A Case of Cultural Misunderstanding: French Anthropology in a Comparative Perspective

Abstract

This paper offers a study of French anthropological tradition in a comparative perspective. It focuses on French anthropologists' writing practices and, in particular, on a strikingly recurrent phenomenon: that French ethnographers, in addition to their scholarly work, often write a "second book," a literary account of their experience in the field. The study of the divide between these two books allows for a comparison with other national anthropological traditions, particularly the American one. It sheds light on some difficulties in cultural and intellectual translation between national traditions in social sciences.

Keywords: French anthropology; ethnographic writing; anthropology and literature; national traditions in social sciences; Métraux; Lévi-Strauss; Mauss; Griaule; Tristes tropiques

About the Author

Vincent Debaene is an associate professor in the Department of French and Romance Philology at Columbia Univesity. He received his academic training in France, where he was a fellow of the École normale supérieure. He received his doctorate from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 2004. He was a Lecturer at Yale University in 1996–1997, taught high school for two years in Antananarivo, Madagascar, and for four years at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Principal teaching and research interests include French anthropology, twentieth-century French literature, literary theory, intellectual history, and the points of contact between scientific discourses and literature. Debaene was in charge of the edition of the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (2008). His book on the relationship between literature and anthropology in twentieth-century France,L’Adieu au voyage, was published by Gallimard in the fall 2010 in the "Bibliothèque des sciences humaines" series. His current project is devoted to the engagement of early Francophone writers and intellectuals with anthropological knowledge during the French colonial period.

Selected Works by Debaene

L’Adieu au voyage: L’ethnologie française entre science et littérature, Paris: Gallimard, 2010.(English translation forthcoming, University of Chicago Press, 2014)

with Frédéric Keck, Claude Lévi-Strauss: L’Homme au regard éloigné, Paris: Gallimard, 2009.

Critical edition of Tristes tropiques, in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Œuvres, Paris: Gallimard, 2008.

"Lévi-Strauss: What Legacy?," Yale French Studies, 123 (2013): 14–40.

"'Like Alice through the Looking Glass': Claude Lévi-Strauss in New York," French Politics Culture and Society 28, no. 1 (2010): 46–57.

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