthropological meditations on denials of recognition, the study of popular culture as recognition of Africa’s vigor and contemporaneity, and the pragmatics of speech: ‘Who can talk straight when even using Belgian rather than French ways of counting (“septante-deux” not “soixante-douze”) could be denounced as anti-revolutionary?’ Fabian’s focus on terms of encounter, the work of commentary, and Internet archiving as ethnographic collaboratories disturbs our pious conventions.” — Michael M. J. Fischer, author of Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Johannes Fabian is Professor Emeritus of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Amsterdam School of Social Research. He is the author of many books, including Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa; Moments of Freedom: Anthropology and Popular Culture; Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire; Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880–1938; and Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Part One: Anthropology at Large

1. World Anthropologies? 3

2. The Other Revisited 17

Part Two: Language, Time, Objects

3. Language and Time 33

4. If It Is Time--Can It Be Mapped? 43

5. On Recognizing Things 52

Part Three: Forgetting and Remembering

6. Forgetting Africa 65

7. Forgetful Remembering 77

8. Memory and Counter-Memory 92

9. History, Memory, Remembering 106

Part Four: Ethnography

10. Virtual Archives and Ethnographic Writing 121

11. Ethnography and Memory 132

12. Inquiry as Event 143

Notes 161

Bibliography 174

Index 187
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4077-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4056-0
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