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The French Exception

The French Exception

(p.51) Chapter Two The French Exception
Far Afield
Vincent Debaene
University of Chicago Press

The relationship between anthropology and “literature” writ large in the early history of the French anthropological tradition is the subject of this chapter. Unlike the national traditions of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Germany, France lacked rigorous methodological models for fieldwork and thus many French ethnographers drew from literary themes in order to make sense of lived experience in the field. This chapter explores how the French tradition crossed paths with literature as a discourse that saw itself as a repository for the knowledge of all of humankind, such that French anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss could trace their intellectual lineage back to Montaigne or Montesquieu. An extended case-study of Malinowski serves as a counterexample and highlights the cultural specificity of the French approach to anthropology.

Keywords:   Claude Lévi-Strauss, Bronislaw Malinowski, French anthropology, Fieldwork, Anthropology and literature

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