Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle

Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology

Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: May 2005

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies

Lively, forceful, and impassioned, Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle is a major intervention in debates about the configuration of the discipline of anthropology. In the essays brought together in this provocative collection, prominent anthropologists consider the effects of and alternatives to the standard definition of the discipline as a “holistic” study of humanity based on the integration of the four fields of archaeology, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Editors Daniel A. Segal and Sylvia J. Yanagisako provide a powerful introduction to the volume. Unabashed in their criticism of the four-field structure, they argue that North American anthropology is tainted by its roots in nineteenth-century social evolutionary thought.

The essayists consider the complex state of anthropology, its relation to other disciplines and the public sphere beyond academia, the significance of the convergence of linguistic and cultural anthropology, and whether or not anthropology is the best home for archaeology. While the contributors are not in full agreement with one another, they all critique “official” definitions of anthropology as having a fixed, four-field core. The editors are keenly aware that anthropology is too protean to be remade along the lines of any master plan, and this volume does not offer one. It does open discussions of anthropology’s institutional structure to all possible outcomes, including the refashioning of the discipline as it now exists.

Contributors. James Clifford, Ian Hodder, Rena Lederman, Daniel A. Segal, Michael Silverstein, Sylvia J. Yanagisako


“The authors of this timely and stimulating volume have taken on the task of raising an issue that is surely thought about a great deal but rarely discussed publicly. . . . [T]he authors and editors of this volume ought to be commended for opening an important discussion about the elephant in the room.” — Peter G. Toner, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"[T]his book provides a challenging and creative set of 'reflections.' . . . This volume will be appreciated by any serious student of anthropological history or the anthropology of intellectual life. It will be welcomed by anyone looking to define contemporary anthropology and chart its future course." — Daniel Reichman, Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle is another round in a much-needed and, if honest, visceral public conversation. Although published in 2005 and anchored by the 2000 AAA panel’s work, the volume provokes a conversation as fresh and infuriating now as it was back then."  — Tracie Mayfield, Transforming Anthropology

“A provocative and problematizing look at the history and present state of anthropology in the United States, a century after the ‘sacred bundle’ was first questioned by its patron saint and uniquely preeminent practitioner, Franz Boas. Revolutionary in editorial intent, diversely dialogical in the essays themselves, this volume should be read and pondered by all those interested in the future of anthropology and its role in general intellectual discourse.” — George W. Stocking Jr., Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago

“Anthropology is perhaps the last of the great nineteenth-century conglomerate disciplines still for the most part organizationally intact. Long after natural history, moral philosophy, philology, and political economy have dissolved into their specialized successors, it has remained a diffuse assemblage of ethnology, human biology, comparative linguistics, and prehistory, held together mainly by the vested interests, sunk costs, and administrative habits of academia, and by a romantic image of comprehensive scholarship. In this intense, precise, and sharply written book, six leading anthropologists from a variety of subfields question both the logic and the effectiveness of such sentimental ‘holism’ and produce a powerful critique of their profession's mythology.” — Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel A. Segal is Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Historical Studies at Pitzer College. He is a coauthor of Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture: An Essay on the Narration of Social Realities and editor of Crossing Cultures: Essays in the Displacement of Western Civilization. He is a former editor of the journal Cultural Anthropology (1995–2001).

Sylvia J. Yanagisako is Professor and former Chair of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. She is the author of Producing Culture and Capital: Family Firms in Italy and coeditor of Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Daniel A. Segal and Sylvia J. Yanagisako 1

Rearticulating Anthropology / James Clifford 24

Unchosen Grounds: Cultivating Cross-Subfield Accents for a Public Voice / Rena Lederman 49

Flexible Disciplinarity: Beyond the Americanist Tradition / Sylvia J. Yanagisako 78

Languages/Cultures Are Dead! Long Live the Linguistic-Cultural! / Michael Silverstein 99

An Archaeology of the Four-Field Approach in Anthropology in the United States / Ian Hodder 126

References 141

Contributors 161

Index 163

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3474-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3462-0
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