Straw Men and The Cow of the World

William Rodman (rodman@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Thu, 9 Dec 1993 15:08:32 -0500

discussion of postmodernism on Anthro-l to the flu: I must have caught
the same bug, because I too have been troubled by the combination of
strong language and vague allegations in the discussion of "pomo" on
Anthro-l. I want to know: who are these wretched postmodern
anthropologists who jump on bandwagons in order "to milk the cow of the
world" (Graber, quoting Wilbur). Without specific examples, allegations
concerning postmodernists' cynicism, hypocrisy, laziness where research is
concerned and theoretical vacuousness are mere polemics, all flash and
steam, without any value as criticism.
Avowed postmodernists *do* exist in anthropology, but in my view
they are a lot less common than some writers on Anthro-l seem to imply.
As far as I can see, Stephen Tyler's *The Unspeakable* remains the most
sustained attempt at the formulation of postmodern theory in anthropology.
Tyler's 1986 comment that "there is no instance of a postmodern
ethnography" certainly no longer is true. There are a few postmodern
ethnographies around, but not very many. Some of Dan Rose's work comes to
mind. And then there's John Dorst's (1989) *The Written Suburb". If the
vast majority of comments on "pomo" on Anthro-l are any indication,
postmodern ethnographies are limited in influence as well as being few in
number. So what on earth is all the fuss about?
Most writers on postmodernism agree that there are
"postmodernisms" rather than a single body of unified theory that can be
labelled "postmodernism". To Seeker1, B. Graber, A. Helgason, and other
sharp critics of "pomo", I pose the following questions. What do you mean
when you refer to postmodernism? Who (aside from the few authors I've
mentioned) legitimately can be labelled a postmodernist in anthropology?
Would they - whomever you name - accept the label for themselves? What
precisely do these scholars have in common with each other? Perhaps
answers to such questions will move the debate on this network concerning
postmodernism to a new and more productive plane.

Bill Rodman

William &/or Margaret Rodman (email:
Dept of Anthropology
McMaster University & York University, respectively
tel. (McMaster) 905-525-9140 ext 23909 (York) 416-736-2100 ext 40142