What now to call "primitives"?
Franz Aubrey Metcalf (fmetcalf@CRL.COM)
Wed, 4 Jan 1995 13:18:26 -0800
Mr. Tanner and Mr. Hoopes have raised the spectre of ethnocentrism
replacing androcentrism in the name of a Canadian museum. It seems there
is no rest for the wicked.
This prompts me to ask a quick question with large implications,
one which has troubled me since it caught me by surprise when I was teaching
a class. What might one call "primitives," nowadays? It was okay to avoid
this when it was just me and my cronies talking, but when undergrads forced
me to refer to non-literate or tribal peoples I realized I didn't like any
of the options.
I realize this issue has much in common with the current gender and
language debate, not regarding exclusion so much, but regarding the (perhaps
weak but still important) power of the name to shape its referent. I can't
help but notice that when I call a culture "primitive" I demean it in my own
mind. This is hardly something I want to promote in students. I can't undo
their prejudices, but finding good names for things is, **for me**, an easy
way not to strengthen them.
So, what to call these cultures and the persons living in them?
In pop music, a certain musician has changed his name to a literally
unprounceable sigel, some have taken to calling him "TAFKAP,"an acromym
standing for "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince." Following in that
parodic spirit, how about "TOFKAP" (Those Others Formerly Known As
But surely someone can either answer the question for real or at
least come up with something funnier.
Franz Aubrey Metcalf email@example.com That ol' U of Chicago
But now happily dissertating in Los Angeles